If you want to avoid the usual Sistine Chapel crowds, here's one way to do it: Go to the Vatican at night.
For the third year in a row, the Vatican museums are having their "extraordinary opening" from 7pm-11pm. Last year, more than 30,000 people took advantage. And whether your day is completely booked or you'd simply like to see the Sistine Chapel and Laocoön in a bit of a more serene atmosphere, now's your chance.
The museums will be open on Friday nights from now until July 15, and then again from Sep. 2 until Oct. 28. Last admission is at 9:30pm.
The areas open in the museums are the Egyptian museum, Pio-Clementine, Galleries of Tapestries, Candelabra, and Maps, Raphael Rooms, Borgia Apartment, Collection of Modern Religious Art, and, of course, the Sistine Chapel. (There's no guarantee, and it's in fact unlikely, that other areas, like the Pinacoteca, will be open).
Tickets must be booked in advance, so the full-price ticket is €19 (includes the €4 reservation fee), or €12 reduced (students, bring your I.D.s!). Click here to book.
Memories fade, and photographs don't always do justice to Rome's top attractions. Now, though, a spate of virtual tours allow travelers to explore some of Rome's most popular buildings and art, from the Sistine Chapel to the Capitoline Museums — all from the comfort of home.
Below, some of the best of the virtual lineup. Prepare to want to start planning your next trip to Rome!
St. Peter's Basilica. Gorgeous virtual tour by the Vatican itself. Highly professional and stunning.
The Capitoline Museums. They're the oldest public museums in Rome and boast some of Italy's best ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Now, you can visit all 45 of their rooms… digitally.
The Pantheon. Rome's single best-preserved ancient building; the tour isn't as professional as the previous virtual tours, but still pretty great.
Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, a beautiful example of the blending of the Baroque and Renaissance styles of architecture. It's famous for its Caravaggio paintings — which, bummer, you can't see in the tour — but also for its Chigi Chapel designed by Raphael, which you can.
The Ara Pacis, the altar made from 13-9 B.C. to commemorate Emperor Augustus' victories and the Pax Romana. (Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "Ara Pacis").
Circus Maximus, where ancient charioteers once raced (make this full-screen for a better image)
And, yes… the Colosseum! Finally: Yes, virtual tours of what actually exists are all well and good — but virtual tours of what ancient Rome would have looked like? Maybe even better.
UCLA's Digital Roman Forum includes both modern and ancient views of the forum, including the basilicas Julia and Aemilia. Pick a time between 700 B.C. and 500 A.D., click on the map, and see what that spot looks like in 360 degrees today — and an image of what it would have looked like then rotates with you.
It's a work in progress and only shows you what the sites look like today, but this other virtual tour of the Roman forum features 360-degree views of a dozen different spots in the ancient landscape.
Now, if only you could also virtually enjoy the taste of pasta alla gricia or the feel of the warm Roman sun on your neck…
Sad that Rome’s many summer events are coming to an end? Don’t fear — autumn brings a new roster of events. And from September 3 to October 29, the Vatican museums will be open at night.
If the September heat and crowds are getting you down, just book at the Vatican’s online ticket office, print your voucher, and go. Since few people have caught on, the museums are usually almost completely empty. It’s a much calmer, and cooler, way to take all the art in.
The details: The museums will be open each Friday from 7pm to 11pm (last entrance 9:30). Yes, fewer galleries will be accessible, but you’ll be able to see all the greatest hits — including the Raphael rooms, Gallery of Tapestries, Gallery of Maps, and, of course, the Sistine Chapel. As for reserved tickets during the day, the cost is €15 (€ 8 reduced, including students and under-18s: college students, bring an ID), plus a €4 reservation fee.
And if you’re planning a spring trip to Rome, don’t worry. The Vatican Museums at Night should return in April through July, as it did last year. Stay tuned.
For the past eight years, Jason Spiehler has been a top name in the world of Rome walking tours, written up by both Rick Steves and the New York Times. Now, he’s started a company that focuses on offering tours by well-informed, passionate guides of Italy’s top sites. In Rome, that includes not just the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica, but gems off the beaten path — like tours of the Galleria Borghese, the catacombs, and the city’s finest small churches.
(Full disclosure: I work for this company. But hey, I think that means I know the quality of our guides and the work that’s put in pretty well, too!).
The company just launched a website, www.walksofitaly.com, giving full information about all of the tours offered. So far, they cover Rome, Florence, and Pompeii. One top seller is the “Pristine Sistine” tour, which takes visitors into the Sistine Chapel first thing in the morning, before the crowds arrive. Another neat feature: All of the private tours give you the option of having “add-ons,” like another half-hour on the Palatine Hill or in the Imperial Forums. Convinced your tour’s the right one? You can book immediately online. Still have questions? You can shoot the tour coordinator, Linda, an email at email@example.com, call, or even Skype.
Okay, enough plugging for one day. But seriously. Check out the website. I know I’m biased, but I still think it looks pretty good.