For the past few years, Italy has held the #1 spot on the top of my bucket list. This month, I finally managed to check that dream off-starting in Rome!
Now, when it came to Rome, there was no way we were going to miss the top things to do in the city like the Vatican and the Colosseum. It just wasn’t going to happen. And because I figured I had decent enough knowledge about the Colosseum and Ancient Rome thanks two 3 years of Latin classes in high school, I was okay with visiting the Colosseum and Forum on my own.
For the Vatican, though, I was basically wholly clueless. I really have no religious or art knowledge. So I knew that a Vatican guided tour was going to be absolutely essential if I actually wanted to get anything out of my trip.
With that (lack of) knowledge in mind, I started researching the best Vatican guided tours. Which is when I found Through Eternity Tours and was pretty much immediately sold.
The Best Vatican Guided Tours: Through Eternity Tours Review
After all my research, I decided to go with Through Eternity Tours for a few different reasons. Firstly, they were reasonably priced (and have a student discount!). But more so, they focus on genuinely informative tours with small groups. And best of all? The hire LOCAL GUIDES.
Y’all, I can’t tell you how many non-local guides I saw in Rome, and I just can’t imagine that these guides have the kind of knowledge that local ones do. And honestly, I just think hiring a local guide whenever you travel is super important.
Daniel and I took Through Eternity Tours’ “Essential Sistine Chapel Tour, Vatican Museum, & St. Peter’s Basilica Tour” and loved it. At 3.5 hours, it was the perfect amount of time to hit all of the highlights as well as the guide’s favorite spots. I would happily say that it’s one of the best Vatican guided tours out there! Here’s how it all went down.
10 minutes before the start of our tour, we all met at a flower stand a few blocks away from the entrance to the Vatican Museums to set up our headsets (dorky but required by the Vatican) and go over everything we needed to know before heading into the thick of it.
And when I say the thick of it, I MEAN the thick of it. I have literally never been to a more crowded place than the Vatican. Meeting anywhere closer to start the tour would have actually been impossible, it’s so crazy there.
So after we were all set up, we headed towards the entrance to the Vatican. There, we skipped the line (and let me tell you, that line was MASSIVE) to head through security and into the Vatican!
The Vatican Museums
After security, the first place we stopped was in the courtyard of the Vatican Museums to check out the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica (it was super impressive) and get an explanation of the Sistine Chapel (but more on that later).
Enrica, our guide, explained how the Vatican Museums are divided up into the Summer Palace on the top of the hill, the Winter Palace on the bottom of the hill, and the rather impressive hallway between the two. In the past, these palaces were the residences of the popes, but now our friend Pope Francis lives in a modest apartment, and the palaces are used as the Vatican Museums.
Outside of the Summer Palace, we saw a few absolutely incredible sculptures and, most importantly, learned why Michelangelo was always right (for that story you’ll have to go on the tour 😉 ). We also checked out a little bit of Michelangelo’s graffiti. It’s pretty funny to think that, even back then, people were carving their initials into things.
After the Summer Palace, it was down through the hallway to the Winter Palace. This hallway was absolutely FULL of artistic wonders, including a TAPESTRY where Jesus’ eyes follow you and some of the most accurate maps of their time. Oh, and the rooms themselves weren’t half bad either.
In the Winter Palace, we were able to see the School of Athens (so famous even I’VE heard of it) and the old Papal apartments. Then, it was on to the big one…
The Sistine Chapel
By far, one of the most famous pieces of art in the world is the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. Literally, everyone knows about it. But what they might not know (and, not gonna like, I did not know) is that the Sistine Chapel is actually COVERED in frescoes.
When Enrica first took us over to the signs detailing the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel at the beginning of the tour (you’re not allowed to talk in the Sistine Chapel itself, so there are signs in the courtyard for tour guides to explain things ahead of time) I was actually shocked to find out that there was more than just the Creation of Adam on the ceiling. I don’t know why I thought that, but I’m guessing I’m not the only person in the world who does.
In fact, there is SO MUCH MORE to the Sistine Chapel than the Creation of Adam, and Enrica took us through it all with such enthusiasm that I was loving it all by the end. She sprinkled in so many fun stories (like the person who inspired the appearance of the Devil and the fact that Cosimo Medici’s pet chihuahua can be found in almost all of the frescoes on the walls thanks to #revenge) that I was loving the place before I even went in.
