When in Rome, if you're hankering for a unique experience, this is a pretty good bet. Thanks to TripAdvisor, devout followers now can get a more intimate tour of some of The Vatican's most popular attractions without getting lost in a crowd that averages about 25,000 patrons a day who explore the holy site.
There are a couple catches, however. Be prepared to fork over as much as $370 per ducat for the exclusive venture and make sure you get up early, as the tour kicks off every day at 6 a.m., three hours before the hordes arrive.
However, you'll get the scoop on the inner workings of The Vatican courtesy of a Clavigero, otherwise known as a key holder to the site, who will accompany a group as large as 20 interested folks through the array of museums yielding massive treasures from the past.
There's also the opportunity to gaze longingly at Michelangelo's classic ceiling mural in the Sistine Chapel, while the Claviigero explains the art and architecture of St. Peter's Basilica that houses the work. In fact, it's the only time that talking is actually allowed in the historic structure; all other times, silence is stressed and enforced.
The guided tour also goes through the Gallery of Maps and Raphael's Rooms, where visitors can gaze at works of the artist of the same name adorning the walls of the papal apartments, the only residences open to the public. And while checking out the folks piling in around 9 a.m. for their less exclusive excursions, you can enjoy a brunch with your group in the Pinecone Courtyard.
Other more expensive morning tours like one offered by City Wonders are a bit more extended as visitors get to see more of the 54 museums in Vatican City. Costing roughly $470, it's a nine-mile trek that includes venturing through some rooms and onto staircases not open to the tours that start later in the day.
For around $400, a tour presented by Dark Rome looks at some of the more unusual attractions as well as the Sistine Chapel and Raphael's Rooms. Included is a chance to see a bone-free self-portrait of Michelangelo, a work that reinforced his declaration that he'd prefer to be skinned alive than do another ceiling mural.