Time: Allow a full day for seeing St. Peter's Basilica, the papal tombs and Vatican Museums. Hours may vary by time of year.
Timing: The dead of summer will be packed (and hot!); avoid it if possible. Try to go early in the morning. During the Wednesday papal audience, St. Peter's may be open -- and lines are short.
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Touts on the sidewalk hawk them nonstop, and this may be a quick way in if you're short on time. But be sure of what you're getting: Is this a shortcut into St. Peter's Basilica? Will you see the tombs? Are the Vatican Museums included?
If you're set on a tour of St. Peter's, try one of the free English language tours that meets most days at the Vatican information office (to the left of the basilica as you face it) at 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday and 2:15 p.m. Monday to Friday (hours may change). An audio-guide (5 euros, about $8) is also available; rent it at the desk downstairs to the right of the basilica entrance.
Audiences are conducted most Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. and last one to two hours. Much of the service is in Italian but some portions are in English. You can order free tickets in advance from the Web site of the Church of Santa Susanna; see below.
Free tickets are also issued on Tuesdays at the office to the right of basilica that is manned by the Swiss Guard. To get to the office, you must first survive the security queue. In winter the audiences are held inside; from March to October they're generally outdoors in St. Peter's Square. If you don't have a ticket, you can stand in the vast plaza and watch on massive video screens.
Tickets are not required for Sunday papal addresses in St. Peter's Square.
Tickets to Easter and Christmas masses are extremely difficult to get, advises the Santa Susanna Web site, which offers advise on how to apply for them.
Don't shortchange yourself; unless you're traveling with children, you'll want hours here. Be sure to pick up the audio tour after you buy your ticket; it's well worth the 5 euros (about $8); you'll need to leave your ID as security. Guided tours are offered in English daily, usually at 10 a.m., for 23.50 euros (about $37). Museum entry costs 14 euros for adults (about $21); 8 euros for children and youth (about $12); under 6 free. The museum offers full access for the disabled; some wheelchairs are available. Information and tours: (011-39-06) 6988-4676 or (011-39-06) 6988-1034.
St. Peter's Basilica
Entry to the basilica and the papal tombs beneath it is free; a fee of 1.50 euros (about $2.35) is charged for visiting the dome. To enter the basilica, you need to be dressed modestly; no shorts, bare shoulders or miniskirts allowed.
www.vatican.va: The Vatican's official Web site offers terrific info on the Vatican Museums but is a bit thin otherwise; you'll do better with a good guidebook and a stop at the Vatican information office to the left as you face St. Peter's Basilica. For information about papal audiences, click under "Holy Father.".
www.saintpetersbasilica.org: Though not affiliated with the Vatican, this Web site is easier to navigate and often more useful than the Vatican's official site.
www.santasusanna.org: The American Catholic Church in Rome will set aside tickets for the Wednesday papal audiences if you contact it in advance via fax or e-mail. The Web site is also a useful resource for visiting Rome and staying in inexpensive convents.
www.italiantourism.com: Offers limited information about visiting the Vatican.