Tips for Touring the Vatican During Holy Week3 min read
If you’re visiting Vatican City this week, you’ll want to be prepared.
Considering the Vatican is a crowded destination at all times during the year, travelers can only expect it to be even busier during Holy Week, particularly on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday—in addition to the Papal mass held every Wednesday in Saint Peter’s Square. Add in the rock star quality of Pope Francis, and it’ll be a busy week, indeed.
While there’s no shortage of attractions at the Vatican, the must-see spots to add to your bucket list include St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel—especially if you’re a history and art buff. Since the lines will be insanely long in each of these places, be sure to reserve entrance tickets in advance if you’re joining a group or self-guided tour (which has its advantages versus going through them alone). However, if you’d rather visit the Vatican City when it’s slightly less crowded, you may want to visit at the end of November or early December when it’s quieter.
Here’s why these attractions are worth your time:
St. Peter’s Basilica:
Located in the center of the Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica was originally constructed around 320 AD and is now considered to be the largest of its kind in the world (it can hold up to 20,000 people!). Over the years, St. Peter’s has undergone numerous additions and renovations, including huge mosaics and artwork from artists all over the world such as Rafael, Bernini, and Michelangelo. The building is open every day, except Wednesdays. While tickets to events (e.g. Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday Mass, Saturday’s Easter Vigil) are free, they must be reserved. If you plan on attending the outdoor Masses at St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday (held at 10:15 a.m.), get there early.
The Vatican Museums:
While one could say each of the landmarks in the Vatican City is a work of art in and of itself, the Vatican Museums also contain various paintings, sculptures, and other works of art collected by the popes over the years. Although there are many different sections to visit, those included in the guided tours are the Pio-Clementino, Gregorian Etruscan and Egyptian museums, the Raphael Rooms, the Gallery of the Candelabra, the Gallery of Maps, and the Gallery of Tapestries. The Museums are usually open to the public every weekday morning, but are often busiest on Mondays. During the summer months, they’re also open in the early afternoon. Do note that they will be closed on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. As a result, travelers should expect them to be really crowded on Good Friday and Holy Saturday—the earlier your reserve your tour of the Museums, the better.
Located at the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel is the official home of the Pope and one of the most stunning landmarks in Rome. It’s also well known for its frescos that cover the ceilings and walls, particularly Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment and the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Since the Sistine Chapel closes early, make sure you enter the Vatican Museums before three p.m.