To see the Pope in Rome, you have three options. The first option is to visit on a Sunday morning just before noon for a chance to see him for free. You can also get a papal audience ticket in St. Peter’s Square/Nervi auditorium or a ticket to the Vatican Hall.
1) See the Pope by visiting St Peter’s Square on a Sunday morning
If you want to see St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday morning, you may be frustrated in your attempts – it’s usually closed before and during the weekly “Angelus” Papal address at noon. But there are also some advantages to the situation – you get to see ‘il Papa’ for free!
When is the Pope at the Vatican?
The Angelus is held at St Peter’s Square most Sundays at midday. The papal audiences are held most Wednesdays at around 10.30am. Both only occur when the Pope is in Rome. You can check the Pope’s official schedule on the Vatican’s website to check times and for any cancellations.
If you arrive around noon and hang around St. Peter’s square, you will likely see the Pope appear at his window in the papal apartments to the right of the square to give his weekly address at 12.30. The square can get pretty crowded, but the atmosphere is usually a good-natured one. August is a good month to do this as there are fewer people in the city – but it can get hot, so bring water and something to cover your head.
Whether you’re religious or not, it’s always amazing to see a globally important figure in the flesh.
If you want to see the Basilica, it opens again just after 12.30pm on Saturday, so as the Papal crowd disperses just join the end of the line. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the front, but if you’re near the front of the line, you’ll find fewer people in the Basilica than normal. And it’s free.
2) Get a papal audience ticket in St Peter’s Square OR the Vatican’s Nervi auditorium
Alternatively there’s a papal audience in St Peter’s Square OR the Vatican’s Nervi auditorium, every Wednesday at 10.30. If you want to try to get a ticket yourself, it’s free but only available by faxing (yes really!) the Vatican offices. Official info here. Alternatively you can pay to get a ticket where someone has already done the faxing for you:
The ticket is for you to get into the square at the time of the audience, not the Basilica, and you will have to stand. The basilica opens after the mass. Turn up a few hours early – and if you’re early enough by several hours you won’t need a ticket, but beware the limited access to bathrooms.
3) Get a ticket to the Vatican Hall
Occasional Papal audiences are also held in the Vatican Hall (which is an auditorium to the left of St Peter’s Square). Also free, but invitation only and you will always need a ticket – see the link above.
Here’s the official Papal Audience calendar