One of the most common questions we get asked by our Italy travel planning clients is, “Should we take our kids to the Vatican?” If it’s high on your wish list, the answer is yes … with caveats. The Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica are unquestionable highlights of a visit to Rome, yet they can overwhelm little ones if you come without a strategy. This is one place where advance planning pays off — winging it rarely works.
Book an early morning or late evening tour. There is no real low season in Rome, and crowds at the Vatican can be shoulder to shoulder year-round. The best approach? Opt for an early-hours or after-hours tour. It’s expensive but worth every penny, as you can truly engage with the art and kids have ample room to walk around and look at the things that catch their eye. These types of tours are offered in both small-group and private versions.
Avoid “free Sundays.” While the Vatican Museums are closed most Sundays, they provide free entry from 9 am-12:30 pm on the last Sunday of the month. Talk about jam-packed! It’s hard to view the treasures on display as you make your way through the throng, let alone appreciate them, especially for kids who can’t see over anyone’s head. Bottom line, the cost savings aren’t worth the hassle.
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Our preferred Italy travel partner also hosts a 90-minute express tour that skips the museums and takes you straight to the Sistine Chapel. Most Vatican tours follow a path that winds through the museums first, so this is a good option if you’re on a tight timetable or just want to see the famous frescoes. CB!’s Family Vacation Advisor team can help you book.
With older kids, consider a private tour that includes VIP access to the secret rooms containing priceless busts and masks, along with the Hall of Animals — filled with sculptures that make up a “stone zoo” of sorts. The tour takes a full 4 hours, so it’s not ideal for wee ones.
Note, don’t even entertain the idea of taking kids to the museums without a guide. It’s a recipe for meltdowns and general frustration.
Consider skipping the museums if you have very young kids. Almost everywhere in Italy is a tot-friendly paradise, but the Vatican Museums are better saved for a future trip when the children are older. Given the slow-moving crowds, the amount of walking (strollers are not advised) and the sheer volume of art and artifacts to see, the reality is that the museums just aren’t well suited for them. They’ll be much happier chasing pigeons in St. Peter’s Square. If you must bring small kids, book an off-hours or express tour such as the ones described above to keep your visit as smooth as possible.
Fill up first. Start your tour with a full stomach. Most take at least two or three hours due to the size of the museums, and it’s easy for kids to get hungry and cranky before you’re through. Pack a light snack if necessary. There’s also a cafe onsite, though it is pricey and the food isn’t great. One of our favorite places to get a quick lunch before or after the museums is Pizzarium, which serves creative Roman-style pizza from a takeaway counter.
Dress appropriately. Vatican sites require modest clothing that covers knees and shoulders. Little kids may have a bit of leeway, but older ones are expected to adhere to the dress code. In the summer heat, convertible pants are a lifesaver — just zip off the legs when you’re done. Carry a thin shawl or scarf to throw over a sleeveless top.
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