Home > The History of the Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery)
History of the Pinacoteca

The History of the Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery)

If you’re planning a trip to Vatican City, a visit to the famous Pinacoteca is obligatory – especially if you’re an art buff! Offering a glimpse of the works of some of the most famous Italian painters – from the middle ages to the Renaissance – the Pinacoteca offers a stunning window into the impact Italian art had on the world of art, beauty, and culture for centuries. But what do we know about the Pinacoteca, and what can you expect when you visit? Let’s take a look!


What is the Pinacoteca?

The Pinacoteca, also known as the Pinacoteca Vaticana, is the Vatican’s art gallery, and it’s a vital part of the Vatican Museums. Established by Pope Pius XI in 1932, the Pinacoteca houses an impressive collection of paintings and other works, and is a popular site for visitors to the Italian capital.

The collection in the Pinacoteca is organised chronologically and spans from the Middle Ages to the 1800s, comprising works by many famed Italian artists, such as Giotto, Fra Angelico, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as one of the gallery’s most notable pieces, Raphael’s “Transfiguration”. The Pinacoteca is housed in a purpose-built, 18-room building, and each room is dedicated to a different era or theme, allowing visitors to take a journey through the development of Italian painting.


What is the history of the Pinacoteca?

The history of the Pinacoteca, or the Vatican’s art gallery, dates back to the early 19th century. The establishment of the gallery can be attributed to Pope Pius VII, who had the vision to bring together and preserve the vast collection of paintings owned by the Vatican.

Pope Pius VII initially intended to create a separate building specifically for the display of these artworks, however, due to various challenges and limitations, his plans did not come to fruition during his lifetime. It was not until the reign of Pope Pius XI in the early 20th century that the dream of a dedicated art gallery within the Vatican was realized. In 1932, Pope Pius XI officially inaugurated the Pinacoteca Vaticana, providing a permanent space for the display and preservation of the Vatican’s impressive collection of paintings.


What to expect at the Pinacoteca

When visiting the Vatican Pinacoteca, you can expect to be immersed in a world of artistic wonders spanning centuries; there’s so much to see that you have to take your time or you’ll miss an important fresco or portrait! And if you want a tip, visit the Pinacoteca with one of our private tours in Vatican City – our knowledgeable tour guides will be able to guide you through the gallery while providing detailed stories and facts about each art piece, while also answering unlimited questions.

Among the many remarkable works, here are some highlights that you shouldn’t miss:

Fra Angelico, The Virgin and the Child Enthroned

Fra Angelico’s masterpiece, The Virgin and the Child Enthroned, is a serene depiction of the Madonna playing with her child, and one of the most popular pieces for tourists within the gallery. The delicate colors, gentle expressions, and intricate details convey a sense of divine grace and maternal tenderness, and help explain why Fra Angelico was once known as the “Angelic Painter” during the 14th century. An unmissable Renaissance piece, you don’t want to miss this when you visit the Pinacoteca.


Giotto, Stefaneschi Polyptych

Giotto’s Stefaneschi Polyptych is a magnificent altarpiece that showcases his innovative approach to composition, as well as use of vibrant colors. One of the most important artworks of the 14th century, Giotto’s piece is one of the oldest in the Vatican gallery, so make sure you get a glimpse of it during your visit.


Melozza de Forli, Sixtus IV Founding the Vatican Library

Melozzo de Forli’s masterpiece, Sixtus IV Founding the Vatican Library, adorns the walls of the Pinacoteca, and is as much a stunning historical artifact as it is a beautiful fresco. With a glimpse of all the major figures who headed Italy near the end of the 15th century, the composition celebrates the establishment of the Vatican Library, reflecting the intellectual and cultural legacy of the Vatican.

Christmas Fever

The Magic of Spending Christmas in Vatican City

When the year draws to a close and the festive season begins to sparkle, many of us yearn for a unique, memorable way to celebrate Christmas – so imagine spending it amidst the ethereal charm of Vatican City? The spiritual heart of the Catholic world – decked from top to toe in festive grandeur – makes for a unique and unforgettable tourist experience, and will likely be one of the most memorable Christmases you ever experience!

From the splendour of St. Peter’s Basilica, adorned with twinkling Christmas lights, to the resounding echoes of carols sung by the revered Vatican choir, Christmas in Vatican City is a sublime experience rich with sacred tradition, cultural splendour, and festive jubilation. So, why should you visit Vatican City at Christmas? Let’s take a look.

Why visit Vatican City at Christmas?

Christmas is a magical time to visit any city, but visiting the Vatican City during the festive season holds a special allure. The spiritual heart of the Catholic world, the small sovereign state truly comes alive with unique celebrations and breath-taking decorations. Here are four benefits of visiting Vatican City during the festive season.

Experience a spiritual journey

At Christmas, Vatican City is imbued with a profound spiritual atmosphere that provides a unique perspective on the holiday’s significance. You’ll even have the chance to attend Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, presided over by the Pope himself: these moving services, enriched by the Basilica’s grandeur, offer an unforgettable experience that transcends the typical tourist activities.

