Planning a good visit to The Vatican
January 1, 1970
by Vicky Nesci
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 and ancient secrets. One of the most luxurious churches of the world and home of Catholicism.
Here are some of my advices when visiting San Pietro, the Pope general audience and the Vatican Museums.
The visit to The Vatican will take you one whole day. The Basilica and the Vatican Museums can be done in one day, but you may prefer to do it in two separate days, that depends on your levels of energy.
The Pope general audience is on Wednesdays only. He does an appearance from his window on Sundays at noon, 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 evert Wednesdays at 10 AM except in summer months (August and early September). During that time the Pope eventually 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 (around 12 noon).
- 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 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
The Basilica is the biggest church I’ve ever seen. This magnificent religious building is full of art and special corners.
- 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.
- Once you walk in to your right you will find the very famous piece “La Pietà” di Michelangelo. If you can get close enough to it (protected by bulletproof glass after an attack) you could see the signature of The Master himself. To avoid being unrecognized for his work during the first years of his career, Michelangelo broke in San Pietro one night and signed his name across the Virgin Mary’s chest.
- It would be crowded most of the day but if you can wait until around 5 PM the church will be mostly empty. Most tourist hoards leave around that time.
- 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 where you can get all sorts of religious souvenirs and ask for holly water.
- If you would like and are in physical state you can climb up to the Cupola. You can take the elevator up 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 an easy task and there are no windows in most areas of the climbing.
- 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.
Pope General Audience
Hours: Wednesdays at 10 AM
Tickets: Free Entrance
The general Audience is an amazing experience. I recommend everyone who is in Rome to attend. If you are not religious still is a wonderful thing to see people from all parts of the world, from many different cultures and religious beliefs coming together to ask for the same thing: Peace.
- 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 the big bronze door to your right with a Swiss Guard outside, enter and before you reach the door a guard will come meet you. Ask them the tickets for the Pope 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 and 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 the Pope audience anyways. But it is better to always have your ticket just in case. You can also ask for the ticket the same day of the mass before it starts once you pass security. This is not a strict procedure.
- Arrive early. The doors open around 7.30AM, the mass begins at 10AM. Head to the fens and stay there, the Pope will come around with his 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 at the airport.
The mass last 1 hour. At the end the Pope blesses everyone who is present and all the religious objects you bring with you that day.
Hours: Open Monday to Saturday: the Ticket Office is open from 9AM to 4PM. The Museums close at 6PM. 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 reservations will be shorter. The point is… there will always be a line, so bring your patience with you that day 🙂
- When you make a reservation (prenotazione) online of your ticket it will cost you an extra 4 Euros. You will be ask to show your printed reservation (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 advanced tickets. They will exchange your online ticket or printed confirmation with a entrance ticket (biglieto). Once you got your tickets you have to climb few flights of ramps to arrive to the actual entrance.
I recommend to buy tickets online. You will skip the huge queue, but you have to add 4 Euros to the ticket price, total price 20 Euros.
- When visiting the Vatican Museums bring small bag. It will be easier to go through security but if you like you can leave your bags at the baggage deposit located to the side of the 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. Take your time – do not rush to get to the Sixtine Chapel.
- When you pass the ‘Maps Room’ 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.
- 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 near the Vatican will be extra expensive.
Enjoy The Vatican and let me know how wonderful the pizza was 🙂