A visit to Rome and the Vatican City is not complete without going inside St. Peter's Basilica. But while you are making your list of things to see and do in Rome, you will surely have some doubts: how much time do I need to visit it? Will I have to buy tickets for St. Peter's Basilica? Will there be a long queue? What do I have to see? I'll answer them all below:
Visit St. Peter's Basilica skipping the lines with a guided tour
One of the best recommendations that I can give you when organizing your visit to the Basilica and that practically nobody knows, is that if you prefer to avoid the long queues and access the Basilica in a priority way, join a guided tour. In addition to touring the interior of the temple with a professional guide, you can skip the very long lines of access to the Plaza, which is certainly an added value of this option.
From 29 € and with a duration of one hour, you can tour the Basilica, enjoy its main works, understand its structure and admire its spectacular dome inside. In addition, after the tour you will have time to walk around the interior at your leisure, continue admiring its beauty and even take advantage of being there to go up to the Dome of St. Peter or down to see the Necropolis of the Popes. I tell you here all the details to get your entrance without queues to St. Peter's Basilica.
Visit St. Peter's Basilica for free
St. Peter's Basilica is free and requires no entrance fee. To access it you will have to cross the famous colonnade of St. Peter's Square (one of the best squares in Rome) and, unfortunately, get in line. Once you are approaching the temple you will have to go through a routine security check (metal object scanner) and you will be able to enter the interior of the Basilica.
If you visit Rome in summer you should know that there are no shadows in St. Peter's Square and you will have to wait in long lines under the sun, so I recommend you to bring a cap or hat, fresh water and even sunscreen. If you're overwhelmed just thinking about having to spend hours standing in the sun, don't worry, there is also an option to skip the lines, read on!
What to see in St. Peter's Basilica
Of all the wonders to see in the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica is essential. To enjoy it to the fullest and see all the works of art, chapels and reliquaries, and read all the inscriptions on the walls of the Basilica without having to spend too many hours there, I recommend that you focus your attention on the following:
The Nave of the Basilica
When you enter St. Peter's Basilica, the first thing that strikes you is how impressive its naves are, how huge its interior is, and how exquisitely decorated its walls are.
This is one of Michelangelo's most important sculptural works along with the David, although for my taste it is the more sublime of the two. It is an overwhelming representation of Mary holding the body of Christ in a lament. You will find Michelangelo's Pieta as soon as you enter the basilica in the first chapel on the right.
Bronze statue of St. Peter
On the right side of the central nave of the basilica you will find a bronze statue from medieval times, one of the few remaining from this period. Many visitors to St. Peter's Basilica do not notice this small figure, but the faithful who make the pilgrimage to the Holy See rub and even kiss its foot as they arrive, worn after centuries.
This structure supported by four columns is the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the most important architect and sculptor of the Baroque period, and serves as a canopy for the main altar of the basilica, reserved only for the papal mass. The altar is built over the tomb of St. Peter and is the symbolic and spiritual heart of St. Peter's Basilica.
Initiated by Michelangelo and continued by Giacomo Della Porta, the Dome of St. Peter was conceived as the ultimate representation of Christianity. Inside, you will find two inscriptions in Latin, one of which reads: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven" and another dedicated to Pope Sixtus V.
Regarding the ascent to the dome: you can climb both the inner dome and the outer dome, from where you will find one of the best panoramic views of Rome. You can also get a close-up view of Michelangelo's frescoes and inscriptions. The entrance fee to the dome is 10 € to go up by elevator or 8 € if you walk up the more than 500 steps leading to the top.
Tomb of Alexander VII
This work of triangular structure, so typical of the Baroque, is a magnificent set of allegorical figures that accompany an image of Pope Alexander VII, who prays kneeling and humble, on the shroud of death, which is represented carrying an empty hourglass. Something that particularly impressed me about this tomb, in addition to achieving a magnificent theatricality, is the sculptural treatment of the shroud.
If you have some time to spare and are particularly interested in the iconography of the Vatican, I recommend a visit to the Sacristy and the Treasury Museum, where you can see crosses, papal vestments, jewelry and reliquaries. Admission is 5 € for adults and 3 € for children up to 12 years old.
At the end of your visit to the Basilica, look for the signs to the Vatican Grottoes, subway galleries in which lie the remains of several popes, including John Paul II. You will see a gilded altar over the tomb of St. Peter, just below the high altar and the Baldacchino. I tell you here how to visit the Vatican Catacombs, Crypts and Necropolis.
