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Tips for Visiting the Vatican

To enter the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums), the Sistine Chapel, and the Basilica di San Pietro you must comply with the Vatican's dress code, or you may be turned away by the implacable custodians stationed at the doors. (Also no penknives, which will show up under the metal detector.) For both men and women, shorts and tank tops are taboo, as are miniskirts and other revealing clothing. Wear a jacket or shawl over sleeveless tops, and avoid T-shirts with writing or pictures that could risk giving offense.

If you opt to start at the Musei Vaticani, note that the entrance on Viale Vaticano (there's a separate exit on the same street) can be reached by Bus No. 49 from Piazza Cavour, which stops right in front; on foot from Piazza del Risorgimento (Bus 81 or Tram 19); or a brief walk from the Via Cipro–Musei Vaticani stop on Metro line A.

The collections of the museums are immense, covering about 7 km (4½ miles) of displays. To economize on time and effort, once you've seen the frescoes in the Raphael rooms, you can skip much of the modern religious art in good conscience, and get on with your tour.

You can rent a taped, if somewhat dry, commentary in English explaining the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael rooms.

You cannot take any photographs in the Sistine Chapel. Elsewhere, you're free to photograph what you like, barring use of flash, tripod, or other special equipment, for which permission must be obtained.

With some 20,000 visitors a day, lines at the entrance to the Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) can move slowly, as custodians block further entrance when the room becomes crowded. It may be possible to exit the museums from the Sistine Chapel into St. Peter's, saving further legwork. A sign at the entrance to the museums indicates whether the "For Tour Groups" exit is open. While visitors in the past could use this by following an exiting tour group, lately the guards there have been sterner on this practice. Be aware, too, that the Sistine Chapel is a holy place; loud talking and other excessive noise is frowned upon and can get you shushed.

Updated: 2014-07-28

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