Can You Tour the Vatican on a Rome Flight Layover?

A complex routing from Nairobi, Kenya to Terceira of the Azores of Portugal presented dozens of options with one jumping out: Rome.

I have yet to visit Italy. With several transits of its airports I have had certain full-throated Italian experiences though not a proper visit.

The Ethiopian Air flight from Addis Ababa arrives 05:20 am and my TAP Portugal connection is at 13:35.

I looked at the map of Rome and first alighted on a visit to the ancient Roman sites at Ostia. It is near Fiumicino Airport, though without obvious ease of public transport I would probably need to a rent a car or pay even more for taxis. Strange as it seems for a Roman history buff, I have visited so many Roman sites in North Africa and the Levant that I am less keen to visit the tourist crowded sites of Rome.

I looked at the Lonely Planet Rome section on getting to/from the airport and the mention that the SIT Bus (6€) stops at the Vatican (the station by Castel Sant’Angelo at Via Crescencio 2) jumped out.

SIT’s first bus from the airport is not until 08:30 too late for me to make a proper start, yet would work for others. The returns are frequent, I can be on the 11:10 or 11:30 bus back to the airport with a cushion.

The airport Leonardo Express Train (14€) train to Stazione Termini starts at 06:23 am and even with a required metro/bus connection I can hope to be at the Vatican around 7 to 7:30 am. There look to be earlier, slower REG rail and bus options to consider as well.

Airport luggage storage at Terminal 3 opens at 6:30 am, again too late for me, while useful for most. From what I can tell there is baggage check at points in the Vatican to stow my backup, which is preferable to checking my backup through.

Logistically, then it is feasible even with this half-day.

The next question is if it is possible to have a quality visit.

Vatican Museum

This is the point where people decry short visits as too rushed and not able to appreciate the accumulated treasures of a church of two millennia. I doubt many visit more than a full-day, and probably less if crowds don’t grind things down.

I want to see St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum, which includes the Sistine Chapel.

St Peter’s opens at 7 am and is free to all so I can scurry through on arrival.

The Vatican Museum has a bewildering array of progressively lavish entry tickets. With short time there is no option to show up ticketless and queue. My visit will be on a Monday which I read is popular with tour groups since many other museums are closed.

My Monday in June does not show any base tickets for sale for entry before 10:30 am (16€ + all add 4€)

There are two early entry with breakfast options to consider. The breakfast is described as an American Buffet, just what I hoped to sample in the Vatican. If that is the price of early entry, so be it.

The early, more expensive option at provides for museum entry at 7 or 7:15 followed by breakfast (65€ total, part of that is the required audioguide). That’s a steep price and timing very tight.

The other is breakfast first with entry at 8:45 or 9:00 (31€ total). This I chose.

If all goes well I will be at St Peter’s by 7:30, tour that, have a quick breakfast or skip food, and get in to the museum just ahead of the crowds to have 2 hours in the Vatican Museum.

For other days of the week, Wednesday looks tough because St Peter’s holds a Papal audience in the morning, while the Vatican Museum is closed Sundays except the last of the month.

Readers, what do you think? Workable? What are your highlights that I might miss?

Rapid Travel Chai newsletter ¦ Twitter ¦ Facebook ¦ Instagram

  • Ambitious but fun!

    But I”m telling you, your ET flight will be late! 😉

  • B

    I don’t think it would be possible just from the size of the Vatican museum. It takes about 40 minutes to walk through the whole thing. If it gets crowed, you will be stuck behind huge groups of people. In March it was crowded, if there is a holiday or special event forget it.

  • Andrew C

    Half day like you’ve outlined is plenty in my experience, have spent about that much time in two visits. Concur that ET could easily throw things off though!!

  • Joey

    I think you definitely have time. I was in Rome last year and recall there’s airport-style security before entering St Peter’s. Ok so maybe not at the same level of airport security but there was definitely security so be aware of that if you’re bringing a bag.

  • Kevin

    I’m not sure if this will apply to you, but we just returned from a trip from Rome and have to say that Fiumicino Airport gives you a good workout before reaching your plane. We had US Passports so had to take a shuttle from our hotel (near Terminal 3) to Terminal 5 to clear security first before we were allowed to go to our departing terminal (another shuttle). From the departing terminal, they had us take another shuttle to board the plane from the tarmac. We flew United so not sure if this will apply for other airlines as well with the additional shuttle ride. I read up on this before the day of departure so gave us about 3 hours time to be safe. Still had plenty of time remaining in the end but something to keep in mind especially if the lines get long.

  • Rusty

    We did the breakfast tour and it was awesome. Not the best breakfast spread I’ve ever ate but neat to eat in the Pine Cone courtyard and early access was a 100% worth the extra cheese. Only a handful of people in the Sistine Chapel, etc. When we left about 2 hours later the line was all the way around the Vatican almost half way to St. Peters Square.

