Planning to visit St Peters Basilica Rome? Find out the best way to visit this amazing church!
Visiting the Vatican is usually at the top of everyone's list when they visit Rome, especially for first-time visitors.
One part of that visit should include St Peters Basilica. Here's everything you need to know so you can make the most out of your visit to this spectacular church:
St Peters Basilica is considered to be one of the most important, holiest Catholic churches in the world. One reason for this is that Saint Peter is said to be buried directly underneath the church (hence its name.)
The basilica is a Renaissance church, built in the 1500's. It replaced the first St. Peters Basilica originally built under the emperor Constantine in the early 4th century.
Quick fun facts about St Peters Basilica Rome:
There is SO MUCH to see in St Peters Basilica!
The first thing I would tell you is that you should just see the church itself, inside and out. It's magnificent. It's stunning. It's so so beautiful (can you tell I love this building?)
To keep things simple, let's just go over a few important things you may want to look for if you go without a guide (more on that below):
Michelangelo's dome (even better if you climb it!)
Alexander VII's tomb (Bernini)
The spot where Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800
The bronze statue of St. Peter (and his very shiny foot, which has been rubbed by hundreds of thousands of people)
The central nave where you can see how large other churches in the world are, compared to St Peter's Basilica Rome.
And all those paintings . . wait! They are not paintings! Look closer, they are all mosaics!
The Holy Door (This stays closed except for when the Pope opens it, once every 25 years, for the Catholic Jubilee.)
Want to take a virtual visit of St Peters Basilica? You can, on the Vatican website!
No. The Sistine Chapel is not inside St. Peter's basilica.
To see Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, you need to visit the Vatican Museums. The Sistine Chapel is at the very end.
There are many beautiful chapels along the sides of St. Peter's basilica. For more about them, you may want to get the audio guide or take a tour.
No. They are completely separate buildings and their entrances are about 20 minutes' walk apart.
Take a look at this map of Vatican city. You can see the entrance to the Vatican Museums (red arrow), in relation to the entrance to St Peters Basilica Rome (black.)
Saint Peter's basilica is one of the most popular sites to see in Rome (even if it's not technically in Rome.)
This means it's nearly always crowded. So how can you avoid these crowds?
Most of the tourist attractions in Rome (and probably in any tourist city), have crowds in a kind of bell-curve throughout any given day.
This means that at the very beginning of a site being open, and also at the very end, near closing time you will usually find fewer people. Crowds tend to swell in the middle of the day.
I LOVE going to St Peters Basilica at 7am because it means no crowds.
And that is pretty much the only time when you are (most likely) going to find the basilica completely un-crowded.
Going at 7am means waking up pretty early, but it also means:
If you go to St Peters Basilica Rome close to closing time, you will also likely avoid the crowds.
There is a catch with this method, however: Even right up to closing, there are always lines to go through security and they are long.
Even at the end of the day.
So you will likely have to wait in line, and this means, you have to be careful not to cut it too close to closing time or you will simply not be allowed in.
One final caveat to going at the end of the day to avoid the crowds - this will likely mean you will not be able to climb the dome, as it closes an hour before the basilica, but last entry is a bit before that.
Avoiding the crowds usually means avoiding the lines/queues.
But if you can't help coming when it's crowded, at least you can avoid the queues:
It is free to visit St Peters Basilica Rome.
However, you have to go through security (like at the airport), and even with many lanes open, this still takes time, resulting in long lines, most of the day and throughout the year.
There are, however, 3 ways to avoid the queues.
As I said above, it's free to visit St Peters Basilica.
But you CAN pay to skip the line, if you don't want to visit other parts of the Vatican (described above.) You can either book simply skip-the-line tickets, or a tour just of St Peters.
When you take a tour of the Vatican Museums, a tour of St. Peter's Basilica is often included at the end (but not always.)
If you want to make sure that you get a tour of the basilica when you book your Vatican Museums tour, make sure it's included.
If you just want to visit St Peters Basilica Rome and not the museums, and you'd like a tour, you can get an audio-guide, or book a tour. When you book a tour, you will get skip-the-line access, which is a huge plus!
He also holds a regular Wednesday audience (free), and a Sunday Angelus (a short greeting to the crowd in the square, from a window above.)
Most of the time, however, when you visit St. Peter's basilica Rome, you will not find the Pope there. In fact, if the pope is holding a mass, the basilica will be closed for visits.
To find out the Pope's schedule, visit the Vatican website, and click on the calendar.
There are many ways you CAN see the Pope in Rome, not always at St. Peter's Basilica. These include the Papal Audience, as well as liturgical masses and other events. Visit my page about how to see the Pope in Rome for more details.
