The Sistine Chapel may be one of the most serene spots on earth, but it doesn't carry the same magnetism when tour-loads of schoolchildren come bounding through and guards grumble "No photo!" like an unending mantra.
Those who want smaller crowds and more time (at least 30 minutes) to gape at Michelangelo's fantastical interpretation of The Last Judgment on the chapel's ceiling can get VIP access to the Vatican on a private after-hours tour from Italy With Us (€350/$387).
Tours start with a Vatican security guard unlocking the doors and end with exclusive access to Raphael's Rooms and the maze of treasures that is the Vatican Museums.
Along the way, Italy With Us ensures an unhurried look at the Vatican's humbling beauty -- one so sought after it's booked out months in advance.
"You inch about blindly, looking for foot-space as you try and manouvre yourself under one fresco and then on to another. And 2,000 other visitors are trying to do the same. I count as one of my blessings, to not have experienced the Sistine Chapel as I have described above, but instead, to have entered the chapel with only eight others, just as all other tourists were being ushered out."
"Tonia Maratea, our Italian art historian guide, was not only full of precise information but bubbled with the kind of enthusiasm that brought each piece we stopped at alive."
"How would you describe your experience of the famous frescos? Visit the Sistine Chapel the best way you can www.italywithus.com"
Having visited on a shoestring once before, Arlene Harris returns to savour Rome’s history, art and food in some style...
"...we made our way to the Colosseum office of Italy With Us – an Irish tour company specialising in providing access to areas of important landmarks which are not usually open to the public."
"...a city so steeped in history that it would be almost impossible to get a handle on anything without the help of a professional."
- A tour can be the quickest way to see Rome's most popular attractions
- Some operate visits before or after normal Vatican opening hours
- See the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museum and St Peter’s Basilica
By Valerie Singleton For The Mail On Sunday
The queues to visit the Vatican Museum, St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel were mind-bogglingly long – but I had a cunning plan to dodge them.
Time was of the essence on my short trip to Rome, so I joined a tour with Italy With Us, which organises visits for small groups.
Some visits are before or after normal Vatican opening hours, so you really have the place to yourself.
“I’m standing in the Sistine Chapel. Everyone has heard of this place. Most have seen photographs or reproductions of Michelangelo's most famous work. But little can prepare you for the feeling of awe the first glimpse of this ornate ceiling and its exquisite surrounding walls inspires.”
“Our private tour guide, Tonia, is an incredibly knowledgeable art historian whose passion and interest really enhance the visit. Millions of tourists take to the Vatican every year, and queues for the Sistine Chapel can be up to three hours long, but Irish company Italy With Us (italywithus.com), organises private and group tours so visitors can enter either early in the morning or late in the evening to savour the ambience in comfort.”