St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is the main church of Catholic Christendom and seat of the Pope. The present building dates mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries. It has one of the largest interiors in the world.
Since 1547, St Peter is also a parish. Here baptisms, confirmations and marriages are made. Information can be found in my article Marriages in Rome.
Below the St. Peter’s Basilica you canfind the grottoes. The grottoes were created by erecting the present St. Peter’s Basilica one floor above the first basilica of the 4th century built by Emperor Constantine. In the grottoes many popes and high-ranking personalities are buried.
You can go down to the grottoes on the stairs at the Pope altar. In the grottoes you find yourself on the floor of the ancient basilica from the 4th century. The path through the grottoes ends above the visitor center of St. Peter’s at the entrance to the dome.
Entrance & tickets
Entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica is free. The official Visitor Service of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vox Mundi, offers audioguide and guided tours with preferential access to the security control. If you book this offer in advance, you go straight to the Vox Mundi staff, which is located under the right-hand portico of the Bernini behind the post office of the Vatican. People with disabilities can use the preferred access service for free, without additional services such as a guide or audio guide.
There are three ways to avoid the queues at St. Peter’s Basilica:
- You get up early and visit St Peter’s in the morning. Before 9 o’clock there usually is no queue at the security check
- You take the guided tour of the Vatican museums and St Peter’s which includes the direct passage from the Sistine Chapel to St Peter’s *)
- You book an audioguide or a guided tour with preferential access to the security checkpoint at St. Peter’s Basilica
On Wednesday morning, access to St. Peter’s Basilica is not possible when the Pope’s general audience is held in St Peter’s Square
On Sunday morning, access to St Peter’s Basilica is not possible if there is a Pope’s Mass. In addition, access is not possible during the Angelus prayer of the Pope on Sunday at 12 o’clock.
This is the official ticket for the audio guide with preferential access at the official price and no hidden costs. The service is provided by the Official tourist service for Saint Peter’s Basilica. You can print out the ticket or show it on your mobile phone.
The preferred access to the security checkpoint is on the right side of St Peter’s Square under the right-hand colonnade of the Bernini behind the post office.
There are the employees of the official tour operator of Saint Peter’s Vox Mundi, providing the preferred access to the security check.
This service is free of cost for people with disabilities and a companion.
St Peter’s Basilica, Pope’s Masses and Audiences, necropolis, mosaic studio and the Campo Santo Teutonico can only be visited after a security check like as you do at the airport. Starting at 9 o’clock you have to consider ever-increasing queues in front of the security checkpoints. Sometimes the queue goes around whole St. Peter’s Square, then the waiting time can be even more than an hour. Especially on sunny days you should think about sunscreen and enough water for the waiting time.
Drinkable water can be found at the four lanterns around the obelisk. Toilets are outside the right arcades behind the post office of the Vatican.
At major events such as the papals Audience on Wednesday and the Pope’s Angelus Prayer on Sunday, additional checkpoints will open in the colonnades of the Bernini.
Pocket knives and other potentially dangerous items are not allowed, drinks and umbrellas can be taken. However, metal and glass bottles are often rejected. You should therefore have plastic bottles with you. The security check does not pay attention to the dress code.
Appropriate clothing is required to visit the sacral sites. Shoulders and knees must be covered, otherwise you will be stopped at the entrance to St Peter’s Basilica and you can only stay in St Peter’s Square. The transport of animals is not permitted.
If you are wearing a strapless shirt or dress, you must have a shawl or pareo with you.
For footwear, shoes, sandals or barefoot in St. Peter’s Basilica, there are no fixed rules and it is up to the honorary inspectors whether you are admitted. You definitely can not get into St. Peter’s Basilica with beach sandals. Pilgrims and Capuchin monks are certainly also admitted barefoot. But there is no rule.
Since you are walking a lot in Rome anyway, you should not dare to experiment and wear sturdy shoes.
The basilica opens at 7 o’clock and closes at 7pm in the summer, in winter at 6:30pm. During Pope’s Masses and audiences, the basilica, the grottoes and the dome are not accessible. You can find the dates in my
Summer 7 – 19
Winter 7 – 18:30
St Peter’s basilica dome – la cupola – opens at 8 am and closes at 6 pm from April to September and at 4:45 pm from October to March. Admission is to be paid for. There is the possibility to climb the 231 steps to the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica by foot or to take the elevator.
