St. Peter’s Basilica
Until recently, St Peter’s Basilica was the largest church ever built and remains one of the holiest locations for the Christian faith. Its white façade and grey dome, which is said to have been the inspiration for Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral in London, can be seen across Rome and greets visitors as they cross the Tiber to enter Vatican City. Inside, you’ll discover beautiful works of art by the likes of Michelangelo, as well as priceless treasures from all over the world. It’s one of the most popular attractions in Rome and in the whole of Italy, so you’ll find you have lots of company for your visit. Whether you’re here simply to sightsee or on a personal pilgrimage, St. Peter’s Basilica is truly breathtaking.
Vatican City’s Basilica
Exploring St. Peter’s Basilica at The Vatican is an unforgettable experience during your holiday in Rome. As you walk up the steps to the entrance of the Basilica, you prepare to enter a building unlike any other in the world. The atrium was built between 1608-1612 and is considered to be one of the most remarkable works of Carl Maderno. Inside the Basilica you’ll see artwork by Michelangelo, including his masterpiece Pietà. Don’t forget to look up, though, as you’ll get a chance to marvel at the ornate dome on the ceiling above you.
The Basilica has a capacity of 20,000 people. To get an idea of the sheer scale of the building, walk along the nave and make note of the marks on the floor. These indicate the comparative length of some of the largest churches in the world. Look out for a red disk on the floor, too. This marks the place where Roman Emperors were once crowned by the Pope.
Climbing the dome at St Peter’s Basilica Rome
If you go up the famous dome (cupola), you’ll need to tackle 551 steps. Alternatively, you could save some energy but spend some Euros by taking a lift part of the way. You’ll still have to climb 320 steps, so it’s not for those who might struggle with these steps. However you make your way up, it’s a challenging climb, but well worth it. From the top you’ll enjoy 360° views of the whole city.
Before leaving the Basilica, you can explore the Vatican Grottoes beneath the building. This vast underground crypt contains the tombs of popes, including John Paul II, as well as kings and queens dating back to the 10th century. If you’re visiting with children, this may be a trip to avoid. Not because of the macabre location, but because you have to be silent at all times while inside.
An audience with the Pope
If the Pope is in residence, visit St. Peter’s Square at 12 noon on Sundays to see him appear at the window and bless the crowd. No ticket is required, but it is very popular, so be prepared for big crowds.
You can also reserve tickets for an audience with the Pope each Wednesday morning when he is in residence. These are free and available online, but don’t worry if you can’t get any as the blessing is held in St Peter’s Square, which is usually accessible without a ticket.
During the blessing, there will be readings and everyone will pray together, reading the Lord’s prayer in Latin. This Wednesday blessing is usually scheduled to start at 10am, but get here early if you want a seat at the front. People start to queue from around 7am and security normally opens at 8am. Remember, throughout July and August the Pope spends time at his summer residence in the town of Castelgandolfo, so he won’t be here.
St Peter’s Basilica tickets
It’s free to enter the main part of St Peter’s Basilica and you don’t need a ticket. However, if you’d like to climb the cupola or see the Vatican Treasury, you’ll need to pay. Go online for St Peter’s Basilica tickets that will give you fast-track entry, or be prepared to queue.
Once you’ve got your tickets, you’ll still need to pass through airport-like security. This can be busy at popular times, so if you have a tight schedule planned, you’ll need to allow time to get through. It’s also worth bearing in mind there’s a strict dress code when visiting, with no bare legs or shoulders allowed. The dress code is strictly enforced, so dress appropriately or you won’t be granted admittance.
To find out more about the history of this special building, take the guided tour or hire an audio guide as you wander. Both can be purchased at the entrance.
Getting to St Peter’s Basilica.
St Peter’s Basilica is across the River Tiber from the centre of Rome and famous sights like the Colosseum and Spanish Steps. The nearest metro stop is Ottaviano “San Pietro” on line A. You can also get here using the public bus or tram.
While you’re here…
After exploring the Basilica, you’ll probably be ready for more fine, religious art. Walk 10 minutes around the walls of the Vatican to arrive at the famous Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Museums. Most people combine their visit to see both Basilica and the Vatican Museums on the same day, and you’ll find plenty of places to stop and grab lunch in the streets nearby.