Visiting the Vatican with kids in 23: practical, sanity-saving tips you need to know

by marta

All you need to know to plan a visit to the Vatican with kids – Updated October 2022

Anytime I get asked about visiting the Vatican with kids, I take a little pause and take my time to measure my words.

The reason for this is that I have mixed feelings about recommending a visit to the Vatican to families.

If I wear my ‘mom hat’, I find myself recommending people to stay well away from the museums and only tackle them with kids if this is the chance of your lifetime to see them.

St Peter square Vatican city

If I wear any other hat, however, I cannot recommend not to visit: the Vatican museums are so beautiful, rich, culturally interesting and unique, I could not in all honestly tell anyone that they are not worth it.

They are simply spectacular.

And so we came to this post: an honest overview of what to expect at the Vatican museums and top tips for visiting the Vatican with kids.

Good to know: I am a Rome mama and I have been to the Vatican with my kids many times. You can see in the photos in this post we visited at different ages and in different seasons, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends! All the info and tips you find on this page are based on my personal, first hand experience of visiting the Vatican with children.

Please note: this post contains affiliate links and, should you make a purchase through them, we might make a small commission.

child looking at St Peter church

Reasons for visiting the Vatican with kids

There are infinite reasons to visit the Vatican with kids.

The whole of Vatican city is interesting and beautiful and it is of such historical, cultural and religious significance I believe a visit with children can be a hugely educational one.

Also, the Vatican has some fun elements that are special for children:

  • It is a separate state form Italy, which means you are technically crossing an international border on foot
  • It has a record breaking basilica and dome, something kids are usually keen to explore and report on their travel journals
  • The square had a really impressive perspective trick, which kids will think is magic (if you stand in specific spots and look at the colonnade, many of their rows disappear!)
  • Older kids are likely to have hear of the Sistine chapel at the very least, and a visit to it can be a bucket list item for them as well as for parents.

Reasons not to visit the Vatican with kids

The main reason not to visit the Vatican with children are the large crowds.

The whole of the Vatican city and the museums in particular are crazy busy.

Lines meander outside their door for hundreds of meters and even once inside the people are so many that you have to elbow your way to see most of the masterpieces – this is not a pleasant experience at any age but properly awful for small children.

The other reason not to visit is that the museums are very big and with little to grab kids’ attention.

I am a huge believer in bringing children to ‘grown up museums’ but among the many, this is not an easy one for them to enjoy (you can find much more child friendly ones in Rome on this list).

The Vatican museums are vast, nothing can be touched and the Sistine chapel even requires you to be silent, something that can be really hard for kids.

Our kids and their friend in front of St Peter.

Our experience at the Vatican with kids

We visited the Vatican with the kids on a January morning when they were about 4 and 6.

We opted to go with a guided tour specifically for families (this one) and spent the whole morning between the museum, the Sistine Chapel and then, on our own, in St Peter’s square.

It was an experience that left us with mixed emotions (mostly awe and exhaustion) but that brought home two important points:

  1. When visiting the Vatican with kids you need to be prepared
  2. A private family tour of the museums is worth every cent and it is something I hugely recommend

These are my top tips for visiting the Vatican as a family.

Our family visiting the Vatican with kids: me holding my daughter in one of the Vatican Museum galleries, with her looking at art

Top tips for Visiting the Vatican with kids: before you go

Decide what to see

The first thing to know about the Vatican is that it is made by not one attraction but several.

St Peter square, St Peter’s basilica, St Peter’s dome and the Vatican museums are all close to each other (they are attached to each other, even) but they have different entrances with different ticketing systems, and visiting one, another or all of them requires some planning.

So my first advice for visiting the Vatican with kids is: decide what to see!

St Peter’s square

The easiest part of the Vatican to visit with children in tow is by far the main square.

This is a large outdoor space, opening up in front of the stunning St Peter’s basilica and you don’t need any special preparation, ticket or precaution to enter.

You can read here >>> my guide to St Peter’s Square and how to enjoy it with kids.

St Peter square

The square is technically in a different state than Italy, which is something kids usually love to learn about, but doesn’t have a border crossing as such as can be visited like any other square in the city.

If you want to see the Vatican and you are happy with a beautiful view of it from the outside, you need nothing else than showing up: it is easy and stunning.

A visit to the Square is what I recommend to families who want to see the Vatican but not the museums.

St Peter’s basilica main floor

St Peter’s basilica dominates the square by the same name and is a sight to behold.

You can enjoy its impressive facade easily from the outside but you can also visit it inside with kids with reasonable ease.

The main floor of the basilica is free and while the queue can be tiring for kids, the inside is usually a hit with them.

The basilica is huge, record-breaking (the biggest in the world of its kids) and the decorations are so elaborate they will catch the children’s attention, making this an easy place to visit as a family.

No tickets are required to see the basilica but some are available specifically for those who want to skip the line.

These can be a good option but be aware that everyone has to pass through security so some queuing is always involved.

