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Vatican Crypts and Catacombs

Vatican City holds countless secret and mysterious places. One of them, well worth a visit, are the Catacombs that you will find under St. Peter's Basilica. I will tell you how to access them.

Carmen Navarro

Carmen Navarro

6 min read

Vatican Crypts and Catacombs

The Vatican Crypts | Sandip Roy

The monumentality of St. Peter's Basilica attracts millions of visitors who pass through Rome every year. In addition to its majestic structure and its spectacular Dome, its basement holds rooms worth visiting: the tombs and sarcophagi of the main Popes of the Catholic Church.

How to buy tickets to the Vatican Crypts and the Vatican Necropolis

Descent to the tomb of St. Peter behind the altar of the Basilica.| ©CucombreLibre
Descent to the tomb of St. Peter behind the altar of the Basilica.| ©CucombreLibre

The Crypts and Catacombs of the Vatican, with the tombs of the Popes, are in the basement of St. Peter's Basilica and in a first subway level we will find the crypts and tombs of some of the main popes (this visit is free).

Get tickets for the Necropolis

In fact, the capacity for the Necropolis is so limited that you have to make a request in advance to access them on a guided tour. To visit the Necropolis you have two options:

1. on your own: by contacting by email the Vatican department in charge of managing them(scavi.va or present yourself at the Excavations Office at the south entrance (left side), outside the colonnade of St. Peter's Square. If you do it by email, enter the number of people you want to take the guided tour and on what dates and they will reply with the price and directions for the tour.

2. With an official guide: Only official guides can make a visit to the catacombs. In this link you have the cheapest option and, moreover, in English. It is the easiest option and the one that assures you a place if you do it well in advance, since there is a limited capacity of only 250 people per day.

Discover the Vatican Catacombs

Ticket prices to the Necropolis to see the Crypts and Tombs of the Popes

Tomb of Boniface VIII| ©Francesco Gasparetti
Tomb of Boniface VIII| ©Francesco Gasparetti

It is not possible to purchase tickets to visit the Necropolis on your own: you can only access it with a guided tour. The official visits (the ones you will book via email) cost 13 € and last 90 minutes, but you also have the option to combine the visit to the catacombs with a guided tour of the Vatican. Although the price increases to 60 euros it will be worth it because you will also see the Vatican Museums.

During its duration, you will have plenty of time to visit the main sarcophagi and crypts of the Vatican. The main Popes are buried there , as well as St. Peter. The official guide will explain how the burials were carried out, the symbolism of these crypts and how they are preserved today. You will not be able to walk through the crypts on your own, you will be accompanied by the guide at all times.

Discover the Vatican Catacombs

How to enter the Grottoes of the Popes free of charge

Enclosure of the Popes' tombs| ©Sergio Calleja (Life is a trip)
Enclosure of the Popes' tombs| ©Sergio Calleja (Life is a trip)

It is important not to confuse the grottoes of some Popes (a small subway gallery) with the Necropolis where St. Peter is buried, two floors below the Basilica.

Visiting the tombs of the Popes, on the other hand, is free and can be accessed from a small door inside the Basilica itself.

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Please note that you will not be able to take pictures

John Paul II Tomb| ©budget travel accommodation
John Paul II Tomb| ©budget travel accommodation

The use of a camera is not allowed during the visit to the Necropolis, even without flash. Keep in mind that this is a very special place whose conservation is paramount, so you will have to put your camera and cell phone away on this occasion. Anyway, do not worry because the lighting of the crypts would not allow you to take very good pictures either.

You will have the opportunity to immortalize your trip to Rome in many corners of the city and even in other parts of the Vatican, such as the Museums, the Basilica or St. Peter's Square.

Respect the dress code of St. Peter's Basilica

Dress appropriately for your visit| ©Anna Church
Dress appropriately for your visit| ©Anna Church

Remember that both St. Peter's Basilica and its Necropolis are a place of worship and therefore, you must follow the dress code for access to its interior. Both men and women should cover their shoulders and knees, so you should avoid short pants or skirts and tank tops.

Women should also cover their cleavage, so the most practical way to visit the Vatican (especially if you are traveling in summer) is to wear a foulard or scarf over your shoulders. These rules also apply to visits to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

Please leave backpacks and bulky objects at the hotel

Incorrupt body of John XXIII| ©jennicatpink
Incorrupt body of John XXIII| ©jennicatpink

The space of the crypts is quite limited and very delicate, so for its perfect preservation, you will not be able to access the underground with large backpacks or bulky luggage. Therefore, it is recommended that you leave at the hotel the bags or backpacks that you will not need during the day so that they are not a nuisance.

If you still have to carry a bag or backpack that you think may create a problem when accessing the Necropolis, there are lockers or deposits for a fee where you can leave your belongings under surveillance. This service is located before accessing the temple, in the facade of the Basilica on the right side. However, keep in mind that there may be long lines, so calculate the time needed to avoid being late for your guided tour.

This visit is not permitted for children under 15 years of age

Tomb of Pius XI| ©Northfielder
Tomb of Pius XI| ©Northfielder

If you are traveling to Rome as a family, you will not be able to make this visit with the youngest members of the family. Not only is it not recommended, but children under the age of 15 have restricted entry. Keep this in mind when organizing your visit to the Crypts.

However, if you are traveling with children do not worry because the rest of the Basilica, the grandeur of St. Peter's Square and even the visit to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel will leave them open-mouthed.

Complete your visit to the Crypts and Necropolis of St. Peter with a full tour of the Vatican

Visit the Sistine Chapel| ©Richard Mortel
Visit the Sistine Chapel| ©Richard Mortel

Skip the line to St. Peter's Basilica

As mentioned above, access to St. Peter's Basilica is free, but if I can give you a recommendation, it is that you take a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica that allows you to skip the (very long) queues at the entrance of the temple.

If you are thinking of visiting it quietly inside and complete the visit with the ascent to the Dome or the guided tour of the Necropolis, after the long queues at the entrance you will be very tired and this will detract from the charm of your visit. I tell you here everything you need to know to access St. Peter's Basilica.

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Climb the Dome for the best views of the city

It is true that it is not for the fainthearted, but the climb to St. Peter's Dome guarantees you the best views of Rome, as well as a unique perspective of St. Peter's Square and the rooftops of Rome. During the climb (which you can do partly by elevator but you can't avoid the narrow flight of stairs) you can also appreciate the details of Bernini's majestic dome.

Tickets to go up to St. Peter's Dome were not available online until recently, but now you have different guided tours that include them. You can also buy them once you enter the Basilica itself. They cost 8 Euros if you decide to walk all the way up and a little more if you prefer to use the elevator. Either way, it is well worth it!

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Be sure to visit the Sistine Chapel

Visiting the Sistine Chapel will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of your trip. Its artistic perfection attracts millions of visitors every year who stop to contemplate Michelangelo's frescoes with their mouths open. You cannot leave Rome without visiting it, so in this article I tell you how to get tickets for the Sistine Chapel.

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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.