There are a few tips and recommendations for visiting the Vatican Museum in summer. The first is to book one of the best Vatican and Sistine Chapel tours way in advance as it’s peak season and you need a good guide, secondly arrive early so you don’t miss your departure time and third, don’t spare the deodorant as it’s going to be hot even during an after-hours Sistine Chapel tour.
If you’re visiting when it’s hot, the Walks Extraordinary Entry Sistine Chapel: VIP Access Official Vatican Tour is a great tour as you can do it in the morning or the evening when the temperature is more comfortable. Do bring some bottles of water with you though as it can be warm inside the Vatican, even when you’re visiting after hours.
On the day of our tour, the temperature in Rome was over 40 degrees Celsius at midday and many travellers including myself looked a little weary and damp. We opted for the evening tour which included wine and aperitivo hour in the courtyard when the temperature had dropped to a much more comfortable 30 plus degrees.
The bonus of an after-hours tour is you are guaranteed no crowds and a much more intimate tour with a maximum of only a small group and an official Vatican guide who can take you into all the in-depth highlights of the vast collection of Vatican art and history.
We began our tour by meeting our Vatican guide who gave a brief rundown of what our tour would cover over the next 2 hours with an emphasis on our exclusive time spent in the Sistine Chapel without a crush of other tourists. Our guide’s excitement about the Sistine Chapel component was infectious and something everyone on our tour couldn’t wait to experience.
From the entry point of the Vatican, we were soon plunged into another world of history, priceless art and artefacts that any museum could only dream of acquiring. From Michelangelo’s ‘Last Judgment’ to the sculptures and paintings to Raphael’s rooms with their stunning panoramas and ancient Egyptian and Roman antiquities that took our breath away.
The important factor in this tour is that you don’t need to love art or history to appreciate what the Vatican Museum offers visitors as there is so much variety and the official guide’s stories will keep you rivetted and engaged for the entire time you’re there.
As the guide ushered through the rooms and halls we were all drawn to particular pieces of art or the architecture and views on offer before us. Some rooms and passageways are so ornate and extravagant that they need to be experienced to be believed with biblical stories of woe and redemption being an ever-present theme.
For me, it was the ancient Roman artefacts and in particular a bath of enormous proportions that’s worth billions of dollars and takes centre stage in the Pio Clementino Museum inside the Vatican, under a beautiful ornate dome that’s similar to the Pantheon and a marble mosaic floor.
We make our way to the rooms decorated by Raphael for the popes to use as reception areas for visiting dignitaries and VIPs. These rooms tell biblical tales of sin and redemption with a focus on following the path the church preaches. Although, sometimes the people meeting in these rooms did not follow this path themselves as our guide points out on our tour.
Soon it is our time to enter the Sistine Chapel and with a gathering together and some fanfare from our guide, we pause before the entrance. Our guide then with a distinctive wave of his hands presents us with the Sistine Chapel. This room was created by Michelangelo over many years and our guide regaled us with tales of the artistic feats that form this famous and glorious part of the Vatican.
If you’ve been to the Vatican before, you’ll know how exciting it must been for our group to have our guide able to speak to us in the Sistine Chapel and take us on a step by step explanation of the ceiling panels and their intricate meanings and representations. Even the official Vatican guides are unable to speak to their tour groups inside the Sistine Chapel during regular visiting hours. They give you and explanation outside and send you through, then meet you on the other side.
It was incredible being able to hear our guide’s stories while we looked above us, like how many of the figures were originally naked but were covered over for modesty reasons afterwards by another artist. Then there is God’s bare backside shining brightly from above, making us all speculate whether the artist was perhaps poking fun at the clergy or had some other cheeky reason for including it.
Also of note is the large panoramic painting at the entrance to the cathedral where Michelangelo added painted versions of many of his fans and contemporaries and also his foes who he placed in various scenes of misery. Our guide tells us the artist was not particularly well liked and could be difficult to deal with even his enemies acknowledged and respected his talent and perseverance.
As the guards gave a firm nod to our guide, it clear was clear our time in the chapel was at an end and they were keen to close the doors behind us so they could go home. By stringing out our departure, our clever guide had ensured we were the last to leave the Sistine Chapel and our last gaze above was when we were the only people in there. An incredible experience!
A quick walk through some more parts of the Vatican saw us back at the lawn and café area for our evening aperitivo which involved being seated and presented with a selection of breads, dips and salad and one glass of white or red wine each. It’s at this point that half our tour group called it a day and retreated to the exit, leaving more food but sadly no more wine for us.
Overall, I cannot recommend this evening Walks tour of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel highly enough as an immersive and entertaining adventure through one of the world’s best collections of art, history, antiquities, and architecture. This small group evening tour was very different to our excellent but absolutely insane tour of the Vatican at Easter a few years ago.
Along with the cooler and more comfortable conditions and exclusive access with no crowds, our official Vatican guide was a legend. He had been guiding at the Vatican for many, many years but was still as passionate and entertaining as someone who was new to the job. If you’re heading to Rome and want to truly experience the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, this Walks Italy tour for you.
Disclosure: The writers visited the Vatican and Sistine Chapel as guests of Walks tours.