The enormous St. Peter's Basilica dominates Vatican City, and its dome can be seen from all over Rome. Built on the site of St. Peter’s crucifixion and over his tomb, it’s the epicenter of the Catholic Church and the burial place of many popes, including Pope John Paul II. The lavishly adorned basilica is the largest church in Italy and all of Christendom, and it's also a museum full of priceless works of art—including Michelangelo’s spectacular “Pietà” and Bernini’s bronze baldachin.
St. Peter's Basilica is an essential part of any visit to the Vatican. There's no admission fee, so it's easy to stop in on your own, but a guided tour or audio guide will help you truly understand the significance of the history and art. Many travelers either choose a tour that focuses exclusively on the basilica or opt for one that pairs a visit with stops at other areas in the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. This is one of the most popular attractions in Rome and all of Italy, so crowds are nearly inevitable. It’s best to book a skip-the-line ticket or early-access tour that allows you to visit before most of the swarms arrive.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Be prepared for security lines similar to those at airports, including metal detectors, bag scanners, and potentially long waits.
- The basilica has a strict dress code—no bare shoulders, midriffs, or knees—and you won't be allowed in unless you adhere to it.
- A skip-the-line tour of the Vatican that includes St. Peter’s enables you to bypass the basilica’s long entry lines—though you still have to go through the security check.
- Climbing into the basilica’s dome, which affords fantastic views over St. Peter’s Square, requires a ticket.
How to Get There
St. Peter's Basilica is across the Tiber River from top sights such as the Colosseum and Piazza Navona. The nearest metro stops are Ottaviano–San Pietro–Musei Vaticani and Cipro on line A; there are closer tram and bus stops. If you'd like to walk, cross the Ponte Sant'Angelo toward the Castel Sant'Angelo for a picturesque view.
When to Get There
The church is open year-round, but it's a working church so it closes regularly for mass and special religious services. Crowds are at their thickest during summer and holidays such as Easter and Christmas, as well as during public papal addresses, given most Wednesdays in the square.
Underneath St. Peter's Basilica
The basilica’s most famous tomb is that of St. Peter, but most visitors never go below the main level of the church. You can book a small group tour of the Vatican Necropolis to explore the ancient Roman cemetery that lies underground, past the Vatican grottoes, and stand before St. Peter's tomb.