I just finished the Best of Rome tour a week ago, so here’s my first-hand view of the whole Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel issue.
First, the museum/chapel is very, VERY crowded, so the experience itself borders on unpleasant. I gather from our tour guide and one of the local guides that a conversation (debate?) about whether to include it on tours in Rome has raged in Edmonds for some time, and for now the decision is to keep it in only the Best of Rome seven-day tour, leaving time for members of other tours who want to brave it to do it during the free time. My take: if you’re OK with missing it, I’d say visit one of the many other great places in Rome. But the Sistine Chapel is one of the great pieces of Western art, so it may be worth it to you. It was included in our tour, I found it unpleasant, and I’m glad I did it.
If you want to go, here’s my advice, for what it’s worth.
- Be sure the museum and chapel are covered in whichever RS guidebook you use. These 34 or so pages are invaluable in helping you navigate logistically and understand what you’re seeing. If it’s not in your guidebook, invest in the Rome or Italy book.
- If you have a smartphone, download the Rick Steves Audio Europe app (on this website) and the “Rome-Sistine Chapel” walking tour.
- Read/listen on the plane or bus/whatever BEFORE you get there, twice if possible. There’s lots of great info, and the crush of the crowds is no place to thoughtfully contemplate Rick’s excellent guiding. BTW, I hope he’ll add a walking tour of the Vatican Museum soon….
- BE SURE you have reserved a ticket. The guidebooks explain how to do this on line. Laura in her post above gave you a rough estimate of the schedule of the tour’s group activities, and it sounds like you can see the museum/chapel in the afternoon without missing any of the group activities. Our guide had us leave plenty of time to get to the Vatican because if you’re late they won’t let you in, so keep that in mind. I don’t know how far in advance you need to reserve. Advice about free time activities is included as part of the tour. You can ask your guide when you meet him or her in Paris, but I’d call the tour department and ask. While you’re on the phone, ask about which guidebook.
- I normally take public transportation in Europe, but you’ll be walking all morning and we’re talking a Hike through the museum. I’d recommend a taxi to get there.
- Pay attention to Rick’s comments about the size of your bag. Backpacks and anything larger than a purse must be checked, necessitating a return hike through the museum to get them.
- Pay attention to Rick’s comments about WC’s. Go before you start the tour.
- I carried a small pair of binoculars as Rick suggested for many years when I realized I never used them. I wished I had had them to get up closer and more personal with the ceiling.
BTW, all our local guides commented that the crowds this year were smaller than usual. The speculation was that the crowds in 2000 were so large that people decided to stay away this year…
Hope this helped…Have a wonderful time!