How about visiting the Vatican Museums with no crowds before the official opening time? Read on to know how I managed to be the very first one to access the museum…
Whilst in Rome last week, I had the chance of visiting the Vatican Museums with no crowds. Yep, you read that right, no crowds! And no, I’m not talking about using a secret entrance, but rather of a very special tour organized by a company called The Roman Guy, who invited me to try their “Early Access Vatican Gold Tour”.
I must admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of guided tours, but the Vatican is one of those places where having a guide really made the whole experience thoroughly memorable.
Why you should consider this Vatican tour
At 7:15 am I met Raffa, our guide, outside the Vatican Museums’ main entrance. It was just me and a lovely family from New York. It didn’t feel at all like being in one of those standard guided tours, but rather like hanging out with a bunch of friends, I loved it.
The Vatican Museums officially open at 9:00 am and by the time we entered at 7:30 am there was already quite a big crowd behind us. No need to tell you how privileged and excited I felt when the guard opened the door and I was the very first to be let inside!
Peaks of 30,000 people enter the Vatican Museums daily and I can only imagine the horror of being stuck in endless queues and long waiting times. Having the chance of walking around all that beauty in total peace was priceless!
Raffa was super fun and shared lots of information and anecdotes on the stunning artworks around us that I probably wouldn’t know now if I visited the Vatican on my own. For example, did you know that Michelangelo wanted nothing to do with the making of the Sistine Chapel since he was primarily a sculptor and had no experience whatsoever with frescoes? Yep, but the poor guy was forced to accept it and spent four years perched on scaffolding, with paint dripping down his face, leaving him almost blind. I was so fascinated by this and many other stories shared by Raffa that now I’m looking for a good book on Michelangelo’s life!
What I saw during the tour
The Roman Guy’s “Early Access Vatican Gold Tour” begins in the stunning Candelabra Gallery of the Vatican Museums, with a spectacular exhibition of marbles and sculptures. There’s such a variety of beautiful art pieces in there that will literally make your head spin!
We then got into the Gallery of Tapestries, with an extraordinary selection of textile treasures on display under a magnificent ceiling that looks like a 3D design (but it’s actually painted). Look out for the tapestry called “Resurrection of Christ”, where Jesus seems to follow you with his eyes as you walk from left to right – such an incredible artistic illusion!
From there, Raffa showed us the impressive Gallery of Maps, my personal favorite. It contains 40 beautifully-illustrated geographical maps representing Italy and Italian regions in the 16th century. The hall embraces you with a vibrant palette of greens and blues and your eyes will be drawn to the fantastic details depicted on the maps, like little tents, boats, waves, and sea creatures. I would have stayed in there for hours!
The next stop was the Sistine Chapel, one of the greatest art treasures in the world, home to Michelangelo’s famous ceiling frescoes and Last Judgment. I don’t have photos to show you because taking pictures in the Sistine Chapel is strictly forbidden (you can photograph the rest of the Vatican Museums, though), and although I was a little bit disappointed at first, I now believe it is a good thing. This way, you can totally enjoy these masterpieces with no distractions nor the urge to take that perfect picture. It’s just you and Michelangelo’s genius.
We spent a good 20 minutes in the chapel with our noses in the air to admire all the magnificent scenes and figures depicted by Michelangelo and when the room started to fill up, we made our way to St. Peter’s Basilica. This is the oldest and largest church in the world. It took 120 years to build it and its spectacular interiors contain three of Italy’s most celebrated masterpieces: Michelangelo’s Pietà, his incredible dome, and Bernini’s famous baldachin.
Bonus: climb up the St. Peter’s Dome
After saying goodbye to Raffa and my tour companions, I decided to climb up the St. Peter’s dome, as I was curious to see what the view looks like from the tallest dome in the world (136 mt. high).
You can walk 551 steps to the top or take a lift and then walk the last 320 steps (guess what I chose?!). Either way, it’s quite a steep climb, with very narrow corridors at times, but you’ll be rewarded with the most amazing views over Rome and St. Peter’s Square.
Before reaching the top terrace, it is possible to take a walk inside the dome through the circular gallery that surrounds it, thus getting a unique perspective over St Peter’s interiors.
- The meeting time for this tour is 7:10 am but you’ll be waiting for about 20 minutes for the doors to open; during this time the guide will anticipate some of the things you’ll be seeing inside and share some interesting facts about the Vatican
- If you decide to climb up St Peter’s dome after the tour like I did, remember that you do not need to join the queue at the security gate, you can go straight to the dome entrance…super handy!
- Watch Dr. Elizabeth Lev’s fascinating Ted Talk on the unheard story of the Sistine Chapel for a sneak peek into what you’ll see when you’ll walk into this magical place
- If you are looking for a more detailed itinerary, The Roman Guy offers several types of tours in the Vatican and in Rome more in general, you can check out their website for further details
I totally recommend exploring the Vatican with this tour. Ok, you don’t get to see every single gallery of the Vatican Museums, but hey, it covers all major highlights and you don’t have to rush through hordes of tourists – I mean, I had the Sistine Chapel almost all to myself for 20 minutes!
Have you visited the Vatican? What was your experience?
Disclaimer: I believe in full transparency when it comes to writing about products and services. I was invited by The Roman Guy to try their “Early Access Vatican Gold Tour”, but my views of the experience stay independent from that invitation. I would never recommend something that I wouldn’t willingly pay for myself.