Marvel at festive decorations

Vatican City is renowned for its Christmas decorations, and rightly so. From the grandiose Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square to the splendid Nativity scene, or ‘Presepe’, the city is transformed into a festive spectacle. These displays are a testament to the Vatican’s appreciation of the arts and its commitment to preserving the traditions of the holiday season.

Escape the crowds

Although Christmas is a popular time for pilgrimages, Vatican City sees fewer tourists compared to the peak summer months. This allows for a more leisurely exploration of the city’s treasures, including the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums, and the beautiful Vatican Gardens. You’ll be able to appreciate these sites without the usual throngs of visitors.

Delight in a different climate

For those who are accustomed to a chilly, white Christmas, a trip to Vatican City offers a pleasant change. Rome’s winters are typically mild, allowing for comfortable exploration of the city. And while it might not snow, the crisp air and shorter daylight hours add a wintry charm that complements the city’s festive decorations. So you can even opt for explore all tours in Vatican City at a reduced cost, while still being able to explore all the attractions on foot!


Is it better to visit the Vatican in the winter or the summer?

Whether you decide to visit the Vatican in the summer or winter largely depends on your personal preferences, and what you hope to get out of the visit.

For example, one of the biggest advantages of a summer visit to the Vatican is the longer daylight hours: this means more time to explore the city’s many attractions without feeling rushed. Additionally, the weather is warm and generally dry, ideal for leisurely strolls through St. Peter’s Square or the Vatican Gardens. However, summer is also the peak tourist season, which means larger crowds, particularly at famous sites like the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s also worth noting that Rome can get quite hot during the summer, with temperatures often rising above 30°C (86°F).

On the other hand, one of the main benefits of a winter visit is the thinner crowds. As it’s the off-peak season, you can enjoy a more serene experience exploring the Vatican’s museums and architectural marvels without the throngs of tourists. And yes, don’t forget the Christmas festivities!


Is it more expensive to visit the Vatican during Christmas?

The cost of visiting the Vatican, which includes the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums, generally remains constant throughout the year. However, the overall cost of your trip to Vatican City during Christmas may be influenced by several other factors:


Flights and accommodation

During the holiday season, flights to and flight and hotel prices in Rome might increase due to higher demand, as travellers head home to spend Christmas with loved ones. It’s therefore advisable to book your flights and accommodation well in advance to secure the best rates.


Special events

As we already mentioned, Christmas time in Vatican City is filled with special events, such as Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. While attending Mass is free, getting tickets can be challenging due to high demand, and some people might choose to use a service to secure these, which could incur a cost.


Dining and shopping

With the festive season in full swing, you might find yourself spending more on dining and shopping during your trip, which can put a dent in your wallet. But who could blame you – the Christmas markets that sprawl the streets in Rome are irresistible, and you’ll likely be tempted to indulge in local crafts, fresh street food, and perhaps some gifts for loved ones.

Overall, while the cost of admission to the Vatican’s attractions doesn’t change, other factors associated with travelling during the festive season might make your trip more expensive overall. That being said, the unique experience of spending Christmas in Vatican City is well worth the extra expense!

Aerial view of colosseum

The History of the Colosseum

A testament to human ingenuity, the Colosseum has stood for centuries, bearing witness to the rise and fall of empires and the complex trajectory of European history. In the following guide, we’re going to explore its fascinating history, and discover the secrets that lay within its walls. While this guide can’t compete with a real Colosseum tour, we’re sure it’ll make you hungry to learn more about this historic Roman site. Let’s get started!

What is the Colosseum? 

The Colosseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, is an elliptical structure located in the heart of Rome, Italy. It was built by the Flavian emperors, who wanted to create a symbol of their power and authority, and spans 189 meters in length and 156 meters in width, with a seating capacity for over 50,000 spectators. To this day, it remains the largest amphitheater ever built, and stands as an enduring symbol of the might and splendor of ancient Rome. 

How was the Colosseum built?

Construction of the Colosseum began under Emperor Vespasian in 70 AD, and was completed by his son, Titus, in 80 AD. The construction of the Colosseum was – and continues to be – an incredible feat of engineering, with an estimated 100,000 cubic meters of travertine stone being used for the outer walls alone. Skilled Roman builders employed an innovative system of pulleys, cranes, and other tools to transport and assemble these massive stones, resulting in a structure that has withstood the test of time. Despite earthquakes, fires, and other catastrophes that have damaged the structure over time, the Colosseum remains largely intact and is 100% safe for visitors.

Why is the Colosseum so important?

The Colosseum holds great historical significance, not only for its role as a venue for spectacular events and entertainments, but also for the architectural innovations it introduced: the iconic structure is an early example of the use of concrete in construction, and its ingenious design – which includes a complex system of tunnels and passageways –  continues to inspire architects and engineers to this day. 

Plus, the Colosseum serves as a poignant reminder of the extraordinary cultural and artistic achievements of ancient Rome, as well as the darker aspects of its history, such as the brutal spectacles that took place within its walls.

What was the Colosseum used for?

