Italy
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How To Skip The Crowds Of Vatican City

Everyday, around thousands of people visit Vatican City. And in Vatican, the holy Sistine Chapel. They hope of experiencing a sublime or spiritual moment, but only end-up having a baffling experience. I mean how can you, in God’s name, feel anything peaceful in a place where all you get to see is a crowd of people pouring in, and guards constantly shouting “no talking, no pictures”!

The solution? Take an exclusive tour carried out before the opening hours (for general public) of Vatican.

Private tours to Vatican City were usually reserved for celebrities, royals and politicians. But almost a decade ago, Vatican City opened its gates for general public, and for those who want to pay a little extra and escape the crowds. And this time, as I travelled through Rome, I ended-up being one among them.

I booked my early morning Skip The Crowds tour (for a little extra cost compared to what an ordinary walking tour costs) with a tour company called Through Eternity Tours, who claim to have guides hand picked, with backgrounds in Archaeology, Art History, etc, and with that, someone whose knowledge about Roman history is no less profound. And it turned out that they delivered exactly what they promised.

Upon reaching our meeting point around quarter past 7 in the morning, our tour began at 8am, one hour before the opening time of Vatican City, and we were lucky to be just three (a couple from USA and me) of us in the group, plus the guide. We skipped the queues that had already started to form outside and entered the mysteriously quiet Vatican City.

I have always been skeptical of tour guides, preferring to do my own own homework, but overwhelmed by the crowds I might have to deal with had I planned my own visit, and the amount of information I could miss, I thought it would be foolish not to have a guided tour in Vatican.

As we entered the Vatican Museums, and our guide started with his (what I think the usual) gamut of information overload, things started turning out as I planned… interesting! He led us through the 120 metre-long map room, past the huge tapestries by Pieter van Aelst, and the Raphael rooms that include a painting of the all-star line up of Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael himself in the School of Athens. Being a phd student, researching on Roman History, he know a lot about the subject and throughout the tour shared his personal ideas and philosophies coupled with what’s written in text books. I was baffled at first, but later realised the fact that it was perhaps going to be a long Google-Your-Doubts night!

At about 8:30 in the morning (and still half an hour before the gates were to open for public) we took a sharp turn and made our way through a small unassuming door. Slowly, we emerged inside the grand Sistine chapel – just us, a handful of other privilege tour groups, and Michelangelo.

Michelangelo spent more than four years here painting the chapel by himself, and this is the closest one can get to being alone in it as he was.

There were no guards asking us to be quiet, no banging into other tourists, and no gesturing to move on to let more people in. Just silence. And as we were busy studying in the unbelievable many frescoes, stretching from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, a priest, in his all black robes stepped in and called prayers.

We savoured the experience, and later soaked up more of the vivid blue restoration of the Last Judgement, finding Michelangelo’s frowning face in the distance, and moving at leisure from the Separation of Light from Darkness on.

Following up with the tour, as we did, we walked through the Raphael Rooms, before finally making it to our last stop… Italy’s largest, richest and most spectacular basilica of St Peter’s. Built atop an earlier 4th-century church, it was consecrated in 1626 after 120 years of construction. Its lavish interior contains many spectacular works of art, including three of Italy’s most celebrated masterpieces:  Bernini’s 29m-high baldachin over the papal altar, Michelangelo’s Pietà, and his soaring dome.

Looking at its magnificent richness, I realised that we may not have reached heaven, but we have definitely reached a place I’d call ‘the most impressive (at least visually speaking) place of worship human has ever created.’

Have you been to Vatican City? How was your experience? Was it overwhelmingly crowded?

Filed under: Italy

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Shortly after my first real nine-to-five job, I left that lifestyle behind, and with it, everything that didn't fit in my backpack. I've learned that this world is too big (and too interesting!) to stay in one place. I believe that with a little courage and inspiration, everyone has the power to follow their dreams. Just as I've followed mine!

15 Comments

  1. That is such a great tip. Going early in the morning and having the Vatican all to yourself is such a luxury! You have such gorgeous pictures. How did you manage to take one of the Sistine Chapel? We weren’t allowed to…

  2. Absolutely zero crowd! That is a feat. I think it was well worth the money. I have realised that the early morning tours are the best for these popular places. They sure help beat the crowd.

  3. i had no idea about the Skip the crowds tour! What a great idea! I went to the vatican years ago and have wanted to return but the crowds have always put me off – now i will skip the crowds when next in rome!

  4. All of your pictures are absolutely amazing and making me want to book a trip to vatican city right now!! Perfect tips on how to skip the crowds!

  5. Vatican City is an ultimate dream! Thanks for the great insights! I prefer morning or late evenings tour to beat the crowd!

  6. Hang on – so Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St Peter’s Basilica were completely empty when you went???? That’s sooooo cool! We went in January and did a tour at 10 until 1pm. We skipped the queues and it was crowded but bearable. It was wintertime and I’m grateful I didn’t have to deal with hot and humid and sweaty tourists LOL

  7. I really want to visit the Vatican City! I only spent an afternoon in Rome so will have to go back. Definitely taking up your tip of a private tour before the public opening hours!

  8. stacey veikalas says

    Oh this is great we have been a few times, but it was always crowded. I think we would enjoy it more if we took this early morning tour, plus it is not so hot! I didn’t even know this tour existed… thanks for the info. 🙂

    • Sure stacey. I myself noted the difference in crowd, as soon as they opened the gate for general public at 9am. We entered the premises at 8. 😀

  9. Wow! I was in Vatican last year! Yes, I did read about the skip the crowd tour, but my flight landed there only by 8AM or so, so I opted to buy regular tickets! Yes, it is indeed a maddening crowd! How did you manage to photograph at Sistine? Wow! That’s one exotic advantage of taking that early tour!

    • That’s sad Bhusha. I am sure that if yo do a morning tour, you’d like the experience much better.

  10. I wish I could do this. I went 3 years ago and there were 20000 tourists! 🙁 It was heart breaking and I vowed to visit it again! All I could click is the ceilings! 😐

  11. It’s so great to see your pictures without anyone on it! I’ve been there once, years ago, and it was so crowded… Of course it was amazing but as soon as I’ll have the opportunity to go back there I’ll plan a Skip the crowd tour just to see the place peacefully

    • Yes Mariam, I’d definitely recommend you a morning tour. The first hour in the premises was entirely different from the second hour (when they open the gates for public).

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