How to Visit Vatican for the First Time: Guided Tour or Self-Guided Walk?

First time exploring cultural treasures of the Vatican… Do you need a guided tour or will a self-guided walk through the smallest country in the world suffice?

Last updated: September 5, 2023

Vatican City, Rome on a budget - Roads and Destinations
Guided or self-guided tours of the Vatical during your first visit?

First Time Visiting the Vatican

The smallest country in the world, the Vatican is one of the busiest places on Earth. From early morning until late afternoon, the place is filled with people traveling from all over the world. Some of them come to Rome with one intention – to visit the Vatican.

Unlike these travelers, we had a lot more interest in the capital of Italy and its landmarks. The Vatican?.. We treated it like what it was, a separate country, and devoted the whole day to exploring its remarkable historic and cultural treasures.

But the question whether we needed a guided tour that promised to enhance our first visit to the Vatican puzzled us a lot. At the end, we adhered to Skip-the-Line guided tour. Yet if you have a lot of knowledge, even if it’s not firsthand, you can do just fine with a self-guided walk through the opulent buildings and a lush garden.


Guided Tours Tickets

The both ways of visiting the Vatican, its Museums and Garden – via self-guided walk or group or private tour – work. Yet if you are looking for detailed information, history, and stories behind the cultural masterpieces in the City, a guided tour comes in handy.

Having said that, you might get overwhelmed by the amount of tour offers available on the streets of Rome, especially near the Vatican. Based on our experience, you should never pay the initial price. Instead, bargain.

Tour prices offered by representatives of small travel agencies clustered near the Vatican are almost always higher than those you can get online or even inside the Vatican Museums. We were asked for 50 euros per person initially. But after some “negotiation” the price dropped to 35 euros. The better way, though, is to get the tickets in advance with additional services thrown in.

Guided Tours - Roads and Destinations
Guided tours at the Vatican

Best Time to Visit the Vatican without a Tour

Visiting the Vatican on your own is more than possible. One of the main reasons that push people to get private or guided tours is time. Waiting in a line to get to the entrance door can take hours and hours. Arriving later in the afternoon may help reduce the waiting time.

Additionally, if you prefer to stay away from any guided Vatican tours, choosing the right season is crucial. The winter months (except for the period between Christmas and January 6) are usually the best.

On top of that, if it happens to rain in Rome on the day of your visit to the Vatican, rest assure, you will find smaller crowds inside. On the other hand, the Gardens of the Vatican City will be closed.

Visit the Vatican on a Guided Tour

So, it’s your first visit to the Vatican and you decided to take a guided tour. Great! The advantages of the the tours far exceed their prices. First of all, you skip the line. No more time wasted outside, waiting for your turn to enter. Second, forget about the second line and tour the Vatican in reverse, from the Vatican Museums all the way to the St. Peter’s Basilica, exploring the treasures of the Sistine Chapel along the way.

City-state surrounded by Rome - Roads and Destinations
Inside the Vatican | First visit to the city-state

How to Visit the Vatican without a Guided Tour

You start your self-guided walk through the Vatican either at the Vatican Museums or at the St. Peter’s Basilica. Regardless of where you start, you can go only until the Sistine Chapel. After that you have to return to your point of entry and resume your exploration by starting it from the other side of the city-state (you will see two separate entrances).

So if you visited the Museums first, now you have to exit the Vatican City, re-enter the streets of Rome, and make your way to a separate entrance of the St. Peter’s Basilica. Here you may see another long line with people aching to finally enter the church. On the bright side, the admission to the St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square is free.

How to Photograph Vatican’s Masterpieces during Your First Visit

You can use a camera or a cellphone to capture your visit to the Vatican. Non-professional photography is allowed everywhere except the Sistine Chapel. You are not allowed to do any sort of photography in the Chapel. People still try to take a few sneaky shots. You will see a lot of that. Inside the Museums. make sure to switch to flash-free shooting.

The Vatican,
Photography at the Vatican,
First visit to the Vatican: Guided tours or self-guided walks


  1. March 8, 2019 / 12:51 am

    This is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for such a long time! I usually prefer to walk around places by myself but recently I had a guided tour of a National Trust and learnt so much that I wouldn’t have otherwise – so I’d probably consider a guided tour at the Vatican, too (especially if it cuts down on the waiting time!).

    Milenka x
    Blushing Lately

    • Zhanna
      March 8, 2019 / 5:32 pm

      I don’t take tours often either, but was glad that we decided to stick to it in the Vatican. 🙂

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