Gladiatorial combats

Among the most famous and thrilling spectacles held within the Colosseum were the gladiatorial combats; these brutal and bloody contests pitted highly trained warriors, known as gladiators, against one another in fierce battles to the death. Gladiatorial games were an integral part of ancient Roman culture, serving both as a form of public entertainment but also as a means of reinforcing social hierarchy; victors earned not only fame and fortune but also the admiration of the Roman spectators. 

Wild animal fights 

Another popular form of entertainment held in the Colosseum were the wild animal hunts, known as venationes: these events showcased the prowess and skill of specially trained hunters, who faced off against exotic wild animals imported from all corners of the empire. Lions, elephants, and even wild bears were brought to Rome and released into the arena, where they engaged in to-the-death battles with the brave hunters; these spectacles allowed the Romans to demonstrate their mastery over the natural world, as well as to flaunt the vast reach and wealth of their empire. 


The Colosseum was also a stage for elaborate reenactments of famous battles and historical events; these performances were meticulously staged, with intricate sets and costumes, and often involved thousands of participants. In addition to these dramatic recreations, the Colosseum was occasionally filled with water to stage mock naval battles, known as naumachia; these events showcased Rome’s naval prowess and offered yet another form of thrilling entertainment for the masses. 

How to visit the Colosseum?

So, if that little slice of history sounds enticing, why not visit the Colosseum yourself and explore the historic site? A tour of the Colosseum is sure to be a truly unforgettable experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in the rich history and captivating stories that surround this ancient wonder. But it’s not the same without a guided tour, led by knowledgeable and enthusiastic experts, who can offer invaluable insights into the architecture, history, and cultural significance of the Colosseum. At What a Life Tours, we offer some of the best Colosseum tours in the capital, where we’ll show you some of the ancient tunnels underneath the Colosseum itself, and other areas closed off to the general public. Alongside this, we offer intimate, private tours (up to 6 people) and even nighttime tours, which offer a unique and enchanting perspective of the Colosseum under the stars! Either way, no matter which option you choose, a tour of the Colosseum is a must-see experience for any traveler to Rome.

Vatican library

The Vatican Library: A Fascinating World of Books

The Vatican Library, a symbol of the Catholic Church’s intellectual and cultural wealth – as well as the Pope’s own personal library – is something of a modern-day treasure trove. From ancient manuscripts to rare books, old coins and works of art, the library has a rich history and offers a glimpse into the vast knowledge accumulated over centuries in the historic city of Rome. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the history of the Vatican Library, what you can find inside, and why it’s so hard to visit this secretive spot within the Vatican’s walls. Let’s take a look!

History of the Vatican Library

The Vatican Library traces its origins back to the early days of the Catholic Church, but it wasn’t until the 15th century that it became a distinct institution. Founded by Pope Nicholas V in 1451, the library’s initial collection comprised manuscripts and books from the pope’s personal library, as well as those acquired during the Council of Florence. 

Throughout the centuries, the library’s collection has grown through acquisitions, donations, and papal patronage. In 1475, Pope Sixtus IV officially established the Vatican Library as a public institution, allowing scholars to access its vast resources. With the invention of the printing press, the library’s collection expanded rapidly, as it began to acquire printed books alongside manuscripts – some of which are over 2,000 years old.

Like other areas in Rome, The Vatican Library has had its fair share of challenges and crises, such as the Sack of Rome in 1527 and the Napoleonic Wars, which led to the confiscation of many manuscripts and books. Nevertheless, the library has always managed to recover and expand its collection, and it remains a go-to resource for many renowned scholars and academics.

What’s in the Vatican Library? 

The Vatican Library’s collection is both vast and diverse, housing over 1.6 million books, 75,000 manuscripts, and 8,600 incunabula (aka books printed before 1501). This includes significant works of theology, history, science, literature, and art from different cultures and time periods. 

Some of the library’s most notable manuscripts include the Codex Vaticanus, one of the oldest and most important copies of the Bible; the Vatican Virgil, a richly illustrated manuscript of Virgil’s works dating back to the 5th century; and the Urb.lat.277, a beautifully illustrated copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The library also boasts an extensive collection of ancient maps and globes, such as the Gallery of Maps, which features 16th-century frescoes depicting maps of Italy and its regions. Additionally, the library holds a large collection of coins and medals, as well as numerous works of art, including frescoes, sculptures, and paintings. You can even find ancient coins that were said to be paid to Judas in exchange for killing Jesus.

Who can visit the Vatican library?

Unfortunately, tourists and visitors are not permitted to access or visit the Vatican library. In some cases, permission to visit the library can be extended to known scholars, historians, and academics, who are able to use the library’s resources in their professional work. Outside this framework, it’s almost impossible to pay the library a visit, with some undergraduate students even being denied access for academic reasons. 

Why aren’t tourists allowed to visit the Vatican library?

The reason tourists are prohibited from visiting the Vatican library is simple: preservation. Many of the items within the Vatican Library are extremely rare, valuable, and delicate, and allowing unrestricted access to the general public could potentially result in damage to these precious manuscripts, books, and works of art. 

