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Looking for the the best way to see the Vatican? Here’s an experience that’s off the rails. Have you heard of the Vatican Breakfast? Offered through the Vatican Museums itself, you’ll get skip-the-line tickets, early access and discover a unique thing to do in Rome.
An early morning Vatican tour
My husband, Mark, turned over in his sleep and yanked the sheet tucked under my neck so hard I woke up wondering why someone was trying to strangle me.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“5:30 a.m.” My eyes opened to slits. “We could have slept until 6:15.”
“You’re the one who wants to go.”
It wasn’t our best moment. It was our last day in Rome, we were sightsee-ed out and we were going to the Vatican for breakfast.
Mark stared at the chandelier over our hotel bed as if trying to remember why he’d married a travel writer who wants to drag him through every museum in Rome.
And I felt a little thrill because we were going to see the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel without the crowds. We’d be there before even the early access tours, and nearly two hours before the museum was open to the public. Surely it’s the best way to visit the Vatican, I thought, yet few people seem to know about it.
A unique thing to do in Rome
It had taken a week to convince Mark it was the best way to see the Vatican, and we’d only booked the night before. “What if it’s one of those unmissable morning experiences like seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise?” I’d asked. “You have to admit it’s unique. It probably even trumps the skeleton chandeliers and bone decor in the Capuchin Crypt.”
The best part would be seeing the Vatican without the crowds. The last time I’d gone to the Vatican City Museums I’d waited in line for two hours, then shuffled down the long corridors in the midst of a thrum of people. It wasn’t a heavenly experience. It was more like being in the metro at rush hour.
“Full English breakfast,” I reminded Mark, because food is usually the most direct route to his heart.
Evidently his heart wasn’t awake yet because he groaned and went into the shower.
“We’ll be the first ones in,” I shouted through the door.
And who knew? Maybe the pope or a few cardinals would show up and we could all visit the Sistine Chapel together.
What is early entrance breakfast at the Vatican?
The Vatican breakfast is a buffet breakfast served in either the Restaurant Area or the Pinecone Courtyard of the Vatican Museums, depending on the season. It starts at 7:15 a.m., though you should be there by 7. Once you’ve eaten your substantial hot breakfast with up to 30 other people, away you go into the Vatican Museums and towards the Sistine Chapel an hour before it’s open to the public.
Alone in the Vatican. Can you even imagine it?
Getting to Vatican City from central Rome
Vatican City is on the west side of the Tiber River, across from the historical centre of Rome. When I’d envisioned our lavish Vatican breakfast surrounded by 14th-century altarpieces, marble columns and plush velvet curtains I’d also pictured us strolling hand-in-hand through a delicate rose sunrise to the Vatican entrance. We’d cross the Ponte Sant’Angelo, the Bridge of Angels, much as the medieval pilgrims used to do.
Instead we were tired and cranky so we just got a cab.
At that time of morning taking a taxi to St Peter’s Square is fast, but you can also take the metro to Cipro – Musei Vaticani, about a 10-minute walk to the Vatican entrance.
The Vatican breakfast experience
Outside we waited in a misty rain with about 20 other people. Promptly at 7:15 we were let in. As there is no one else at the Vatican at this time, security was a breeze, even for the sleepiest of tourists.
We were led to the Restaurant Area. Seriously, that’s what it’s called. If you visit between April and November you eat in the Pinecone Courtyard, which has a colossal bronze Pine Cone cast in the 1st or 2nd century AD, and has a much better ring to it. The Restaurant Area had two long tables and a side wall buffet, not a masterpiece in sight. I couldn’t help thinking the decor wasn’t much more elaborate than its name.
With 1400 rooms in the Vatican they couldn’t have found something more ornate? While I didn’t expect to be eating scrambled eggs by candlelight under Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, what about the Gallery of Tapestries or the Hall of Animals? A little alcove with a Caravaggio?
“Bacon!” I said, trying to divert Mark’s attention away from the plain surroundings in case he threw me an I-told-you-so look.
What is the buffet like?
Admittedly, the buffet was good. Bacon, sausages, fresh fruit, pancakes, toast, pastries, coffee, cappuccino, tea. The caffeine hit woke me up and I tried to strike up a conversation with the people around us. After all, this was a unique shared experience. The Vatican is the heart of Christianity – a wellspring of spirituality, history and art.
