Everything you need to know about getting tickets to the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums are generally very high on the “must-see” list of anyone visiting Rome, and for good reason. Not only do they house pieces by Raphael, Bernini, da Vinci, and Caravaggio, just to name a few, they lead to one of the greatest works of Renaissance art, made by one history’s greatest artists: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The post-COVID travel boom in Rome has meant that tickets to the Vatican Museums are hard to come by, and those available on the official website often sell out, but don’t worry! There are other ways to get tickets.

Let’s jump right in.

WARNING: I have no photos of the Vatican Museums – oops! This is a text-heavy post.

Table of Contents

Everything you need to know about getting tickets to the Vatican Museums

Vatican City 101

What is Vatican City?

Vatican City is an independent state that occupies 44 ha in the center of Rome. Most of it is ringed by a wall, but it opens to the rest of Rome through the colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s square, which leads onto Via della Conciliazione. It is one of the most holy sites in Christendom. Read more here.

Within Vatican City are the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, as well as the Vatican Gardens, Vatican Library and residences and apartments for the pope, other clergy and some Vatican employees.

Do I need a passport to enter?

No, you do not need a passport to enter Vatican City, but you may need to show a photo ID to enter the Vatican Museums. If you’ve booked through a website, you’ll be issued a voucher that you have to exchange for tickets, and in that case you may need to show your ID. You will also have to show it if you’ve booked discount tickets to prove your affiliation or age (more below).

What are the Vatican Museums?

The Vatican Museums are a complex within Vatican City that house the art collected by popes starting from the 17th century. The Museums are a series of connected galleries, rooms and mini-museums. The final feature of the Museums is the Sistine Chapel.

Note that there is a passageway that connects the Vatican Museums to St. Peter’s Basilica. Some tours allow you to take the passageway.

What’s in the Vatican Museums?

The museum holds about 70,000 works of art that range from Egyptian to modern and everything in between.

For most visitors, the Sistine ceiling is the main event, but some of my other favorites are the Stanza della Segnatura, which houses Raphael’s School of Athens, Läcoon and His Sons, il Torso del Belvedere, the Matisse Room, and da Vinci’s mysterious St. Jerome Lost in the Wilderness.

In addition to the artwork, you can visit the Museum’s three courtyards – the pinecone courtyard, the library courtyard, and the Belvedere courtyard.

You can also purchase tickets to the Vatican Gardens.

Is it possible to just visit the Sistine Chapel?

No. You can walk as fast as your legs and the other visitors will allow and skip all the art along the way, but the fastest path through the Museums still take about 2 hours, if not more.

Is the Sistine Chapel free?

The visit to the Sistine Chapel is included in the price of your ticket to the Vatican Museums.

Does a ticket to the Vatican Museums allow me entry into St. Peter’s Basilica?

You do not need a ticket to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. Some tours allow for passage directly into the Basilica after visiting the Museums (again, more below), but otherwise, you’ll have to line up to visit the church separately and pass through security.

What is the official ticket website of the Vatican Museums?

You can buy tickets directly on the website of the Vatican Museums here. As I said above, these often sell out, but don’t worry – you can buy tickets from a third-party vendor. They cost more, but if the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel are high on your Rome list, it’ll be worth it. 

Note that you can book guided tours on the website, too, as well as visits for school groups, and special visits to excavations or for Lent, etc.

Do I need to book a ticket to the Vatican Museums?

Technically, you can show up at the ticket office and just buy a ticket for the next available entry time, but given the volume of tourists who visit the Museums, I’d say that this is risky. Booking ahead of time ensures your spot.

Can I enter the Vatican Museums whenever I want to on the day I’ve booked for?

No, you will have to book for a specific time.

What are skip the line tickets, and are they worth it?

Once you start looking at your options on the official website of the Vatican Museums and elsewhere, you’ll start noticing that there are two kinds of ticket prices – those for tickets purchased without booking online ahead of time (i.e. the price you pay if you just show up), and those booked in advance online, which are  “skip the line” tickets.