There’s also a security aspect to take into consideration: the Vatican Library holds an extensive collection of invaluable artifacts, making security a top priority. Restricting visitor access helps maintain a secure environment and minimizes the risk of theft or vandalism.

Where to go instead 

While visiting the Vatican Library may be a difficult feat, there are several other unique and fascinating tours available within the Vatican City that showcase its rich history, art, and architecture. At What a Life Tours, we offer a range of unique guided tours, including a skip the line Vatican tour, a Colosseum under the stars tour, and even a tour of the Vatican’s Mosaic Studio. While we would love to be able to show visitors around the historic library, you can still get the best out of your trip with one of our fun-packed guided tours.

Vatican museum

Visiting Vatican Museums: Everything You Need to Know

What’s a trip to Rome without a visit to the home of some of its most renowned and historic artworks? Nestled in the heart of Vatican City, the Vatican Museums are a must-see for art lovers, history enthusiasts, and keen tourists alike – but what should you expect when you get there? In the following blog post, we’re going to go over everything you can expect during your visit, from the strict dress codes and safety guidelines to the breathtaking masterpieces that await you. Let’s take a look!


What are the Vatican Museums?

The Vatican Museums are a collection of world-renowned art museums located within the Vatican City. Established by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, they contain priceless masterpieces of art, sculpture, and historical artifacts accumulated by the Roman Catholic Church throughout its history. The Vatican Museums are home to many Roman must-sees, including the famous Sistine Chapel decorated by Michelangelo, as well as the Raphael Rooms, frescoed by Raphael Santi himself.


What do I need to know before going to the Vatican Museum?

You need to follow the dress code

When visiting the Vatican Museums, it’s important to remember that you’re entering into a space of both religious and cultural importance, and as a visitor you will be expected to adhere to a strict dress code. Both men and women need to wear clothing that covers their shoulders and knee, so sleeveless tops, shorts, and skirts above the knee are not permitted. Shoes must also be worn at all times, so no flip-flops or sandals. It’s a good idea to bring a scarf or shawl to cover up if needed, especially if you’re visiting during the summer months and wearing light clothing.

Safety and security is a priority

Safety is a priority at the Vatican Museums, and several measures are in place to ensure a secure environment for visitors. All guests must pass through a security checkpoint, similar to airport security, which includes a metal detector and X-ray machine for bags. Do note that you will need to leave any large bags or suitcases at your hotel or in a nearby luggage storage facility, as these won’t be allowed inside the museums for security reasons. Additionally, be mindful of pickpockets, as the Vatican Museums are a popular tourist destination – wear bum bags, keep your valuables at home where necessary, and don’t leave any handbags or valuables lying around unattended.

You should book tickets in advance

To avoid long waiting lines and ensure a smoother visit, we highly recommend booking your tickets in advance. Our private Vatican tours are incredibly popular – especially during peak season – so it’s a good idea to get your tickets reserved as soon as possible. Turning up without a ticket can mean waiting in the queue for hours with other tourists, wasting precious holiday time that could be spent visiting other sites, eating pizza and gelato, or soaking up Rome’s rich and vibrant city life.

Even better, opt for a guided tour

To make the most of your visit to the Vatican Museums, consider taking a guided tour. There are many tour options available, from private tours to group tours, which are led by knowledgeable and experienced guides. These tours can offer valuable insights into the history and significance of the artworks and help bring the experience to life. Additionally, guided tours – such as those offered by us at What a Life Tour – often include skip-the-line privileges, allowing you to bypass the long queues.


What can I expect to see at the Vatican Museums?

The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel, perhaps the most famous attraction within the Vatican Museums, is a must-see. The chapel’s ceiling, painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, features an awe-inspiring depiction of scenes from the Bible. Michelangelo’s iconic fresco, “The Last Judgment,” also adorns the altar wall. Visitors should note that photography and videography are strictly prohibited inside the Sistine Chapel, and talking should be kept to a minimum.

The Raphael Rooms

Another highlight of the Vatican Museums is the series of rooms known as the Raphael Rooms. These four rooms, which served as the private apartments of Pope Julius II, are adorned with magnificent frescoes painted by the renowned artist Raphael and his workshop. The fourth room was also recently restored in 2020 by Fabio Piacentini. 

The Gallery of Maps

The Gallery of Maps is a stunning 120-meter-long corridor featuring detailed maps of Italy painted on the walls. These maps, commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in 1580, showcase the geographical knowledge of the time and are notable for their artistry and accuracy and attention to detail. As you walk along the gallery, you’ll be able to admire the beautifully painted topographical representations of Italy’s regions and cities, as well as the ornate ceiling adorned with frescoes depicting allegorical and mythological scenes. 


Is it worth visiting the Vatican Museums? 

We certainly think so! A visit to the Vatican Museums is an essential part of any trip to Rome, especially if you’ve come to the Italian capital with the specific aim of sightseeing. Just remember to plan your visit well in advance and adhere to the dress code and safety guidelines to ensure a fuss-free and enjoyable experience. 



Do I need tickets for the Vatican Museums?

While tourists are permitted to enter into Vatican City without a ticket, you will need to pay if you’re looking to enter into the Vatican Museums. If you book a private guided tour, your admission fee will be covered as part of the price.