No one seemed interested so I ate another croissant.
It didn’t matter anyway. As soon as I saw the headsets being handed out my sense of shared community evaporated in my desire to be first to the Sistine Chapel.
How to do an Early Entrance Vatican Museum and Breakfast
There are a couple of ways of doing breakfast at the Vatican and they need to be booked beforehand.
- Entry, breakfast and tour with a guide
- Entry, breakfast and audioguide tour
We would have booked the Vatican breakfast tour with a guide, but it was full so we’d opted for headsets. It took only a minute to get them, then we waited at the entryway like racehorses poised to charge down the track. Early access tours were trickling in, and I didn’t want them getting ahead of us.
“The thing to do is get to the Sistine Chapel as fast as you can,” I told Mark under my breath. “I read it on the Internet. Don’t get sidetracked or we’ll be sharing the Sistine Chapel with a million other tourists.”
How big is the Vatican?
Mark turned away but I’m pretty sure he was rolling his eyes. The distance from the Vatican Museums entrance to the Sistine Chapel is about 500 metres if you go direct, but there are some 7.5 km (4.5 miles) of galleries and corridors in total. Dating back to 1503, the museums hold a jaw-dropping collection of Renaissance paintings, ancient antiquities, priceless tapestries and religious and secular art. There’s even a marble chariot. The chances of getting sidetracked are high.
But I was on a mission and as soon as 8 a.m. struck I was ready to sprint.
It worked. Mark and I were the first ones into the Vatican Museums.
It was a split second moment of triumph because we were quickly overtaken by a tour leader holding a flag.
“Hurry!” I said to Mark over my shoulder as I hurtled down the Gallery of Maps, a long hallway that connects the Papal Palace to the Sistine Chapel. Sixteenth-century frescoes showing the regions of Italy whizzed by my sight and I was barely aware of the elaborate ceiling paintings overhead.
“Why?” he said.
I stopped, nearly causing a pileup of Sistine Chapel-bound tourists behind me.
The best way to see the Vatican
Much as I hated to admit it, Mark had a point. Why was I hurrying? We were passing room after room of masterpieces. What about Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ, Leonardo da Vinci’s St. Jerome in the Wilderness, the Belvedere Torso and the ancient Greek masterpiece Laocoon and his Sons? What about the Stefaneschi Triptych by Giotto and the Porphyry Basin Nero used to bathe in?
“You’re right,” I said.
We veered off the papal highway and that’s how we ended up in the Raphael Rooms completely alone. Painted in the early 1500s, this suite of four rooms are dripping in frescoes by Raphael and his workshop. The rooms were originally part of the apartments of Pope Julius II, the Warrior Pope who, in addition to being known to engage in warfare in the name of the church, had kickstarted the Vatican Museums by donating his collection.
It’s a miracle, I thought, looking around The Room of the Fire of the Borgo. It’s just us and the frescoes. For the first time since we’d been in the Vatican, history seemed to come alive, shades of the Renaissance seeping out of the stone archways, marble doorways and intricately-tiled floors.
After that we wandered through gallery after gallery, at one point getting lost in a stairwell with no direction at all. I wasn’t even upset (hardly) that we missed the Caravaggio in the Pinacoteca, because there was so much else to see.
Breakfast at the Vatican is a unique way to experience Rome, and seeing the Sistine Chapel with only a few other tour groups is a marvellous feat, but taking it slow and enjoying the whole experience rather than beelining for one top sight is the best way to see the Vatican of all.
PS: And the Sistine Chapel still wasn’t crowded when we got there.
Early Entrance Breakfast at the Vatican reviews and travel tips
There are hardly any online reviews of the Vatican breakfast, which is why I decided to write this post. I had so many questions I couldn’t find the answers to, so hopefully these tips for visiting the Vatican will help you plan your trip.
Tips for breakfast at the Vatican
Note: There are some affiliate links below. This means if you book through my website I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. #Grateful
Where is the Vatican Museums entrance?
- It’s on the north side of the Vatican City on viale Vaticano. Look for the big archway.
How much does does the Early Entrance Vatican Breakfast cost?
- If you book on the Vatican website itself it costs 68 Euros per person.
While you’re having breakfast are other tour groups lining up and getting in front of you?
