Imagine roaming the secret rooms of the Vatican’s empty halls and having the Sistine Chapel all to yourself during the bustling Summer months in Rome, Italy! At least that’s how it feels with only about a dozen people touring the entire place, it beats being surrounded by 17,000-25,000 visitors a day, wouldn’t you say?

This once in a lifetime experience was made possible through Viator back in 2016. We spent almost a month in Europe and did not want to deal with huge crowds during the Summer time.

Through Viator, the cost was $350 per person in the Summer of 2016 for this private small group tour. We wanted to see the best of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel in the most convenient and comfortable way possible. It was an exclusive tour only available through Viator at the time.

Since then, the price has increased to over $3,500 per person for a similar tour. But don’t panic, you don’t have to pay that price. Here is the direct tour guide company we used that is no longer on Viator. By booking directly with City Wonders, you can get their best pricing, currently $437.42 per person as of April 2020.

We loved all the space we had to roam through these monuments and take as many pictures and videos as we pleased! (Rules may have changed since 2016, be sure to check with your tour guide) Note that there are several different types of “VIP” experiences. Make sure you know what experience you are getting.

Travoodie Queen

THE DEETS

  • PRIVATE TOUR NAME: Private Extended Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, & St. Peter’s Basilica Tour with Special Access Areas by City Wonders.
  • PRICE: Current price is $437.42pp as of April 2020
  • TYPE: Small group of less than 12 people
  • TOUR TIME: 4 Hours

WHAT’S INCLUDED

  • No Wait Access into the Vatican Museums  
  • Vatican Museums entrance ticket and reservation fee
  • Access to the Sistine Chapel
  • Skip the Line entrance into St. Peter’s Basilica
  • Headsets for groups of five or more, so you can always hear your guide
  • Private, dedicated English-speaking tour guide

SITES VISITED

  • Vatican Museums
  • Sistine Chapel
  • Bramante Staircase (Normally closed to the public)
  • Pinacoteca (Vatican Art Gallery)
  • Etruscan Museum
  • Raphael Rooms
  • Gallery of Tapestries
  • Gallery of Maps
  • St. Peter’s Basilica
  • St. Peter’s Square

HOT TIP: If you book directly with City Wonders for any of their fabulous tours, you can receive an additional 5% off by subscribing through their pop-up email list. I saw it pop up when their site sensed I was about to leave it.

Travoodie Queen

How is this private tour possible?

This truly private tour is possible after hours at closing time for the general public. Right at 5pm, the Vatican security manages the general traffic to exit the museums. It was really interesting to see the look on people’s faces as they wondered why our group got to stay. After meeting at a designated spot outside of the Vatican entrance at 4:30 pm, our first stop was the Sistine Chapel.

There are private tours you can take before the opening hours or during the day too. The morning tours are much shorter and the day tours will surround you with the general admissions crowd. The evening after hours tour is best for those that want a relaxed and convenient experience. You won’t have to rush in the mornings to get to and through the tour, nor leave the tour for the morning crowd to come in at the 9am opening time.

Alessandra, our lovely tour guide getting us through Vatican security

The Vatican has exclusive contracts with authorized tour operators that provide a level of permissions for the tour guides. Our tour guide was Alessandra and she was highly educated and professional. You’ll find a high percentage of Italian women who have their Master’s degree. Her’s was in history and she was fantastic in discussing the stories behind the artifacts and architecture.

The Vatican Museums

Did you know that all of Vatican City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? It’s 9 miles large and has 54 museums, WoW!

Check out these empty hallways and rooms on our tour.

Roaming the empty Vatican Halls and Rooms
Roaming the empty Vatican Halls and Rooms
Roaming the empty Vatican Halls and Rooms

Here are 10 Interesting Facts about the Vatican Museum By Kennedy Runo about Italy

1. The Vatican Museums were founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th century.

2. There are a total of 54 museums, with the last ones being the Sistine Chapel with its ceiling decorated by Michelangelo and the Stanze della Segnatura decorated by Raphael.

3. It is said that the Vatican Museums contain the world’s largest collection of art with 9 miles of pieces, which could wrap four and half times around the Vatican walls.

4. The Vatican museuems are a series of 1400 rooms, chapels, and galleries and they constitute former wings of the Vatican Palace.