How long does a Vatican Museum tour take? 

It’s recommended to allocate at least 3 to 4 hours for your visit to the Vatican Museums. However, if you’re an art or history enthusiast, you may want to spend even more time exploring the vast collection. Keep in mind that the museums can be quite crowded during peak tourist seasons, which is why we’d always recommend opting for one of our private tours – there’ll be no time wasted waiting in line! 

Are the Vatican Museums wheelchair accessible? 

Yes, the Vatican Museums are wheelchair accessible, and there are ramps and elevators available to assist visitors with limited mobility. If you require a wheelchair, you can reserve one in advance through the Vatican Museums’ Special Permits and Services Office.

Can I bring food or drink into the Vatican Museums?

Food and drink are not permitted inside the Vatican Museums, except for water in a plastic bottle. There is a cafeteria within the museum complex where you can purchase food and drinks during your visit.

Aerial view on vatican gardens

The Vatican Gardens: A Hidden Gem of Vatican Tours

The Vatican Museums, the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel – these are no doubt just some of the things that spring to mind when you hear the phrase “trip to Rome.” But did you know that over half of Vatican City is actually consumed by the Vatican Gardens, a lush, green landscape full of history, landmarks, and the beauty of nature? If you come to Rome with a pre-booked Vatican tour, you’ll be able to access and explore the Vatican gardens at your leisure – but what are they, and what can you expect? Let’s take a look.


What are the Vatican Gardens?

The Vatican Gardens are an expansive oasis of lush greenery, striking architecture, and historical artifacts nestled within the heart of the Vatican City – and did you know that in spanning an impressive 57 acres, these gardens cover more than half of the entire Vatican City’s land?

Dating back to medieval times, the Vatican Gardens are a stunning testament to the artistry and skill of the many generations that have contributed to its development, and despite their historical significance, are often overshadowed by the city’s other attractions, such as the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

However, for those in search of a unique and serene experience, the Vatican Gardens offer a delightful escape and a fascinating insight into Vatican history and culture – so why should you take a tour? Let’s take a look.


What can you expect to see at the Vatican Gardens?

So, why opt for tours in Vatican City that include a walk around the secretive Vatican Gardens? Here are just a few spots that you can enjoy with your guide:


Marian gardens and Lourdes’ grotto

One of the most interesting areas of the Vatican Gardens is the collection of Marian gardens, which are dedicated to the Virgin Mary. These gardens are filled with vibrant flowers and tranquil spaces for contemplation, and you’ll also find the Lourdes’ grotto, a replica of the original grotto in France where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to Saint Bernadette. This sacred space is a popular destination for pilgrims and visitors seeking a moment of peace and reflection, but also simply another beautiful part of the Vatican to explore if you get the chance.


Torre di San Giovanni

The Torre di San Giovanni, or Tower of St. John, is a medieval tower that offers a fascinating look into the gardens’ early development. Once used as a papal residence, the tower is now surrounded by greenery and offers stunning views of the Vatican gardens, as well as the rest of the small country.


The Berlin Wall

A surprising element within the Vatican Gardens is a section of the Berlin Wall, a historical symbol of the division between East and West Germany during the Cold War. After the wall fell in 1989, a portion of it was gifted to Pope John Paul II in gratitude for his support of the reunification of Germany. Today, you can view this striking artifact within the gardens, serving as a powerful reminder of the global impact of the Vatican and its role in promoting peace and unity.


Heliport and train station

Within the Vatican Gardens, you can also find the Vatican Heliport and the Vatican City train station, which are actually essential parts of the Vatican’s transportation infrastructure. The heliport is used for papal travel and visiting dignitaries, while the train station connects the Vatican to Italy’s railway network. These modern facilities offer a unique contrast to the gardens’ historical and natural elements, serving as another example of the Vatican’s integration of contemporary technology with traditional, historically-preserved designs.


The Italian garden

The Italian garden is another beautiful space within the Vatican Gardens, where you can find a bit of calm and serenity amongst the pine trees, cypresses and overwhelming calm of the outdoor space. You can also spot the Italian Garden from the top of the Dome – keep on the lookout for its symmetrical designs!


Why take a private tour

As we already mentioned, you can only visit the Vatican Gardens with a pre-booked guided tour, but why opt for crowded group tours? Instead, indulge in a private guided and tour and enjoy the following benefits:


Fewer tourists

By opting for a private tour, you can avoid the large crowds that often accompany group excursions. With fewer tourists to navigate through, you’ll have more time to take in the breathtaking sights and sounds of the Vatican Gardens and other attractions.


More intimate experience

Another benefit of a private tour is that it offers a more intimate experience, allowing you to connect with your tour guide and receive a tailor-made experience catered to your interests. This personalized approach means you’ll have the opportunity to delve deeper into the areas that most captivate you and ask unlimited questions, whether they be about the beautiful Marian gardens, the fascinating history of the Torre di San Giovanni, or the tranquil Italian garden.


