How to Visit St Peter's Basilica in Rome

The interior of St. Peter's Basilica is well worth a visit, but... how to get the most out of it? but how do you get the most out of it? I tell you everything you need to know, here.

Carmen Navarro

Carmen Navarro

11 min read

How to Visit St Peter's Basilica in Rome

Inside St. Peter's Basilica | Anna C.

A visit to Rome and Vatican City is not complete without a visit 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? Can I go up to the dome?

Since the visit to St. Peter's Basilica is free, I recommend that you join a guided tour that will give you a more complete view of the place. These tours include a tour of the temple with the explanations of an art expert guide. Some include climbing the dome and for a little more money you can also get entrance to the Vatican Museums. I'll tell you more:

My favorite

Guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica with access to the dome

Access the interior of St. Peter's Basilica and do not miss any detail thanks to this complete guided tour.

Contemplate the imposing St. Peter's Basilica and learn about the artistic importance of the works inside with this guided tour. You will also be able to discover the dome in an exclusive way.

Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes

The Vatican has a lot to see and one of its must-sees is to know inside St. Peter's Basilica. With this guided tour with access to the dome you can discover first hand everything that is inside with the explanations of an expert guide that will make you better understand the historical and artistic context of the largest Christian church in the world.

In a small group you will tour the Basilica and see works such as Michelangelo's Pietà or Bernini's altar, until you reach the terrace of the dome, where you will have an exclusive view of the best panoramic view of St. Peter's Square, the Vatican and Rome in general.

Recommended if... You do not want to miss the imposing St. Peter's Basilica, the seat of Catholicism in the world and, while you are there, understand the value of its historic works of art. In addition, with this guided tour you are guaranteed to climb the dome, a must on your visit to the Vatican.

The premium option

Guide tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica

Get to know the Vatican in depth with this pack of the Museums and the Basilica

Save on your Vatican experience and get guided tour tickets to its three monumental jewels: the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. Does not include the ascent to the dome

Duration: 3 hours

The Vatican Museums are another must-see in Rome located next to St. Peter's Basilica. For this reason, most travelers choose the same day to visit both places, although the huge queues that are usually seen already in the square to access the church sometimes makes more than one desist.

To avoid these queues, it is best to book the pack that includes a guided tour of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica. After your tour of the many works of art in the Museums and admiring the impressive work of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, you will have priority access to the Basilica. However, this tour does not include a visit to the dome.

Recommended if... You plan to visit also the Vatican Museums and prefer to unify the visit in one day without wasting too much time in the queues at St. Peter's Square to enter the Basilica.

Enter St. Peter's Basilica skipping the queues with a guided tour

Take a guided tour of the Basilica| ©Ivan PC
Take a guided tour of the Basilica| ©Ivan PC

One of the best recommendations that I can give you when organizing your visit to the Basilica and that practically no one knows about, is that if you prefer to avoid the long entrance lines and get priority access to the Basilica, join this guided tour of the Vatican. 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 48 €, you can first visit the Vatican Museums and then tour the Basilica, enjoy its main works and understand its structure. In addition, after the tour you will have time to walk around the interior at your leisure, continue to admire its beauty and even take advantage of being there to go up to the Dome of St. Peter or down to see the tombs of the Popes.

I recommend this guided tour option because, although the entrance to the Basilica is free, sometimes it is not worth waiting so many hours at the entrance and especially if you have few days to visit Rome.

Book your visit to the Basilica and the Vatican Museums

Visit St. Peter's Basilica for free

View of St. Peter's Basilica| ©Michał Kostrzyński
View of St. Peter's Basilica| ©Michał Kostrzyński

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 get close to 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 stand in the long lines under the sun, so I recommend that you bring a hat or cap, cool 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!

Book your visit to St. Peter's Basilica and the Dome

What to see in St. Peter's Basilica

Detail of St. Peter's Basilica| ©Unsplash
Detail of St. Peter's Basilica| ©Unsplash

Among 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 the exquisite decoration that covers its walls.

Michelangelo's Pietà

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 pilgrimages to the Holy See rub and even kiss his foot as they arrive, worn after centuries.

The Baldacchino

This structure supported by four columns is the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the most important architect and sculptor of the Baroque, and serves as a canopy to the high 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.

The Dome

Initiated by Michelangelo and continued by Giacomo Della Porta, the Dome of St. Peter's 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 and 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.

Treasury Museum

If you have some time to spare and you are especially interested in the iconography of the Vatican, I recommend visiting 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.

Vatican Grottoes

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.

Book your visit to St. Peter's Basilica and the Dome

How much time do you need to visit St. Peter's Basilica?

Michelangelo's Pieta| ©Alejandro Moreno Calvo
Michelangelo's Pieta| ©Alejandro Moreno Calvo

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 through the whole Basilica and stop at the 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 want to go up to the Dome, you will have to extend the visit a couple of hours to have enough time to go up, admire the views and then come back down.

Book your visit to St. Peter's Basilica and Dome

How to climb St. Peter's Dome

Visit the dome| ©Clay Banks
Visit the dome| ©Clay Banks

You can go up to St. Peter's Dome on foot or by combining a section on foot with an 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.

Book your visit to St. Peter's Basilica and the dome

How to see the tombs of the Popes in St. Peter's Basilica

Tomb of Pius XI| ©Phil
Tomb of Pius XI| ©Phil

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 that the 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 to the Vatican Catacombs, the Crypts of the Popes and the Necropolis of St. Peter.

Book your visit to the Vatican Basilica and Museums

St. Peter's Basilica opening hours

View of the Vatican from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica| ©Alan Liu
View of the Vatican from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica| ©Alan Liu

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 modified, 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?

Eucharistic Celebration| ©Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación
Eucharistic Celebration| ©Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación

Yes, you can, although Holy Mass is not celebrated by the Pope except on very special occasions, such as Christmas or Holy Week.

  • During the week, the Mass schedule 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

Book your visit to the Vatican early in the morning

Will I see the Pope in St. Peter's Basilica?

Pope Francis| ©Ashwin Vaswani
Pope Francis| ©Ashwin Vaswani

It is quite difficult to meet the Pope in the Basilica by chance. His schedule for masses and public audiences is 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 you will usually have to go through security checks to enter the Square.

Book tickets for the papal audience

How should you dress to visit St. Peter's Basilica?

Dress appropriately| ©Anna Church
Dress appropriately| ©Anna Church

Being a religious temple, the Church requires both men and women to 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 your cleavage. If you want, you can read in this article some tips to prepare your visit to the Vatican.

Book your visit to St. Peter's Basilica

What else do I have to see in the Vatican?

Sistine Chapel| ©Richard Mortel
Sistine Chapel| ©Richard Mortel

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 cannot 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 to 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.

Book your tickets to the Vatican Museums