Actually finally walking into the Sistine Chapel was another experience entirely. I’m not religious, but it was truly amazing. It is such an overwhelm of the senses, and I could have spent hours there just investigating every little inch (and trying to find all of the chihuahuas). That is if it weren’t for my feet killing me and the guards yelling “SILENCE” over the intercom.
Sistine Chapel Pictures
Now, you’re not allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel (though a lot of people do try to sneak them), so I don’t have any to share with you. Instead, I recommend just sitting back and appreciating the moment. You’re in a truly fantastic place.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Our final stop on the tour (after we all had our fill of the Sistine Chapel) was St. Peter’s Basilica. Now, St. Peter’s Basilica USED to be the largest church in the world (it’s now the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire), but that doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive than it was back when it was the largest church in the world.
In fact, those responsible for St. Peter’s Basilica were so obsessed with how large it was that they included lines on the floor indicating where other famous churches stop. Which, tbh, was just hilarious to me.
There are also plenty of cool (if slightly creepy) relics, statues, and art. After pointing out a few of the highlights, Enrica set us free to explore on our own, as it was the end of the tour!
I have to admit that Daniel and I didn’t spend too much time exploring, as we were both exhausted. So we thanked Enrica and then walked out onto the plaza where the Pope gives his weekly speeches feeling so much more enriched than we did before we walked in.
Vatican Guided Tours: The Final Verdict
So, here’s the thing about taking a Vatican guided tour. I honestly think that choosing one is absolutely essential. Here’s why:
- You get to skip the line. Which, at the Vatican, is a serious plus.
- There are so many people and so many things that, without a guide, you will be totally overwhelmed.
- I literally would not have made it through the Vatican without a tour.
When it comes to choosing the best out of all the Vatican guided tours, I couldn’t recommend Through Eternity Tours more. Enrica was probably the most knowledgeable guide I’ve ever had, and she led us through the Vatican with confidence and ease. I had so many of my preconceptions corrected, and it was really just such a valuable experience.
A Note on Crowds
The Vatican Museums are some of the most famous and most-visited museums in the world, and for a good reason. They hold the kind of stuff that absolutely everyone should have a chance to see with their own eyes at least once in their lives. It is truly astounding how much amazing stuff there is in the Vatican Museums. Which is why there are so many people there. And they all deserve to be there just as much as you do.
So when it comes to crowds, you’re honestly just going to have to accept that they’re going to be there.
When Daniel and I were there at the beginning of May, it was elbow to elbow, and we honestly felt so claustrophobic the whole time. It was overwhelming, and really a lot for little ol’ introverted me.
But was it worth it to see the Sistine Chapel and everything else the Vatican has to offer? Absolutely.
If you really don’t want to deal with the crowds, though, then I’d suggest taking an early morning tour. It’s a bit more expensive, but I’m guessing that it’s way worth it.
Vatican Guided Tours: If You Go
Through Eternity Tours’ “Essential Sistine Chapel Tour, Vatican Museum, & St. Peter’s Basilica Tour” runs Monday through Saturday. It starts at 1:30 pm and runs for approximately 3.5 hours. The tour costs €64 for adults, €48 for students, and is free for children under 5.
I’ve said it already a few times, but I couldn’t recommend Through Eternity Tours more as the tour company to take you through the Vatican. I truly believe they offer the best Vatican guided tours!
They also have an Early Morning Tour, a Night Tour, a full day tour, and private tours, if any of those are more your jam. You can check out their full range on their website.
Where to Eat Near the Vatican
Okay, so this is a bit of a side note and utterly unrelated to my experience with Vatican guided tours, but we had some seriously delicious food near the Vatican that I want to recommend and I’m not sure where else to do it! And TBH, after three and a half hours on your feet, a gelato break is essential.
Pastasciutta serves top notch take-out, homemade pasta just 5 minutes from the Vatican entrance. We stopped here before the tour, and their huge portion sizes fueled us through the afternoon. The line is long, but it moves fast, and is totally worth it! Pasta also starts at only €4,50!!!!
Gelateria del Monte is listed as one of the top gelaterias in Rome on TripAdvisor, and while I usually avoid places like this, this little hole-in-the-wall is the exact opposite of what you’d expect it to be. They serve genuinely delicious, artisanal gelato served out of metal cylinders rather than piled high in plastic tubs, which is how you know it’s excellent! I could not recommend this place more!