Skip-the-Line privileges

One of the most significant advantages of taking a private Vatican tour is the ability to skip the long queues that often form at popular attractions such as the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. With your private tour guide, you’ll enjoy faster access to these iconic sites, saving you valuable time and allowing you to make the most of your visit to the Vatican City.

rome and vatican scenery

Do private Vatican tours include choosing places on your own?

If you’re heading to the Vatican during a trip to Rome, you’ve probably already thought about hiring a tour guide. After all, the Vatican stretches for miles, and it’s almost impossible to explore the historic site thoroughly without the helping hand of an expert.

While large group tours remain the most common type of tour that visitors take at the Vatican, there are also many tour companies operating in Rome that offer private guided tours for smaller groups of people. These types of tours are ideal for those with genuine interest in the Vatican and its artifacts, as private tours tend to only accommodate between 6 and 12 people; this means that you have a lot more time to speak with your tour guide and ask questions during the tour.

But are you able to choose your own places to visit when you opt for a private Vatican tour, or do you have to follow a strict, pre-planned programme? Let’s take a look.


What is a private Vatican tour?

A private Vatican tour is a more intimate alternative to a large group tour, and will usually accommodate between 6 and 12 visitors at one time. Private tours are increasingly popular amongst tourists, who are losing interest in the scattered, impersonal nature of large group tours. With a private guided tour, you’ll enjoy a more personalized, one-to-one experience with your tour guide, and greater flexibility over the areas of the Vatican that you choose to explore.


What does a private Vatican tour include?

While tour guide companies across the Italian capital may vary in what they offer, most private tours will include a full tour of the Vatican, unlimited questioning and answering, as well as an expert tour guide who will guide you from site to site and offer thoughtful commentary on the history and culture of the Vatican. Additionally, a private tour will also include access to areas that are not available to those who take part in large group tours, such as certain artifacts or monuments that can only be viewed by small groups.

In addition to this, some private tours (such as those offered by What a Life Tours) offer skip the line privileges, meaning that you won’t need to wait outside for hours before being granted entry to the Vatican. Some private tours also offer early morning access, where you’ll be able to explore the Vatican privately at your own leisure, before the bustle when the afternoon tourists arrive.


Can I choose where to visit with a private Vatican tour?

In general, a Vatican private tour will be somewhat pre-planned; your tour guide will usually take you through some of the following areas of the Vatican (do note that these may vary from company to company, and some private tours may not cover all of the following sites):

  • The Vatican Museums
  • The Sistine Chapel
  • Pinecone Courtyard
  • St Peter’s Square
  • Gallery of Tapestries Gallery of Maps
  • St. Peter’s Basilica
  • Michelangelo’s Pietà
  • Bernini’s Baldachin

That being said, you do have greater flexibility with a private tour. While large group tours may rush from site to site in order to respect their given time slot, private tours can last for around 3-4 hours; plus, as you’re exploring the Vatican as a smaller group, you’ll have the opportunity to influence the direction of the tour, or spend more time visiting the areas of the Vatican that you find the most interesting.


Is a private Vatican tour worth the money?

Yes! If you’re looking for a more personalized experience, with greater flexibility – as well as the opportunity to explore parts of the Vatican that aren’t available to the general public – then a private tour is definitely worth the investment. Not only will you have an expert guide to help explain the history and culture of the historic site, but with skip-the-line privileges, you’ll be able to get in and out of the Vatican without waiting around for hours beforehand. Aka, you’ll be able to spend more time eating pizza and gelato, taking photographs at the Trevi Fountain, and exploring the beautiful Italian capital!

busy vatican city

Are skip-the-line tours more expensive than regular tours of the Vatican?

One of the best things about visiting Rome is bearing witness to the thousands of years of history across the various cultural and historic sites in the country’s capital. After all, why come to Italy if you’re not going to spend your time sightseeing?
But what’s not so great about touring Rome is the lengthy waiting times to gain entry into places like the Colosseum and the Vatican. Luckily, many private tour guides offer skip-the-line Vatican tours, where you can get early access to these sites without waiting in a long queue. In this blog, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about skip-the-line tours: what they are, what they involve, and how they’ll compare in price to a regular Vatican tour. Let’s take a look!


What is a skip the line tour at the Vatican?

A skip the line tour is exactly as it sounds; it’s a tour that enables you to gain entry into the Vatican and other attractions without waiting in line beforehand – sometimes for up to hours at a time. Not only can you skip the long waiting times, but skip the line tours are also led by knowledgeable guides who can provide additional information about the sites that you’re visiting, as well as helping you avoid the waiting time usually associated with regular entry.


How many people are included in a skip the line tour?

Skip the line tours Vatican are reserved for smaller, private groups, and can usually only accommodate up to 6 people. This is beneficial in a number of ways; not only will you get a more intimate tour experience, but you’ll also get to spend more time talking to your tour guide, asking endless questions about the Vatican’s history and artefacts while you explore the historic site.

With a skip the line tour, you also benefit from a more personalised experience; in larger group tours, tour guides typically follow pre-programmed schedules, and may often rush past the areas of the Vatican that you might find the most interesting. This is because large group tours follow a tight schedule, and individual tour guides will likely host several groups per day.

