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Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

houston
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Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

My friends and I are in our late 20's/early30's and we are going to Italy at the very end of August. It is the first time for the three of us.

Is the Vatican something we can do ourselves?

I've looked up some tours and looks like it's $55-ish for a 3hr tour that also goes to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. I don't mind paying the money for a tour, but I'm wondering if it is something that we can easliy do ourselves? Or should we just go ahead and book with a tour company?

Philadelphia...
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1. Re: Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

Hi,

So as far as whether or not you need a tour, I think if you are not avid art history folks and you simply may be happy with a Rick Steves self-guided iPod download (ricksteves.com/news/…italy-audio-tours.htm) and you do not need a tour that essentially has the same level of information but costs more. I have found that most people book the tour for the "skip the line" aspect. I also think that a more free-form approach can be a lot of fun and give you flexibility for things like sleeping in a bit, lunch and actually enjoying yourself;-) However, if you are avid art history folks then take the time to book a really good tour guide and not the middle-of-the-road kind, as they can be disappointing to the more advanced traveler...

In my mind, Vatican as a site can be roughly divided into three parts:

1) the Basilica which is the actual church and has the famous Pieta statue (behind some intensive bulletproof glass) as well as the other incredible aspects of the Basilica's architecture to explore; my family all had the Rick Steves guide and simply allowed ourselves 1 hour to explore independently before meeting up at a designated spot to move on with our day....

2) climbing up the dome/cupola which costs a little money and has a line for the elevators (if I remember correctly, this can be found after exiting the Basilica proper, on the left as you walk out of the doors but still in the main area of St. Peter's Square) - the views are amazing and time for this is variable based on lines....you may even want to hit this first thing before the Basilica, as the cruise ship crowds will probably start exiting the Vatican Museum around 10:30/11....

3) the Vatican Museum which has a separate entrance outside of the actual Basilica/church: if you're standing in St. Peter's square FACING the Basilica, you want to turn to your right, completely exit the square (go through the columns) and follow the external walls around a few bends before you come to this separate entrance....there are small signs to follow as well.

Regarding the Vatican Museum, I read this in a tour book and did not believe it at first but just used this for my own trip third to the Vatican and it is 100% true:

Vatican Museum: go in the afternoon, between 2pm and 3pm DO NOT ATTEMPT TO BEAT THE MORNING CROWDS! You will NEVER beat the cruise ship crowds in the mornings and it's frustrating and pointless to try. Also, many of the "skip the line" tours are actually scams: you "skip the line" by having the tour guide talk to you while being in the line (so it's not a "line", it's part of the "tour"...this happened to me on previous trips with both the Vatican and the Colosseum) So, no one will believe you when you say your plan is to arrive at the Vatican Museum at 2pm but I just had my entire family walk into the Vatican museum two weeks ago with no reservation and no line at 2 pm....and it was a triumph!!!!

If you decide to trust me on this, then here is my recommendation:

Arrive at St. Peter's Square in the morning (maybe 9 or 10am?) and simply enter the main part of the church with the Rick Steves guide (you can download the app and podcasts for free) to listen to as you walk around the inside. Check out the wait on the dome line, as I do think the trip to the top is worthwhile and gives you fantastic views of Rome. Once you're done all that, find a place for lunch (walk several blocks away so as not to get a tourist lunch) and then head to the Vatican Museum for a 2 or 3 pm entrance.

This is the main official site for the Vatican: saintpetersbasilica.org/touristinfo.htm to help you plan and, as I mentioned, I just came back from my third visit and still love the site:-)

Enjoy!!!

Sydney, Australia
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2. Re: Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

You can book a timed entry to the Vatican Museums and skip the line, without needing to take a tour. mv.vatican.va

Houston, TX
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3. Re: Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

We booked a timed entry for 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon. Arrived at 1:00 and were immediately admitted to the museums. We had done some research before our trip and had a guidebook with us. We were able to see the things we were really interested in and, since luckily the interior was not shoulder to shoulder people, spend time where we wanted to stop and linger. Best of both worlds for us--no line for entry and the abililty to do our own thing.

California
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4. Re: Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

We went to the Vatican today. We followed TA advice and chose to go on a Tuesday afternoon. Highly recommend it. NO lines at the museum. 3 people in front of us in the security line and we walked right up to the ticket counter. Then went upstairs and bought the audio guide for $7e, which was very good. You can go at your own leisure, press the # of the pieces you were interested in and get educated as much as you want. Also for each room of the museum you pressed a number and it gave you an overview. We thought it was very thorough and well worth it. The tour groups were everywhere - quite bothersome actually when they just stopped in the middle of crowded corridors. I do think it's a personal choice. Some guides I'm sure are worth it, but for a family of 5 I couldn't justify the expense for some of the Vatican tours. We booked a tour guide for the Colloseum and Roman Forum on Thursday, but it was pretty inexpensive to do so (I think $130e for the whole family). Also recommend getting the Angel Tours free tour at the Pantheon. They do it at 7pm every day (high season), you just tip the guide what you want.

Oh, and they did stop MANY people from entering St. Peter's Basilica due to dress code. Mostly women who didn't have shoulders or knees covered. I saw at least 20 turned away.

Edited: 10 July 2012, 22:21
houston
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5. Re: Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

Wow! Thanks for the detailed responses and tips! You all are awesome! Sounds like the timed entry is definitely the way to go! Thanks so much! :D

California
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6. Re: Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

As for tours, we took the Colloseum tour with Angel Tours today. Highly recommend. Actually Ireland based company, very easy to understand. Our guide today was getting her doctorate in Ancient Roman history and she really knew her stuff. Very affordable, think it was $30 for adults and $20 for kids (not including the $12 cost of the ticket or Roma Pass). You should have seen the lines people were waiting in. Easily 2 hours. Wasn't moving. We bought our tickets at the Palentine Hill entrance, maybe 5 people in the ticket line. Same ticket gets you in the Colloseum. We then walked right past literally thousands of people in the group line and got waived right in.

I couldn't imagine getting much out of the Colloseum, Forum, etc without a knowledgeable guide.

pittsburgh
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7. Re: Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

You can also buy entry tickets or book a tour of the main areas or underground areas with the official site:

www.ticketclic.it/Gb/HTML/musei/colosseo.cfm

for the underground tour you can click on the "collect onsite" option. Then choose your date and all the tours available will come up. For entry tickets you can use the print at home option. Both allow you to bypass the lines. The guides for the tours are licensed and really great with the facts and keeping you entertained. The cost for the tour and entry tickets is 21 euros. The entry tickets also include entry into the forum and palatine hill.

You can easily tour the colosseum on your own with an audio guide or a guide book. The site is well signed. The forum is not as well signed so an audio guide, guide book or guide is a good idea.

Donna

Miami Beach, Florida
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8. Re: Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

Yes timed entry ticket and rent an audio guide is the best way to do it. I did it twice that way.

Staten Island, New...
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9. Re: Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

Where do you book a timed entry?

Staten Island, New...
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10. Re: Book w/tour company to see the Vatican or DIY?

Hi. Where can I book a timed entry to the Vatican?