Popes have been interred in St. Peter’s Basilica for centuries, and while many papal tombs are inside the basilica, others are located underground in the Vatican Grottoes (Grotte Vaticane). Take the stairs down from the transept to view the final resting places of dozens of popes along with a number of royals.
The Vatican Grottoes sit below the modern basilica but above the level of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine’s original 4th-century basilica. The earliest pope buried in the grottoes is the 9th-century Pope Nicholas I; Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II are also interred there. In addition, the tombs of Queen Christina of Sweden, Emperor Otto II, and Queen Charlotte of Cyprus are located inside along with a number of ornately decorated chapels and a 14th-century fresco of the Madonna by Pietro Cavallini.
Due to the long lines to enter St. Peter’s Basilica and the grottoes, by far the best way to visit is to join a skip-the-line Vatican tour that includes the church and underground tombs. Most small-group tours combine the basilica with other Vatican City highlights like the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and Vatican Gardens.
Things to Know Before You Go
- St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Grottoes are sacred places and have a very strict dress code to enter, so be sure to wear clothing that covers shoulders and knees.
- Entry to the basilica requires a security check in St. Peter’s Square; large bags, suitcases, pocketknives, scissors, corkscrews, umbrellas, and other prohibited items can be left in the free cloakroom.
- The Vatican Grottoes are not accessible to wheelchairs.
How to Get There
Entrance to the Vatican Grottoes is below the St. Andrew statue near the papal altar inside St. Peter’s Basilica, located on St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) in Vatican City. The closest metro station is Ottaviano.
When to Get There
You can visit the grottoes whenever the basilica is open. Note that the basilica closes each Wednesday morning during the weekly papal audience.
St. Peter’s Tomb
The tomb of St. Peter is not in the Vatican Grottoes, but one level below in the Scavi (archaeological dig), accessible only via a private tour that you must book months in advance through the Vatican’s Excavations Office.