5. Michelangelo was a maverick with details. The tree from which Eve plucks the fruits of the forbidden fruits in the Sistine Chapel is not an Apple Tree – the leaves on the tree indicates that it is a fig tree.

6. St. Peters Basillica is part of the Vatican Museums and is famed to be the biggest catholic church in the world. Actually, the measurements of the cathedrals around the world are listed within the basillica to ensure that they all can fit within the confines of st. Peters.

7. The Vatican Museums are opened every day at 9am and close at 4pm every day except Sundays. Note that the mandatory exit time is 6.00PM.

8. Since Vatican does not have taxation revenues, it generates 90 percent of its revenues from Museum admission fees, stamp and souvenir sales, and contributions from faithfuls.

9. Part of the Musuems is the Passetto di Borgo that connects the pontiff’s official residence to Castel Sant’Angelo. The underground passage saved the life of Pope Clement VII in 1527 when the soldiers of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V rampaged through the Vatican city and murdered priests and nuns.

10. Among the most popular museums include; Vatican Historical Museum, Museo Gregoriano Egiziano, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Museo Chiaramonti and Museo Pio-Clementino.

Our Tour Top 10 Highlights

Although we saw much more than I’m covering today, these were the Top 10 highlights of our tour. The VIP Tour does not cover all 54 museums as that would take weeks to tour, but it did bring our attention to the best highlights. The list includes the most popular sites and some experiences that are only available to the VIP ticket holders.

  1. The Sistine Chapel
  2. Bramante Staircase
  3. Etruscan Museum
  4. Cabinet of Masks
  5. Niccolline Chapel
  6. The Pio Clementino Museum and Round Hall
  7. Raphael Rooms
  8. Gallery of Tapestries
  9. Cortile del Belvedere
  10. The Pope’s Private Elevator

1. The Sistine Chapel

Our first stop on the tour was the Sistine Chapel, the most famous museum of all the Vatican museums. It was here where we witnessed the Vatican security moving the general people out for closing time. We were right under the “Creation of Adam” where the famous hands of God and Adam almost touch.

Security Guards directing visitors to leave at closing and when our tour began

It is also where we saw the renowned fresco painting “The Last Judgement” that graces the walls of the large altar.

Michelangelo’s ceiling right above us with the “Creation of Adam”

Our Insider’s Clip of the Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel’s Altar painted by Michelangelo called
“The Last Judgement”

2. Bramante Staircase

Did you know there are 2 Bramante Staircase’s located at the Vatican? The Original Staircase was first built in 1505 and was designed by Donato Bramante. The second called Modern Staircase was built by Giuseppe Momo in 1932 to solve logistical problems for Pope Julius II and the general traffic.

The Original Bramante Staircase is usually closed to the public, but available to visitors with authorized tickets. It has a beautiful view at the top as well as some secret passageways the Popes would use to escape danger.

Original Bramante Staircase usually closed to the public, but our tour got to see it
Access to secret doors and rooms throughout the tour!
Historic private getaway stairway for previous Popes
Views of Rome’s skyline at the top of the Original Bramante Staircase

The Modern Staircase is also a double helix but built in such a way where traffic could flow uninterrupted.

Below Pic from © User:Colin / Wikimedia Common

3. The Etruscan Museum

Before the Romans occupied Italy, the Etruscan Civilization dominated the area. This museum has the wonderful Gallery of Statues called The Hall of Busts. We admired the beautiful artifacts, statues and pottery. My favorite were the marble bathtubs! I’m a bath girl, and these were the most gorgeous tubs I’ve ever seen.

The Etruscan Hall of Statues

On the other end of The Hall of Busts is the famous “Sleeping Ariadne,” otherwise referred to as Cleopatra. This is one of my favorite statues of all time. She is beautiful!

The Sleeping Ariadne

4. The Cabinet of Masks

The Cabinet of Masks , Gabinetto Delle Maschere in Italian, is another secret room most people don’t have access to see.  It’s a room inside the Innocenzo VIII Palace and was completely restructured by Michelangelo Simonetti in 1780. The hall is named for the mosaics inserted in the centre of the floor. The statues of female subjects admired most by historical figures such as Goethe are the Three Grace, Nymph and Aphrodite. A particular and precious object here situated is a throne chair used for the enthronement of the Pope.


