With priceless works of art, the Sistine Chapel, and incredible Papal history, the Vatican Museums attract over 6 million visitors a year. That can mean up to 30,000 people visiting the Vatican on any given day. That’s why planning when to visit can make the difference between feeling like part of the crowd, or having a once in a lifetime experience. After being inside the Vatican on hundreds of occasions, I can say that the best time to visit the Vatican is on Tuesday, Thursday or Friday in the early afternoon.
Of course, every day has its pros and cons and just because you are coming to Rome during a busier season does not mean you will have a bad experience. The most important thing is to be able to pick as strategic a time as your travel schedule will allow. Here are some tips on choosing the best time to visit.
Low Tourist Season
The low season officially starts on the 1st of November with the high season starting the week before Easter. The only exception to this is Christmas time where high season returns from the 22nd of December to the 6th of January. If you can visit the Vatican during the months of November, January, February or March (depending on when Easter falls), you will find that there are generally fewer people inside.
If you visit during June, July, or August, know that some of the more famous rooms will be so full it will be difficult to move. This will slow down your visit and while you should still make time to see the top attractions, you will also enjoy a break from the crowds if you seek out quieter sections of the museums.
Best Days of the Week to Visit
The quietest days to visit the Vatican during the week are Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. The Pope gives his Papal blessing every Wednesday which draws a huge crowd. After the blessing, many people choose to visit the museums because they are already in Vatican City. Then, because the Vatican is closed on Sundays (with the exception of the last Sunday of the month where the Vatican is open for free) this makes for a backlog of tourists on Saturdays and Mondays.
That means that midweek, apart from Wednesday, offers the days with a relatively fewer number of people. These may also be the days that it is easier to buy skip the line tickets because these tend to sell out in advance.
A note of advice about the weather: if there is rain in the forecast, most people also save their Vatican visits for the day that they expect to be wet. You can expect a longer wait if the weather is going to be soggy. Avoid this by going the day before the rain forecast and then visiting some of Rome’s smaller museums or covered markets on a stormy day. You will have the places almost to yourself.
Best Time of Day to Visit
The quietest time of the day to visit the Vatican is after 2 pm. This is due to the exceptionally common idea that most people get: believing that if they get to the Vatican early, they will be the first ones there and sneak in past the crowds. The problem is that when a vast majority of people have the same, it creates a traffic jam and the mornings are actually the busiest time to be inside the Vatican. The crowds die down throughout the day so get an early lunch and enter around 2 pm. The last entrance is at 4 pm which is when the museums get less and less crowded, with the last exit at 6 pm. Entering at 2 pm will still give you a full four hours inside and you will be able to move and see things much faster because the large tour groups will have already moved through.
Days to Avoid
It has always been said that the busiest day of the year to visit the Vatican is the 16th of August. This is due to the fact that the Vatican closes on the 14th and 15th of August every year for the feast of St Peter and St Paul. The 27th of December is not too far behind in terms of crowds due to the Vatican being closed on Christmas Day and St Stephens day (25 and 26 of December, respectively). Here is more information on the opening hours and days of the Vatican.
The Vatican Museums are open for free on the last Sunday of the month. Which makes this Sunday the busiest of that month. It also means that the last Saturday and the following Monday are much quieter. Many tourists think they have been clever going for free, where it is often worth paying the entrance fee for a much more comfortable experience on the day on either side of the free entry day.
How to Skip the Crowds
The Vatican has previously announced plans to limit the number of visitors to improve safety conditions (and the general experience), but this has yet to happen. In fact, in 2019 the crowds were the biggest ever. That’s why it is always a good idea to buy a skip the line ticket to avoid waiting outside for hours. Or, if you can afford to splurge on a tour, take one that gets you inside before the doors open to the general public.
Whenever you go, you will have an amazing experience, but planning ahead and picking the right time can ensure that you avoid as many crowds as possible so you can focus on the artwork and incredible cultural heritage.