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St Peter’s Basilica

  • Vatican City, Lazio, Italy

Last updated: 07 April, 2024

Commissioned by the wildly ambitious Pope Julius II, and completed in 1626, few buildings are as recognisable as this enormous, late-Renaissance basilica, majestically situated on St Peter’s Square.

As the burial site of Saint Peter, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles and, according to tradition, also the first Bishop of Rome and therefore the first pope – it is considered one of the holiest Catholic sites.

Bernini’s baldacchino

This large Baroque bronze canopy rises imperiously above the high altar beneath Michelangelo’s dome. It was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII and finished in 1634 to radiantly mark the tomb of St Peter below.

Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo’s Pieta (first chapel to the right) was completed when he around 24 years old, and was so beautiful and mature that many people believed he couldn’t have done it – which is why it’s the only sculpture he ever signed.

Clementine Chapel

The tiny Clementine Chapel, located in the necropolis underneath the basilica’s grottoes, is believed to be the site where St Peter was crucified in the time of Emperor Nero. His remains are held in a marble chest encased into an opulent, gilded altar.

Tradition has it that St Peter was crucified upside down at his own request, because he considered himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus.

You can now take a fascinating tour of the underground necropolis, which includes the Clementine Chapel, to see St Peter’s bones. Book well ahead (as places are strictly limited to 250/day) with Ufficio Scavi.

Treasury and Grottoes

St Peter’s Treasury has a number of rare gems, including the Colonna Santa and 6th-century Vatican Cross; the Grottoes, just below the basilica, contain the tombs of popes past along with works of art.

Michelangelo’s dome

In 1546, age 71, Michelangelo was asked by Pope Paul III to take over the construction of St Peter’s Basilica – at project that had been beset by technical and design challenges, not least the construction of a dome. Painter and sculpture turned architect designed Michelangelo stepped in, and although it was unfinished when he died, he is recognised as the primary architect and installed the foundations for what is still the biggest dome in the world.

Climb the Cupola

For around €10 you can climb the 320 steps to the roof of St Peter’s, and even to the very top of the Cupola (dome) for those postcard-perfect views of St Peter’s Square and Rome’s skyline. If you don’t want to climb steps, there is an elevator. You can’t buy tickets online, and there are always hefty queues – which you can only skip if on a guided tour with Vox Mundi. From St Peter’s Square, follow the pillars anticlockwise until you see the signs for the Cupola.

Descend to the grottoes

One level below the Basilica are grottoes housing the tombs of several popes and a few royals. You can reach them by stairs below the St Andrew statue near the papal altar. Another level down, below the grottoes, is an ancient Necropolis, a former Roman cemetery with tombs and mausolea dating from the 1st to 4th centuries AD. It also includes the tomb of St Peter, and (allegedly) his bones.

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The closest metro stop, Ottaviano-San Pietro, is nine blocks away.

The famous Swiss Guards enforce a strict dress code: no shorts, no skirts above the knee and no bare shoulders. There’s a dress code on this website.

If you want a guide, Vox Mundi run the official guided tours (daily, except Wednesday and Sunday). They also offer audio guides, available from their desk inside the basilica. Access to the Necropolis is limited to 250 visitors a day. If you want to see it, book a spot in advance online on the official tour website. https://book.thevaticantickets.com/book/10479/select/

If you do head up to the Cupola, by elevator or stairs, there’s a café on the roof with gorgeous views over Piazza San Pietro through the gigantic gesticulating statues of saints.

 

When to do it

It’s open all year round, seven days a week. July and August are unpleasantly heaving, but there are always crowds. Go at around 1pm when most people are eating lunch, or late in the afternoon.

Who to go with: organised tours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

  • Rome

Why book this tour? You visit the Vatican once in a lifetime! Skip-the-line access means you’ll have more time to explore millennia of art and history within these hallowed walls without waiting in the long general admission lines. Explore the highlights of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica in a small group. Get straight inside with skip-the-line access to see a host of treasures of the Vatican City, all with enlightening storytelling from a passionate guide. Dive into the Vatican’s must-see attractions with the highlights you absolutely can't leave Rome without. This tour has been specifically designed to get you inside as quickly as possible with skip-the-line entry. This is hands down the perfect tour for families traveling with small children or teens, people who "don't do" museum tours, or those who have limited time and want to see the Eternal City in less than an eternity.

Price €79

Min age 0

Rating 4.88 / 5 [3216 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Rome

Experience a truly semi-private tour of max 6 people and embark on an incredible journey through the highlights of the Vatican. Accompanied by your local expert guide, enter with skip-the-line tickets and explore of one of the world's most famous museums. Along the way you'll enjoy unique sculptures, beautiful courtyards, and much more while learning all about the history of the Church, the Popes and the impressive works that adorn the museums. Be amazed while admiring the incredible beauty of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Stroll through the Gallery of Maps and view the incredible tapestries, wonder at frescoes of the Raphael Rooms, and visit the breathtaking St Peter's Basilica - the final resting place of Saint Peter, and one of the holiest temples of the Roman Catholic Church. This tour provides you with a perfect overview of the Vatican in an intimate small group tour of max 6 people. A fully private tour option is available for an even more personalized experience.

Price €119

Min age 0

Rating 4.87 / 5 [2201 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Rome

Embark on an extraordinary journey commencing at St. Peter's Square, where the architectural brilliance of Bernini unfolds. Then enter the awe-inspiring St. Peter's Basilica, a realm adorned with golden ceilings, vibrant marbles, and masterpieces like Michelangelo's Pietà. Delve into the Papal grottoes underground, touching ancient walls and visiting St. Peter's tomb for a profound historical encounter. The grand crescendo awaits as you ascend to the dome's summit, offering both close encounters with intricate mosaics and panoramic views of Rome's iconic landmarks. From this lofty perch at 136 meters, immerse yourself in breathtaking vistas, spotting the Colosseum, Pantheon, and beyond. Immerse yourself in a blend of art, history, and mesmerizing panoramas, ensuring a "wow-ing" experience in the heart of Vatican City. Enjoy a unique adventure, where architectural marvels intertwine with iconic heritage landmarks, promising an unforgettable exploration.

Price €49

Min age 0

Rating 4.60 / 5 [1645 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Rome

Less than 1% of Vatican visitors ascend St. Peter's Dome, this is a remarkable statistic so for this reason we have decided to take it from the top! Meet your expert Vatican guide by St. Peter's Square. Sacred stairs (and an elevator) will carry you up to St. Peter's Terrace from where you will see all of Rome and even the Tyrrhenian Sea! Back on terra firma you will tour the entirety of St. Peter's Basilica too. Take a break before making the short walk to our Vatican meeting point for your second tour of the Vatican City and Sistine Chapel! Get fast track access to the masterpieces which make the Vatican Museums absolutely must-see when in Rome.

Price $129

Min age 0

Rating 4.79 / 5 [1497 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Rome

Immerse yourself in the history, architecture, and lore of St. Peter’s Basilica with this all-access tour. Not only will you enjoy a full guided tour of the Basilica and Papal Crypt (not usually included Basilica and Vatican tours) with an expert guide, you’ll avoid long lines to climb up into the titanic dome early in the morning, and gape at the amazing views of Rome.

Price €35

Min age 0

Rating 4.62 / 5 [230 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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