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Papal Audiences take place 10:00 hrs, every Wednesday morning in St. Peter's Square. In Winter - or during extreme bad weather - the Audience is usually moved inside the Aula Nervi. The Audience lasts approx. 2 hours.
Official Vatican site
For more information contact Prefecture of the Papal Household:
Prefecture of the Papal Household
00120 Vatican City State
Fax: +39 06 6988 5863
At one time paper tickets were posted to overseas and out-of-Rome addresses, but this service seems to no longer be provided.
If you didn't reserve tickets in advance and your group is less than 10, you can try anyway on the morning (8am-10am), or the previous afternoon (3pm-7pm / until 6pm in winter).
Tickets are issued 'free of charge' by the Vatican State and the procedure is as follows: download + fax the request form on the Official Vatican site, for those requesting tickets from out-of-Rome or overseas. You will be informed - by letter - whether or not tickets have been reserved for you, but they are only issued one day prior to each Audience, so you still need to be in Rome the day before (or prepare yourself for a very early start on the morning of the Audience) to collect your tickets.
Tickets are held under the name of the person who reserved them so that person will need to collect the tickets and provide the letter that was sent and possibly proof of identity. Plan of the Vatican buildings - on the purple & white map, see No.1 (where the huge Bronze doors are) and No.61 (Aula Nervi, also known as Aula Paolo VI, where indoor Audiences are held).
If you are in Rome for Easter or Christmas you might wish to attend Easter Eve Mass or Christmas Eve Mass, both held in St. Peter's Square. Tickets are free-of-charge but availability is limited and, therefore, best to book these 2-6 months in advance. If your request is successful your tickets will be ready for collection from the Vatican 4-5 days before the event.
It's difficult to judge exactly how busy any Audience or Mass will be. We have known people queue for 2 hours before getting inside and others who have strolled in with hardly any queues at all, but we would always urge visitors to leave themselves ample time just to avoid disappointment.