With a private tour, you’ll be able to take your time exploring the parts of the Vatican that interest you most, whether it be the Vatican Museum or St Peter’s Basilica. And as we already mentioned above, you won’t be limited when it comes to asking questions; your tour experience will feel more like an interesting conversation than a rigid Q&A session.


How much more expensive are skip the line tours?

When it comes to pricing, skip the line tours are typically slightly more expensive than regular entry tickets for the Vatican: at What a Life tours, our skip-the-line VIP tour starts at $389, and includes a tour of the historic Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, Raphael Rooms, and Gallery of Maps. The tour lasts 4 hours, usually starting at 10am and finishing at 2pm.

In comparison, regular Vatican tours cost anywhere from $45 to $800, depending on what kind of tour package you’re opting for, and whether you opt for a private company or book through the Vatican’s official tour guide service. The Vatican itself does offer large group tours that cost around $45 per person, but you won’t get as intimate an experience as you would with a private tour.

Plus, given that you could end up waiting in line outside for 2-3 hours at a time, that’s 2-3 hours lost that could be spent exploring the beautiful Italian capital! So really, a skip the line tour is the most cost-effective option, especially if you’ve flown in from far to see the historic Italian site.


Is a skip the line tour worth it?

Absolutely! Aside from allowing you to gain entry to the Vatican before everybody else, perhaps the most lucrative part of a VIP tour is the undivided attention you’ll receive from your tour guide. If you – or any of your family members – are history buffs, or passionate about the Italian renaissance or Italian art, an in-depth conversation with an expert while exploring these sites is certainly worth the extra money.


Can I tour the Vatican on my own?

While it is certainly possible to tour the Vatican on your own, it’s not the best option, especially if it’s your first time visiting the historic site. Not only is it jam-packed with tourists, it’s also absolutely massive, with 26 museums and miles of history to explore. We’d highly recommend opting for a professional tour guide for the most enriching experience, whether it be a private tour or an official group tour.


Do you still need to go through security with a skip the line tour?

Yes. While a skip the line tour does mean you get priority access over other visitors, you’ll still need to go through security as usual. However, given that VIP tours tend to only include around 6 people, it shouldn’t take long for you and your group to get through security promptly. Just make sure you’ve read up on what you can and can’t take into the Vatican – this will help you move through security faster.

view of colosseum

What are some of the lesser-known aspects of the Colosseum that we might learn about on a tour?

A trip to Italy isn’t complete without a trip to the famous Colosseum, and you’ll need a guided tour if you really want to appreciate the site’s full history and beauty. While many large group tours may offer general tours around the ancient amphitheatre, if you’re looking for some lesser-known history and access to parts of the Colosseum unavailable to the general public, a private tour is your best bet.

So, what are some lesser-known aspects of the Colosseum that you might learn about on a private tour? Let’s take a look!


What is the Colosseum?

For the uninitiated, the Colosseum is one of the most recognizable monuments in Rome; it was once used for gladiator fights, public executions, theatrical performances, and even animal hunts, as well as a variety of other spectacles during the Roman period. The amphitheatre could hold up to 50,000 spectators at once, and was the site of some of the most brutal public entertainment in history. Known as the largest amphitheatre in the world, the Colosseum welcomes around 4 million visitors every year.


What secret areas of the Colosseum will I see with a private tour?

Booking a private tour isn’t just about getting skip-the-line privileges and an expert storyteller to guide you through the site – it’s also about getting access to some of the lesser-known aspects of the Colosseum:


Underground tunnels

On a private tour, you’ll have access to parts of the Colosseum usually off-limits to the general public, and this includes the labyrinth of underground tunnels and chambers known as the hypogeum. The hypogeum was once used to store wild animals and allow gladiators to enter the arena from every angle, and was also often used to prepare them for events. The hypogeum was also where prisoners were held before they were taken out into the arena, so it’s full of dark and bloody history. If you’re passionate about Ancient Rome, this is something you must see when in Rome – and you won’t get access when you book generic tours of the ancient amphitheatre.


The gladiator’s entrance

When you book private Colosseum tours with What a Life Tours, you’ll slip the long waiting lines and gain entry to the amphitheatre via the back door, also known as the gladiator’s entrance. You’ll stand where so many gladiators took their final steps – a moment you’re unlikely to forget, and an experience that isn’t possible if you only book a large group tour.


Arena floor and top tiers

While the general public isn’t allowed access to the arena floor, you’ll be able to stand where the gladiators once stood when you visit the Colosseum with a private tour guide. Not only will you be able to walk across the history-filled arena floor, but your expert tour guide will be able to give you unique and expert insight on historic battles, animal fights, gladiator battles and more. You’ll also get to visit the top tiers of the Colosseum, giving you a magnificent view of the historic arena floor – and commentary from your tour guide that will make the experience that little bit more special.


Is it worth getting a private tour of the Colosseum?

We certainly think so! After all, the Colosseum is steeped in bloody and cruel history, and much of what you read in history books or see in documentaries is just half the story. Your tour guide won’t simply guide you through the site and list off facts or stories that you likely already know; our tour guides are masterful storytellers, who will transport you back to Ancient Rome with tales of bloody animal fights, deathly battles, and more.