How much time you need to visit St. Peter's Basilica
If you join a guided tour, you will tour the Basilica in about an hour. If you go on your own, you can adjust the time of the visit as you wish, but expect that you will still need about 60 minutes to walk around the entire Basilica and stop at its main works such as the Baldachin or the Moses.
If you want to visit the Necropolis you may need an extra hour and if you also plan to go up to the Dome, you will have to extend the visit for a couple of hours to have enough time to go up, admire the views and then come down.
How to climb the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica
You can go up to the Dome of St. Peter's on foot or combining a section on foot with one by elevator. The climb is not suitable for everyone (there are times when the staircase is narrow and can give a little feeling of claustrophobia) but I assure you that the views are worth it.
Regarding how to get tickets for the Dome, keep in mind that you can't buy them online. You will have to buy them inside the temple itself for 8 € (walking up) or 10 € if you prefer to use the elevator in the available section. Either way, cheer up because since you have come this far, you can enjoy the best views of the city from one of the best monuments in Rome and it will be one of the memories you will take of Rome.
How to see the tombs of the Popes in St. Peter's Basilica
In the basement of St. Peter's Basilica are the tombs of the Popes. They are divided into two levels: the first gallery, at -1, is composed of various mausoleums and tombs of different Popes. This visit is free and you can access this gallery from inside the Basilica.
If you prefer to go inside the Necropolis and visit, among others, the Crypt of St. Peter, you must take into account thatthe capacity is very restricted (250 people maximum per day) and you will have to make a request in advance by sending an email with the details of the visitors you want to participate. I leave you all the details in my guide about the Vatican Catacombs, the Crypts of the Popes and the Necropolis of St. Peter.
St. Peter's Basilica opening hours
St. Peter's Basilica is open daily, Monday through Friday, between **7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.**m.. In winter, from October to March, it closes one hour earlier, at 6:00 pm.
Please note that during religious holidays or special worship events, the opening hours may be subject to change, so I recommend that you check well before planning your visit if you are traveling during Christmas or Easter.
Is it possible to go to mass in St. Peter's Basilica?
Yes, it is possible, although Holy Mass is not celebrated by the Pope except on very special occasions, such as Christmas or Holy Week.
- During the week, the schedule of masses is as follows: 9:00 / 10:00 / 11:00 / 12:00 / 17:00
- On holidays, the mass schedule is as follows: : 9:00 / 10:30 / 11:30 / 12:15 / 13:00 / 16:00 / 17:30
Will I see the Pope in St. Peter's Basilica?
It is quite difficult to meet the Pope in the Basilica by chance. His schedules for Masses and public audiences are quite strict and he is never spontaneously in the Basilica unless there is a special Mass, such as the Midnight or Easter Mass.
Of course, if you feel like seeing the Pope in person, you can always join his Sunday Audience, the Angelus, or the Wednesday Blessing. These events always take place in St. Peter's Square and are usually open to everyone, although it is normal that to access the Square you have to pass certain security controls.
How should you dress to visit St. Peter's Basilica?
As it is a religious temple, the Church requires that both men and women wear knee and shoulder coverings. Forget about short shorts, tank tops or tops and in the case of women, it will also be necessary to cover the neckline. If you want, you can read in this article some tips to prepare your visit to the Vatican.
What else do I need to see in the Vatican?
If you are organizing your visit and want to know what are the must-sees and things to do in the Vatican, let's start with the must-sees. You can't leave without visiting the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums.
Visit the Sistine Chapel
Crowned in its vault with the most famous frescoes in the world, those of Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel is one of the great attractions of the Vatican City. You can visit it on your own or make the most of it by joining a guided tour with an expert and professional guide. You will need at least two hours to tour the rest of the Vatican Museums and contemplate their beauty. Here's how to get tickets for the Sistine Chapel.
Visit the Vatican Museums
In addition to St. Peter's Basilica, it is highly recommended to visit the Vatican Museums, where the Sistine Chapel is located. There are different options to access and visit them, as you can buy tickets for the Vatican and tour the museums on your own or with an audio guide or you can book a guided tour of the Vatican in English to get the most out of your tour of the most popular galleries in the art world.
Frequently asked questions
Is it possible to visit the tomb of St. Peter?
The tomb of St. Peter is not currently open to visitors as it is in a delicate state of preservation. Although you can visit the tombs of other popes, the tomb of St. Peter in particular has restricted access to the public.