St Peter’s dome

St Peter’s dome is the crown at the top of St Peters’ basilica but I mention it separately because you need a separate ticket for visiting and so required slightly different planning.

The dome is really fun to climb and the view from the top amazing (you see Rome but also the very beautiful and manicured Vatican gardens), something kids will most likely enjoy.

Aerial view over Rome with Vatican square in foreground and colosseum fat in the back
600View of St Peter’s square and Rome from the dome

However, it is not a good place if you suffer from fear of heights, something I am sure you had already guessed, and it is also not good if you have any problems with enclosed, small spaces – the staircase up gets pretty claustrophobic!

Climbing St peter’s dome with kids is an activity I would only tackle with slightly older kids and kids who will be able to to walk all the way up.

I personally would not recommend it with a toddler or to anyone who may find the peculiarity of that space challenging.

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

When inquiring about visiting the Vatican with kids most people are looking at the Vatican museums,the large, beautiful and famous art gallery of the Vatican state.

The museums are just beside the basilica but operate with a different ticketing system and have a separate entrance: while you can get from the museums to the basilica, you cannot do the opposite, so this is important to know when getting your bearings in the area.

Visiting the Vatican museums with kids is quite and undertaking and the largest part of this article ill be devoted to tops for visiting them wit kids, rather than the other areas.

The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican museum and we will share specific tips for visiting later in this post.

As I mentioned above, my favorite way to visit the Vatican with kids is with a family tour.

This private family tour of the Vatican, for instance is brilliant as it manages to transform a potentially boring museum in a treasure trove of wonders, thanks to a game approach.

However, should it out of budget, you can also opt for an entry ticket and tour on your own.

In that case, I highly recommend you select in advance what to see.

Children often love the Carriage Pavilion (with the many incarnations of Pope Mobiles over the years), the Maps Room and the Greek and Roman Gallery. The Sistine Chapel is at the end of the museum so you will not miss it no matter what.

Plan at least a half-day

A visit to the Vatican with kids, but also without, requires some time so my second tip is to had to the Vatican on a day when you can spend there at the very least one morning.

If you are only visiting the square, you are likely not to need more than about half an hour there, plus transport time, but anything else considering how much there is to see and the inevitable lines even just at the metal detector) will delay you.

This is very much not a place to tackle in a hurry.

If you are visiting the Vatican museums with kids, factor in easily at least 4 hours.

Book skip the line, reserved entrance tickets

When planning a visit to the Vatican with kids but even without, I cannot stress enough how important it is to book your tickets in advance.

The tickets I recommend to visit the Vatican Museums with kids are:

Standard entry from the Vatican Museum Website Direct Booking – best value option: the cheapest way to get entrance tickets is to buy them directly from the official Vatican Museum website.

These are timed entrance (so you don’t have to stand in line) and come in several forms, including entrance only, early entrance, guided tours. The simple entrance tickets are the best value you can find.

Vatican Tour for Families by LIvTours – TOP PICK. This is a fantastic, private family tour for families with kids organised by one of my favorite provider of family tours in Italy, LivTours. This tour has a scavenger hunt approach and it is a lot of fun: the guides are fantastic with kids yet still able to deliver a tour that is also great for adults and they make this difficult museum a pleasure to visit, even with children in tow!

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Tour for kids with scavenger hunt – this is a great tour organised by Rome4Kids, perfect for children who enjoy a scavenger hunt/ game approach.

Vatican Museum Early Entrance Small Group Tour – this is a tour only few companies can offer and that allows you to enter the Museums early in the morning, before the official opening, so that you see them without the crowds.

While not specifically for kids, the tour is in a small group so it feel personal and the presence of the guide for few participants mean as parent, you can be sure your needs are taken into account.

Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica Family friendly Tour

Vatican and Sistine Chapel Tour for families with kids, another good tour by a reliable company designed with kids in mind.

Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel entry ticket – not a tour but an entry ticket, for families who prefer to explore in their own time

Dress appropriately

You may have heard that the Vatican has a strict dress code and the importance of abiding by it cannot be highlighted enough.

People get regularly refused entrance to the Vatican if dressed inappropriately and yes, this applies also to valid ticket holders and the museums (mostly because of the Sistine Chapel)

You don’t need to worry too much though: once you know that the dress code is (see below), all you need to do is come prepared – they don’t require you to wear anything extravagant so you should have no problems finding something suitable, even if traveling light.

At the Vatican, the following items are not allowed:

  • Above the knee shorts (this applies to men and women), even if you cover yourself with wrap
  • Mini skirts (same as above)
  • Strapless / sleeveless tops such as spaghetti straps camisoles and tank tops (for men too)
  • Tops that leave exposed the belly / cleavage / bare back
  • Anything see through or so tight-fitting to be revealing
  • Hats (not strict in the museums but strict in the basilica and chapel)
  • Bulky rucksacks (for security reasons)

Items of clothing that you may not be sure about but are allowed in the Vatican are:

  • T-shirt that covers the shoulder (aka: normal t-shirts and polo shorts)
  • Capri pants (ankle length)
  • Sandals
  • Normal bags such as cross-body bags for women

When it comes to kids, the dress code is a little more relaxed but it still applies.

