It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but the first time we backpacked through Rome, we never made it to the Vatican museums. Sure, we explored St. Peter’s Square and went inside the basilica, but because it was the end of our first-ever shoestring trip, we felt poor and were sick of lines.
We told each other, “One day, we’ll come back!” Seven years later, we made good on our promise during a trip with my Catholic mother in tow. (We also took her to a papal blessing on Mother’s Day – kids of the year, amiright?)
The night before we planned to visit the museums, we tried to book “skip the line” tickets online, but they were sold out for the next several days. Another ticket option jumped out at us, though: Vatican Museums by Night. The event takes place on Fridays from April to October, and visitors can choose from open or guided tours. A live outdoor concert starts at 8 p.m., and there’s even a ticket option that includes happy hour.
Who knew? We were sold.
When we arrived at 7 p.m. the next evening, we zipped through rows where there are usually hours-long lines. We made our way inside to the maze of museums. Our route took us through the outdoor area, where the band was rocking out on stage on a lush lawn. Nearby, visitors sipped wine and ate small plates in a tented open-air restaurant.
For the next couple of hours, we wound through the museums, craning our necks to view the intricate wall and ceiling paintings, and pausing to read about the exhibits. The crowd was light, especially by Rome standards, and we could snap photos without too much photobombing by other tourists.
After countless twists, turns and flights of stairs, we reached the Sistine Chapel. Calm washed over us as we entered the nearly silent sanctuary, where visitors are required to tuck away their phones. We edged toward the walls, looking for a seat – when inside, there’s an overwhelming urge to sit down and absorb in the atmosphere in all its glory.
As we left the museums, Vatican City glowed. We stopped to photograph St. Peter’s Basilica with only a few other tourists nearby. It was a night we’ll never forget.
What to Know Before Visiting the Vatican Museums:
- There’s a dress code. Shorts, short skirts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed.
- Security is tight. You have to pass through a metal detector to get in, so don’t bring anything that would set it off.
- Seriously, just travel light. Tripods and camera stands, video cameras, medium-to-large umbrellas and luggage must be left in a cloak room near the entrance.
- Photos and videos aren’t allowed in the Sistine Chapel. So be ready to put your camera or phone away.