Summer 8 – 18
Winter 8 – 16:45
10€ – school classes with name list on note paper of the school 5€
The entrance with ascent via the stairs costs 8 euros, with the elevator 10 euros. From the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica the ascent to the dome goes over 320 steps.
The entrance to the dome is on the right side of St. Peter’s Basilica above the visitor’s center at the exit of the grottoes. Usually you have to queue at the box office.
Here you can book tickets for the preferred access to the security check of St. Peter’s Basilica including the audio guide for St. Peter’s Basilica. The ticket for the dome is not included.
The roof of St Peter’s Basilica
Usually you take the elevator to the roof of St Peter’s Basilica and then you can go up to the dome over 320 steps. If you are athletic, you can take the 231 steps to the roof instead of the elevator and pay a little less. From the roof of St Peter’s Basilica you have a beautiful view of St Peter’s Square and the city, also you can look down into the basilica from a gallery at the base of the dome.
Ascent to the dome
The way to the top of the cupola is one-way. Inverting the ascent is difficult to impossible. During the ascent you can smell fear pheromones. If you suffer from claustrophobia, you should not dare to climb! On the other hand, there is not much you can do, you will be pushed by the people behind you.
The further you get to the top, the narrower the gait will be until you have to climb up curved in the corridor along the cupola. The last piece is a staircase upwards.
In good weather you will be rewarded with a wonderful view over the city and the gardens of the Vatican.
Less known is the treasury of St. Peter’s Basilica behind the sacristy on the left side of the basilica. Here you will find valuable utensils, statues, robes and tiaras as well as the remarkable funerary monument to Sixtus IV from the 15th century. Tickets can be purchased directly at the entrance to the treasury.
The visit of the grottoes is free of cost. The Vatican grottos under the floor of St. Peter’s are practically a huge crypt. Usually they’re open after 9am and closed one hour before the cathedral closes. Often masses are celebrated in the grottoes and then access is not possible. The grottoes are on the floor level of the old 4th century basilica built by Emperor Constantine. Here are several chapels and the graves of numerous popes. The grottoes have several entrances. In most cases, access is possible in St Peter’s Basilica at the transept. In rare cases, the exit to the left of the access to the dome at the visitor center is converted to the entrance.
As you descend the stairs from the transept, you are in front of the tomb of St. Peter. The route leads past the graves of some popes to the exit. If you do not want to stay for a prayer, the Grottoes are the fastest way out of St. Peter’s Basilica.
How much time do you need to visit St. Peter's?
St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is one of the ten most visited attractions worldwide. St Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world. You shall take at least one hour for the visit or a guided tour. In addition, it often takes up to an hour for the queue at the security check.
If you book an audioguide or a guided tour from the Visiting Service of St. Peter’s, you can bypass the security check queue.
It takes about half an hour to visit the treasury.
When the grottoes are open, you can go through the grottos to the exit. The visit to the grottoes is 15 minutes.
At the exit of the grottoes is the cash register for the visit of the dome. Usually you have to wait about 15 minutes. For the visit of the dome and the ascent to the lantern you need one hour.
All in all, you need around three hours to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, the Treasury, grottoes and dome. Add to that the waiting time at the security check if you have not booked a tour or the audioguide.
On average, St Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City counts 20,000 visitors per day, and in peak periods it can reach 60,000. Often, the queue at the security checkpoint therefore goes all around St. Peter’s Square.
St. Peter's Basilica · Virtual Tour 360°
At the beginning of 2019 Osram realized the new illumination of St. Peter’s Basilica with LED lamps. Osram documents the work with a virtual 360° tour of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Papal Audiences and Masses
Both mornings you have to expect much traffic in the area around St Peter’s and the sightseeing opportunities are restricted. For audience and mass, you can order free tickets well in advance at the Prefecture of the Papal Household. You have to pick up the tickets in the afternoon before the audience or at the same morning in the ticket office at the bronze gate on the right side at the end of the columns of the Bernini. With the general audience and to some Pope masses you can book here guided tours. On guided tours, the organizers will provide for you the tickets to the Papal mass or to the general audience of the Pope.
Campo Santo Teutonico
The Campo Santo Teutonico is accessible only via the Vatican area and is open daily from 7am-noon as well as at masses. The entrance to the Campo is located, seen from St. Peter’s Square, behind the left columns of the Bernini. If you want to visit the cemetery or the church of Santa Maria della Pietà, you have to ask the Swiss Guards for access at the entrance in German language.