Since St. Peter is thought/believed to be buried underneath this basilica, visiting his tomb can be the experience of a lifetime.
It turns out, it's even more than that - it's a fantastic, archeological visit down to the levels of the church when Constantine was emperor. You will see ancient tombs, paintings, sarcofagi and much more on this extraordinary visit below ground.
It used to be that the only way to book this visit was by contacting the Vatican office of excavations (scavi.) You can still do that. Here is the official scavi website. You will need to send a fax or email, detailing the number of people, names, language preferred for the tour and the date range you will be in Rome. Then you will need to just wait for them to get back to you. Once they do, you will need to prepay (13€.)
Now, you can book immediately online via a tour operator (which books through the official Vatican channels itself). This way, you can see availability, pay immediately, and get a skip-the-line access and tour also of St. Peters Basilica included. Yes, this way it costs a lot more (59€ per person.) So it's a matter of price vs. convenience/ease of use.
Climbing the dome of St Peters Basilica is really special.
You get right up close and personal with Michelangelo's dome.
And if you go all the way to the tippy top, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of St Peters Square below, and the cityscape of Rome beyond.
Visit my page all about St Peter's dome for lots more details, including how, when, why and how much!
The best way to visit St Peters Basilica Rome is to go early early early.
Sorry but that's the best advice I can give you. I know it's no fun waking at the crack of dawn on vacation, but trust me, once you get here at 7am, and see that you have the whole square to yourself, and then breeze in with no lines . . . and then see this amazing church, with the early morning sunlight beams streaming in, you will thank me!
Yes you can take photos. No flash, no selfie sticks and no tripods.
And make sure to wear comfortable shoes!!! You'll do more walking than you think, even just to go through the square and wander around the church.
OK let's say you do not or just cannot manage a 7am visit. The best way to visit St Peters Basilica Rome is to either arrive prepared to wait in line, or, prepare to skip the line (as I explained above.)
Once you are in, I suggest you simply start in the front and take it in. Stand right near the entrance, and look down. There you will see the porphyry marble disc where Charlemagne was crowned holy Roman Emperor in 800.
Soak up the atmosphere, and try to realize just how enormous this beautiful building is.
Now walk to the right and visit Michelangelo's Pietà. There will be a lot of people (unless you go at 7am). But trust me, they all move eventually so just be patient. Take your time. The sculpture is behind glass but it's still easy to observe it fairly close up. Think about what Michelangelo said - that every piece of marble has a sculpture inside, and it is up to the artist to chip away at the outside and reveal it. Only he could have said that, and only he could have done such a thing.
Take your time making your way counter-clockwise around the church, and make sure not to miss any side-chapels and their domes.
Spend some time admiring Bernini's baldachin (bronze canopy.) It may not seem that enormous because the dome is so high above it, but in fact it is about 6-7 stories high!
If you have time, you may also want to head down to the grottoes just below, to see where some popes are buried. Note that this is NOT a visit to St. Peters tomb, which must be booked separately. If you do this, just know that you will have to leave from here. So make it the last thing you visit.
Be very sure you have seen all you want to see before you leave. As I said above, the lines to get in are long, and once you exit, you will have to stand in line all over again if you decide to go back!
There is no place to eat INSIDE of St Peters Basilica Rome. There are cafeterias inside the Vatican Museums, but that is a completely separate building and visit. There is also a cafe up on the roof if you climb the dome, but it's got limited choices of course.
There are a lot of very touristy places right around the basilica. For someplace more authentic, walk just a bit farther away.
Click here Where to Eat Near the Vatican for suggestions and a map!
St Peters Basilica is open 365 days a year (with occasional exceptions. Visit the official Vatican website for any schedule updates.)
From October 1 - March 31 the hours are from 7am - 6:30pm.
From April 1 - September 30, the hours are from 7am - 7pm.
Keep in mind, these closing hours means they lock the doors then. This means you will have to be out by at least 20 minutes before that.
It's free to visit St Peters Basilica Rome.
However, you can also purchase skip-the-line tickets or tours if you don't want to get up very early to beat the crowds.
Depending on where you are coming from, the bus or metro are the easiest ways to get to St Peters Basilica. If you take the metro (red line, from Spanish Steps or Termini, among other stations), get off at Ottaviano. It's about a 10-15 minute walk to the basilica from there.
There are lots of buses that go near St Peters Basilica Rome. If you have a smart phone, I'd suggest using Google maps with public transportation, to plan your route.
You can also get to the basilica on foot, which makes for a dramatic visual effect the closer you get to Vatican Square. To get here on foot, the prettiest way is to cross the Angel Bridge to Castel Sant'Angelo, and make a left!
I posted the map above on this page, but here it is again. You can choose which layer you want to see, including how to get here via the metro.