This network of museums in Rome is massive—and very, very popular. Here's how to see it all like an expert.

View of the Spiral Staircase at the Vatican .
Credit: (c) Gonzalo Azumendi

For the First Timer

Don’t get stuck following the set route—it’s boring. Instead, head straight for Leonardo and the masters in the Pinacoteca, the Laocoön (one of the world’s finest ancient sculptures), and the painstakingly detailed frescoes of papal territories lining the walls in the Gallery of Maps, says Understanding Rome tour guide Agnes Crawford.

Return Trip To-dos

The Gregorian Etruscan Museum, to see the seventh-century B.C. gold Etruscan “bling” from a nearby tomb and a breastplate embossed with rows upon rows of intricate miniature animals. The Carriage Pavilion has fab Popemobiles from the past.

Most Overrated

The Sistine Chapel. Usually too packed to be enjoyable. Aim to get there at 5 p.m., when crowds start to clear out. For the best vantage point, stand at the end below the Creation scenes. Don’t forget to look down—the original mosaic floors are easy to miss.

Beat the Rush

Pre-book tickets online and aim to enter at 2:30 p.m. on a weekday, reaching the Sistine Chapel around 5 p.m. That’s often the quietest time since the chapel closes at 5:30 p.m.