Vatican Museums 2022 (What to see, entrance, tickets, opening hours)

The Vatican Museums are one of the most popular museums in the world. In 2020, they were the 5th most visited museum. In Europe, only the Louvre (the first place in the world with almost double attendance) and the Tate Modern in London skipped them. In this guide you will find out where to enter the Vatican Museums, where to book your tickets, what the opening hours are and, above all, what to see and not miss at the Vatican Museums.

Updated 3/8/2022

Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums are public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican complex, which lie in the former wings of the Vatican Palace. It tells of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the history of the Catholic Church and the birth of the Renaissance. Much of the art was collected by Pope Julius II. He was known for his war missions, from which he managed to gather a huge collection. He had the basilica of St. Peter to its present form and in 1506 he founded the Vatican Museums.

Vatican Museums

Entrance

The entrance to the Vatican Museums depends on what you plan to visit first – the Vatican Museums or the Basilica of St. Petra.

  • If the Basilica of St. Petra, the entrance to the Vatican is from St. Peter’s Square. Before entering the basilica, you will pass a security check and after a tour of the basilica, you will go to the Vatican Museums (about 15 minutes), where you will have another security check.
Basilica of St. Peter and St. Peter's Square Vatican
Entrance from the Basilica of St. Petra
  • Would you rather visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel first? The entrance here is from Viale Vaticano. The easiest way to reach the museums is to take the red line A of the Roman Metro (free transport with the Roma Pass ). You will get off like most visitors at Ottaviano station, from where you will follow a crowd of people to the museums and after 10 minutes you will walk along the walls to the entrance (at the beginning of the street you will see signs on the wall). You certainly won’t miss it. Or you can get off at the next Cipro stop. You go about the same time from both stops (10-15 minutes), but the Cipro stop has one advantage – they make a great pizza , which locals go here and the queues can sometimes be quite long. You can choose between Roman and Neapolitan dough.
Vatican Museums entrance
Entrance to the Vatican Museums

Once you enter, you will be screened again at the Vatican Museums. After the tour you can go to the Basilica of St. Peter, where you are waiting for the next queue. Previously, you could walk directly to the basilica and not have to stand another security front, but this is no longer possible unless you visit the Vatican Museums as part of a guided tour. Checks are underway here.

Opening hours

The opening hours of the Vatican Museums vary according to the season. In the main summer season, the museums are open at the following times: MON-THU 8: 30-18:30 (last entry 16:30), FRI-SAT 8: 30-20:00 (last entry 18:00) last SUN of the month 9: 00-14:00 (last entry 12:30).

Out of season the opening hours are a bit shorter: MON-SAT 9: 00-18:00 (last entry 16:00), last Sun in the month 9:00-14:00 (last entry 12:30)

When are the Vatican Museums closed?

It is closedThe Vatican Museums are closed on Sundays except for the last Sunday of the month, when admission is free. They’re also closed on Catholic holidays.

  • 1st January
  • January 6 at the Three Kings
  • February 11 on the Vatican Independence Day
  • March 19 on the day of St. Joseph, the Father Jesus
  • Easter Monday
  • May 1 to celebrate the workers
  • June 29 on the feast of St. Peter and Paul
  • 14 and 15 August on the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
  • November 1, All Saints’ Day
  • December 8 to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception
  • 25 and 26 December to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ

Tickets and admission

Full admission to the Vatican Museums will cost you € 17 and reduced admission for students aged 19-26 to € 8. Children and teenagers under 18 are free. Where to buy tickets to Vatican Museums? You must book your tickets online in advance for an additional fee (plus the option to skip the queue). During the season, order at least a few days in advance so that the tickets are not sold out. When you buy tickets, you reserve a specific entry time. So if you book entry to the Vatican Museums at 14:00, you should arrive between 13:45 and 14:15.

Another way to avoid a security check is to book a guided tour, which highlights the most important of the huge collection, which makes it easy to get a little lost.

