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Tips on Touring the Vatican Museums

Remember that the Vatican's museum complex is humongous—only after walking through what seems miles of galleries do you see the entrance to the Sistine Chapel (which cannot be entered from St. Peter's Basilica directly). Check out the Sistine location vis-à-vis the main church on their website www.stpetersbasilica.org. Most people—especially those who rent an audio guide and must return it to the main desk—tour the complex, see the Sistine, then trudge back to the main museum entrance, itself a 15-minute walk from St. Peter's Square.

That said, there is an “insider” way to exit directly from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter's Basilica: Look for the "tour groups only" door on the right as you face the rear of the chapel and, when a group exits, go with the flow and follow them. This will deposit you on the porch of St. Peter's Basilica. While this served as a sly trick for years, guards and guides both have gotten stricter about the practice, meaning you might be the victim of a stern guard or a head count that leaves you in the cold. Also note that if you run to the Sistine Chapel, then do the "short-cut" exit into the basilica, you will have missed the rest of the Vatican Museum collection.

Plans are afoot to broaden the sidewalk leading to the museum, to install electronic information panels, and also to build a streamlined roof to protect queuers from sun or rain (until then, umbrellas are recommended). Another possibility is to visit in the evening. This experiment began in 2009 and has been running intermittently ever since, with the Vatican opening on many Friday evenings from 7 to 11. While the major hits, like the Sistine Chapel, are usually open during these special openings, many more off-the-beaten-path rooms and galleries are not. Reservations are essential (and possible over the Internet at www.vatican.va).

Updated: 2013-10-17

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