The highlight of Sunday in the Vatican is usually when Pope Francis appears at the window to pray the Angelus. If you want to be there on Sunday in the Vatican, this is the best way to organize yourself.
St. Peter’s Basilica
On Sunday mornings it is not entirely certain whether St. Peter’s Basilica is open. Sometimes there are masses of the Holy Father in the Basilica or on St. Peter’s Square and then the Basilica is closed to the public. You can find details on this in our monthly overviews and in our holiday calendar.
But on most Sundays, you should get into St Peter’s Basilica. However, We recommend you to be there very early, between 7 and 8 in the morning. In the early morning, the security check goes faster and later you still can go to Castel Sant’Angelo.
It takes around an hour to visit St. Peter’s Basilica. The access to the dome opens at 8 a.m. You take the elevator to the roof and can then climb up into the dome. By the time you’ve seen it all, 90 minutes are up. You should definitely visit the dome before the Angelus prayer. After the Angelus prayer almost all visitors who took part want to go up. Then the waiting time at the cash register and at the elevator is very long.
By the way, for Sunday morning there is no audio guide with preferential access to security control. Priority access is only available on Sunday afternoons.
St. Peter’s Basilica is almost always open on Sunday afternoons. Masses in the afternoon or in the evening of a Sunday are very rare, such as for Christmas Mass, Good Friday and Easter Night.
The most important event in the Vatican on Sunday is the Holy Father’s Angelus prayer at noon. He gives a short talk and then says the prayer. The prayer is canceled in July and of course when the Pope is traveling. During Easter, the Regina Caeli is prayed instead of the Angelus and on Easter Sunday the city and the world are blessed with Urbi et Orbi. The Angelus also takes place on public holidays such as Christmas, Easter Monday, Peter and Paul, Assumption and the Immaculate Conception.
Usually many people gather in St. Peter’s Square to hear the Pope. To enter St Peter’s Square, you must pass the security checkpoints that are located under the Bernini’s portico. On the occasion of the event in St Peter’s Square many checkpoints are open and there are no extremely long waiting times.
The Pope stands at the window of the library of the Apostolic Palace. To see him well, you need binoculars and a powerful telephoto lens for photos. The prayer will also be broadcast on the large screens in St. Peter’s Square.
The Angelus Prayer ends at 12:20. Getting into St. Peter’s Basilica after the Angelus prayer is difficult because many visitors want to enter.
The Castel Sant’Angelo opens at 9 o’clock. It’s recommended to buy the ticket in advance, otherwise you may have to wait quite a long time.
Castel Sant’Angelo was built as the Mausoleum of Hadrian and was later fortified. Between the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo a corridor called “Passetto” runs along a wall on which the popes, if necessary, fled to the Castel Sant’Angelo.
At 10 o’clock there is a tour in English, “the secret castle”, and on this tour you can visit the popes’ escape route, the “passetto”, and other parts of Castel Sant’Angelo. This tour can be attended by a maximum of 15 people. The tour can not be reserved in advance. You have to ask at the cashpoint for the tour. It costs 5 euros, reduced 2.50 euros. The tour will also take place at 4pm, at 11am and 5pm the tour will be in Italian.
People with disability can take the elevator to the middle level. There’s also a simple bar, but it has a really amazing view.
From Castel Sant’Angelo you have a very nice view at different places. From the roof of the castle you can see far over the city.
There used to be free entry on the last Sunday of the month. Unfortunately, this option no longer exists since the corona crisis. There were long queues and a large crowd in the museums for free entry. This is no longer possible due to the distance rules.
If the weather is nice, a trip to the Via Appia Antica is a good idea. The Via Appia Antica is traffic-calmed on Sunday. You can have lunch there too.
Take bus 64 to Ara Coeli / Piazza Venezia and then continue past the Capitol to the Teatro Marcello / Ara Coeli stop. From there, take bus 118 to the Basilica S. Sebastiano stop. If no 118 bus is in sight, take bus 30 or 160 to Piazza Navigatori. From there, cross the 10-lane Via Cristoforo Colombo and walk on Via delle Sette Chiese to the catacombs.
If you don’t want to go to the Appia Antica, you can look for a nice eatery in the Borgo between the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo. Or you cross the Angel’s Bridge and continue towards Piazza Navona or Campo de’ Fiori. There are many nice restaurants in the area and you can visit the city center.
We would rather advise against a trip to Ostia on Sunday. Ostia is totally overcrowded on Sundays, especially with good weather.
Other suggestions for the morning in Rome
Here are some other suggestions of what to do in Rome in the morning.