    TIP: Bring a pair of headphones for your self guided audio tour or you’ll look like a tool like me holding it up to your ear like a walkie talkie. Plus be sure to bring a pair of pants. I only brought shorts on the trip and had to wear my AA pajama bottoms. Stay Classy!

    If your have enough time when you land I highly recommend!

  • Drew

    I’ll be darnd.

    Matthew might be right about the delay, but otherwise totally doable for you!
    The food is darn good there, but I’d probably get something quick and see the colosseum. Even if you don’t go in (which I would), the area outside is awesome.

    In my opinion the walk from the Vatican, to the Pantheon, to the Colosseum is fantastic. For most people it would take an hour (I’m sure you could half it). But you would see some of the best parts in one hour.

  • progapanda

    There’s an hourly local bus (at 10 mins. past) from the airport’s T2 to Lido di Ostia central station (last stop on the bus). You can buy bus tickets at the tabacchi in T1 Arrivals.

    Ostia Antica is then 2 quick suburban rail stops from there in direction Porta S. Paolo. Just cross the highway using the overbridge and follow signs for approx. 500m.

    If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, http://www.cotralspa.it has schedules.

    P.S. This is Italy after all, so leave plenty of time for everything.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Matthew – there is that risk, my ET NDJ-ADD yesterday was 3 hours late, other than that in about 20 segments in them in the past year plus I don’t think I have had more than a hour delay, except the one in Bujumbura where they decided to fly to Nairobi that week instead of Kigali.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Kevin – I have not experienced T5 and will not this trip, so I appreciate you sharing that experience for others, which would changed the calculus for many.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Rusty – important for me because in EY back in economy won’t be any pajamas!

  • Ben O

    Try to pre-book a your if you can. When I was there the tour agency literally had guys lined up from around 6AM so when we showed up at 8 we were able to cut the line. If you get there at the wrong time it could take hours just to get into the Vatican museum. While St. Peter’s is nice the museum is where you can see most of the famous art works and to me is the real star of the show! Personally considering your short lay over I would consider taxi as I am not sure you can always count on the public transport being on time.

  • Ben O

    Pre book a tour I mean

  • ucipass

    Your “crazy” thought process is very entertaining and inspiring. I think you are taking chances on so many levels and risking wasting your money on transportation, Vatican tickets and most importantly your return flight. Having stated that,;I would really like to read about how things eventually turn out in the end.

    I personally spent just 2 hours in the Sistine chapel alone…but hey, you are the rapid travel guy! 😉

  • William

    I was literally at the Vatican yesterday and it was a mess. So many people. If you can get a tour or come early, do so cause the line otherwise was at least an hour long

  • John

    I had a RTW ticket once and had to fly from New York to Hong Kong. The most convenient connection in London wasn’t available but Rome was. In hindsight, I should have looked for other options because this was back in the day when AA offered a crappy biz class between JFK and FCO (maybe they still do?).

    Anyway, it was a relatively short connection, just a few hours, but I had enough time to revisit the Pantheon, which I really enjoyed my first time to Rome, and some pizza. Took the train to and from the airport, and that was my entire layover. It was still better than being cooped up at the airport and the mediocre lounge at the time.

  • John

    @RTC, have you flown on the ET 787 in Y with their 9 across config? How would you rate it? top/bottom quartile in terms of comfort/service/IFE?

    They’re offering the cheapest fare to Southern Africa for a trip I am thinking about. Just not sure if I (and my family) can handle the 9-across suffering in the back (plus the stopover in ADD, although I find the idea of a day-time stopover intriguing to see ADD).

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @John – been on many of their planes, not yet the 787, scheduled for it on Saturday down to BZV. If you do a long day turn see if they will give a hotel, I get varying answers, seems has to be at least 8 hours but not clear if they will do it for daytime, nice thing about that is with the voucher you breeze through and don’t get or pay for a visa, maybe just boarding pass would also work. You are supposed to be able to get the voucher at airport of departure, so far I am 0 for 2 on that score, so need to go to the transit desk in ADD.

  • Andrew C

    @RTC, let us know if you ever get that hotel voucher! I’m considering a long daytime transit of ADD later this year (I’ve spent time there, so will go out and tour for the day) and very much would like to be able to have a free hotel to shower/nap at and skip the visa rigmarole.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Andrew C – must be international to international, 8 hours or more and if the next flight is earlier and you booked the later they will not give for free, even if not eligible any passenger can pay $50 for under 12 hours or $70 for over 12, and comes with meals and shuttle, I just did that for my international to domestic, sounds like no counter to do that for domestic to international