Skip the line tickets allow you to – stay with me – skip the line of visitors that are waiting to buy their tickets on the day. 

I would very highly recommend getting skip the line tickets so that you don’t potentially lose hours waiting to get in.

How much does it cost to enter the Vatican Museums?

The price of tickets varies. 

Adult tickets

One full-price adult ticket costs €20, without booking online ahead of time.

If you book a skip the line ticket online (recommended!), you’ll pay €20 per adult, plus a 5-euro booking fee.

Note that neither of these tickets includes a guide. You can rent an audioguide when you book online ahead of time for €7, or for €8 directly at the museum at the Cortile delle Corazze. The audioguide is available in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Russian and Portuguese.

Are there discounted tickets to the Vatican Museums?

Yes, there are a variety of discounted ticket options available. Let’s take a look at who is eligible.

Reduced-price tickets

  • Kids aged 7-18 (kids under 7 are free)
  • Vatican staff members
  • Priests, religious men and women, and seminarians. I’m not sure if the “religious men and women” extends to religions outside of Catholicism, and I’m assuming that it means nuns, but that is not explicitly stated.

You must present ID for the latter two, and if you’re a teenager, it might be wise to have an ID as well, just in case you look a little old for your age. 

Reduced tickets for the above categories cost €8 without an online booking, and €13 to skip the line.

School groups

School groups can access the Vatican Museums for €4 per student, or €6 for skip the line tickets. Anyone who has traveled with a group of schoolchildren will probably opt for skipping the line. 

Note that this rate applies only to groups of primary or secondary school students, not individual students (see below), and that a document stating the number of students, teachers and chaperones has to be presented on school letterhead, and it has to be signed by the school principal. 

For every ten children, a teacher gets free admission, but chaperones have to pay for a full price ticket (€20 or €25 to skip the line).

Individual primary, secondary or university students

Tickets for individual students, up to 25 years of age, are the same as the kid price – €8 at the museums, and €13 to skip the line.

According to the website, you need to present a document proving that you are an enrolled student for the relevant academic year. Presumably this could also come in the form of a student ID, provided that it shows your dates of enrollment. 

Groups of university students

The rules for groups of university students are the same as those of schools – you need to present a document on letterhead signed by a dean, head of school or rector indicating the number of students and professors or instructors. Students must be under 25 years of age.

One professor is free for every ten students, and anyone on the tour who is not affiliated with the school will have to pay full price.

The prices are €8 on the spot and €13 ahead of time to skip the line.

Pilgrims

Groups with a religious affiliation are also €8 (without an advanced reservation) and €13 (for skip the line). Like schools, religious groups must bring a document on the letterhead of their parish, religious institute or diocese with an original signature of the parish priest or religious superior. These groups must also be accompanied by a priest or a member of the religious group, and their ticket will be free if they present a celebret, which, as I just learned, is a document from a religious leader (a Bishop, for example) stating that the person is a priest. 

It does not explicitly say that this free ticket extends to NUNS who may be leading a group, but I guess that’s not surprising, since the Catholic Church isn’t very good at girly stuff.

Seminarians and students of religious colleges

If you’ve guessed that seminarians and students of religious colleges need a letter on official letterhead of their institution that is signed by its leader in order to get in, you’re right.

These tickets cost only €4 if you purchase them on the day, or €6 with a skip the line entry. Note that only one teacher can get a discounted ticket for €8.

Other ticketed attractions

Through the website of the Vatican Museums, you can also buy tickets to visit the pope’s summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, which includes a visit to the “secret garden” there.

For more info, head here.

Like I said above, you can buy tickets for the Vatican Gardens through the website of the Vatican Museums, and you can also buy tickets for a tour of the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore as well as the archaeological excavations of the same church.

They also have suggested itineraries for school groups of all ages.

