Explore the Vatican with Context’s signature tour, including skip-the-line tickets to shorten the wait! We’ll slip around the crowds as we visit the Vatican’s masterpieces, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, in a four-hour tour led by an expert in art or church history. Comprehensive and engaging, the Arte Vaticana tour is designed to help us make sense of the Vatican’s collection and understand its layered tapestry of art and history.
We’ll begin our visit with the Vatican Palace (now housing the Vatican Museums), one of the world's great repositories of ancient and Renaissance art. There we’ll generally start with a thorough overview of papal history and the construction of the Vatican Palace. Next we may veer off to the chronologically arranged picture gallery known as the Pinacoteca, which forms the perfect backdrop for a discussion of the history of painting from the late medieval to high Renaissance periods. From here, we’ll traverse the halls of the museums as we head to the Sistine Chapel, where we’ll discuss Michelangelo’s work, his struggles with the medium (fresco) and his patron (the Pope), and the fantastic symbolism of the ceiling and altar. We’ll spend the final forty to sixty minutes of this tour exploring St. Peter's Basilica, a vast church and the symbolic center of Catholicism, fixing the church and its artworks in a social and historical context—and tying it back to the themes that we have discussed earlier in the tour.
At the end of our Arte Vaticana Tour, we will have a more complete understanding of the history, importance, and artistic legacy of this expansive complex. Most importantly, we will have learned from our guide new ways of seeing art and thinking about history—a contextualized approach that blends history, art, architecture, politics, philosophy and theology, and that connects all of this with the city of Rome.
To assist you in planning your trip to the Vatican, we have created an informative resources page - How to Tour the Vatican.
Note: Our visit to the Vatican includes advance entry tickets, which allow us to skip the general admission line. However, we will still be required to wait in the security line. At times, this line may take up to 20 minutes. Regardless, our docent will spend this time wisely by providing an overview of the history of Vatican. Learn more about skip-the-line-tours
Please keep in mind that the Vatican is more crowded on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. It is best to book this tour on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday, in the early afternoon when the morning crowds are more likely to have thinned out.
Our Arte Vaticana walk is one of a few approaches we take at the Vatican. We offer a Vatican Night Tour
on Friday evenings and, occasionally, through the year, we also run an exclusive After Hours Vatican Tour
Note: If you are a family with children under 12 we highly recommend that you book our Vatican for Kids Tour
Note: People with disabilities may be entitled to free entry to the Vatican Museums. Please contact us to find out if you qualify.
Note: Please note that while it is possible to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel in a wheelchair, there is no wheelchair access from the Sistine Chapel to St Peter's Basilica. If you use a wheelchair, please contact us to discuss alternate options .
Please Note: While your docent will do their best to show you the highlights of the Vatican Museums, there may be closures that are beyond our control: works of art can be on loan elsewhere or entire galleries may be closed due to private Papal or Vatican functions. Should this be the case, your docent will take you to one of the many other areas of the Museums.
St Peter's Basilica may also experience closures or restricted access due to official celebrations or ceremonies. Should this be the case during your walk, your docent will allow more time in the Vatican Museums and spend time discussing the exterior of the church.
Does this walk "skip the line"?
Yes, we use reserved, timed tickets to bypass the ticket line at the entrance. Context, as all other registered tour companies with special accounts at the Vatican, can enter without waiting in the general entry line. You, as well, can make a reservation individually for a timed entrance, through the Vatican's website.
Despite some marketing efforts from other tour companies, using the reserved entrance, and "skipping the line," does not alleviate the biggest difficulty in visiting the Vatican: the crowds. The most important consideration is timing your visit to avoid large tour groups and cruise ships. We schedule our walks to try and find the best conditions inside the museums. Please note, Roma Passes can not be used for the Vatican.
Do people with disabilities pay to enter the Vatican?
Do you do tours of the Scavi under the Vatican?
No. These are only organized by the Vatican itself. You need to email them directly at email@example.com.
Does the tour include climbing the dome at St. Peter's.
No, but you can do this independently after your tour. Tickets are €7 for the elevator and €5 for the stairs, and can be bought at St. Peter's.
Can we tour the Vatican gardens with Context?
Unfortunately, no. Only Vatican guides are permitted to tour the gardens. You can book a tour of the gardens through them here
How can I participate in the Papal Audience?
The Pope addresses a general audience every Wednesday at 10 am. You can make reservations by calling the Vatican prefetura at +39 06.69883017. The prefetura also has an official website, which can confirm the dates of the scheduled audiences. Be forewarned that the Papal address creates a “stadium style” spirituality. It’s not the intimate engagement that people may expect, as hundreds of pilgrims are in attendance within St. Peter’s square.
What is the dress code inside the Vatican buildings?
Both St. Peter’s and the Museums are considered holy places. Men should wear slacks, and women should wear slacks or skirts below the knee. Shoulders must also be covered. If you are intent on wearing spaghetti straps or a halter-top, bring a shawl and expect to keep it around you. Shorts above the knee are not allowed on anyone, including children. These rules may seem unduly strict, but remember, you are a guest in the Vatican.
What are the best days/times to visit the Vatican?
The best times to visit the Vatican Museums are the late afternoon, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday. That’s not to say you couldn’t go other days, these just happen to be the times when we’ve found the crowds inside the museums to be thinner. The Museums are closed on Sundays.
Why don’t you offer any of your Vatican small group walks on Wednesdays?
Since the Papal Audience takes place every Wednesday morning, St. Peter’s Basilica is closed until about 1 pm. Because of this, we don’t schedule anything in the morning. We also stay away from Wednesday afternoons because so many people who attend the audience in the morning go straight to the museums, making it unusually crowded inside. We can schedule something privately on Wednesday afternoons, but we suggest you pick another day for your comfort and enjoyment.
How large of a bag can I take with me into the Vatican Museum?
The only bags you are required to check are larger backpacks, like the hiking/camping kind. Ordinary ones for everyday use are fine. Carry-on bags are no problem, just nothing like a suitcase. Our advice is to check anything cumbersome or anything that may knock something over.
Can I store my luggage or stroller at the Vatican during my tour?
Before entering the exhibition spaces, visitors are required to leave all luggage, suitcases, large bookbags, packages, or containers considered unsuitable by Vatican staff in the cloakroom. Please be sure that if you check something into the cloakroom, you must pick up your baggage before the end of the business day at the Vatican.
Is photography allowed inside Vatican buildings?
Photography is allowed without flash in all areas except for the Sistine Chapel. There is no photography allowed in the Sistine Chapel. If you see photos others have taken, it is due to the fact that they’ve ignored the guards and taken photos. We do not recommend this, as we believe in adhering to the rules. Moreover, the guards may escort you out of the chapel if they catch you taking photos.
Is it possible to enter the Sistine Chapel without going through the entire museum?
This seems to be a popular belief, but is in fact untrue. One must follow through the entire route of the museums before entering the Sistine, which is located at the very end.
Which parts of the museum do we visit on this tour?
On this tour, you will definitely see the Gallery of Tapestries, the Gallery of Maps, and the Sistine Chapel. You may visit the Picture Gallery, the Pio Clementino Museum, The Braccio Nuovo and/or the Raphael Rooms time and venue closures permitting. Please contact us about booking a private, customizable tour.