Planning to visit St Peters Basilica Rome?
Learn about its history, art, and architecture and find out the best way to visit this amazing monument in Rome!
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 going inside St Peters Basilica.
Here's everything you need to know so you can make the most out of your visit to this spectacular church:
This page is specifically about St Peters Basilica in Rome.
If you want to know more about visiting the Vatican Museums where the Sistine Chapel is, go here.
Saint Peter's 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 Saint Peters Basilica in Rome:
An Excellent Book!
As you might imagine, there are whole books dedicated to all the history and art of St Peters Basilica Rome.
One book I really recommend is this easy and fun-to-read 101 Surprising Facts About St. Peter's and the Vatican, written by Father Jeff Kirby.
Disclosure: If you make a purchase through a link on this page, I may receive a small commission - at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my site!
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.
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):
Want to take a virtual visit of St Peters Basilica? You can, on the Vatican website!
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 of that visit.
Click here to find out everything you need to know about Vatican museum tickets.
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 guided tour.
They are completely separate buildings and their entrances are about 20 minutes' walk apart.
Take a look at this map of Vatican city. (It opens in a new window.)
You can see the entrance to the Vatican Museums (red arrow), in relation to the entrance to St Peters Basilica Rome (black.)
You CAN however, get inside St Peters Basilica Rome from the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel, as long as you take a guided tour that specifically includes Saint Peter's Basilica.
The perfect 3-day itinerary in Rome
Trying to figure out how to organize your visit to Rome? I've got the perfect 3-day itinerary for first-time visitors (or those who have not been here in a while.) It works for a 2.5 day visit as well.
In my 3-day itinerary, you'll see all the major must-see Rome attractions like the Vatican, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Castel Sant'Angelo, and much more.
And if you have more time, or want suggestions for extra/other things to do, you'll find that there too.
Visit my page with the best 3-day itinerary in Rome for first-timers.
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, no lines, no waiting.
And that is pretty much the only time when you are (most likely) going to find the basilica completely un-crowded.
This will NOT work on a Wednesday when there is a Papal Audience.
On those mornings, St Peters basilica is closed until around 12:30-1pm, when the audience has finished and the crowds from the audience have mostly cleared.
And it should go without saying, you cannot visit St Peters Basilica in the morning on important Catholic holidays like Christmas and Easter, and/or when the Pope will hold mass.
In these cases, you will have to wait for mass to end, and for the basilica to reopen to the public.
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.
Closing times at a site or monument in Rome indicate the time the doors will be locked.
This usually means last entry is at least half hour (or more) before that.
Also, they start shooing you out at least 20 minutes before the closing time.
So bottom line, you want to be inside by at least 45 minutes to an hour before "closing time."
St Peters Basilica Rome closes at 7 pm from April - October, and 6:30 pm from November - March.
You should plan to start waiting in line no more than 1.5 hours before these times or you risk not getting 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, 2 ways to avoid these queues/lines.
Both of these involve still going through security as there is simply no way to avoid that:
As I mentioned when speaking about avoiding the crowds, if you come at 7am (except on Wednesdays or any other important day that the Pope will be giving mass, like Easter Sunday or Christmas Day), you will find no lines at all to get in.
You will have to go through security but there will likely not be any wait at all.
If you book a tour of the Vatican Museums or St. Peter's Tomb, you will be able to access Saint Peter's Basilica from a different area, with no queuing.
(You will have gone through security at those other sites first.)
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 (this particular tour with Walks of Italy begins at 8 AM so they do say you "skip the line", but again, if there is any security line, you will have to go through that line, but at that hour, it should be minimal.)
However, booking a tour of Saint Peter's Basilica alone does NOT allow you to skip the security line.
Which tour to take and which company?
You may notice on this website I have links to various companies such as Get Your Guide, Walks of Italy, and Viator.
All are online tour agencies and sometimes they offer many of the exact same tours.
Some companies offer unique tours which is why I sometimes suggest one or the other.
Or perhaps you are more comfortable booking on a particular company website with which you are more familiar.
All my links for tours are to reliable tour operators, or I would not partner with them!
The Pope holds mass in St. Peter's basilica on special occasions, such as during Christmas and Easter.
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.
Ready to plan your trip?
They do not allow you to take photos while visiting St Peters Tomb.
I don't have any photos, despite having been a few times, and it's difficult to even find photos on the internet.
Trust me when I tell you it's a wonderful tour!
Since St. Peter is 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.
So it's a matter of price vs. convenience/ease of use.
Visit the tomb as part of a guided tour through St. Peters Basilica.
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!
Don't forget to dress appropriately (no bare knees, midriffs or shoulders).
This is true for everyone, all ages. If you are not sure if your dress/shorts are long enough, they might not be.
Play it safe.
They are very serious about being modestly covered to enter St Peters Basilica Rome!
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.
No matter what season you visit Rome, here are 4 things never to leave at home:
Disclosure: If you make a purchase through a link on this page, I may receive a small commission - at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my site!
OK let's say you do not want to or just cannot manage a 7 AM 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 7 AM).
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.
Saint Peter's Basilica is inside Vatican City, which is a sovereign nation-state enclaved inside Rome, Italy.
You can easily get to it on foot from many of the top tourist attractions in Rome.
Click the map for more details (it opens in a new window.)
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.
If you wish to attend Holy Mass in St Peters Basilica Rome, here are the hours (note these will NOT be given by the Pope):
Weekdays: 8:30 – 9:00 – 10:00 – 11:00 – 12:00 – 17:00 (in Latin)
Holidays: 9:00 – 10:30 (in Latin) – 11:30 – 12:15 – 13:00 – 16:00 – 17:45
It's free to visit St Peters Basilica Rome.
As I mentioned above, the only way to skip the line is to come at 7 AM or to take a tour of the Vatican Museums that includes the basilica, or a tour of St. Peter's Tomb.
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!
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