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WARNING Sistine Chapel

We recently returned from a wonderful trip to Italy. Unquestionably, our visit to the Sistine Chapel was the worst part of the trip. One cant just visit the chapel> You need to buy a ticket for the entire Vatican Museum. We didnt mind this so much as it seemed that there would be other great things to see there including the Lacoon sculpture.
When you enter the Vatican complex, there are signs everywhere which appear to point the way to the Sistine Chapel. In fact, if you follow the signs, you are led in a huge mob through rooms and rooms of the Museum (where you see almost nothing due to the crowds) for hours. Although the guards constantly tell you that you are very near the chapel, it took us 2.5 hours to reach the chapel. The crowding was so intense that people were overcome with heat exhaustion.

We eventually reached the chapel 15 minutes before closing time(the Chapel closes 2 hours befroe the Museum) and gurds in the Chapel barked at us to move further and further to the back of the room. When you leave the room, you are on the street and unable to see the rest of the museum.
Of note- most of the romms of the Museum are totally unguarded and the other works of art are not protected from the surging crowds or potential defacement.
At the end of the visit, we felt totally "had" and misled (by the setup and the guards and their assurances that the Chapel was just ahead). The crowding was so intense that in addtion to the fire hazard, the experince was so unpleasant that most of us would have paid a pretty penny to exit the complex.

Oh yes- and we didnt get a chance to see the chapel....

Posted by
204 posts

You are certainly right, it is too crowded. Summer time is just too crowded at the Vatican. We never travel then, only fall and winter. WE have been in the Sistine many times when there were only us and one or two other couples. Roma is too hot and too many tourists, but that isn't the Vatican's fault, you just have to plan tdo avoid the crowds. Even crowds tho don't prevent you from looking up. There are no crowds near the ceiling. It is possible to walk straight to the Sistine tho, but you pretty much have to know the way and push past the crowds. Along the way there are magnificient works of art that are certainly the equal of the Chapel. Did you try to see them?

Posted by
27 posts

We were at the Vatican this past week. It was hot and crowded. I had booked a walking tour with Viator. Our tour guide was an American who has lived in Rome for 8 years. The tickets to the museum and Sistine Chapel were extra. We didn't have to stand in line too long, and we really enjoyed the information our guide provided. Yes, there were a lot of people, but we had plenty of time. The Sistine Chapel is an amazing work of art. So sorry you missed it.

Kay
Powder Springs, GA

Posted by
8 posts

I'm sorry you had a bad experience. I had the opposite, but maybe my expectations were lower. I knew the day we went – a Saturday last month, the day after the Vatican was closed for a holy day – was supposed to be dreadfully crowded. Yet there were places in the museum, such as the Octagonal Courtyard, where we had the museum to ourselves. Knowing that many visitors are only there to see the Sistine Chapel and rush right there from the entrance, we took our time, and the Chapel, while certainly crowded, did not have the claustrophobic feel others have described. The worst part of the Chapel for me were the visitors who were shouting at each other, even though silence was requested, and violating the no-photography rule with their flash cameras. And while we went directly from the Chapel to St. Peter's, some people we knew did find a way to return to the museum. I guess, like so many other things in life, whether a Vatican visit is going to be pleasant or not is a matter of luck.

Posted by
147 posts

We had the opposite experience also but we do all our trips in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall when the crowds aren't bad and the weather is great.

I would hate that situation you were in for sure!

Posted by
84 posts

I've heard similar stories so many times I'm a bit wary of going to the Vatican Museum...at least for my trip in September. I might just wait until next time and travel in the off season. I've been wondering...was there a required bag check? Though I suppose if they spit you off into the street or St. Peters you wouldn't be going back to the entrance?

Posted by
32 posts

I do not remember a required bag check there. I think I would remember if there was a check as we would have had to go to considerable trouble to retrieve it.

Posted by
13 posts

Went to the Vatican Museum in April 05. It wasnt that crowded, we had parts of the place almost to ourselves. The Sistine Chapel was the most crowded but we were able to linger in there. I usually only travel to Europe during the spring. Although I did go to Germany in August, it was very crowded and there was a wait for everything. Good thing it wasnt too hot.

Posted by
25 posts

What's odd is that our Vatican Museum guide got us through, in May, in about 1.5 hours in our case and I sat down to rest in several rooms since it was hot.

She was wonderfully informative, an older woman who was very enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about all the paintings we passed. One doesn't have to stay with the guide though. You can go through the rooms faster yourself if you are focused on the Sistine Chapel. But I was happy to find all that we saw on the way. My travel partner was less ecstatic about all the walking and the heat.

I have photos of the tour at http://www.pbase.com/andrys/sistine

No flash, Mary. :-) I try to add some details that might be of interest for people who will be going.
Most of all I wish I had read Ross King's "The Pope's Ceiling" before I went. Fascinating and highly recommended.

  • Andrys
Posted by
25 posts

Wanted to add that we faxed a request to the Vatican Museum via their online page's info for an appointment for the tour that we wanted, around noon, the day after we were to arrive in Rome.

When we got to the hotel in Rome, they had a fax from the Vatican Museum saying that our reservations were confirmed for the next day. We showed up at the EXIT and went up to the guard and he had our names and let us right in.

