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alw1977 Jun 10th, 2009 09:44 AM

The Vatican for the Clueless
 
We've got two full days in Rome in September (a Sunday and a Monday), and we plan to visit the Vatican on Monday. I see that you can advance purchase Vatican entry tickets online for 18,00 euro to gain entry and I think we will opt to do the self-guided option.

Here's my question: what, in your opinion, are the essential parts to visit and how long does it typically take? I understand there's St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums (plus more) but I wonder if those three are the most important places to visit if one has limited time.

Any tips on how to best approach the Vatican? I have put in an email request for a Scavi tour, but hold out little hope since I have only one day we could possibly go, but you never know. If we do get lucky that could change our plans, obviously.

kybourbon Jun 10th, 2009 10:03 AM

The Sistine Chapel is in the Vatican Museum. When you enter the museum you are on a route that takes you through some of the main rooms only and ends at the Sistine Chapel. St. Peter's is separate and you could visit at noon on Sunday for the Sunday Blessing if the Pope is in town.

This map will give you an idea of the layout. Notice that the entrance to the museum is #22 (on far right) and #9 is the Sistine Chapel. The area between the two is the museum.
http://www.saintpetersbasilica.org/vaticancity-map.htm

ellenem Jun 10th, 2009 10:17 AM

The paid entry to which you refer is for the Vatican Museums only. The Vatican Museums include the Sistine Chapel.

The museum is actually a series of museums that branch out from the entrance in different buildings and on different floors. Depending on your interests, you might enjoy the Pinacoteca (paintings) or the Etruscan or Greco-Roman sculpture collections.

For those who are interested mainly in the Sistine Chapel, from the museum entrance you can follow signs that take you "directly" to the Sistine Chapel. Since the chapel is at the other end of the museum from the entrance, the direct path to the chapel will take you through many sections of the museum, including ancient sculptures, tapestries, and the map gallery. (For some, this would be enough of the museum collections to see.) Just before the Sistine Chapel, one is offered the chance to veer off course to the Pope's chambers and Raffaello Stanza (Raphael rooms). I think these rooms are worth seeing.

After visiting the Sistine Chapel, the main exit to the left directs you back through the museums, where you would have an opportunity to visit more of the various museums, or exit the museum the way you entered (after a 10-15-minute walk back). Many save time at this point by using the exit to the right, labeled "group exit" which leads directly to an area just outside St Peter's Basilica. Using this exit saves the walk back through the museum, followed by a 15-minute walk around the walls of the Vatican from the museum entrance to St Peter's, and the security check for St Peter's. Do not take this exit if you want to see more of the Vatican museums or if you've checked any bags or have an audio-guide--there's no way back in from this exit.

To do this simple, straight-to-the Sistine visit to the museums . . . I've managed it in a hour (exiting from the group exit) on an uncrowded day. Add in at least 30 minutes or more if you have to deal with crowds. Sometimes there's a line to get into the chapel.

A visit to St Peter's itself, once inside, can take as little as 30 minutes depending on your level of interest, whether you choose to investigate side chapels or the crypt, whether sections are closed off to the public.

Delaine Jun 10th, 2009 10:18 AM

At least in my experience, it is possible to veer from the "main rooms" and explore other parts of the museums as long as you are not on a guided tour and as long as you don't leave the museums (e.g. go to the Sistine Chapel) first. I had a map/diagram of the Vatican Museums, and I just went to all the areas where I knew there was something I wanted to see.

There are multiple components of the museums, such as the Pauline Chapel, Pio-Clementine Museum (amazing classical sculptures), Braccia Nuovo (more amazing classical sculptures), Pinacoteca (gallery of paintings by artists such as Leonardo, Caravaggio and Raphael), the Gregorian Etruscan Museum, and the Raphael Rooms. There should be signs telling you if certain rooms/areas are closed.

alw1977 Jun 10th, 2009 10:25 AM

Thanks everyone. Very helpful so far. My husband and I will consider our specific interests when we enter the museums. I am sure we will not head straight to the Sistine Chapel, but take our time to look in a few targeted areas of interest. It seems as if one could spend several days at the Vatican if you didn't narrow it down. I've been told ceiling of the Sistine Chapel itself is something many people could stare at for hours.

Alec Jun 10th, 2009 10:28 AM

You can easily devote one full day to the Vatican. Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museums, and the minimum time you spend there is about three hours. The museums (note the plural) consist of many different collections, from GClassical sculptures to Old Masters, plus ethnological, liturgical, manuscripts and many more. Much depends on your interest, but I'd say don't miss Raphael Stanzas (four public rooms decorated by Raphael and his disciples), the Pinacoteca (Old Masters paintings), Greco-Roman art and Sistine Chapel.
St Peter's Basilica will take at least 2 hours. It's immense and packedwith arts, from Michaelangelo's Pieta (irst thing you see on your left as ou enter) and Berini's Baldacchino over the Papal Altar. Go down to the grotto of Papal tombs, including the immensely popular John Paul II (John XXIII's body has been moved upstairs to the main body of the church since his beatification in 2000). Climb the dome for a fabulous view. Don't forget to spend some moments in St Peter's Square admiring the stunning harmony of the colonnades and the Basilica, designed as a perfect setting for grand papal occasions.

Alec Jun 10th, 2009 10:31 AM

Excuse some typos. Pietà is of course on the right as you enter, and Bernini designed the baldachin.

alw1977 Jun 10th, 2009 10:33 AM

No worries on the typos. Since Fodor's doesn't allow you to edit your responses, I have committed many egregious grammatical errors while posting here.

Very practical question - if one intends to spend all day in Vatican City, are there places to grab lunch?

alw1977 Jun 10th, 2009 10:34 AM

PS - I am pregnant, and nothing comes between a pregnant woman and hunger.

kybourbon Jun 10th, 2009 10:36 AM

There is a cafeteria in the museum and the food is actually decent.

Alec Jun 10th, 2009 11:04 AM

But not some of the cafes and trattorias just outside the museums and basilica - real tourist traps, bad food and service at high prices.
A tip - if you see priests and nuns eating inside, it's a good sign!

alw1977 Jun 10th, 2009 11:10 AM

"A tip - if you see priests and nuns eating inside, it's a good sign!"

Good point. Kind of like it is in the U.S. with Indian, Asian or other identifiably ethnic restaurants. If you see people who appear to be from that country eating there, you likely have an authentic winner on your hands.

flanneruk Jun 10th, 2009 11:36 AM

The distances in the day you're planning are considerable - and the eating places within a kilometre of St Peter's are generally bad and overpriced. Probably the greatest concentration of bad, extortionate, restaurants in Italy (something of an achievement, since outside the Vatican's immediate surroundings and bits of Venice, Italians are genetically incapable of running a bad restaurant)

With one of you pregnant, you've got two sensible eating strategies. Either:

- just write the day off, gastronomically speaking. A "bad" restaurant in Italy would be pretty impressive, though pricey, almost anywhere else on earth. Pregnant, you really can't wander round the sidestreets in the hope of finding somewhere where all the eaters are wearing cassocks and birettas. It's simply miles. Or:

- put up a separate Q here asking for recent experience of reliable eateries really, really near St Peter's. You'd be doing us all a favour: I found a terrific tavola calda nearby in 1965, and I've been trying - in vain - to find anywhere as good in the area for the past 45 years.


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