Ticket reservation:

Vatican Museums
Nile statue in the New Wing (Braccio Nuovo)

When to Visit the Vatican Museums? 

One thing is certain – queues to the Vatican Museums can be long. Standing for more than an hour and a half in the high season is not unusual (especially on the last Sunday of the month, when admission is free). The queue stretches along the wall and you can see it before the very entrance to the museums. The same on St. Peter’s Square, where the front winds around the colonnade.

So when is the best time to visit the Vatican Museums? November, January, February and March until Easter are the quietest months with the smallest crowds. The main season starts in the Vatican after Easter and especially in the summer months (June, July, August) some rooms may be so full that you stand still and just wait (for example, the Sistine Chapel or Raphael’s rooms). Many people are not corrected and there is warm and heavy air inside on warm days.

As for the time of day, I recommend visiting the museums in the afternoon after 2 p.m. The later in the afternoon, the fewer people. Most visitors plan their visit in the morning with the understanding that no one will be here. Guided groups will also arrive in the morning. If you plan to visit the first basilica of St. Peter, you can come here at 7 o’clock, when it opens. There are no queues like this early in the morning.

Choose quieter days Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. It is full on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays, when the Pope has an audience on St. Peter’s Square between 12 and 1 pm (in winter, in the hall to the left of the basilica). Thousands of people come to see the pope and many of them plan to visit the Basilica of St. Peter and the Vatican Museums.

For myself, I would not recommend visiting the Vatican Museums on the last Sunday of the month. Admission is free, but queues can be several hours. But if you want to save some euros, come at 8 o’clock and join the queue (museums open at 9 o’clock).

Vatican Museums

What to see in the Vatican Museums? 

The Vatican Museums complex is located in the Palazzo Apostolico. A huge complex with galleries that are connected by several kilometers of corridors. At the beginning, I recommend that you take a map at the entrance to the Vatican Museums, which will help you a lot of orientation if you have certain places to see. The visit will take you 2-3 hours, but expect that you do not have a chance to inspect each work carefully. There is one main route through the Vatican Museums leading through the Sistine Chapel. If you don’t stop, the trip to the chapel will take you half an hour. The Vatican Museums are spread over 2 floors:

On the first floor you will find:

  • Pinakothek – a collection of significant paintings
  • Pio-Clementine Museum – Gallery of Greek and Roman sculptures
  • Chiaramonti Museum – Exhibition of Roman sculptures
  • Egyptian Museum – exhibits with Assyrian and Egyptian finds from 2,000 years ago
  • Etruscan Museum – artifacts from the Etruscan period

The Chiaramonti Museum and the Egyptian and Etruscan Museums are very specific. If you are not so interested in this period, I would skip them. The second floor houses:

  • Tapestry Gallery – beautiful tapestries woven from wool, silk, gold and silver threads
  • Map Gallery – Old and incredibly accurate maps of Italy and its provinces
  • Raphael’s rooms and apartments Borgia – rooms decorated with frescoes, the most famous of which is the painting School of Athens

What places not to miss in the Vatican Museums? I enclose a list of TOP places and why you must see them:

Pinacoteca (Pinakothek, Picture Gallery)

No one who has a passion for the paintings of the great masters from the Middle Ages to the 19th century should miss the Pinacoteca. You will find more than 450 of them here and they are displayed chronologically in a total of 18 rooms. One of the best works is Raphael’s Transfiguration , which he painted just before his death (he allegedly died of fever after a lot of sex at the age of 37). It is all the more important because it forms a bridge between High Renaissance and Baroque paintings.

Vatican Pinacoteca
Pinacoteca

Another important work is the unfinished painting Saint Jerome in the Wilderness by Leonardo da Vinci in Room 9. Despite the fact that Da Vinci painted thousands of paintings, only 15 have survived and one of them can be found here in the Pinakothek in the Vatican Museums. His other works can be seen in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan , the Louvre in Paris , the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the National Gallery in London or the Gallerie dell´Accademia in Venice .

