Visiting St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican: all you need to know

by marta
apse of st peter basilica

All you need to know for visiting St Peter’s basilica inside: entrance rules, dress code, what to expect, best tours, St Peter’s basilica interior highlights.

St Peter’s Basilica is unique in the world and a special place to visit while in Rome, no matter what religious beliefs you hold.

The basilica is a work of art.

Both the outside and the inside have been carved by the expert eyes and hands of some of the most important architects and artists in the history of Rome and the treasures contained in its tall naves add to the marvel this basilica elicits in its visitors.

A working church, the basilica is a tourist attraction, a monument, a masterpiece and a unique religious site.

This is all you need to know to plan a visit!

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Inside of St peter basilica and overlay text 'how to visit St peter basilica, ticket, dress code, tips, highlights

St Peter basilica: where it is, how to get there

St Peter Basilica is in Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City, a state within the State in Rome city center.

It is part of the vast Vatican complex and lies close to the banks of the river Tiber, close to Castel Sant’Angelo and the residential area of Prati.

The basilica opens onto Piazza San Pietro and can be easily reached on foot or by bus/tram/metro.

The closest bus lines are: 40 , 64, 62, 19 (tram), 49, 32, 982, 492, 990, 81

The tram 19 stops at Piazza Risorgimento, less than 5 mins walk from the basilica

Metro A stops at Ottaviano – San Pietro, a few minutes walk away from Piazza San Pietro itself.

You can find all my tips for using public transport in Rome here.

If getting to the basilica on foot, you can walk from the Tiber to the basilica following monumental Via della Conciliazione or you can get there from Piazza Risorgimento/Borgo (on its right side) or Piazza Sant’Uffizio (left side).

Via della Conciliazione is a large road built during Fascist times and works as a sort of grand entrance to the main square.

The basilica is right at the end of it so you find yourself walking straight towards it. Despite the Vatican being an independent state) there is no border control.

An interesting fact: the fascist reconfiguration of many areas of Rome meant the destruction of residential areas and the displacement of many. Some of the displaces were moved to the Garbatella Area, which is far from the Vatican but worth a visit!

The area of Borgo is very different as it is made of residential streets with now homes, restaurants and hotels.

Walking here gives an idea of how the area would have been before Via della Conciliazione was built.

Both places have merit and while I prefer the small streets of Borgo, the view of the basilica from the Tiber is pretty impressive!

St peter’s Basilica hours: opening times

The basilica is open from 7.00 am to 18.30 (6.30 pm) between the 1st of October and the 31st of March


7.00 am to 19.00 (7.00 pm) from the 1st of April to the 30th of September.

Access to its main floor is free and, currently, for individuals only (large groups are not admitted for health reasons).

Saint Peter Basilica interior: tickets and tours

Saint Peter Basilica is a working church and you do not need tickets nor advance booking for visiting.

Other areas of the basilica however are ticketed, namely the dome, the Vatican treasure, St Peter’s tomb and the necropolis.

You can choose between several ticket options, guided and self-guided.

These are some by my favorite tour provider , GetYourGuide (they have great tours and excellent cancellation options on most of them):

Entering and Visiting St Peter’s Basilica: practical tips

Entrance to the basilica is organised following a one way system.

You access from the door to the right and leave from that to the left.

detail st peter basilica facade and dome

No re-entry is allowed but inside the basilica, there is free of movement so this system allows for social distancing in the busy entry/exit areas but doesn’t infringe on your visit.

To access, you need to join the line at the start of the colonnade, on the right, and you will have two checks: one for temperature (this is new for 2020) and one for security, when you will have to pass bags into the x-ray machine.

The line tends to be long and both these steps are compulsory some wait is inevitable.

Once you are inside the basilica, you can visit in your own time.

Please be advised that face coverings are currently compulsory during the visit.

Hand gel is available in several locations and free to use.

What to wear when visiting St Peter’s basilica inside

St Peter Basilica is known for a strict dress code and indeed, there are some rules about the most suitable attire. You can find our full guide to the Vatican dress code here, but here are some quick tips.

