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Pope Francis’ U.S. Visit, and How it Affects Travelers

And for those not interested in His Holiness’ first visit to the U.S., these are the dozen popular sites to stay clear from as millions of faithful visit D.C., NYC, and Philly.

Fresh off his four-day papal journey to Cuba, Pope Francis is scheduled for his first-ever visit to the United States from September 22 through September 27. The six-day tour, “Apostolic Journey to the United States of America,” leads a busy schedule with stops at more than a dozen sites in Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Philadelphia.

Those looking to catch a sighting (or simply to be in the know of street closures and traffic) should be tuned into Pope Francis’ U.S. stops, including those at nonreligious, touristy sites like the U.S. Capitol Building in D.C.; the 9/11 Memorial, Central Park, Madison Square Garden, and the United Nations building in New York City; and Independence Mall and Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

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On Tuesday, the charismatic pontiff will be greeted upon arrival to his first U.S. destination by President Obama. From then on it’s a whirlwind. New York City officials advise that those not interested in papal events avoid the city from Thursday through Saturday as they expect an extra 2 million pilgrims to come into Manhattan. Those with non-urgent matters in D.C. and Philadelphia are similarly warned. Due to the massive influx of visitors and street closures, all three cities expect not only heavy gridlock but public transit and pedestrian traffic to also be heavily impacted.

The Pope will be traveling through military and private airports for the D.C. and Philadelphia legs of his trip, therefore his travels won’t impact flyers through those cities as much as it will for those flying through NYC’s JFK, where Pope Francis is expected to arrive on Thursday afternoon and depart Saturday morning.

The USA Catholic Church’s free Apple and Android apps make for an easy way to track the Pope’s visit and its affect on D.C., NYC, and Philly travelers.

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How to See the Pope

If attending a mass or catching a sighting of His Holiness is on your bucket list, but you won’t get the chance to do so during his visit to the States, then there’s always Vatican City. Pope Francis, in March, announced a Jubilee Year from December 8, 2015, through November 20, 2016, for the faithful to be granted the highest form of absolution. Rome officials are expecting an astounding 33 million visitors during this window, 70 percent of which are international tourist bringing in an estimated 8 billion euros of tourism revenue. With throngs converging upon the Catholic holy city it is wise to book accommodations and flights as early as possible. Tours, too, are sure to sell out.

Skip the winding lines (easily blocks long) and avoid the massive crowds in the Vatican Museum by booking with a tour operator that provides priority-entrance options to bottle-neck areas like the Sistine Chapel or behind-the-scenes access to limited-entrance portions of the Vatican. City Wonders is one of only three tour partners to the Vatican Museum offering private tours (all led by expert, English-speaking tour guides), VIP access, personalized itineraries, and most importantly early admission to many of the Vatican’s most popular sites. (Think a dozen or so people admiring Michaelangelo’s fresco masterpiece vs. a thousand of your closest, sweatiest friends as you try to get a peek of the Last Judgment.)

Patricia Magaña knows that she’ll return to the Eternal City because she went through the time-honored tradition of tossing in a coin into Trevy Fountain. Vicariously navigate the world with her via Twitter @PatiTravels and Instagram @PatiTravels.

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SmarterTravel contributors occasionally accept free or partially subsidized travel in exchange for our unbiased opinions. We never accept compensation in exchange for a positive review.

By Patricia Magaña

Always on the lookout for value-oriented travel, Senior Editor Patricia Magaña has trekked throughout the States, Latin America, and Europe. Follow her on Instagram @PatiTravels.

Since joining the editorial crew in 2005, Magaña has pounced on incredible deals to Amsterdam, Madrid, and San Pedro Sula—each for less than $300. Her favorite travel experiences involve discovering street art while meandering a city, chatting up locals, and day drinking.

Her stories have appeared on USA Today, Huffington Post, Yahoo!, TripAdvisor, AirfareWatchdog, and other publications.

Email Patricia at editor@smartertravel.com.

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