That’s the beginning of a massive campaigne for encouraging people to be braver visiting the Vatican Museum by themselves. Some posts/reviews are very intimidating about the scary, snaking lines outside the museum and I found this attitude not fair to those indipendent travellers who like and enjoy to do things by themselves. First of all it is not fair to those people who travel on the budget and who, maybe, are going to give up a glorious meal just to join a tour. I could sound crazy because many of you know that I am involved in the tourism industry, as my profile clearly says I am a pro official city tour guide. This could sound against my business but I cannot keep my mouth shut any more. For these reasons here you are my tips.
FAT & HUGE LINE ISSUE. I don’t want to hide behind a finger, as we say: it exists and it is not urban legend but don’t fall in temptations each time somebody approaches you asking: “Do you want to join a tour? Look at the line, the jaw-dropping line, you crossed the Ocean to stand into a never ending line? And once you are in, do you think that you could be able (but he/she’s thinking “smart enough”) to understand where to go and what to do? In less than 40 minutes, fellows, you are in with the most famous & knowledgeable city guide!” At this point, think what things you are renouncing to join the tour (glorious meals, souvenirs, drinks etc) and with a smile say “No, thank you”. Because, you, my dear smart traveller, already know that the line to enter the Vatican Museum is calculated in around 40 minutes every day, no matter at what time you decide to go (however see the point “exceptions”). Even if the official time planning of the Vatican is clearly stating that the Museum is opening for the general public at 10am, I can give you my Scout-Girl’s word (cross on the heart) that it is not (completely) true; the line could reach the Janiculum Hill otherwise! In fact to get the line lighter, people are let in earlier than 10am, together with the groups/individuals with a reservation; there is not a fixed rule, it depends on the booked groups, normally they are over at 9am-9.30am. From January 2007, when new entrance schedule was released, I have seen the Museum opening at 10am just twice!
JUDGING LINE LENGTH=CALCULATING THE STAND-INTO-THE-LINE TIME ISSUE. After many years working as a local tour guide I can calculate how long you will wait in the line taking some fixed points/spots. If you join the line in Risorgimento Square corner Via Porta Angelica is 50 minutes waiting; in Risorgimento Square corner Via Bastioni Michelangelo 40 minutes waiting; in Viale Bastioni Michelangelo (traffic light) 30 minutes waiting; any point along Viale Vaticano from 10 up to 20 minutes waiting.
BEST TIME TO GO ISSUE. Now I have to give more options for different kinds of travellers.
Art lovers: don’t even think to come out in less than 4-5 hours! I know you all, my dears: You cannot resist in front of the art treasures and the Vatican Museum is bread for your teeth and could be your natural environment! So go early, I mean around 7.45-8am (we say that the morning has the gold in the mouth!). Spend the waiting hour to read a good guide book, or introducing the Vatican Museum to your fellows, studying the map (see the point “itinerary”). In front of the Vatican Walls (Viale Vaticano) there are two nice caffees if you need further caffeine!
Sistine Chapel Rockets (C’mon, confess that you want to go out as fast as you can, you saw million times History Channel documentaries about Michaelangel and now that you are here, of course you don’t want to miss the chance! Busy schedule to cover is an issue as well!): go around 2-2.30pm to have 2 hours to pace around and reach the Sistine Chapel in time around 4.20pm (it closes at 4.30).
ITINERARY ISSUE. Art Lovers (you are my favourite!!!): Start with the Cortile della Pigna (Pinecone Courtyard) and having the huge pinecone in front of you lead to your right for the Pio Clementino: that’s the beginning of the collections of the antiquities. Walk along the looong corridor to check if the Braccio Nuovo is open for the best pieces (unfortunately it is not always open to public). At this point walk back and climb the short staircase, stop at the window on the right for the magnificent view. You will find yourselves in the Belvedere or Octagon (?spelling?) Courtyard (Apollo of Blevedere, Lacoon etc). Halls of Animals, Muses and the Rotunda Hall are waiting for you. Climb up on the upper galleries (Candelabra, Tapestries & Maps). At the end of the Maps make a left to lead to the Raphael’s Rooms, you are then directed one floor below to the Borgia Apartment and finally the Sistine Chapel. Little tip, because I guess that at this point also art lovers need a rest! Coming from the Borgia Apartment if you go straight (instead of climbing the staircase to the Sistine) there are the bathrooms and a little cute outdoor cafè for drinks & food. Inside the Sistine Chapel you could mix up with guided groups that are taking the shortcut to St Peter’s Church.
Sistine Chapel Rokets: Start with the Cortile della Pigna (Pinecone Courtyard) and having the huge pinecone in front of you lead to your right for the Pio Clementino. Peak inside, walk a bit and step back to the Courtyard to take the Simonetti Staircase on your right. Stop on top of the first flight to see some of the antiquities. Walk all the way down to the Sistine Chapel (Galleries of Candelabra, Tapestries & Maps). At the end of the Gallery of the Maps go straight, take the modern staircase to the Sistine Chapel. The tip is always the same, but for you means going downstairs to the right to find the cafè.
BEST GUIDED TOUR ISSUE. If you cannot resist the temptation I would strongly reccommand the Museum Audio Guide! Cheap, efficent, useful! I would like to think also that many of you still enjoy going into a museum with a good guide book (or a scholar essay) to read in a corner, acting as professional tour guides for their parties (according to my opinion they really are!).
Here you are some useful readings before you go:
stpetersbasilica.org/Necropolis/JW/TheBoneso… Print the infos you need and take the papers with you! About the Sistine Chapel: King Ross, Michaelangel and the pope’s ceiling (very easy going book!) or for a more professional approach Charles Seymour jr, Michelangelo: the Sistine Chapel ceiling. I would suggest also to buy at the first giftshop the official Museum catalogue (blue cover with the Sistine Chapel ceiling on top), that is easy to carry and well written.
I hope that it could help you! Ciao a tutti Daniela
PS Make your questions!