Check out the offerings here.

Are the Vatican Museums ever free to enter?

On certain dates and in certain cases, the Vatican Museums are free. Let’s take a look at when it’s possible, and who is eligible.

The last Sunday of every month, the Vatican Museums are free. I’m guessing that the line is crazily long and that tickets go quickly, so you probably want to line up as early as possible to secure your spot.

Here’s the 2024 calendar of free dates.

Who can always enter the Vatican Museums for free?

As we said above, kids under 7 are free.

Heads of museums or other entities in charge of archaeological, historical or artistic heritage are free (you probably need to prove your affiliation).

Disabled visitors with a certificate of disability above 74%. If the visitor requires someone to accompany them, this person can also enter for free. These tickets cannot be booked online. They have to be picked up at either the reception desk or the “permessi speciali” counter at the entrance to the Museums, and, according to the website, disabled visitors and their one companion (if required) are given a guaranteed priority entrance.

For more on accessibility at the Vatican Museums, click here.

Holders of an International Council of Museums pass (Icom) or International Council on Museums and Sites (Icomos) pass.

University instructors in archaeology, art history, architecture or ethnography, as well as those from the academies based in Rome (which must be these?) can enter for free to teach occasional lessons if they make a written request to the Directorate of Museums and Cultural Heritage.

When do tickets go on sale?

Tickets to the Vatican Museums go on sale 60 days in advance. If you want to buy from the official website where the tickets are cheapest, you should do so 60 days ahead of your desired visit date at MIDNIGHT Rome time. I got this info from multiple sources, including the Rick Steves travel forum where people share their personal accounts of buying tickets this way.

What do I do if the tickets on the official Vatican Museums website are sold out?

If the tickets are sold out and you have to visit the Vatican Museums on a certain day or time, don’t worry. You can try booking through a third-party vendor for a markup.

Since originally writing this post, I’ve become aware that entry tickets and tours booked through these vendors can be cancelled, unfortunately. My guess is that the companies who sell tours on these websites accept tons of bookings but don’t actually have the tickets “in hand,” so to speak. I hate to say it’s a gamble to buy this way, but it seems like it is, especially during the high season. That said, you might book and have absolutely no problems whatsoever, I just wanted to include this information so that readers know that this is a possibility.

I checked the prices on three different popular third-party vendors: Get your Guide, Viator and Tiqets, and have indicated the options with the lowest prices at the time of writing (both were from Get your Guide). Note that the prices could fluctuate depending on when you buy, how many people have booked, if they’re running a promotion, etc. It’s worth comparing all three when you’re ready to buy. 

Get your Guide, Viator and Tiqets sell tickets and tours on behalf of tour companies who utilize their platforms – they are not the tour companies themselves. When buying, click through and read the reviews of the tour and company to make sure they’re the right one for you.

There are probably other third-party vendors that I’m unfamiliar with – I’ve used these three in the past for various visits, so I’m highlighting them here. If you used another one and had a good experience, feel free to share in the comments.

If your date of choice is sold out, check the other links in case those companies still have tickets. You might have to pay a bit more, but you’ll get to go to the Museums.

Vatican Museums skip-the-line tickets

You can get a skip-the-line ticket on Get your Guide for €31.

Should I do a guided tour of the Vatican Museums?

In my opinion, doing a guided tour really changes the experience you have in a place. If visiting the Vatican Museums means a lot to you or you’re very interested in art, it’s probably a good idea to spend the money and visit with a guide.

Vatican Museums guided tour tickets

You can book a guided tour on the Vatican Museums’ website for €40 as an individual, or €28 if you qualify for a reduced fare (see categories above).

Again, if the tickets that include a guided tour are sold out on the official website of the Vatican Museums, don’t fret! You can purchase them through a third-party vendor.

All of these tickets include skip-the-line entry and a guide.

At the time of writing, Get your Guide was offering a promotion for guided tours of the Vatican Museums. For just €38 per person, you can visit the Museums with an expert guide to inform you and help interpret what you see. 

