The Vatican is one of Rome’s most important landmarks for good reason. It has splendid chapels, priceless artwork, and treasures of all sorts tucked in its world-famous museums. However, the Vatican Museum tickets can feel pricey. Luckily, there are other free things to do at the Vatican. You can even visit the museums for free if you know the right time to go!
Whether you are on a budget or simply love a great deal, here are the 6 best free things to do at the Vatican.
Go Inside St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peters Basilica is the official and main church of the Vatican. It opens from 7 am to 7 pm in high season and from 7 am to 6 pm in low season and it is always free to enter. There are lots of things to see inside this incredible church (which happens to be the second-largest basilica in the world). St. Peter’s Basilica is the burial site for a number of the past 265 Popes including the first Pope, St. Peter. It houses one of the most important statues in the world, the Pieta by Michelangelo Buonarroti, which you can see on the right as you enter into the Basilica. Although it is free to enter you may have to wait in line for as long as an hour or more during busy periods.
Walk Through St. Peter’s Square
Another free thing to do near Vatican City is to enjoy St. Peter’s Square. To enter St. Peter’s Basilica you will first have to go into St Peter’s Square. The square itself was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini between the years 1656 to 1567 with an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the center. It is surrounded by colonnades and you can even visit the Vatican Post Office in the square. This is one of Rome’s most beautiful piazzas and there are always lots of people around.
Vatican Museums Free Sundays
The Vatican Museums normally cost €17 to visit but they are open for free on the last Sunday of each month. The only exceptions are if the last Sunday falls on either Easter Sunday, June 29th, December 25th or December 26th (when the museums are always closed). Another free day to visit the museums is September 27th, which is World Tourism Day. The only trick with visiting on a free day is being sure to time your visit correctly to get inside with as little a wait as possible. When the museums open on the last Sunday of the month, the doors open at 9 am with the last entrance allowed at 12:30 pm. Exit time is at 2 pm. When the Vatican museums are open for free the crowds can get very busy so the tradeoff is that you should expect to wait in long lines. People often arrive before 7 am to start waiting in line. On these free Vatican days, it is not possible to buy skip the line tickets online.
Hear the Pope on Sunday
Getting the chance to see the Pope is very special and is also easily one of the best free things to do at the Vatican. The Pope speaks to the public twice a week, on both Wednesdays and Sundays. The only exception to this is during the summer months when he is in Castel Gandolfo, his summer retreat, or if he is out of town on Papal duties. On Sunday, the Pope speaks from the window of his study at 12 pm which you can see on screens or as you look up to the right when facing St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pope starts with a Buongiorno (good morning) and is usually greeted with a huge ovation. He then says the Angelis, which usually lasts around 15 minutes. It is advised to get to St Peter’s Square 20 minutes in advance to go through security. A red carpet is unrolled from the window where he speaks so you will know exactly where to look.
See the Pope on Wednesday/Papal Audience
It is free to see the Pope for his Papal Audience on Wednesday (though, as noted above, this audience won’t take place when he is out of town). Although the Papal Audience is not always consistently on time, the usual hours are 9 am to 11:30 am. Thousands of seats are set up at the front of St. Peters Square but you must have Papal Audience tickets to be seated. These tickets are free and not too difficult to get.
If you are traveling from abroad and preparing for your trip you can request tickets via fax or by letter. The fax number is +39 06 69885863 (replace the plus symbol with 00 when you dial). To request the free tickets by mail, the address is 00120 Vatican City State.
If you are already in Rome, it is also possible to receive Papal Audience tickets directly from the Swiss Guards. These can be requested in person the afternoon before the Papal Audience, between 3 pm to 7 pm at the bronze door, which is the official entrance to the Sistine Chapel or at the entrance of St. Anne (a gate leading into Vatican City) where the Swiss Guards usually have spare tickets. Take note that it is usually intimidating to approach a Swiss Guard when asking for these tickets but they are perfectly nice when you request what you are looking for.
When you arrive on Wednesday you can then enjoy your free seat and listen as the Pope gives the Gospel in a number of languages. Translations are also provided on the big screens on St. Peter’s Square.
Visit the Popes’ Tombs
If you include our current Pope, Pope Francis, there have been 266 Popes since the first Pope, St. Peter. Many of these Popes are actually buried underneath St. Peter’s Basilica. There are even a number of Popes on display in the Basilica itself (their bodies are preserved and available for all to see for free). The most notable is Pope John XXIII who died in 1963. The tomb of Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, can also be found in St. Peter’s Basilica. For free, you can also visit more of the Popes’ tombs underneath the Basilica. St. Peter’s Basilica hours to visit these areas are 7 am to 6 pm from March to October and 7 am to 5 pm from October to March. Are there any other free things to do at the Vatican that you always enjoy?