Visiting The Vatican may be part of many bucket lists. Besides your religious beliefs this is a must see when in Rome.
Home of some of the most impressive pieces of art, chambers full of secrets, one of the most luxurious churches of the world and home of Catholicism.
Here are some of my advices when visiting San Pietro and the Pope general audience.
The visit to The Vatican will take you one whole day. The Basilica and the Museums can be done in one day, but you may prefer to do it in two separately days, that depends on your level of energy.
The Pope general audience is on Wednesdays only. He does an appearance from his window on Sundays at noon where he blesses the people at the Square but he does not offer mass that day. The blessing takes about 15-20 minutes. The general audience takes place only Wednesdays at 10 AM. During summer months (August and early September) sometimes the Pope offers mass at Pope’s Holiday Residence of Castel Gandolfo.
The day of the general audience the Basilica will be closed until the end of the mass. Keep in mind that this ends at 11 AM but is not until everyone cleared that the Basilica will open.
- If you are not interested in being at the mass it may be a good idea to visit the Museum when the general audience takes place. This way you can have better chances of having a less crowded museum.
San Pietro Basilica
Hours: 7 AM to 6 PM every day (until 19:00 during winter), except on Wednesdays (closed until 12PM).
Ticket Entrance: Free Entrance
As at the airport you must pass through security to enter the Basilica. Make sure not to bring any weapon of any kind or cutting devices like scissors or knives. You can bring water. You must remove everything from your pockets to pass by the metal detector, including papers on your pockets or watches.
The Basilica is the biggest church I’ve ever seen as expected. This magnificent religious building is full of art and special corners. Once you walk in to your right you will find the very famous piece of art “La Pieta” di Michelangelo. If you can get close enough to the glass (protected after an intent of attack) you could see the signature of The Master himself. Afraid of being unrecognized during the first years of his career Michelangelo broke in San Pietro one night and wrote his name on the strip across the Virgin Mary’s chest.
It would be crowded most of the day but if you can wait until little before 5 PM before their closing time, the church will be mostly empty. The embalmed bodies of old Popes are displayed around, including John Paul II.
To the left side of the Basilica you will find the small gift shop.
If you would like and are in physical state you can climb up to the Cupola. If you would like you can take the elevator to skip over 300 steps, the rest you have to do by feet (another 200 +). There is a total of 551 steps to get to the Cupola. The entrance ticket to use the stairs is 5 Euros, if you want to take the elevator for the first part is 7 Euros.
I took the stairs all the way and yes it is challenging, specially the last part. But it is not impossible. If you are claustrophobic or have any kind of heart condition, please do not risk your health. It is not easy and there are no windows for a long long time.
It took me about 40 minutes, including the stop you do when you arrive to the inside part of the Cupola overlooking the inside of the Basilica.
The views of Rome from up here are beyond explanations. Pictures would never show the beauty of things like this. I would do it a million more times, I felt I was near God. It was unforgettable.
- Make sure to ask for some holly water at the gift shop inside the Basilica. Specially blessed by this beloved Holly father Pope Francis.
Pope General Audience
Hours: Wednesdays at 10 AM
Tickets: Free Entrance
- You get the entrance tickets form the Swiss Guard at Piazza San Pietro. Once you pass security and head for the entrance to the Basilica, right before you reach it, you will see big bronze doors to your right with a Swiss Guard outside, you enter and before you reach the door a guard will come to you. You ask them the tickets for the Audience of Wednesdays.
- The ticket entrance for the Pope General Audience is Free. There is no need to reserve them months in advance, you just go to the Basilica starting on Mondays to request the free entrance for that coming Wednesday. The tickets are just for their accounting, if you don’t have one that day you can enter anyways. But it is better to always have your ticket. In any case you can ask for the ticket the same day of the mass. This is not as strict.
- The general Audience is an amazing experience. Arrive early. The doors open at 7, the mass begins at 10 am. Head to the fens and stay there, the Pope will come around with its pope motorized cart and will pass by you. To see this is unforgettable.
- You can access with water, but bring a small bottle only. Of course security is as rigid as in an airport.
The mass last 1 hour only. At the end the Pope blesses the square and all the religious objects you bring with you that day.
Hours: Open Monday to Saturday: the Ticket Office is open from 9 am to 4 pm. The Museums close at 6 pm.N.B. exit from rooms half an hour before closing time
Ticket Entrance: full ticket Euros 16 *Always check for reduced ticket entrance or discounts for EU citizens, Seniors or Students*
If you purchased your ticket entrance for the Vatican museums in advance you will be given an entrance time. This scheduled time is not very rigid, you can show up earlier than that and still will be admitted.
There will be two lines at the Vatican museums, one will be way longer (people that need to purchase ticket entrance), the line for people with ticket will be shorter. The point is there will always be a line, so bring your patience with you that day 🙂
For this reason the ticket you buy online with a reservation (prenotazione) will be added a 4 Euros extra to the price of the ticket. You will be ask to show your printed ticket (or phone pdf version) a few times while in line. Once you enter the museum go to the desk on your left. Make sure you are at the right desk for people with reservation or tickets in advance. They will exchange your online ticket or printed confirmation with a entrance ticket (biglieto). If you like you can leave your bags at the baggage deposit located to the side of the entrance. Once you got your tickets you have to climb few flights of ramps to arrive to the actual entrance.
The Sixtine Chapel is at the end of the museums, you have to go through all the other rooms to arrive. But please do not rush, enjoy everything and take your time. It will be hard not to get frustrated with the hoards of tourists but remember that this is one life opportunity for most of us. Enjoy it.
When you pass the Maps Rooms exit to your right to get to the Chapel faster. Most of the people exit to the left and take the longer way. This is a well known secret by now, but still not that crowded as the left exit.
- For the Vatican Museums I recommend to buy tickets online. You will skip the huge queue, but you have to add 4 Euros to the ticket price, a total of 20 Euros.
- When visiting the Basilica or the Museums bring small bag. It will be easier to go through security. At the Vatican Museum theres a checks luggage deposit as well.
- Take your time – do not rush
- Do not go on Mondays when other museums are usually closed and there are more chances of having a crowded museum.
- Have lunch at the Pizzarium (Via della Meloria, 43, 00136 Roma, Italy). It is a little bit of a walk from the Basilica and Museums, but it worth the walk… Specially because everything around the Vatican will be extra expensive.