Things to do in Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums are the public museums of the Vatican City. The museums display works from the extensive collection of the Catholic Church and feature some of the world’s most renowned masterpieces. Visiting the Vatican Museums is one of the most popular things to do in Rome, so tickets and guided tours should be booked well in advance.
Pope Julius II ordered the construction of the museums in the early 16th century to house his growing art and sculpture collection. Subsequent popes continued to add to the collection throughout the centuries and the first gallery opened to the public in 1771 by Pope Clement XIV.
Today, the Vatican Museums are in fact made up of multiple museums and include more than 70,000 works, of which 20,000 pieces are on display, including paintings, sculptures, statues, tapestries and other artefacts.
The galleries include works from many of the greats throughout art history such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Bernini and da Vinci. It also houses a Collection of Contemporary Art which showcases works from Van Gogh, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, amongst others.
The Gardens of Vatican City, a landscape of forests, medieval monuments, sculptures and gardens, are also worth exploring during your visit. A lush oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Rome, visitors can stroll the beautifully curated gardens on a guided tour.
Top three highlights of the Vatican Museums:
Laocoön and His Sons
Laocoön and His Sons was the very first piece of art of the Vatican Museums and is now one of the most famous ancient sculptures in the whole collection. A marble masterpiece, the sculpture is based on an ancient Greek myth. It depicts Laocoön, the priest of Apollo from the city of Troy, and his two sons in mortal struggle with deadly serpents. The Laocoön and His Sons statue is on display in the Pio-Clementine Museum.
The Raphael Rooms
Raphael’s Rooms, also called the Raphael Stanza, comprise of four separate rooms painted by Raphael and his students. Commissioned by Pope Julius II, the walls and ceilings of each room feature immense frescoes depicting religious, political and historical scenes. The four Raphael Rooms are: the Room of Constantine, the Room of Heliodorus, the Room of the Signature and the Room of the Fire in the Borgo. The School of Athens, The Battle of Ostia, Disputation of the Holy Sacrament and The Expulsion of the Heliodorus are all must-see paintings within the rooms. The Raphael Rooms are located on the second floor of the Vatican Palace.
The double spiral staircase is one of the most iconic images of the Vatican Museums. The original staircase was built in 1505 by Donato Bramante and was considered an architectural wonder of its time. The staircase consists of two separate flights that allow people to ascend and descend without running into each other. A second staircase inspired by the original one was designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932 and is located in the Pio-Clementine Museum. Please note, the original staircase is not generally open to the public, but certain guided tours do visit.
The Vatican Museums opening hours:
The opening hours of the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Gardens, St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel are different so please keep this in mind when visiting.
Vatican Museums – Monday to Saturday 8.30am-6.00pm, last entrance at 4.00pm
Sistine Chapel – Monday to Saturday 9.00am - 6.00pm, last entrance at 4.00pm
St. Peter’s Basilica - daily 7.00am-7.00pm April to September, 8.00am-5.00pm October to March
St. Peter’s Dome – daily 8.00am-6.00pm April to September, 8.00am - 5.00pm October to March
Vatican Gardens – Monday to Saturday, 9.00am-6.00pm
The Vatican is closed on Sundays (except the last Sunday of the month) as well as some religious holidays, so it is advised to plan your visit in advance.
How to get to the Vatican Museums:
Situated about five kilometres from the heart of Rome, besides walking, there are several transport options to get to the Vatican Museums:
Line A stations: Ottaviano - S.Pietro or Cipro
49 stops in front of the museum entrance
32, 81 and 982 stop at Piazza del Risorgimento
492 and 990 stop at Via Leone IV / Via degli Scipioni
Line number 19 stops at Piazza del Risorgimento
Taxi stand: Viale Vaticano in front of the museum entrance
Special notes about visiting the Vatican Museums:
Trousers and skirts must cover the knee and shoulders must be covered to enter the Vatican Museums.
Due to the vast number of things to see, a guided tour of the Vatican Museums is highly recommended.
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“Ottima esperienza, guida molto preparata, tutto ben organizzato, assolutamente consigliato.”
“No issues, highly recommend”