I gave tours of the Vatican for almost four years. In that time, I took over 35,000 people through the site and can be considered an expert on its history, art and how to navigate it. I have a degree in History and I was an official authorized tour guide for the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.
Having worked in the Vatican, I can give you practical information on how to navigate it correctly, ensuring that you make the most of your time there, see the things you want to see, find seats (which are scarce in the Vatican) and bathrooms with no lines, while avoiding crowds and the midday heat.
I offer a a tour guide service where you can book one of my licensed tour guides living in Rome if you wish to take a tour of the Vatican. This service is cheaper than booking through a company as I do not have their overheads, you are assured skip-the-line tickets to the site and a fluent English-speaking tour guide who has positive tour reviews and gives you breaks for bathrooms and coffee during the tour.
I can also provide you with a private car and driver to collect you from Rome's Airport or Civitavecchia Port and bring you to your hotel or the Vatican and return you there when you leave Rome.
The side menu lists the various parts of the Vatican so you can decide what you would like to see on your tour or visit.
The Vatican is a walled country about the size of a village or city suburb on the left bank of the Tiber in Rome. About half of the site is open to the public such as the Sistine Chapel,
St. Peter's Basilica, the Raphael Rooms, the Vatican Museums, the Papal Tombs and St. Peter's Dome. The rest of the site is not open to the public
or requires special permission to access.
It is a one-way system with choices on the way. In order to see the Sistine Chapel you have to go through the Vatican Museums so all tours and all visitors start there. Once inside the Vatican Museums you can choose to see the Raphael Rooms as they are not compulsory, and you can decide to see St. Peter's Basilica, the Papal Tombs and St. Peter's Dome which are all in the same building connected to the museums.
I only use skip-the-line tickets for the Vatican. These allow us to skip the two lines: one for the Vatican Museums where the Sistine Chapel is, and the other for St. Peter's Basilica. For the Museums and Chapel in the morning, the line can be two hours long and for the Basilica it can be an hour on average, so people who don't use express tickets to skip the line can be waiting up to three hours if they are unlucky. With skip-the-line tickets you just walk straight in with the guide. You don't have to use a guide to skip the line; anyone can book express tickets for the Vatican on their website.
Once inside the Vatican Museums you have a choice as to what you want to see and how much time you want to spend in there. Thirty minutes of the Vatican Museums are compulsory in order to see the Sistine Chapel; you have to go through them. This short itinerary is only available in the mornings until 11.30/12 noon at which point it is closed off.
After midday you have to go through 90 minutes of the museums before you can see the chapel.
This longer tour route is difficult during the summer as the Vatican is not air conditioned, is usually crowded and Rome gets hot from 11am to 4pm. I strongly recommend going to the Vatican in the morning if you can.
The Raphael Rooms are optional at all times and are at the end of the museums; they take about 30/40 minutes to do as you have to go through the Borgia Apartments and Modern Art Gallery before you can see the chapel.
The Vatican Museums, dating from the 1500s to 1800s, are not designed like a modern museum complex.
It is not air conditioned, there is hardly anywhere to sit down and there are very few bathrooms or places to get drinks or food. Accordingly, I use guides who look after your comfort at all times, taking you to bathrooms and cafes hidden from general public view, ensuring you have water or can top up at the fountain (it's not holy water) and grab a seat when they become available.
You should visit the Vatican in the morning on your first rested day in Rome, so the day after you arrive from a long-haul flight. It is NOT a good idea to arrive in Rome jet-lagged and take an afternoon Vatican tour on the same day. You should also make sure the Vatican is the only big cultural excursion you do that day. Many people try and do another tour in the same day which is exhausting.
Knees and shoulders should be covered so shorts are fine so long as they cover all of your knees, and t-shirts are fine so long as all of your shoulders are covered; as a religious state it has a conservative dress code.
You can bring water with you and it is a good idea as only three rooms in the museums are air conditioned out of fifty.
Bottled drinks are fine, cans, other open items or food are not allowed.
Photos are allowed everywhere except the Sistine Chapel where no photography, no filming is allowed at all. Flash is allowed downstairs in the Museums, which is all sculpture, but forbidden upstairs, so it's just easier to turn flash off your camera before you go in. It is bright, you won't need it anyway, the guide will remind of of the photo policy you on the day.
Updated by Dara McCarthy on . Scroll to Top
My Tour reviews:
The tour was very good and Dara had the perfect combination of knowledge, respect and humour! It was good he had this as the tour is long but we knew it would be. The only aspect of the tour which saddened me and my friends (this has no reflection on Dara) when we entered the Sistine Chapel I could believe the noise, flash photography and uncovered arms!!) This is obviously a sign of the times but the Vatican should Not allow it. Vatican Tour was amazing and of course I will be recommending it.
5.0 Stars Anna Baker
I attended the tour with my friend and we both found the tour extremely interesting. I would definitely recommend this tour.
5.0 Stars Tracey Bennett
Easy to Follow
Dara did a great job and was very informative regarding the amount of art and sculpture that was covered. His explanation was in story form and he connected what was happening during that time in a very easy to follow description.
5.0 Stars Lori Oliver
Highlights of My Trip
Most professional tour that I had on Rome. One of the highlights of my trip. Thank you!
5.0 Stars Marti Panikkar
It was a great tour except it was too long without being able to sit down or take breaks. (This is a criticism of the Vatican many people have - there should be more benches - Dara).
5.0 Stars Sheila Picard
This Irish tour guide was excellent. Very knowledgeable and delivered information in a thorough manner with a clear voice. By far the best guide I had on the trip.
5.0 Stars Russell Lau
Tour was good
Tour was good. Dara was informative and accomodating
5.0 Stars Nancy Stanton
I don't know how people go to the Vatican without a guided tour. There is no other way of doing it. Our guide was incredibly informed and very intelligent. I learnt so much with this tour! He was amazing and there is no complaint to be made. On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), he ranks at a 10+. :-) Thank you for making our Vatican tour the best!
5.0 Stars Melissa Kelly
By Far the Best I have Ever Experienced
Having travelled a great deal, I have been on many tours in many places, but this tour was by far the best I have ever experienced! Dara delivered a lot of information in a quick and witty way. I am so glad we didn't try to visit the Vatican without a tour. Thanks so much for a wonderful day!
5.0 Stars April Flowers
Very Knowledgeable and Spirited
He was very knowledgeable and spirited. Plus, what with the Obamas in town, we had to walk the entire way around to get to the Vatican when the tour was over. As an aside, my daughter and I waited in the Vatican for almost an hour as there was a rumor that Mrs. Obama was expected, but in the end, what with only 1 1/2 days in Rome, we left. Since we continued on to Florence, Bologna, and Venice, we never did find out if we had missed seeing her. But was there ever a lot of excitement in that area
5.0 Stars Dr Donna Ferrara
|Where is Vatican City|
|Vatican City Map|
|St. Peter's Basilica|
|St. Peter's Square|
|St. Peter's Dome|
|Did you know?|
|The Vatican is not air-conditioned|
|There are very few seats|
|and few cafes|
|Tickets or Tour Booked|
|Knees & Shoulders Covered|
|Flash turned off Camera|
|Bottle of Water|
|Rested & Relaxed|