This guided tour that allows no waiting in lines costs about $10 more per person, or at least it did in 2006. It felt great to just walk right in.

If anyone can't find the Vatican Museum page for that and wants it, I can look it up and post it.

  • Andrys
Posted by
805 posts

I have to say, by far the funniest part of the Chapel is that they try to shush you every five seconds. Kind of ridiculous when you think about how many people they let in there.

Posted by
2000 posts

I will be in Rome in 6 weeks. If it is too crowded I plan to skip the Vatican Museum, and see the Sistine Chapel some other time. However, I'd like to go inside St. Peter's -- is it possible to go directly in?

Posted by
32 posts

Yes- line for St Peter's is separate. You do need to clear security and a check of attire but once inside (and even on the day I have described) you can see the art and the church and its not too crowded.

Posted by
805 posts

Oh and the secret passage that Rick talks about in his book from the Chapel to St. Peter's is very real and very good. It saved us at least 20 minutes.

Posted by
25 posts

Stu requested fax info.
Info from the Vatican site:

http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/z-Info/MV_Info_Servizi_Visite.html

"GUIDED TOURS FOR INDIVIDUALS:
VATICAN MUSEUMS AND SISTINE CHAPEL (2 hours)

The tour itinerary takes visitors through the most significant cultural and religious areas within the Vatican Museums: the Pio Clementino (classical antiquity), the Geographical Maps and Tapestries Galleries (Renaissance art), the Raphael's Rooms and The Sistine Chapel.

From March through October:
from Monday through Friday at: 10.30am - 12.00pm - 2.00pm;
on Saturday at: 10.30am and 11.15am

From November through February: everyday but Sundays at 10.30a.m.

Rates: full fare 23.50 [euros]; reduced 18.50 [euros]

The above rates include admission to the Museums, guided tour service and headset.
. . .
Fax reservation : 06 6988 5100

"

Faxing or phoning Italy can be done from the US for 10c/minute via the 1016868 number, used this way:
1016868 39 06 6988 5100
[More in the next note]

Posted by
25 posts

Part 2 of faxing the Vatican Museum

The Museum needs your names, a fax number to reply to when you're in Italy (I gave both my U.S. office and my Rome hotel numbers), and address where you're staying, in Rome.

They used to reply to email but are not responding to that these days, though they might email you after you fax them, if close enough to the date you'd be visiting.

It was really worth doing this!

Posted by
44 posts

We visited the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel/St. Peter's on Monday--7/23/07. I had requested a reservation for the guided tour (I gave them my Italian Hotel fax number for the response) two weeks prior to the 23rd. We had a noon entry time. We passed blocks and blocks of people in line, went right up to the entrance and were let right in. There was a security check but we did not have to check our Pacsafe totebags. At this point, I was surprised to see that we could have skipped the guided tour and just bought a 13 euro entrance ticket. No one forced us to go to the tour window but we wanted the tour since this was our first visit. My daughter was offered a student discount (she had her student id) which I was not aware of. Her guided tour was 18.50 euro and mine was 23.50. Our guide was an older Belgian woman and her enthusiasm for the art was contageous. The Sistine chapel was the most crowded room and not a pleasant experience but this was due to the tourists.

Posted by
25 posts

Kathy, I think we had the same really fun guide, though our tour was a year ago. I did a page on it and have bought several books since then to enjoy it even more after visiting. Because we were there first week of May we probably had less of a crowd than you in the chapel, and it was actually cooler and they allow you to sit and enjoy for some time. We weren't rushed out.
But it was quite a crush going -through- the museum, oddly enough. Still, wonderful art to see.

Posted by
127 posts

i posted this in another question but think it is important...i accidently went to the vatican after avoiding it because of the horror stories like this one.."accident " = i missed my flight home, had an extra day, and said "why not"..there was LITTLE crowds.
the reason? the POPE was not home! [went to brazil]...so..if you can find when the pope is not there, that's the time to visit.

Posted by
35 posts

I've been to the Sistine Chapel twice. Both times we got up very early and arrived at the Vatican Museum entrance before it opened...being the first people in line. Once it opened, we walked as fast as politely possible straight to the SC. We were there for 15 minutes before anyone else entered the room....it was magnificent. Once it fills with people, it's just not the same ambience.

For anyone who wants to see the Sistine Chapel, I suggest doing what we did....it's well worth it.

Posted by
45 posts

We too had a similar experience. When we got to the Sistine it was jamed packed with people and the staff were yelling at people. Also, I did not notice any signs saying you could not take pictures but the staff were grabbing people's camera. I also did not really get to enjoy the beauty of this place and was left feeling frustrated. We happened to take Rick's advice from the Rome 2007 book and went out the secert way to go to St. Peter's.

Posted by
6 posts

Yesterday, I faxed my request for an October 12th tour of the Vatican Museum and the SIstine Chapel to the fax number listed on the Vatican Museum website and when I came in to work today, the faxed reply was waiting for me.

Posted by
239 posts

Not a secret passage, but a small door in the rear of the chapel, opposite where you come in. If you go out that back door, you will exit the building near the line to get tickets for St. Peter's dome or to walk around to the front of the basilica. It's a great time saver as long as you understand that you are exiting the museum for good at that point and there is no place to return your audio guide, if you have one.