Vatican City is the heart of the Roman Catholic religion and home to the Pope. With its many museums and art galleries, including the famous work of Michelangelo, among others, the Vatican is well worth visiting on a vacation in Rome. Right at the heart of Vatican City is the striking St. Peter’s Basilica, which was built in the Renaissance style. St. Peter’s with its very impressive dome is among the largest buildings in the world and is one of the papal basilicas. Visitors from all over the world marvel at this iconic structure. Before visiting, make sure you read up on this guide to St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.
Things to do / Highlights
Located in Vatican City, the current St. Peter’s Basilica was built on an ancient site in the Renaissance style, with the help of great artists, such as Michelangelo, Bramante, and Maderno. There are several attractions to visit in the basilica.
Climbing the Cupola
To the right of the entrance to the basilica, it is possible to climb up to the Cupola. While there are 320 steps to the top, an elevator is also available. Besides enjoying views across the Vatican from the top, there is a gift shop and snack bar. Water fountains and restrooms are also available. The purchase of a ticket is required to visit the Cupola available from the security area of the basilica.
The Grottoes are located on the level below the main floor of St. Peter’s Basilica. It is here that many popes and a number of royals are buried. This area is accessed by stairs close to the papal altar and the exit is close to the Cupola kiosk.
Located on a level underneath the Grottoes is the Necropolis, which is the Roman “city of the dead.” Here excavations can be seen of St. Peter’s tomb. This area can be explored on the Scavi tour in St. Peter’s. This is a 90-minute tour that must be booked in advance. Visit the basilica’s website for details.
Tomb of John Paul II
Originally, the tomb of John Paul II was in the Grottoes. However, when John Paul II was declared Blessed in 2011, his remains were moved to the basilica and are located beneath the Altar of St. Sebastian.
Seeing the Pope
The Pope usually appears in the second window from the right of the Apostolic Palace on Sundays at noon. This is when he prays the Angelus and blesses the crowd in the Square. No tickets are required.
Things to buy
There are a number of gift shops in St. Peter’s, including one on the left side of the Charlemagne Wing, one to the right of the atrium, near the Holy Door, one at the entrance to the Treasury Museum and the largest is on the roof, accessed on a visit to the Cupola. There is also a bookshop near the Basilica exit. The gift shops sell a range of gifts and souvenirs relating to St. Peter’s Basilica.
What to eat
When climbing the Cupola, there is a snack bar available on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica. A selection of sandwiches, tea, coffee, and cold drinks are available for purchase and there are tables and chairs to relax in. It is necessary to pay the required fee before accessing this part of the building.
There is a strictly enforced dress codewhen visiting St. Peter’s Basilica. For women, no shorts, miniskirts or bare shoulders are allowed. Men are also turned away if wearing shorts.
Many people mistakenly believe the Sistine Chapel is in St. Peter’s Basilica. This would be the wrong entrance, as the chapel forms part of the Vatican Museums, a 10- to 15-minute walk away from the square along the Vatican Wall.
Visitors can find the information office to the left of the side wing of the Basilica in an area known as Charlemagne Wing. There are a number of doors to go through to the information office, which also has a post office.
St. Peter’s Basilica has three restroom areas. One is in the Charlemagne Wing, another is in the security bag check area and the other is available on climbing the Cupola.
St. Peter’s Basilica is accessible by wheelchair.
How to get there
The most direct route from the city center is by crossing the Tiber and heading straight up Via Conciliazioni. An alternative route is to head under the Passetto arch close to Castel S. Angelo and up Pio Borgo, which offers a more dramatic entrance from the north side of the Piazza.
Take Linea A (Red Line) towards Battistini. Exit at Ottaviano-S. Pietro then walk south on Via Ottaviano to St. Peter’s Square.
Access to the Vatican by car is not possible unless visiting on official business and using a parking lot close to St. Ann’s.
St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City information
Address: St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City
Opening hours: Basilica: Apr - Sep: 7am - 7pm (daily); Oct - Mar: 7am - 6:30pm (daily); Climbing the Cupola: Apr - Sep: 8am - 6pm; Oct - Mar: 8am - 4:45pm
Cost: Basilica: Free entry; Climbing the Cupola: 9 USD for stairs, 11 USD for elevator
Official website: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Department of tourism: Visit Vatican City
Skip-the-Line Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Tour
Duration: 2.5 hour
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