The room got its name from the mosaics encased in the floor seen here. Surrounding it are the famous statues of Aphrodite and the 3 Nymphs
Throne chair used for the enthronement of the Pope
Zeus in the Cabinet of Masks
Julius Caesar in the Cabinet of Masks
Pope Pius VII

5. The Niccoline Chapel

The Niccoline Chapel is notable for its frescoes painted by Fra Angelico (1447–1451). This is another site that’s usually off limits to the general public. Our group was able to see this ancient chapel and frescoes located in the oldest part of the Apostolic Palace.

Most people see the magnificent frescoes on the walls and ceilings of the grand sized room outside of the Niccoline Chapel.

Inside the small Niccoline Chapel, the altar
The Niccoline Chapel was a very dark with natural light through the window
One of the grand rooms in the Apostolic Palace. The ancient frescoes painted by
Fra Angelico

6. The Pio Clementino Museum and Round Hall

The Pio Clemenitino Museum houses one of the most important sculptures at the Vatican. The Round Hall makes it a unique and circular shaped room to display the statues. Of course my favorite statue is of the Goddess Hera.

The shimmering statue that catches everyone’s eye, however, is of Hercules. It is a gorgeous gilded bronze statue found in 1864 beneath the courtyard of the Palazzo Pio Righetti.

The statue of Goddess Hera
The gilded bronze statue of Hercules

7. Raphael Rooms

The Raphael Rooms are made of 4 rooms that are all painted of frescoes by the artist himself. His work along with the Michelangelo’s masterpieces of the Sistine Chapel mark the High Renaissance of Rome in the 1500’s.

Each of the 4 rooms has a theme and is an episode in the life of Emperor Constantine. Every year more than 4 million visitors see these rooms: Room of the Signature’, ‘the Room of Heliodorus’, ‘the Room of the Borgo Fire’, and the ‘Room of Constantine’, they can be found on the second floor of the Vatican museums open to the public.

Frescoe ceiling by Raphael

8. Gallery of Tapestries

Pope Leone X is whom we can thank today for the incredible Gallery of Tapestries. During the Renaissance in 1514, he entrusted Raffaello Sanzio to help him decorate the Sistine Chapel halls with tapestries. Once Pope Leone X received the the drawings from Sanzio, he sent them to Brussels to be made into tapestries. At the time, Brussels had the best tapestry artisans in Europe. Their beauty can still be marveled today.

The Gallery of Tapestries
Tapestry by Rafaello Sanzio
Many of the tapestries were biblical depictions of good vs evil and civil unrest

9. Cortile del Belvedere

The Cortile del Belvedere is a large courtyard that contains the Pope’s sculpture collection. The two most notable are the “Apollo Belvedere” and “Laocoön & Sons” sculptures. The courtyard was initially built to connect an ancient palace to St. Peter’s by Pope Julius II. He was also a great collector of sculptures that are still admired today.

Walking through one of the many courtyards at the Vatican
The Apollo Belvedere in the Cortile del Belvedere
Laocoön & Sons Sculpture in the Cortile del Belvedere

10. The Pope’s Private Elevator

This toured finished in the best way. We got to ride in the Pope’s private elevator! I’m not sure if they do this now, but it was an awesome experience to end a fantastic tour. If you are looking for the ultimate experience with the most convenience and best access to secret rooms the Vatican, this VIP ticket is just the key to get you through.

We got to ride in the private Pope’s elevator!
How it looks inside as we were leaving the Pope’s private elevator

C’est La Fin

There was so much more to see on this tour that I could continue writing on for ages, but I’ll leave some mystery for you to do on your own.

Well maybe I’ll give one more secret. Most people only get to see this statue from the front, but having VIP access- we got to see it from behind too.

This is the statue of Apoxyomenos created by Lysippos.

General public access view is full frontal only
The VIP access also got us the hiney view

If you hate crowds and queues and just want easy access to the best highlights at the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, then this VIP tour during after hours will be perfect for you. Even if you’ve seen these places before, there’s so much more to see and know with the exclusive tour.

Our experience could not have been better. It was my first time visiting here, but my hubby Mike has been before to both the Vatican and Sistine Chapel in 2006 with some buddies. They just did the general admission. Mike says he saw and learned a lot more during our extended VIP tour during his second visit with me in 2016.

For more VIP Tour access tips and insider info, make sure to check out our post on the splendors of the Versailles Palace in France:

VIP Tour of The Palace of Versailles, Hall of Mirrors Serenade, and Garden Fireworks Spectacular

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