If you’re visiting Rome and want to cross off the ultimate bucket list experience, you’ll absolutely want to be a part of the Papal Audience at the Vatican with the Pope — and the warmer months of the year is a great time to do it! In the spring, summer, and early fall, Sunday Mass is held outside, in St. Peter’s Square. The larger venue means it’ll be easier for you to attend than during the cooler months, when the Papal Audience is held in St. Peter’s Basilica.
There is some planning and preparation involved, but attending the Papal Audience is a truly unique experience that’s well worth the effort (it was my favorite thing I did in Rome!)
Read on for a full guide to attending an outdoor Papal Audience at the Vatican.
Papal Audience vs. Angelus
The Pope addresses the public twice a week when he’s in Rome: on Wednesday mornings for the Papal Audience (also called General Audience), and on Sunday mornings (and holidays) for the Angelus. Both are always free to the public, although you’ll need to get tickets beforehand if you want to attend the Papal Audience.
During the summer, the Papal Audience is held in St. Peter’s Square to accommodate crowds of up to 80,000 people. Who can draw a bigger crowd than the Pope? Mass itself lasts about an hour or an hour and a half, but it’s really a morning-long engagement.
For the Angelus, the Pope addresses crowds from his apartment window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. The Angelus is much shorter than the Papal Audience—only 15 or 20 minutes—and includes greetings (sometimes in multiple languages), the Angelus prayer, and blessings. It’s a good alternative if you don’t have the time to get tickets for the Papal Audience, but I would definitely recommend attending Sunday Mass if you have the opportunity!
The Papal Audience Service
In the summer, Mass is scheduled for 10:30am. On very hot days it might start earlier—when we went it was about 85 degrees and started at 9:30am.
With 80,000 people flocking to the square, you’ll want to show up early to get a good seat. Having a ticket doesn’t guarantee seating or entrance if you arrive late, so plan on getting a very early start—and be ready to wait for a couple hours before Mass begins. St. Peter’s Square opens entry at 8am, and crowds really start lining up between 7:30 and 8:00am. We arrived at 7:50 and got a decent seat, but if you want a better spot with a good view, aim for 7am.
The service will begin with a ride around in his Popemobile, kissing some babies who are lucky to be close enough. Then he gives a themed speech in several different languages, followed by a homily and prayers. After an hour or an hour and a half, the Pope will conclude the Mass and bless families, children, and religious items like rosaries and bibles.
Getting Tickets for Papal Audience
You must get tickets in advance to get a seat at the Mass (though no one asked to see ours when we arrived.)
There are several ways to get a ticket. You can pick them up directly from the Swiss Guards at the Vatican’s Bronze Door, up to three days before the Mass, sometimes you can even get them the day of. Tickets will be available between 8am and 8pm in the summer (or until 7pm in the winter) and you can request up to six.
If you aren’t going to be in Rome three days in advance, you can also find a local church who issues tickets on a first-come first-serve basis. I emailed St. Patrick’s Church two weeks before the Mass to request two tickets. About four days later they confirmed my request and gave me instructions to pick up the tickets at the church’s parish office the day before the mass, between certain hours. It was simple!
Before you plan your week around attending the Papal Audience, be sure to check its schedule. If you’re visiting the Vatican in August or early September, there’s a good chance that the Pope will be holding the Papal Audience in his residence at Castel Gandolfo, an hour outside of Rome.
Where to Sit
The best seats are either up front or near the wooden barricades where the Pope drives by. The real choice is if you want to be closer to the front in order see the service better or do you want to be closer to the barriers where you will have the opportunity to see the Pope closer. I chose the latter of the two.
The Pope drives by these barriers in his Popemobile.
You’ll definitely need to show up extra early for one of those prime seats by the front or by the barriers—at least 7am. The security doesn’t open until 8am, but there were already tons of people in line when we got there at 7:50. I think if we had gotten there an hour earlier, we would have been able to get even better seats.
An extra tip: Some people bring umbrellas to block out the sun. Try to avoid sitting near them; they’ll block your view, as well.
What to Wear
If you’re attending the Papal Audience in the summer, it’s most likely going to be hot. Really hot. You’ll want to dress for the weather while staying respectfully covered, which can be a challenge. For women, this means keeping your shoulders covered and skirts must reach the knees. Sometimes the outdoor services are a little more relaxed when it comes to the dress code—we saw a few people in tank tops and shorts—but, most dressed a bit more conservatively.
There were quite a few women wearing tank tops with scarves draped over their shoulders, which seems like a good option if you have packed an ultra-lightweight scarf.
What to Bring
- If you’re lucky enough to get a seat near the front, you’ll probably want a selfie stick to get a photo of yourself with the Pope. Having the selfie stick will also let you get a shot without thousands of other cellphones in it—a lot of people stand on their seats to take photos. Here’s my favorite selfie stick if you need one!
- If you’re bringing a larger camera, I would recommend packing a zoom lens for the day!
- Keep in mind that you will have to go through airport-style security lines when you get to St. Peter’s Square. Anything that wouldn’t make it through airport security—like knives or scissors—won’t make it through the Vatican’s security, either.
- And, of course, don’t forget to bring bottled water, snacks, and sunscreen! If you get there at 7am and Mass starts at 10:30am, you’ll be in St. Peter’s Square for about five hours with no food or drink options.
On the Rome Metro, take Line A to the Ottaviano-San Pietro station. From there, it’s just a 5-minute walk along the Via di Porta Angelica to St. Peter’s Square. You’ll want the square’s East entrance, which won’t be hard to find—it’s the second entrance that you’ll pass if you follow the Via di Porta Angelica. And if all else fails, just follow the crowds!
Here’s a great Map of Vatican City.
Getting blessed by Pope Francis at the Vatican, along with thousands of others, was easily a highlight of my travels in Italy. The crowds were huge, the heat was intense, and the wait was long, but the day was unforgettable—it was the ultimate Rome experience!