There were two main reasons for wanting to visit the Vatican; the Map Room (I’m a total Map fanboy, so what?) and the Sistine Chapel (because it’s the Sistine Chapel!!). But unless you’re uber religious and visiting the Vatican is the holy grail of pilgrimages for you, then it might be one to avoid.
First of all, the queues are massive. Like bigger than Black Friday massive. It’s obviously best to book a tour with ‘skip the queue’ access but it’s still going to take forever for you to get in because when you bypass the first queue, there’s a second one just waiting inside. And because of these massive queues, the Vatican is heaving with crowds inside. On a hot day this really, really isn’t at all pleasant.
Also, the staff aren’t exactly what you’d characterise as warm and friendly. My experiences of them ranged from simply unhelpful to downright rude, which made the whole visit quite unpleasant and created quite a negative, hostile atmosphere.
On the other hand though, the Map Room was an absolute visual delight and just indescribably beautiful. The level of detail in the decoration is beyond words. Literally, every single element of the room was perfectly perfect, from the golden fresco ceiling to the exquisite maps that lined the walls. I know I’m using a lot of adjectives here but none can quite convey how stunning the room looked.
As an aside, I took so many photos of Italian frescos that I could produce a coffee table book or something (lemme know if you’d buy a copy, this could really pay off my student debt).
Right at the end of the Vatican is the Sistine Chapel. Whilst there’s a strict no photography rule enforced in the Chapel, I still managed to sneak a photo of Michaelangelo’s legendary Creation of Adam.
And yes, the Vatican was worth visiting just to see the Sistine Chapel – somewhere I’d wanted to visit for so long – but the room was just frustratingly packed with tourists who craned their heads up to the ceiling for a few seconds and then walked out.
There’s no doubt that so much of the artwork on display, as well as the very architecture of the building itself, is more than worth seeing. But, the overcrowding coupled with the unhelpful staff created a really negative and unpleasant environment. Plus I had to sit down more times than I feel comfortable mentioning because my feet were hurting, which is probably more of an issue with me than the Vatican but still I think it’s worth a mention.
If you want something equally as historically stimulating but without the crowds, consider visiting Domus Aurea outside of the Vatican City in Rome. Emperor Nero’s ‘Gold House’ is still undergoing excavation and is open for guided tours at the weekend. Elsewhere, there’s also the Pozzo Corridor, which is decorated as lavishly beautiful as the intricate and ornate corridors of the Vatican.