Pinacoteca is located outside the main route. As soon as you enter the Vatican Museums and go down the escalator, you go outside where you will see signs. I recommend coming here first and then returning to the main route.

Braccio Nuovo (New Wing)

Braccio Nuovo has been closed for many years. It is a magnificent gallery with 28 niches that contain statues of emperors and Roman replicas of famous Greek statues. The busts on the consoles and half-columns then represent a gallery of famous names from antiquity.

Braccio Nuovo Vatican

Cortile della Pigna (Pinecone Courtyard, Pinecone Courtyard)

Cortile della Pigna is the first courtyard in museums where you can relax and gain strength for other art. In addition, it hides several important places. It is named after the giant bronze pine cone that used to be a fountain. It dates from the 1st century BC and was found near the Pantheon. On either side of the cone are two bronze peacocks, which are copies of ancient statues from the villa of Emperor Hadrian in Tivoli. You will see the originals in the Braccio Nuovo wing.

Pinecone Courtyard

In the middle of the courtyard is a striking bronze statue of Sfera con Sfera by sculptor Arnaldo Pomodor. It consists of smaller spheres within a large sphere, which symbolize the relationship of the religious world to the world as such. The sculptor also created other versions of this sphere, which you can see, for example, at Trinity College in Dublin or at the UN offices in New York .

Sphere with Sphere Vatican Museums

Another interesting feature is the huge bust of the first Roman emperor Caesar Augustus , who was emperor in the time of Christ.

Museo Pio Clementino (Pio-Clementine Museum)

The Pio-Clementine Museum is named after 2 popes (Clement XIV and Pius VI) who oversaw its founding in the late 19th century. The museum exhibits ancient Greek and Roman statues from around the world.

The most interesting place in the Museo Pio Clementino is Sala Rotonda . It was created on the model of the Roman Pantheon. In the middle stands a huge porphyry tank from the Golden House of Emperor Nero. When you see it with your own eyes, you will be surprised that it was made of only one piece of stone in Egypt and then transported to Rome. The porphyry itself is very strong and heavy. Moreover, its purple color at that time symbolized royal families. Do not miss the view of the mosaic floor, which was taken piece by piece from the ancient spa in the old Roman port of Ostia Antica and tells the story of the Battle of the Centaurs.

Pio Clementine museum / porphyry tank / Vatican Museums

And what statue must you see in Museo Pio Clementino? Certainly one of the most famous and valuable statues in the world, Laocoon and his sons, which was discovered near the church of Santa Maria Maggiore (near Termini Station) in 1506. It allegedly adorned the palace of Emperor Titus and disappeared for millennia after the fall of the Roman Empire. After the discovery, Michelangelo pushed for its restoration and urged Pope Julius II to buy it. It became the reason for the opening of the Vatican Museums and the first art object. Michelangelo also drew inspiration from it in the creation of his frescoes in Sistine Chapel. You will see the statue in the middle of an 18th-century octagonal courtyard with 3 fountains, trees and benches.

Laocoon Vatican Museums

Galleria degli Arazzi (Tapestry Hall)

You will walk through the tapestry hall on the main route to the Sistine Chapel. Every tapestry here has been made for years by wool, silk, gold and silver threads by the best weavers from Flanders. Even if you are not interested in the tapestries, make a short stop at the tapestry of the Resurrection of Christ . This is an example of a moving perspective, a technique known for example from the Mona Lisa painting. Her eyes follow you wherever you stand. And this is exactly the case with Jesus’ eyes, but with the difference that creating a moving perspective in the tapestry is even more difficult.

