The Pope visit could be a tourist nightmare

Those eager to catch a glimpse of the Holy See on his first trip to the U.S. are facing some serious pitfalls.

Pope Francis will be traveling from Sept. 22 to Sept. 27, making stops in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia.

But between a dearth of event tickets, profiteering scalpers, travel gridlock and sky-high prices for accommodations, you may just want to stay at home and watch the events on TV.

Case in point: The Pope is scheduled to have procession through New York's Central Park on Sept. 25, where some 80,000 free tickets were awarded through a lottery system. But now the tickets are are being hawked online for as much as $1,500 apiece, prompting New York City officials and Catholic leaders do condemn scalpers for profiting off the Pope's visit.

In D.C., while tickets to major Catholic events are mainly being distributed through parishes and Catholic organizations, officials are warnings of substantial public transportation delays on Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 when the Pope is in town.

And in Philadelphia, not only are free tickets to papal events being sold online for exorbitant prices, but day passes on the local rail system SEPTA, are being offered on auction sites for as much as a three times their original value.

So what’s a papal well-wisher to do?  Here are some pointers on how to navigate the historic event with a little less hassle.


Tickets to public events in the three cities were originally dispersed via digital lottery systems for free. If you see a four-figure ticket for sale online, not only are you getting gouged—you could wind up with a fake. Public officials are encouraging people not to pay for tickets, even if they are legit.

“It’s disgusting that anyone would take a free ticket for someone to see His Holiness and decide to re-sell it,” New York Mayor Bill deBlasio said in the press conference Monday. “No one should buy such a ticket. It’s just absolutely inconsistent with everything that this Pope stands for.”

The Mayor said that his office is now working with federal officials to remove papal event ticket postings from online auction sites like eBay and Craigslist. performed several searches on StubHub and eBay and found no event tickets available for Pope Francis’ upcoming tour.

But even if you have a ticket—or have plans to attend a ticket-less event like the parade along the D.C. Mall  -- plan accordingly as space for a premium spot may be hard to come by.

“The parade here is open to the public but space will be limited,” Elliott Ferguson, President and CEO of Destination DC told “It will be very similar to the lighting of the Christmas tree at the White House, and once the event is at capacity, the space will be closed off.”

Gates along the Constitution Ave route for the Sept. 23 event open at 4:00 a.m. and close at 10:00 a.m.. The Pope is expected to make an appearance at 11:00. Spectators will need to pass through security and no outside food or drink will be permitted—though (undoubtedly, overpriced) concessions will be available within the secured area.


New York, Philadelphia and D.C. will all experience major road closures and public transportation reroutes to accommodate the papal motorcade.

In, D.C. employees are being asked to work from home and, if possible, save some gas and take public transportation for the day.

“For tourists or locals, it just becomes more difficult if you’re driving a car during a parade or some other event because parking will be hard to find,” said Ferguson. Since D.C. often hosts dignitaries, he does not see foresee any major problems but advises people to pay attention to changing Metro and bus schedules next week.

The public transportation system in Philadelphia is also expecting disruptions during the Saturday and Sunday of Pope Francis’ stay. With upwards of 1.5 million people expected to attend mass, getting around the City of Brotherly Love could be a shoving match if you're not patient.

"With the extraordinary number of people expected to attend events during the papal visit, SEPTA will be more than doubling Regional Rail service capacity," Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) announced online. On Sept. 26 and Sept. 27, trains will only be operating out of 18 stations on a limited schedule. As the city begins setting up security barriers, SEPTA disruption may start as early as Sept. 20. Beware of scammers trying to sell inflated rail tickets via second party sites like eBay. SEPTA says there are still plenty of passes that can be purchased through its official website for $10.

For those traveling in and out of the three cities on papal visit days, extra time will be required to get around. In D.C., leave an extra hour if you're flying out of Reagan National Airport. In New York, many streets in Manhattan will be closed off so don't count on that taxi or Uber to get you there on time. Though the MTA will be offering additional services, the influx of people could drastically lengthen a regular commute.


Popular restaurants and other tourist attractions are booking up quickly so making reservations in advance is recommended.

But despite the crowds, you still may be able to find a place to stay within the cities' centers.

Hotels in downtown Philadelphia have been slashing prices to lure last-minute guests into a two-night stay. At least four hotels are offering rates below $300 per night.

But if you're looking to stay in an apartment, homes on the rental site are going for an average of $1,700 a night, which are typically closer to $200 a night this time of the year.

In D.C., hotel occupancy is currently estimated to be at about 83 percent.

“When Pope Benedict came in 2008, it was peak tourism season with the cherry blossoms and occupancy was about 95 percent,” Ferguson said, reiterating that there is still plenty of space for out-of-towners coming into the nation’s capital next week.

For tourists whose well-planned visits just happen to coincide with the Pope’s, there is still plenty to do as most museums in all three cities are planning to remain open while the he’s in town.

But, if you don’t care about seeing Pope Francis, it's best to avoid these cities while he's here.