Having given hundreds of tours in the Vatican I will always recommend taking a tour as long as you can find the best guide or tour company that will suit you. My advise is to research ahead of time before picking the tour company or guide that will work for you. TripAdvisor and checking other people’s experience on google is a good way to start. Even though the Vatican Museums do provide their own guides this isn’t always the best option to use when taking a tour of the Vatican. Different tour companies provide different experiences whether you want a highly intellectual tour or a more relaxing guide around the galleries, the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica. Regardless of which guide or company you choose I do believe to get the best Vatican experience booking a guide is the way to go. Here are some reasons why you should take a tour of the Vatican:Skip the lines
If you book a tour with any tour company entering into the Vatican they always have your skip the line tickets in advance. This basically means you can walk straight to the front of the line and enter in through the tour guide entrance at the Vatican Museums. However it is worth noting that during COVID times you must book your ticket in advance whether you are taking a tour or not.
The Vatican Museum is the fifth biggest museum in the world with many miles of galleries. With so much artwork you can find yourself wandering around aimlessly looking at works of art that are not as significant as other more important pieces. Taking a guided tour will lead you directly to the most important artworks. Even looking for the restrooms or places to find refreshments around the Vatican can take up precious time. Taking a tour with a Vatican expert can save you all that time and hassle.
If you book a guided tour you will find a lot of tour companies have access to parts of the Vatican that the general public are sometimes not even aware of. Also a lot of the major tour companies have the access to enter into the Vatican early in the morning before the general public where you can see the galleries and even the Sistine Chapel with a limited amount of people.
Stories and anecdotes
Every piece of art work anywhere in the world has a back story and this is know different in the Vatican. Hearing stories about Michelangelo fighting with Pope Julius II while painting the Sistine Chapel or the rivalry between Michelangelo and Raphael when they were working in the Vatican at the same time can be almost like a soap opera and will make you look at the works in a completely new light.
Guide to the Sistine Chapel
When people visit the Vatican what they mainly come to see is the Sistine Chapel. It is important to know that you are strictly not allowed to talk in the Sistine Chapel and without much knowledge of the chapel in advance you may wonder what each painted figure is doing on the ceiling. In many of the courtyards in the Vatican Museums there are boards with images of the Sistine Chapel broken up into different panels. These boards are specially for tour groups where the guide explains exactly what you will see before entering into the Chapel. Having this knowledge and the stories behind Michelangelo’s frescos can make a huge difference on your experience when you see the Sistine Chapel.
Finding the main attractions
The Laocoon, the Belvedere Torso, the Apollo Belvedere are three of the most famous and important Ancient Roman statues in the world. There is a Leonardo Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Vincent Van Gogh and even some Salvador Dali paintings in the Vatican Museums as well. The crazy Emperor Nero’s bathtub is even on display in the museums along with Michelangelo’s Pieta inside Saint Peter’s Basilica. All of this and more may not be too easy to find without a guided tour and there are many other hidden gems to find that you otherwise may miss.
Not everybody is interested in taking a tour when they visit museums. Often they feel a guide book is just as useful. But you can not ask a guide book a question. If something is unclear to you in a guide book or if you feel mislead when trying to find something you specifically wanted to see you can not question the guide book. When taking a tour you will often have the chance to ask or question the guide if something is unclear to you or if you are curious about something in particular. From my experience some customers will wait around at the end of the tour to ask for further information. This can also lead to asking about things beyond the Vatican such as a place to eat for dinner that night or if it is worth doing a Colosseum tour the next day.
Keeping up with COVID restrictions
Times have been difficult in the tourist industry since COVID with fewer tourists visiting the Vatican. Now that the Vatican is open to the public again during these trying times people who visit are anxious about the new rules while visiting. Tour operators are completely up to date in complying with all safety measures that the Vatican have provided which can make your Vatican experience much more relaxing.
Looking for a recommendation? Here are the best Vatican tour companies.