Italy: Vatican Museums Tips & Review

Vatican Museums by Natalie Parker

The Vatican Museums are a must-do on most Rome lists.

We expected the Vatican Museums to be a knock-our-socks-off experience but it wasn’t.  We’re still very happy we went though.

Our Impressions and Experience

We booked tickets in advance for 10:30am and got to skip the gargantuan line.  Even in the morning, the museums were oppressively crowded.  On top of that, the free map was pretty worthless, so we couldn’t tell if we had to shuffle through all the galleries or if we could skip ahead to what we really wanted to see.  We didn’t want to accidentally miss anything so we shuffled along.

15,000 people visit the Museums every day.  We wish they’d limit the size of the tour groups they admit.  There were groups of 20-30 people all trying to move together through a tiny door or enclosed space — it was easy to get swept up in the wave.

Vatican Museums by Natalie Parker

It was difficult to stop and look at anything, both due to the crush of people but also the setup.  Aside from the Pinacoteca Vaticana (more on that below), it’s not set up like a classic museum experience.  There isn’t space to sit back and enjoy the art.  It’s a set of galleries that you pass methodically through.  The Louvre in Paris is far superior in terms of experience.

On that note, there weren’t as many showstoppers as we expected.  The top 3 pieces for us were the Sistine Chapel (obviously), the Raphael Rooms (including the The School of Athens, below), and Raphael’s Transfirguration in the Pinacoteca Vaticana.  Our next favorite after that was the map gallery but it was hard to enjoy due to the crowds.  It’s very possible that we’re snooty/biased but we’ve been to Egypt before so their Egyptian collection wasn’t that impressive.

The Sistine Chapel was everything we hoped it would be.  I was glad no photos were allowed because it made for a better experience.

Vatican Museums by Natalie Parker

Tips for Visiting the Vatican Museums

Buy tickets online early.  I’m always stunned to see lines when tickets are easily available ahead of time.  The lines here were particularly epic, so buy online!

Print online voucher, skip the lines, get tickets inside.  After buying online, you get a voucher to print.  You must redeem that voucher for the actual tickets when you get to the ticket hall.  The good news is that you can skip the line to get to the ticket hall!

Get there early.  Get the earliest time you can make.  Hopefully it will cut down on the crowd issue.  Our tickets were for 10:30am and we had trouble with crowds.

Get a tour book with a decent map.  The free maps aren’t great.

Use the post office near the gift shop.  If you’d like to send a post card from the  Vatican, the one at the museum gift shop had a shorter line.  Bring a pen, there are no free pens available (they’ll sell you one though!).

Get between the herds.  Do your best to stay between the big tour group herds.  It’s very easy to get stuck behind a group or swept up with them.

You can take photos, but no flash.  Learn how to use your camera!  No selfie sticks are allowed, and no photos are allowed in the Sistine Chapel.

Vatican Museums by Natalie Parker

Don’t be a jerk in the Sistine Chapel.  No photos are allowed, don’t try it.  I don’t think anyone wants to see the blurry picture you snuck with your phone to prove you were there.  Keep your voice down.

Check out the modern art.  The modern religious art after the Sistine Chapel was quite good and few were stopping to look at it.

Make sure to visit Pinacoteca Vaticana.  We were shocked at how many groups skipped this.  The Raphaels here (pic directly above) were easily top 3 of the whole experience.

Have you visited the Vatican Museums?  Any tips for a great experience?

How to Install a Temporary Gallery Wall

Gallery Wall by Natalie Parker

I love gallery walls.  I have a ton of them pinned on Pinterest.  I always struggle designing them myself because I can never get them just right.  “Effortless” is the absolute last word used to describe any project of mine.

Mr. P and I have a lot of art collected from our travels (read more about shopping for street art here) and most of it is not displayed.  I needed to solve for two things:

First, I had lots of oddly-shaped items but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money.  Getting odd-shaped things framed or mounted is expensive.  I considered cutting my own mats and making my own plexiglass frames, but that seemed like a lot of work too.

Second, it needed to be temporary.  This was for our little rental apartment.  While we love our place dearly, we knew sooner or later we’d move (sooner actually, more on that later).  It didn’t make sense to put a lot of time and effort into something that we’d take down.

Gallery Wall by Natalie Parker

I finally realized what I’ve been doing wrong: over thinking it.  I saw this pin on Pinterest and was sold.  I loved the idea of layering and mixing media and sticking things directly to the wall.

This entire process from idea to finished product took three days (including Prime shipping from Amazon on the adhesive).  That’s it!

Sticky Supplies

I ordered a couple types of adhesive: Duck Brand Poster Putty and Command Poster Adhesive.  I tested both on magazine pages first.

Gallery Wall by Natalie Parker

I was worried that the putty would leave long term marks, so I used the Command strips on the items I really cared about and the putty on ones I didn’t.

Planning

I planned the placement of the art.  Mr. P made me this scale drawing and little art pieces back when we were planning to get things framed.  I used the model to rough out where I wanted everything.

Gallery Wall by Natalie Parker

I selected photos.  I went through my collection and went for bright, macro photos.  When I couldn’t decide on the final ones, Mr. P pointed out that the wall almost had one piece from every country we’d been to.  I stuck with the theme and picked pictures from other countries to complete the set.

I printed photo drafts in multiple sizes and laid everything on the floor to check the look.  This was fun.  We moved things around a few more times, played with the layering, and made sure we picked the right size for each photo.

Gallery Wall by Natalie Parker

Hanging

This was the easiest part!  I printed the photos and we got to work.  We started with the giant Antarctica map and moved right.

Not everything is hung perfectly.  The map could have been smoothed out a bit more.  The whole gallery could have gone a few inches to the left.  I don’t care though — I’m just happy that I can actually see my stuff on the wall!

Gallery Wall by Natalie Parker