The benefits of a skip-the-lines tour that takes in the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's in a single (approximately 3 hour) tour are self-evident, but the benefits of a passionate, informed and official Vatican guide in a group that never numbers more than 18 people are perhaps less-so, until you understand that a lot of Vatican tours take place with groups of up to 50 people, and can be light on detail and heavy on speed.
No, this is a far more intimate tour. You'll be escorted past the often terrifyingly-long lines, put on your headphones, and have the Vatican uncovered by your expert guide, a guide who wants you to understand the Vatican rather than just glimpse it. The tour begins in the 'Pinecone Courtyard', the vast open space in the heart of Vatican City.
You'll then begin to explore the impossibly grand collection of art, buildings and decoration that is the Vatican Museums, where you'll be shown the most important galleries and rooms, accompanied at all times by your english-speaking tour guide.
First is the Pio Clementino gallery and the trove of classical sculpture, the fertile inspiration for Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel. You'll pass through the 'Octagonal Courtyard' and see Laocoön and His Sons, one of the most famous ancient sculptures, excavated in Rome at the beginning of the 16th century.
Next is the Gallery of the Candelabra (having admired Emperor Nero's enormously extravagant bath en-route), now a closed-in loggia replete with statuary and candelbra dating back to the 3rd century. Cameras at the ready for the next two galleries, tapestries and maps respectively, both opulently rich and decorated.
The Raphael Rooms are a highlight of the museum tour, a focus of Renaissance majesty and home, in one of the many rooms, to The School of Athens, one of Raphael's key works. After a visit to the Borgia Apartments it's time for the Sistine Chapel.
This will clearly be most people's must-see, understandably; the Chapel is, of course, a place of worship, and your guide is not allowed to speak (nobody is). You'll be given an explanation by your guide as well as a handout to use as a visual guide as you admire perhaps the most famous work of art in the west, Michelangelo's Creation of Adam.
You'll spend a good 20 minutes in the Sistine Chapel before leaving (via a special door) to complete the tour with a tour of St Peter's Basilica.
St Peter's is the largest Catholic church on the planet and surely cannot be matched as the 'last stop' of any tour on the planet! You'll be surrounded by a literal treasure-trove of art, but highlights you'll be shown include Michelangelo's Pieta and Bernini's La Baldacchino. The tour ends in St Peter's - you may opt to buy a ticket for an (independent) climb up to the cupola (dome), do some more exploring or head out into St Peter's square.
Three hours may sound like a long time but given that a thorough examination of every piece in the Vatican's collections has been estimated to take 12 years, you'll be thankful that you made the most of your trip, your guide leading you on a discovery of the Vatican's glories in this most amazing of 'living museums'.
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