Whether you’re religious or not, seeing the Pope whilst in Rome is a pretty spectacular thing. What’s more is your can do it relatively cheaply, if not, completely free.
Pope Francis does a weekly address on a Wednesday morning, which is open to the public and lasts about 90 minutes. We did it in June this year and am really pleased we did as it ended up being one of the best days of our whole trip. Neither of us are religious but as far as popes go, Pope Francis is the most liberal and modern thinking the Catholic church has seen in a long while. So now is a good time to hear from inspirational words of wisdom.
Here’s everything you need to know about securing a seat with his Holiness:
Tickets and Pricing
Technically, getting a seat with the pope is completely free, however to get a free ticket you have to fax (yes, fax) the Vatican office, which can be a laborious process, not to mention impractical if you don’t have a time machine to hop back to the 90s to use a fax machine.
We booked out tickets through a third party agent on Trip Advisor that got the best reviews, which obviously came at a cost, meaning someone their end had faxed for a batch of tickets, but it also included a guided tour of St Peter’s Basilica in the afternoon, so at least we were getting something extra for our money.
We met our tour guide outside the Vatican in the morning, got our tickets to get in and arranged our tour for the afternoon, all pretty seamlessly.
You could try and just walk in. There’s security scanners at every entry point to get into the Vatican and no one checked our ticket at any point. So technically you could try and just walk in (it’s free after all) but whether that was just on anomaly on the day we went I don’t know and would hate to recommend you do that and be denied entry for whatever reason.
They start letting people in from around 8am. Don’t be put off by the queues either, it’s simply getting people through the scanners. If you want a better seat though, you probably want to be at the front of the line.
It was boiling hot the morning we got there and despite reading online that the address normally doesn’t start until around 10.30am, when it’s hot it starts early so people aren’t sitting out in the sun too long.
We first caught glimpse of the big man riding around in the popemobile at about 8.45am and the address started shortly after 9am.
It lasted about 90 minutes in total.
It’s all completely seated and there’s plenty available. There were lots of free seats when we were there.
As mentioned, if you want to be nearer the front, get their earlier. We also noticed that some of the seats down the sides of each section were slightly shaded (simply because of the way the sun was hitting that morning). This meant they got filled up first with it being so hot. There’s no shaded areas at all so bear that in mind when planning your outfit!
Shoulders and knees should be covered for both male and female. That’s the official rule, which is difficult when it’s 28 degrees at 8am. I wore a very light cotton knee length dress and bought a fine knit pashmina from Amazon (which actually turned out to be a godsend for the whole trip!) Dave worse a polo t-shirt and some cotton trousers.
I did see women with shorter dresses on (i.e their knees exposed) and some men wearing smart shorts so perhaps the relax the rules depending on the weather, or perhaps it just depends on the mood of the guard on the gate. I would certainly make sure you have something to cover up though just in case.
You can take in a decent sized handbag; I had a small backpack with all my touristy type belongings in, which all goes through an airport style scanner. You’re allowed to take food and water in.
What happens at the address
The pope emerged on the popemobile at about 8.45am and did a drive around amongst the crowd. This is probably your best chance of seeing him up close and for that reason I would make sure you get a seat near an edge.
Once he’s seated on the stage, there’s a holy MC who introduces the groups of people who have travelled around the world to be there that day (church groups who make pilgrimages for example) and every one gives them a cheer – which is great fun and far less formal than I was expecting!
He then takes the stage and makes his address which lasts about 15/20 minutes and is in Italian. It is then summarised in different languages in turn.
The whole thing takes about 90 minutes and I think we left pretty much bang on 10.30am. I’m fairly sure you can line up after the address to meet the pope and have him say a payer for you but I could be wrong.
I’d also recommend downloading an app that translates different languages in real-time so you can listen to the whole address rather than just the summarised version. I thought of this handy tip too late though!
I feel like I’ve covered most things but if you have any questions drop a comment below and I’ll try and answer them. For what it’s worth, the tour around St Peter’s Basilica in the afternoon really was worth the money and a really fascinating place to see.