Visiting the Vatican Museums can be for many people a once-in-a-lifetime experience. At 43,000 square meters (460,000 square feet) of galleries and incredible artwork, it makes the Vatican Museums the fifth-biggest museum in the world. This is not a quick in and out experience, so you want to be prepared for several hours inside.
With works of art that date as far back as the Ancient Egyptians to the Ancient Greeks and Romans to great Renaissance works by Raphael to paintings painted as recently as Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse, the mind will boggle as you walk through this incredible museum.
Want to see as much as possible without the headache? You should know the rules about what is allowed inside the museums.
Here are the 7 items you absolutely should bring when visiting the Vatican Museums:
A pre-booked ticket
The Vatican Museums are famous for their long lines, especially in high season. On a busy Saturday or Monday at the Vatican, the wait to enter can be up to two hours which can be a strain on a hot Roman afternoon before you even start walking among the artworks. For just an added four euro you can pre-book your tickets on the Vatican Museums official website at a time slot of your choosing and skip the long lines. Print out the ticket where there is a barcode that will be scanned at the entrance. NOTE: As of now, September 2021 you must pre-book to enter the museums due to Covid restrictions and so the online fee is waived.
In the summer it is not uncommon for Rome to reach up to 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius) and if you do decide to wait in the long lines outside then it is important that you stay hydrated. There is a security check as you enter into the Vatican museums so it is important that you only bring a plastic bottle. Glass bottles will be taken from you or you will be forced to leave them in the locker room. Although it is forbidden to eat or drink in the Vatican galleries there are some outdoor courtyards within the museums with water fountains to fill up your plastic water bottles as you move between different buildings.
Any pets, for obvious reasons, are forbidden inside the Vatican museums. However, guide dogs (not emotional support animals) are allowed as long as they are on a leash and are wearing a muzzle.
Although strollers are not allowed inside Saint Peter’s Basilica and must be checked in the locker room this is not the case inside the Vatican Museums. If you have a baby or a toddler they can be strolled around the galleries but you must find a security guard when you are approaching a staircase. The security guard will escort you to the elevator and he or she will explain to you where to go to regroup with your family, friends, or tour group. The museums are large and full of priceless artifacts so the stroller will help keep smaller guests safe and comfortable at all times.
I personally strongly advise people to book a tour when visiting the Vatican Museums. This will guarantee that you skip the lines, are shown to the most important works and have these works explained in detail. However, I am aware that not all people enjoy taking tours and would prefer to go at their own pace. Bringing a guidebook can be very useful in the Vatican Museums as without knowing the background it is very easy to pass some of the most important pieces in art history. A guidebook can also save you a lot of time and help you to get from the Vatican Museums to visiting the Sistine Chapel. You can also get an audio guide when visiting the Museums.
At the entrance to the Vatican Museums, there is a metal detector so like in an airport you will have to remove loose change and coins to be scanned before they are returned to you. Although I do not overly recommend eating in the Vatican as the food can be mediocre and the prices slightly higher than in the city of Rome it is good to have the option. There are also many gift shops and book stores in the Vatican and also if you plan on climbing the Dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica you will need money to purchase your ticket for that as well. Credit cards are widely accepted but I actually suggest you bring cash. The Vatican has its own bank and mints its own Euros. Paying in cash inside the Vatican is the best way to potentially score some unique coins featuring Vatican City.
The correct clothing
Comfortable shoes are definitely a given when visiting the Vatican museums as there can be quite a bit of walking. It is also forbidden to have your knees and shoulders shown inside the Vatican. Although they are not too strict about this rule in the Vatican Museums they are very strict inside the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica. On a hot day wearing this extra clothing can be uncomfortable so you can purchase a shawl that you can wrap around your shoulders rather than wearing a long-sleeved top. Here is more about the Vatican Dress Code.