Must-see itinerary for St. Peter’s Basilica
Built on the site where St. Peter was killed and buried by Emperor Nero, this Renaissance-style church is one of the world’s largest Christian churches serving as a papal enclave within Rome. A colossal exterior facade with a 284-column square adorned with 140 statues of saints and a green Vatican gardens connecting the basilica with the famous Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums complex are the tip of the iceberg of all the incredible things you must see in St. Peter’s Basilica while visiting.
Best Things To See at St. Peter’s Basilica
It might be a little overwhelming to navigate your experience of seeing perhaps the holiest of places in the world for Christian worship, sharing it with over 40,000 daily visitors. To help you get the best out of your visit, we put together a brief itinerary of architectural features, statues, and unique parts of the basilica that are worth your time.
Entering the basilica, the first thing you will see is the massive Porta Santa (or the Holy Door) with sixteen bronze panels depicting various religious scenes. Shared between the four Papal basilicas in Rome, this unique feature is significant for Catholic pilgrimage as the doors only open once every 25 years for the Jubilee.
As you travel through the main hall, make sure to explore some of the famous renaissance and baroque artworks by Bernini, Maderno, Michelangelo and Raphael, depicting religious motifs along the walls and ceiling ornaments. Among the sculptural masterpieces, tucked into alcoves leading towards the altar, you will see Michelangelo’s Pietà, Bernini’s Statue of St. Longinus, bronze Statue of St. Peter and a Monument to Pope Alexander VII.
Located at the center, made from bronze and gilded in gold is the Papal Altar, where the Pope performs Mass. It is an iconic masterpiece that took 14 years of construction. Designed by Bernini, the altar consists of two important elements: The St. Peter’s Baldacchino, a four-pillar creation mounted by exquisite baroque canopy, and The St. Peter’s Chair, listed among the treasure relics of history.
Placed right behind the altar, so that it appears to be the continuation of the golden compositions, is the ornate on top of the St. Peter’s Chair, also known as the High Altar of the Basilica. This unique construction glows, illuminating a golden heavenly light, due to the smart architectural structure of the ceiling and walls directing the sunlight right in the centerpiece. Emanating from a central pane, gilded cherubs and angels, as well as sculpted clouds and rays of light altogether create a breathtaking composition.
Underneath the basilica you can also visit the sacral Papal tombs, also called Vatican Grottoes. It is believed that the basilica was built over the St. Peter’s burial, thus, throughout history many Popes and members of European Royal Families expressed their wish to be buried close to the Apostle. The Grottoes contain over 90 tombs. Although you might not see all of them, you can take a brief stroll and read about the lives and careers of Popes like Pius VI, Benedict XV, John Paul I, etc.
St. Peter’s Dome
One of the most beautiful parts of the basilica is St. Peter’s Dome above the Papal Altar. The structure of the dome is divided into sixteen ribs, embellished with mosaic and stucco ornaments, depicting various religious motifs, including portraits and busts of Popes, Apotsols, Saints and angels. You can spend hours exploring all the little details and Biblical references portrayed by Michelangelo. To get a better view and learn more interesting facts about each of the depictions, we recommend climbing up and taking a guided tour.
Is the entrance to the St. Peter’s Basilica free?
There is no entrance fee for the St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican Grottoes, however, you will need to purchase tickets to climb the iconic Dome. You can book a guided tour or purchase tickets online. The Dome is open daily, from 7.30am to 6pm (until 7pm from April on), while the Vatican Grottoes are open daily from 9am to 6pm.
When is the best time to visit St. Peter’s Basilica?
To avoid standing in long lines, try to visit the St. Peter’s Basilica early in the morning hours (7-9 am) on the weekdays (Mon-Thu). Huge entrance lines usually form after 10am. In general, the line takes between 20-45 minutes depending on how crowded it gets. Stay hydrated and wear a cap because St. Peter’s Square is not shaded.
Address: Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City
Working hours: 7am to 6:30pm (to 7pm from April till end of September)
Tickets: Free entrance (8,00 € to visit The Dome, €10.00 with the lift)