- There are a few early Vatican entry tours gathering but we were still the first in. Ha.
Is the Early Entrance to the Museums & Breakfast the same as Entry to the Museums & Breakfast?
- Not exactly. The Early Entrance Breakfast starts at 7:15. The Entry and Breakfast starts at 8:15 and I can’t imagine relaxing over breakfast while other ‘skip the line’ tour groups are streaming in. With the Early Entrance Vatican Breakfast you eat before anyone else is there.
Do you go through security before or after breakfast?
Do you have to wait in line to get your audioguide headset after the breakfast?
- A table is set up at the breakfast to give out headsets to those who have reserved them. It took a couple of minutes to get them, no more. You do not have to wait in line for the headsets with anyone who is not doing the Vatican Breakfast.
How do you return your headset? Do you have to go all the way back to the Vatican entrance from the Sistine Chapel to deposit it?
- No. There is a place to leave your headsets at the Sistine Chapel.
Can you go into St Peter’s Basilica after your Vatican breakfast?
- Yes. We were early so there was no lineup.
Which is better, booking on the Vatican website directly or going through a tour company?
- Doing a Vatican breakfast tour with a private company is probably easier and you’ll have their guide. I would have done it if it had been possible at 10 p.m. the night before. But. If you’re booking last minute you’ll likely have to go direct to the Vatican website to book.
- Bonus: Booking on the Vatican Museums website is cheaper than going through a private tour company.
Can you backtrack after seeing the Sistine Chapel to the museums and galleries?
- Yes. This entails a lot of walking, however, so wear comfortable shoes. Then, if you want to visit St. Peter’s Basilica afterwards, you would have to walk all the way back to the Sistine Chapel. I don’t know if you can get fast-tracked into St Peter’s or not.
The Vatican audioguide tour
Truthfully the audioguide was pretty dry. Like really dry. I don’t want to insult the Vatican or anything but they should really listen to the audioguide at the Villa Borghese or the Doria Pamphilj to get an idea of what’s entertaining. But at least it gives you an idea of what’s what. Or it would have for us if we hadn’t stopped listening to it altogether.
How to book the Vatican Breakfast
Booking the Vatican Breakfast isn’t the easiest thing to do. The good thing is that you can do it the night before. First you need to visit the Vatican Museums website. Have your passport info handy, including the expiry date. There is a form you need to fill out. That takes you to another form where you fill out your credit card info. Then – at least in our case – you sit and stew because your card won’t go through.
Apparently getting a fraud alert when you try to book on your credit card is common. Somewhere, someone in the credit card universe has decided the Vatican isn’t trustworthy. I tried twice on my card then used Mark’s card (oh, lucky him). He got a fraud alert by text and was able to confirm that the Vatican Breakfast tickets were a valid charge. I filled out the form again and it went through. Within minutes the Vatican emailed our vouchers and we got the hotel to print them off for us. We took the paper vouchers with us to gain entry.
My advice is to either book before your trip starts so you can deal with any issues at home or sign up for credit card text alerts like Mark, which you’ve probably done anyway because you’re more technically advanced than I am.
Vatican breakfast tours
The other option is to book through a tour company. The ones I found were:
- Vatican Museums Early Entry Tour with Buffet Breakfast from $126. Check availability here.
- Vatican Museums: Skip-the-Line Guided Tour with Breakfast from $133. Check availability here.
- Vatican City, Museum, and Gardens Tour with Breakfast from $160. Check availability here.
Conclusion: Is the early entrance breakfast the best way to see the Vatican?
It’s definitely a unique experience. The hot buffet is good – and how many people can say they had breakfast at the Vatican? Whether you book a Vatican Breakfast tour or book it independently like we did, it’s bound to be an interesting experience. While the cafeteria isn’t glamorous, there is still something special about being at the Vatican early. I think only a private tour in the evening would top it.
Check out hotels near the Vatican
Staying near the Vatican is one way to have easy access. There are not a lot of luxury hotels in the area (most are on the Via Veneto, one major exception being the gorgeous Hassler Roma (on my wishlist) at the top of the Spanish Steps), but the closest 5-star would be the Gran Melia Rome, a leading hotel of the world. Slightly closer would be the 4-star Starhotels Michelangelo Rome and closer still is the 4-star Best Western Plus Hotel Spring House.
Check out more hotels in Rome.