How to Visit St Peter's Basilica in Rome

The inside of St. Peter's Basilica is well worth a visit, but... but how do you get the most out of it? I'll 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're making your list of things to see and do in Rome, you're bound to have some doubts: how much time do I need to visit? 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 climb the dome?

Since the visit to St. Peter's Basilica is free, I recommend you to 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 a visit to the dome and for a little extra money you can also get entrance to the Vatican Museums. I'll tell you more:

My favourite

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

Enter the interior of St. Peter's Basilica and don't miss any detail thanks to this complete guided tour.

See 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 the inside of 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 who will give you a better understanding of 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 don't want to miss the imposing St. Peter's Basilica, the seat of Catholicism in the world and, while you're there, understand the value of its historic works of art. Plus, with this guided tour you're 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 Basilica.

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

Duration: 2 hours

The Vatican Museums are another must-see in Rome, located next to St. Peter's Basilica. For this reason, most travellers choose the same day to visit both places, although the huge queues that can be seen in the Piazza to get into the church can sometimes put many people off.

To avoid these queues, it's best to book a package that includes a guided tour of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica. After your tour of the numerous 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 without queues. However, this tour does not include a visit to the dome.

Recommended if... You also plan to visit the Vatican Museums and prefer to combine the visit in one day without spending too much time queuing in St. Peter's Square to enter the Basilica.

Enter St. Peter's Basilica by 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 I can give you when organising your visit to the Basilica, and one that hardly anyone knows about, is that if you prefer to avoid the long queues 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'll be able to skip the very long queues at the entrance to the Piazza, which is undoubtedly 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 admiring its beauty and even take advantage of being there to go up to the Dome of St. Peter's or go 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 only have a 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 enter you will have to cross the famous colonnade in 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 queues in the sun, so I recommend you to bring a hat or cap, cool water and even sunscreen. If you're feeling a bit cramped at the thought of having to spend hours standing in the sun, don't worry, there's also an option to skip the queues - 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

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 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 enormous its interior is and the exquisite decoration that covers its walls.

Michelangelo's Pietà

This is one of Michelangelo's most important sculptures, 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 the medieval period, 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 his foot when they arrive, worn down 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 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.

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 to the kingdom of heaven" and another dedicated to Pope Sixtus V.

As for climbing the dome: you can climb both the inner and outer domes, 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 for the lift or €8 if you walk up the 500+ steps to the top.

Tomb of Alexander VII

This triangular-structured work, so typical of the Baroque period, is a magnificent set of allegorical figures accompanying an image of Pope Alexander VII, kneeling and humble, praying over the shroud of death, which is depicted holding an empty hourglass. Something that particularly impressed me about this tomb, in addition to its magnificent theatricality, is the sculptural treatment of the shroud.

Treasury Museum

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, jewellery 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, underground galleries in which lie the remains of several popes, including John Paul II. You'll see a gilded altar over the tomb of St Peter, just below the high altar and the Baldacchino. Here's 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 around 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 are also thinking of going up to the Dome, you will have to extend your visit by 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 the 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 a lift. The climb is not suitable for everyone (there are times when the staircase is narrow and can be a bit claustrophobic) but I assure you that the views are worth it.

As for how to get tickets for the Dome, please note that you cannot buy them online. You'll have to buy them inside the temple itself for €8 (the walk up) or €10 if you prefer to use the lift for the available section. Either way, you'll be able to enjoy the best views of the city from one of the best monuments in Rome and it will be one of the memories you'll take away with you from Rome.

Book your visit to St. Peter's Basilica and 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, on level -1, is made up 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. You can find 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 Vatican 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 to Friday, between 7am and 7pm. In winter, from October to March, it closes one hour earlier, at 18:00.

Please note that during religious holidays or special worship events, opening times may be subject to change, so please check before planning your visit if you are travelling at Christmas or Easter.

Is it possible to attend 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 Easter.

  • During the week, the Mass schedule is as follows: 9:00 / 10:00 / 11:00 / 12:00 / 17:00.
  • On public 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 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 Mass or Easter Mass.

However, if you feel like seeing the Pope in person, you can always join his Sunday Audience, Angelus, or Wednesday Benediction. 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

As a religious temple, the Church requires both men and women to wear knee and shoulder coverings. Forget short shorts, tank tops or tank tops, and in the case of women, you will also need 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 is there to see in the Vatican?

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

If you are planning 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'll need at least two hours to tour the rest of the Vatican Museums and take in 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