Should You Visit The Vatican Museums On A Free Entry Day

It was 6:45 AM on a Sunday morning.  The place was Roma Termini metro station.  While not crowded, there appeared to be more people than I figured on a Sunday early morning am. 

Over the next few stops people were getting on, but no one was getting off.  I soon realized that we were all up this early for the same reason.  Sure enough as the Ottaviano stop approached, everyone inched toward the exit door.  Once the doors opened everyone burst out like it was a black Friday sale.  Everyone was headed to the same place and in quite a hurry to do so.

The Vatican Museums are normally closed on Sundays.  However, on the last Sunday of the month it is open and admission is free.  While it doesn’t open until 9:30, the crowd lines up much earlier. 

I reached my spot in line a few minutes after 7:00 and there were about 200 people in front of me.  Over the next 15 minutes the line had more than doubled in size and went around the corner so I could no longer see it. 

If your goal is to visit the Vatican Museum on one of their free days, I would suggest getting there no later than 7:30 and ideally around 7:00.  If your plan is to try and wait until later in the day when the line dies down you will be disappointed.  They stop letting people in at 12:30.  By 11:00 on this particular day the line stretched all the way to the side entrance of St. Peter’s Square.  Estimates are that it was well over a two hour wait.  No matter when going, you will wait. 

The crowds are bigger than on a normal day inside the museum, but it never felt uncomfortable.  Again this partly had to do with the fact that as one of the first ones in you can stay in front of the biggest crowds.  The later you arrive the more crowded each room will be.  As people tend to linger in the Sistine Chapel, that will always be the most crowded space. 

For those looking to save some money on what can be an expensive Rome vacation, this does provide an opportunity to see one of the worlds best museums for free.  There are a lot of articles out there that advise staying away from the Vatican on a free day.  I find that if you do get up early, a little extra time in line is worth it.  Rome can be an expensive city to visit especially if you plan on seeing many of the top sights.  If you are in town on the last Sunday of the month, I would recommend going.   

As an added bonus  the Pope addresses the crowd in St. Peter’s Square every Sunday at noon.  If you go early you have enough time to enjoy the museum and head into the square and see the Pope in person, even if it is from a distance.

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