Is there any way to beat the crowds at the Vatican Museums?

If you want to beat the crowds at the Vatican Museums, you can book an early morning or evening tour for a more private experience. Let’s take a look at the options.

VIP-style tours of the Vatican Museums

If you want a true VIP experience on your visit to the Vatican Museums, you probably want to take a look at Walks exclusive tours.

Early bird? Check out the Pristine Sistine Early Entrance Small Group Vatican tour. This one includes the Basilica, too!

Late riser? The Pristine Sistine experience is also available at closing time!

Walks also offers a complete Vatican tour that’s with a group of 20 or less, if you want to visit the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s with an expert guide.

Check out all of Walks’ Vatican experiences here. There’s an amazing-looking one that allows you to travel with the Vatican key master as he unlocks the galleries, including the Sistine chapel!

Rules for visiting the Vatican Museums

Dress code

Regarding the dress code to enter the Vatican Museums, the website says this: 

“Entry to the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Gardens is permitted only to appropriately dressed visitors. Sleeveless or low-cut garments, shorts above the knee, miniskirts and hats are not permitted.

The requirement of decorum extends also to any visible personal objects as well as similarly visible distinctive personal signs (such as, for example, tattoos) that may offend Catholic morality, the Catholic religion and common decency.”

So, what does this actually mean? It means that men and women should have their shoulders and knees covered, and I guess that, if you’re covered in tattoos, you should cover them as well, although they’re so ubiquitous now that I can’t imagine they’re very stickler-y about them, but who knows. I guess they’re taking that part of Leviticus seriously.

Bags

If you’re carrying a large bag, you will have to leave it in the – I love this word – cloakroom. 

Knives, scissors and metal tools

You’ll also be required to leave anything sharp in the cloakroom.

Service dogs

Service dogs are allowed in the Vatican Museums only to accompany the blind or partially blind. The dog must be on a leash, wearing a muzzle, and be certified as a guide dog. Your emotional support baboon will have to chill at the hotel. Sorry.

Taking photos

There is NO flash photography allowed anywhere in the Vatican Museums, and no photography or filming whatsoever is permitted in the Sistine Chapel. Tripods, stands of any kind, drones or other professional photo or video equipment is not allowed.

You can take photos – without flash – provided they’re for personal use.

Laser pointers

Forbidden. Leave it in your cloak.

Rules for the Sistine Chapel

Visitors are meant to be completely silent in the Sistine Chapel (note that, owing to personal experience, I have learned thanks to my nephew that hooting babies that are just learning what an echo is and how to make one are an exception).

You will be repeatedly reminded of this rule by the attendants in the Chapel, who will occasionally call out “SILENZIOOOOO” to shut everyone up.

Phone use

You’re asked to avoid using your phone throughout the Vatican Museums, and use is strictly prohibited in the Sistine Chapel.

Food and drink

You cannot eat or drink on your visit, but there are areas to get refreshments throughout the museum. If you bring any food or drinks with you, guess where they have to stay? Yes, my favorite room.

In case you’ve been living under a rock…

You can’t smoke or litter in the Museums. 

Good to know

Note that it is specified on the website of the Vatican Museums that there is no wi-fi for security reasons, and that the use of air conditioning is highly restricted – get this – especially during the summer months. This is to protect the art and architectural features of the Museums (and also maybe a tiny bit because Italians are afraid of air conditioning – I’m joking, I’m joking [but they really are]).

For more info on visiting the Vatican Museums, click here.

More Rome guides

You must be hungry after all that sightseeing – check out my favorite restaurants in Rome.

Not sure what to order? Here’s my giant guide to Roman pasta and another one on everything you should eat in the Eternal City.

On a budget? Here’s my street food guide.

I’ve got some general tips on dining in Rome, too.

Figuring out your way around? Check out this post on public transportation in Rome.

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