Sings at the door specify some of the no-nos for men and women:

NO short skirts

NO shorts

NO sleeveless tops

This is a good starting point but really, other items can also put you in trouble.

Even if not specified, in practice very revealing tops, tops with a very low cut, or that leave you belly or back exposed may result in admittance to be denied.

How much this is applied varies and I was surprised to see during my last visit the dress code didn’t seem to be applied at all.

Whatever the reason for that may have been on the day, in many instances before I had seen people turned away so my advice is: in doubt, dress conservatively.

Even if it may not be strictly needed, it will be appreciated by those who come to the basilica as a sacred place. 

The basilica doesn’t offer cover ups so if you are planning on covering with a shawl or similar, I recommend you bring your own.

The basilica is vast and you will find yourself standing and walking a good bit.

I recommend you wear comfortable shoes that can support you for a few hours.

You can find my tips on how to dress in Rome and my recommended shoes for Rome sightseeing here.

What to see in St Peter’s basilica

There is so much to see in St peter’s basilica I approach this paragraph with caution: I cannot possibly cover all the treasures you will find in San Pietro here, I would need a full art catalogue to do so!

However, I can pinpoint some of the highlights for me and some of the things I believe you should not miss and make St Peter’s basilica’s interior the marvel it is

Michelangelo’s Pieta (statue)

The Pieta by Michelangelo is right close to the entrance to the basilica, you will find it on your right as you come it.

It is protected by a see-though glass wall and it is breathtakingly beautiful, without a doubt one of the most beautiful statues in Rome and Italy in genera.

Michelangelo's Pieta' in St peter's side chapel

Many visitors first notice how much smaller it is than many photos suggest: the Pieta’ is life-size, an incredible idea that makes the whole scene even more touching!

The statue was made in 1498-99, it is made of white Carrara marble and it is one of the first works by Michelangelo.

It was commissioned by the French Cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas and was originally placed in the Chapel of Santa Petronilla, near the transept of the old basilica, then move to the church of Santa Maria della Febbre, still in the Vatican.

Finally, it found a home in the current chapel in the mid-VIII century.

St Peter’s statue

Along the main nave, to the right, sits an ancient and wonderful statue of St Peter.

St Peter statue

Made of bronze, the statue represents St Peter sitting on a marble throne and with the right hand lifted in a Greek blessing gesture (only two fingers are up) and keys in the left.

The statue said to be the work of Arnolfo di Cambio and to be dating back to the XIII century although the exact dating and origin of the sculpture has been the object of many studies and exact dating and attribution is unsure.

The statue is now cordoned off but if you see it from up close, you will see that one its foot has been consumed: this is because the faithful used to kiss it in a sign of devotion!

Fun fact: every 29th of June, the day celebrating St Peter and St Paul, patron Saints of Rome, the statue gets dressed in a Papal shawl and tiara.

The baldachin

The baldachin that frames the main altar is likely to be one of the first things you notice in the church, if not the very first one, despite being all the way at the end of the central nave, as far as it gets from the basilica’s entrance.

St Peter's basilica Altar baldachin by Bernini

Colossal and imposing, it has four columns that shoot towards the ceiling of the church in a spiral fashion and it just stops on your tracks with its height and magnificence, even if you are not a fan of Baroque architecture!

The baldachin was made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1624/1633 and it is the most important bronze monument of the baroque.

Many even consider is a manifesto of the whole baroque movement.

It is 28 meters tall and sits just above St Peter’s tomb.

From the distance, it is easy to underestimate how big the baldachin truly is.

Its dimension makes it fit perfectly inside the massive perimeter of the basilica but as you find yourself under it, you can appreciate how immense this work it and the level of details on each of the columns!

It is said the the baldachin received mixed reaction however, in centuries to come it also had big admirers such as d’Annunzio who, in the Elegie Romane, wrote “Sorgono scintillando per l’ombra le quattro colonne che nel pagano bronzo torge il Bernini a spire“.

