Erected on the tomb of St. Peter, St. Peter's Basilica is the place from where today the Pope addresses his prayer to the whole world. On your trip to Rome, visiting St. Peter's Basilica can be a very interesting experience, but only if you know some tips to avoid the endless queues.
One of the ways to do this is to go on a guided tour of St. Peter's Basilica: read on and I'll tell you which ones are the best and what you should know before booking one.
1. How to visit St. Peter's Basilica
2. St. Peter's Basilica Tour
The interior of St. Peter's Basilica is so impressively rich in detail that going on an organized tour is a perfect idea so as not to miss anything.
In this guided tour of St. Peter's Basilica you will have at your disposal an official Vatican guide: an expert in the symbology and art that you will see inside the basilica, plus the great advantage of not waiting in line with a priority access.
Before entering the Basilica, you will take a short walk through St. Peter's Square as an introduction, where you will discover the architectural and spiritual importance of this place.
Recommended: If you are short on time on your trip to Rome, this is the ideal experience as it will allow you to skip the line and have an efficient and concise tour of St. Peter's Basilica.
3. Tour of St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums
You can extend the tour of St. Peter's Basilica with a guided tour of the Vatican Museums, home to the jewel in the crown of the Holy See: the Sistine Chapel. Also included, you will visit other rooms of great interest such as the Rooms of Raphael, the Vatican Picture Gallery, or the Gallery of Maps.
As with the other tour, the experience will be led by an official Vatican guide who will give you an in-depth view of the rooms you will visit. This is the more interesting experience of the two, as you will be able to combine two of the most important visits of any trip to Rome, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel.
I recommend it if...
You have some time to spare and don't mind taking a tour that takes up part of the afternoon, as this is the best experience. After all, the Sistine Chapel is another of Rome's must-see sights.
Alex's Traveller Tip
My advice is that, if you are going to visit St. Peter's Basilica on your own, set aside at least 3 hours to see it all at your leisure and make the most of the visit by going up the dome.
4. What to consider before booking a tour of St. Peter's Basilica
- First of all, you should know that the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica is completely free of charge. In case you want to visit this place on your own, you can do so, without the need of a guide or reservation. The queues to get in without being part of an organized tour are quite long but don't worry, keep reading and I'll tell you how to avoid them!
- When booking either of the tours mentioned above, you will receive a confirmation email, this is why you must provide a valid email address that you normally use when purchasing. Check that everything is correct in the email and keep it handy to show it to the guide.
- If for whatever reason you don't want to do the tour after you have booked it, don't worry, you can get a refund, but you must initiate the refund process within 24 hours of the tour time. You will have the instructions in the mail.
5. What you can't miss at St. Peter's Basilica
To see all the works of art, chapels, and reliquaries, and read all the inscriptions on the walls of St. Peter's Basilica you would need several days... oh, and also to be bilingual in Latin. Instead, I recommend that you focus on the following:
The Nave of the Basilica
Upon entering St. Peter's Basilica, the first thing that you will find yourself amazed by is how huge its interior is and the exquisite decoration that covers its walls.
This is one of Michelangelo's most important sculptural works next to the David, although for my taste it is the more sublime of the two. It is a moving representation of Mary holding the body of Christ in a lament. You will find it 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 it is well known to the faithful who make the pilgrimage to the Holy See rub and even kiss its foot when 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 right above 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, this dome was conceived as the ultimate representation of Christianity. Inside, you will find two inscriptions in Latin, one that reads: "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you 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 can see an impressive panoramic view 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 are willing to walk up the more than 500 steps leading to the top.
Tomb of Alexander VII
This work of triangular structure, quite typical of the Baroque period, 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's fabric.
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.
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.
6. Practical information about St. Peter's Basilica
- St. Peter's Basilica opens its doors at 7:00 a.m. and closes at 7:00 p.m. in the summer (April-September) and at 6:30 p.m. in the winter (October-March). On Wednesdays, the basilica is closed to the public for the papal audience until it resumes its usual schedule from 1 p.m. onwards.
- How to avoid queues: The best time to visit St. Peter's Basilica is usually early in the morning, at the time of opening, until 9 a.m. In any case, I advise you to consult the Vatican calendar to anticipate any event that may alter the schedules and the influx of visitors.
- To get to St. Peter's Basilica, in Piazza San Pietro, it is best to take metro line A to the Ottaviano - San Pietro stop. Don't miss the theatrical grandeur of the walk to the square.
- The entrance to the basilica, as I have already mentioned, is free. Only the Sacristy and the Treasury Museum, as well as the dome, require a specific entrance fee.
- Remember the dress code that applies to all places of worship in Rome: shoulders and knees covered, which means no shorts, skirts, or tank tops.
7. What to do at the end of this visit
If you have visited St. Peter's Basilica on your own, I recommend that you take the opportunity to access the Vatican Museums and discover the Sistine Chapel with your own eyes, in addition to its many other rooms of great interest and beauty. You can read more about this experience here: Sistine Chapel tickets.
And having visited the seat of Christianity at its peak, you may want to go back to the origins of this cult. For this, a visit to the Catacombs of Rome is a very interesting experience, as you will be able to see the tombs of the first popes and the artistic and religious expressions of the first Christians. For information about tours of the city's underground world, click here: Catacombs Tickets.