Geographic Map Gallery (Map Gallery)

A place at the top of my list since I studied geography and I’m interested in everything connected with it . The Map Gallery is the largest collection of geographical paintings depicting Italy and the Italian provinces. They are detailed and, given their age of 400 years, also incredibly accurate (allegedly up to 80%). You can look at them carefully and on some maps you will also see sea creatures or the Roman sea god Neptune. At the end of the room hangs a map of Venice, which you can still use today. Venice has hardly changed over the centuries. In addition to maps, the gallery is known for its beautiful ceiling with biblical stories. You will walk through the map gallery within the main route.

Vatican Museums map gallery

Papal apartments

The papal apartments have nothing to do with the private apartments of the current pope. They consist of Borgia apartments and Rafael’s rooms. Most visitors go mainly to Rafael’s rooms and easily overlook Borgia apartments, which is a great pity. Borgia Apartments are located behind Raphael’s rooms and are decorated with beautiful frescoes by Pinturicchia.

Raphael School of Athens
School in Athens

Raphael’s rooms were formerly the private rooms of Pope Julius II. He had Raphael called to paint 4 rooms with frescoes. The most famous is the painting School in Athens (see above), which depicts a fictional meeting of the greatest philosophers and thinkers of classical antiquity. He immortalized them all on one canvas, even though they came from different places and different moments in time. Central are the figures of Aristotle and Plato, who received the face of Leonardo da Vinci in honor. When you look down on the picture, you will see a sitting figure of a dejected man in the foreground. And when you look even closer, you’ll notice Michelangelo’s face. At the time Raphael worked at the School in Athens , Michelangelo painted frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Annoyed Michelangelo and then popular Raphael, who overshadowed Michelangelo’s radiant personality, were not exactly in love.

Spiral staircase

Some sources mislead that the staircase, which is located at the very end of the Vatican Museums, was designed by the famous architect Donato Bramante. But it is not so. The real Bramant’s Staircase is not commonly seen in Vatican museums. The famous staircase at the exit of the museums was designed by architect Giuseppe Momo in 1932 and was only inspired by the Potato Staircase. These are two spiral staircases, one leading down and the other up (today only the downstairs are accessible).

staircase Bramante Vatican

Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is a reason why many people want to visit the Vatican Museums. Thousands of people pay tribute to Michelangelo Buonarroti’s talent every day. The ceiling depicting scenes from the book of Genesis and the fresco The Last Judgment behind the altar will take the breath away from almost every visitor. I have dedicated the whole article to the Sistine Chapel, where you will learn other interesting things.

Sistine Chapel Vatican

Tips before visiting

  • There is a cafeteria in the Vatican Museums where you can eat, but to be honest, the food is not very good. I recommend eating beforehand, as you will spend a lot of time here and the tour can be exhausting.
  • There is another point to this – take comfortable shoes. You come here a lot. If you go around everything, the route is 7.5 kilometers long.
  • There are not many places to rest in the Vatican Museums – benches are in the Pinecone Courtyard, in the Map Gallery or the Sistine Chapel.
  • You can take pictures in the Vatican Museums, but without a flash. Photography is forbidden in the Sistine Chapel.
  • Toilets are right at the entrance and exit and in several other places in the museum.
  • Dress appropriately. Feel free to wear jeans and a T-shirt, but cover your knees, shoulders, abdomen, or take your hat off your head. Sometimes the control is milder and will let you in, even if you run into stricter control, you won’t get inside.
  • The Vatican Museums are part of the Roma & Vatican Pass.

Booking tickets for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel

Map of Vatican

HOW TO USE THIS MAP: Above you will find a detailed map of Vatican. Click at the top left of the map to see separate layers with highlighted locations. You can hide and show the different layers or click on the icons on the map to show the names of the places I mention in the Vatican Museums Guide. If you want to save the map, star it. For a larger version, click on the icon in the upper right corner.

Useful links

How to save in Rome on transport and admission?

It is very easy to save thanks in Rome Roma Pass tourist card. With it, you get free admission to the most famous sights and reduced admission to many other places. The card also includes unlimited travel around Rome and the use of information points with public toilets and the possibility to get a phone (this is always useful in cities, what we will talk about).

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