The Apse and St Peter’s cathedra

Behind the baldachin, in the basilica’s apse, you will find the cathedra of St Peter’s, or St Peter’s throne.

St peter apse and cathedra

The throne is said to have been used by Peter himself however, the one we can currently see in the church dates back to the IX century and was given to the Pope as a gift by the King of France Carlo il Calvo (Charles II).

The throne is now surrounded by an eye-catching, very elaborate golden bronze sculpture by Bernini, who built it in 1656-1665 that make the throne look as if it was levitating mid-air.

At its bottom, we find statues of the 4 church fathers (Sant’Agostino, Sant’Ambrogio, Sant’Anastasio and San Giovanni Crisostomo) and, at the top, we can admire golden clouds, rays, and angels as well as a colored glass window with the dove representing the holy spirit.

Chapels and statues, the Holy Sacrament chapel

St Peter’s Basilica has many chapels and statues, some accessible and some currently cordoned off.

Among the many worth seeing, we can highlight the tomb of Pio VII by Thorvaldsen, the tomb of Innocenzo III by Pollaiolo, the monument to Clemente XIII by Canova.

One chapel worth a special mention is the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, now closed by a gate designed by Bernini.

The chapel was originally designed to be a sacristy but took its function in 1638 and has kept it ever since.

The chapel is elaborate and elegant and contains a marble altar and Bernini’s ciborium, with incredible blue lapislazuli.

The central corridor

As you enter the church you will notice that part of it is cordoned off, forming a central corridor closed to visitors.

If you get close, you will notice why the corridor is interesting: it marks the relative size of other churches around the world, to highlight how much bigger St Peter is!

This is one of the most fun things to show kids when visiting the basilica!

Saint Peter’s Treasure

To the left-hand side of the Basilica, you will find the entrance to the treasure (ticketed).

The treasure can be worth seeing however, even if you are not interested in it, I recommend you venture up to its entrance.

Here, as well as interesting architectural spaces and volumes, you will find a carving of all the Popes buried in the church from St Peter on.

It makes quite an impression as the Popes are many but not that many if you think how far back the history of the church brings us!

What else to see in and near Saint Peter’s basilica

St Peter basilica is inside Vatican city, close to several other attractions.

While you should avoid packing in too much into your day here, it is possible to add other attractions to your visit.

Some to consider are:

St Peter’s dome: part of the basilica but only accessible with specific tickets, the dome is wonderful to visit f you don’t fear heights, do not have issues with small places (it’s a claustrophobic person nightmare!) and if you are reasonably fit.

You will be climbing lots of steps!

If you are up for the challenge, the dome will reward you with incredible views!

Vatican Gardens: just to the back of the basilica, they are accessible by tour only (guided / with audio guide).

The visit takes 45 mins/2 hours depending on the tour chosen. You can find all the info and our review of our Vatican Gardens visit here.

St Peter’s Square: the square is just outside the basilica and is a work of art in itself.

Designed by Bernini, it is important for the stunning colonnade, the beautiful fountains it hosts, its obelisk and the touching monument to the refugees, now on its left-hand side.

The square is also an incredible vantage point to admire the façade of the basilica itself.

Vatican Museums and Sistine chapel. The Vatican museums and Sistine chapel are right beside the basilica and are, in normal times, connected to it (Sistine chapel to the church, not the opposite).

They are one of the great museums of the world and are more than worth a visit however, be warned: they are huge!

If planning on seeing them, I recommend you go there first and leave the basilica for the end of your trip.

While technically possible, seeing the museums, the Basilica and the gardens on the same day is possible, adding the Vatican gardens on the same day may prove too tiring.

Evaluate energy well before committing. In case, opt for the gardens bus tour, you will be happy to be sitting down!

I hope you enjoyed this article and found my tips for visiting St Peter’s basilica useful.

Safe travel planning!

A visit to San Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican is one of our top ten things to do in Rome.

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