The Vatican Scavi tour is one of the hottest tickets in Rome – the Vatican only allows 250 people in each day as part of a guided group! The tickets are also incredibly reasonable – they’re 13 Euro a person, which (in my opinion) makes this the most incredible steal of a tour in any country!
My mom and I both LOVED this tour – it was the absolute highlight of our Italy trip (and also something of a “life overall” highlight).
So first things first:
What is the Vatican Scavi?
The Vatican Scavi is the necropolis that’s under St. Peter’s. It’s where they’ve excavated to find details from the early Christian church.
What is the Vatican Scavi Tour?
The Vatican Scavi Tour is an hour-long trip through the necropolis, ending at (what the church believes are) the bones of St. Peter. Each tour is led by a guide employed by the Vatican who is actually an archaeologist. Tours are arranged by language grouping, so you’ll have a guide who speaks your language.
You’ll undoubtedly learn new things – our guide was telling us about the signs and symbols the early Christians used to identify themselves to one another without making the Romans aware, and even showed us where some of the symbols were carved into tombs or tombstones.
We also learned that even the word “necropolis” transitioning to “cemetery” was part of Christianity. “Necropolis” translates to “City of the Dead” wheres “cemetery” translates to “Place to Rest.” The transition in language reflects the transition from believing death is final to the Christian hope of life after death.
What else will I see?
On the Scavi tour, you’ll see a lot of ancient tombs! But one of the more incredible moments is when you walk through the Clementine Chapel to get to the bones of St Peter. (It’s even been said that sometimes the Pope is there praying and sees the first group of the day!) The Clementine Chapel was built to allow popes and other people at the Vatican the chance to pray as close to the center of the church as possible – again, the bones of St Peter being that center.
Where do I go for the Scavi tour itself?
If you’re looking straight at St Peter’s Cathedral, the Scavi entrance is on the left side of the Bernini Colonnade. You’ll see a guard there with a security scanner.
You need to be there at least 5 minutes before the tour, but they also won’t let you in more than about 10 – 15 minutes before the tour as well. So take some time to enjoy the Colonnade and the architecture!
Some people say you have to print the tickets, but I was able to show the confirmation on my phone and it was easily accepted. You MUST have your passport, because they do require that you are the person on the reservation. No substitutions!
(And as lovely and romantic as it may be, if you’re going on your honeymoon and you’re not going to have documents with your new name on them, don’t use your married name. Use the name that will be on the documents you’re traveling with.)
What should I take with me on the Scavi Tour?
As little as possible!
They won’t take your camera away, but you are not allowed to take pictures. (And please… no sideways selfies or sneaky shots – it’s a holy place and deserves your respect regardless of your religion.) I would recommend taking your camera – you end the tour at St Peter’s Cathedral, so you have the chance to stay around the main church, where you are allowed to take pictures.
The areas you’ll tour through are quite tight, so bulky bags aren’t allowed.
I took my large Longchamp Le Pilage bag in with me, and that was allowed. To note, it was not stuffed to the gills.
What should I wear?
You’re visiting a holy place, so the Vatican asks for (and by “asks for” I mean “enforces”) respectful dress.
Cover your knees and shoulders, both for men and women.
I do not recommend the “put a scarf/shawl around my shoulders” strategy for this one, especially for the Scavi tour. You’ll be bumping up against things, and it’s likely to come off.
What if I’m claustrophobic?
It depends how claustrophobic you are. If you really cannot handle tight, poorly-lit areas, this is probably not the tour for you. I’m about 5’9″, and I could always stand up fully. I vaguely remember having to duck through some doorways, but I can’t quite remember… I do know that when we stopped to hear our guide, I was always able to stand up straight with plenty of room above my head.
Is it cold in the Necropolis?
No! Especially not in the summer! It might be underground, but I found myself sweating on the tour. Because of the antiquities, they keep the humidity WAY up (like worse than Florida), so be prepared for that.
How do I get tickets for the Scavi tour?
You have to email the Vatican Scavi office at firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as you know when you’ll be in Rome with the following:
Exact Number of Participants
Names of Participants (First and Last)
Possible Dates Requested for Tour
How do I increase my chances of getting tickets for the Scavi tour?
First, as soon as you know when you’ll be in Rome, EMAIL THEM! This is not the kind of thing you can book a week before.
I booked the first week of June for a tour the first week of October and was successful, but I’m guessing in the higher seasons, you’ll need to book farther in advance.
Give them as many dates as possible to work with. I actually sent them the entire date range that I knew my mom was available to come to Italy (so I gave them about a 10 day window). Yes, I sent Scavi tickets BEFORE she booked her flights and yes, we booked her flights around it. As crazy as that sounds, it’s absolutely worth it.
As with many things, the fewer people you have the better off you’ll likely be. They’re filling up tours with 12-15 people, so if you have 7 people in your group… make sure you book early. Fitting in 1-2 people is a lot easier than 7.
I don’t know this for a fact, but based on probabilities, the more languages you speak, the better you’ll be. If you could truly understand and enjoy the tour in multiple languages, put those down. You never know which tours will have the most open spots!
How do I pay for my Scavi Tour Tickets?
When (and if) you get confirmed spots on a tour, the Scavi office will send you an email with tour date and time, with a link to buy tickets.
THIS IS IMPORTANT: Click the “buy” button right then. Pay for them. Your tickets are NOT secured until you pay for them, and in the confirmation email they inform you that you have 10 days to pay or your reservation expires and is unconfirmed.
I might know this because some of us might have had to send a contrite email to the Vatican asking for forgiveness, grace, and a new link because we didn’t fully read the email that you had to pay for the tickets quickly!