Plus, don’t forget that the Colosseum isn’t just the amphitheatre; you’ll also want to explore the surrounding areas, including the Roman Forum, the Arch of Constantine, Palatine Hill, and the Temple of Caesar. It’s best to visit these areas of the Colosseum with a guide, who will be able to offer expert insight while also answering any of your questions throughout the tour.

And when it comes to questions, you won’t be limited in the same way that you would be with a group tour; given that most private Colosseum tours accommodate between 5-12 people, you’ll be able to explore the historic site in a more intimate, personal and relaxed setting, conversing with your tour guide and questioning them as often as you please.


Do you need tickets for the Colosseum?

Yes, you’ll need a ticket or a pre-booked reservation in order to visit the Colosseum and be granted entry. Don’t forget that you’ll need to pass through security, so always read up on the site’s prohibited items before coming.

How long is the wait for the Colosseum?

You can expect to wait around 1-2 hours to gain entry to the Colosseum – and that’s with a general ticket! However, if you opt for a private skip the line tour, you’ll be given priority access and gain entry to the Colosseum as soon as you arrive (after passing through security checks).
Why is half the Colosseum gone?
In 1349, Rome was rocked – quite literally – by a large earthquake, which altered the structure of the Colosseum significantly. Today, only around one third of the site’s original structure remains intact.

happy family at ST Peter 39 s basilica church

How can I keep my children engaged during a Vatican tour?

If you’re planning a trip to Rome with a young family, you might be worried about your little ones getting bored or restless as you tour any of the many historic sites in the Italian capital. After all, ancient churches, art galleries and busy tourist sites aren’t exactly the most child-friendly environments.

However, travelling with young children can actually be an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience, even when visiting sites that a child might find, for lack of a better word, boring. In the following guide, we’re going to give you some of our top tips for keeping your little ones engaged during a Vatican tour, and how to deal with any problems that you might encounter during your trip. Let’s take a look!


Are children allowed in the Vatican?

Yes! The Vatican is very much a family-friendly tourist site, with millions of families bringing young children to visit every year. There’s no age limit on entry, so everyone from newborn babies to elder grandparents are welcome!

How can I keep my kids engaged during a Vatican tour?

Have realistic expectations

One of the first things we’d encourage is that you set realistic expectations for your children’s engagement in the tour. As we already mentioned above, sightseeing old historic sites isn’t exactly the most child-friendly activity, but with some planning, you can make it enjoyable for them. If they’re old enough to understand you, give them a quick talk beforehand and explain why good behaviour is key when touring the site – why not incentivise them with the promise of a delicious Italian gelato after the tour?

Be prepared

Kids and young toddlers can be quite demanding, and they won’t hesitate to kick up a fuss just because you’re in the Vatican! Make sure to come prepared with lots of different reinforcements, such as cuddly toys, snacks, dummies or pacifiers, as well as books or tablets to keep them occupied if they get bored. Don’t forget to bring earphones if you’re going to be giving them a phone or tablet to play with – you don’t want any noise to disrupt your tour.

Don’t be afraid to keep things short

Young kids have short attention spans, so taking a tour of the entire Vatican might not be the best idea. Instead, focus on just a few key sites that are particularly interesting to children and take your time there before moving onto the next spot. Shorter tours also tend to be less expensive, which can help if you’re on a budget.

Switch things up

One of the best things about being on vacation is that you can throw all the rules out the window – you’re in Rome, after all! Rather than taking a traditional group tour during the day, why not take a nighttime Vatican tour? Many tour guide companies – such as ours! – offer moonlit Vatican tours for those looking for something that little bit special. Kids might be more engaged if there’s a unique or out-of-the-ordinary aspect to things, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

Opt for a private tour

When in Rome, don’t forget that there are a number of various tour options available for visitors. If you’re really concerned about your children’s engagement level on the tour – or, for example, your children are very young – then it might be worth opting for one of many private Vatican tours. This way, a guide will be able to tailor the content to your family’s needs and interests, and you won’t need to worry about other tour-goers getting upset at the odd tantrum or telling-off.

Explore with them

Let your kids explore the Vatican on their own terms! Give them a camera to snap photos of what they’re interested in, and encourage discovery through fun activities such as a scavenger hunt. Alternatively, you could also look into taking a family-focused tour of the Vatican, which will give you and your kids a chance to learn more about the area in an engaging environment.

Be flexible

Finally, remember that sometimes things don’t always go as planned when it comes to tours with young children – so be prepared to go off-route if need be, and remember that it’s important to take breaks when they need them.


Can I bring a baby to the Vatican?

Yes! All ages are welcome to explore the Vatican. That being said, nearby tourists may get slightly irritated if they hear lots of crying during a tour, so be prepared to take frequent breaks outside if your little one gets restless. But don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about it – we were all crying babies at one point!

Do kids have to pay for a Vatican tour?

Kids can only enter into the Vatican for free if they’re under 6 years old; when it comes to private tours, prices and rates for child’s tickets will vary from company to company.