If you have pre-teens and teenagers, they must follow the very same rules as grown ups while younger kids don’t get usually stopped, as long as they have somewhat church appropriate clothing (they definitely don’t need their Sunday, best just avoid swimsuit tops and similar, just dress them for the city and they will be ok).

Please note: the dress code is strict for St Peter basilica but also for the Sistine chapel so even if only seeing the museums (of which the chapel is part of ) you need to be prepared.

You can find here >>> my full guide to dressing for the Vatican and Vatican dress code

Visiting the Vatican with kids: stroller rules

If you have very young children you will be happy to hear that the Vatican museums allow strollers and are actually very stroller friendly.

The only downside it having a pushchair is that the crowds are so intense you may find yourself repeatedly driving into other people’s ankles; just be aware of this an plan a little extra time as it will take you longer than expected to maneuver a stroller there

Visiting the Vatican with kids: tips for your visit

For the day of your visit, these are the things that worked for us:

Decide what rooms to see

Study the layout of the museum before you start your visit and decide which parts will be of most interest.

The museums are vast and you will not be able to see them in their entirety with a small child.

Make sure you get a map with the layout so can decide what areas are your priority and what can be left for last (or skipped)

Head to the carriage pavilion first

Very close to the entrance sits the carriage pavilion, for many young kids the best part of the museum.

In this pavilion you have all the papal carriages used over the centuries, ranging from horse-drawn ones to the modern papa mobile. This is a fun area for them, usually not too crowded and, most of the times, a great way to set the mood right.

Get them hunting

We visited the museum with a treasure hunt style tour and it worked wonders.

Even without a tour, you can easily make a scavenger hunt for your kids: Get hold of some postcards of masterpieces you know are in the museums and get them searching – with our two, it works every time!

Kids looking at their list of must find items in front of a painting at the vatican
Our kids on their Vatican scavenger hunt with Rome4kids tours

Pre-book lunch

The Vatican museums have a cafe and child friendly restaurant inside (they even have a kids’ menu) but unless you book in advance you may find yourself waiting in line for an inordinate amount of time.

This is easily solved with some clever planning and booking in advance for your family from the Vatican website here (in Italian, but the contact details on the website and ticket options are in several languages).

Please note that the museums’ cafe and restaurant is accessible to ticket holders only.

Head outside

Every time you are in proximity of outside space, make the most of it! Even in January we found that being able to go outside and get some fresh air went along way to make the kids and ourselves recover from the crowded rooms. It also makes for great photos: the Vatican is stunning everywhere

Visiting the Sistine Chapel with kids

You visit the Sistine chapel at the end of your museum visit but I treat is separately because it is very different form the rest and follows different rules.

The main thing to know is that the visit operates in shifts and you can only stay an allocated amount of time. You go in with a group of people and then you all come out.

Also, the Sistine chapel requires silence and it has a no photo policy.

To visit the chapel with kid, I recommend the following:

Show them the details before

Show them photos of the ceiling before and identify some elements for the to spot once in the chapel.

I recommend you choose reasonably easy to find ones: the ceiling is vast and fa away so tiny details won’t be easily spotted and may cause frustration.

Prepare them about the silence and no photo requirement

The visit to the chapel doesn’t last long but the rules about silence and photos are strict for kids too.

Head to the partition wall

As soon as you get into the Sistine chapel, walk towards the partition wall (you will spot it straigh away).

Here you find very few seats and step kids can use to sit and rest: I highly recommend you make a beeline for them as they get taken fast!

Tours of the Vatican museums for families with kids

Several companies offer specialized family tours of the Vatican.

Vatican Tour for Families by LivTours – TOP PICK. This is a fantastic, private family tour for families with kids organised by one of my favorite provider of family tours in Italy, LivTours. This tour has a scavenger hunt approach and it is a lot of fun: the guides are fantastic with kids yet still able to deliver a tour that is also great for adults and they make this difficult museum a pleasure to visit, even with children in tow!

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Tour for kids with scavenger hunt – this is a great tour organised by Rome4Kids, perfect for children who enjoy a scavenger hunt/ game approach.

Vatican Museum Early Entrance Small Group Tour by LivTours – this is a tour only few companies can offer and that allows you to enter the Museums early in the morning, before the official opening, so that you see them without the crowds.

While not specifically for kids, the tour is in a small group so it feels personal and the presence of the guide for few participants mean as parent, you can be sure your needs are taken into account.

While you will not be alone in the museum, the crowds will be significantly lower.

Since the high number of visitors is the biggest problem when visiting the Vatican with kids (or without) this is a great option that will repay the early start with a wonderful experience.

I hope you found this post useful and it helped to answer the questions: what are the best tips for visiting the Vatican with kids?

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