After a visit to the Vatican Museums, we discovered the Basilica of Saint Peter. The most famous basilica in the world, I knew its exterior. For the interior, other Roman basilicas like Santa Maria Maggiore made me hope for the best. I was not disappointed. The basilica is the place that impressed me the most in Rome.
A Brief History of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome
Built in 1506, Saint Peter’s Basilica is the most famous Catholic building in the world. Located in the Vatican, it can accommodate more than 60,000 people and its area is 2.3 hectares! It hosts the tomb of St. Peter, the first Pope in history.
At the beginning of our era, the place was occupied by the circus of Caligula and Nero. Then a basilica was built by the emperor Constantine I in 326. But, over the centuries and successive looting, the building was in very poor condition.
When the popes returned to Rome in the 15th century, the idea of rebuilding a basilica emerged. In 1506, Pope Julius II began the construction of the basilica, after having wanted, at first, a simpler mausoleum.
In the end, the grandiose construction project lasted nearly 120 years and several popes supervised the progress of the work. Among the architects, painters and other artists who participated in this work, you will find the most famous names in history such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Bramante … The basilica opened on November 18, 1626.
If you are looking for more information on the history of the basilica, I recommend the Wikipedia page to start with. It is (very) long and complete. Then you can read books dedicated to this building.
Where is Saint Peter’s Basilica?
St. Peter’s Basilica is in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
As a reminder, the Vatican is a territory located in the eastern part of Rome. If you stayed in a hotel close to the ancient ruins (Colosseum, Forum…), they are about 2 miles away on foot.
Since we were staying next to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, we took a metro that brought us a few blocks from the Vatican.
Is there an entrance fee for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome?
The entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica is free.
If you want to see it, you only pay the access to the gigantic dome. From this dome, you have an exceptional view of the Vatican and Rome.
The price of a ticket to the dome is :
- €10 for an elevator that takes you to a terrace and the rest of the climb (320 steps) is done on foot
- €8 for a 551 steps walk up.
This information should make you understand right away that the access to the dome is only accessible for people able to climb stairs and in good physical condition.
Audioguides and tickets are available. It is also possible to visit the Necropolis by reservation, as well as the Vatican treasury.
Many guided tours are offered, but not directly at the basilica.
What are the opening hours of Saint Peter’s Basilica?
Saint Peter’s Basilica is open between:
- 7a.m. to 6p.m. from the beginning of October to the end of March.
- 7a.m. to 7p.m. from April to the end of September.
Paid access to the dome is possible all year from 7:30a.m. to 5p.m.
How long do you wait to enter St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome?
Millions of visitors come to the Vatican every year and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is obviously the place they go first.
You begin your visit by waiting in line at security. Barriers are set up and you wait in line until you reach the security gate. Your bag is scanned and you go through the metal detector.
Theoretically, it is also the place where people with inappropriate dress are rejected: men in shorts, apparent tattoos offensive to religion (e.g.: an upside down cross), women with bare shoulders or thighs… In practice, we have seen women rejected for a bare shoulder and others accepted in shorts and tank top. So it depends on the security guard you have at your gate!
In May in the early afternoon, we waited only 20 minutes to get through security. After that, the ride and entrance to the basilica were smooth.
The biggest wait was to get into the dome. That’s why we chose not to go up. There was at least a 1.5 hour wait in the sun.
Looking at travel sites before we left for the Vatican, I read that in the summer, it was not uncommon to wait nearly 2 hours for a single entry into the basilica. So don’t forget your water bottle and sun protection and try to arrive at the least crowded times (e.g., early morning).
What do you see in St. Peter’s Basilica?
It’s hard to describe exactly what you feel when you enter St. Peter’s Basilica. Amélie and I are not believers and we both had the same feeling: we felt small.
The height of the ceiling, the gigantic floor space, and the pile of art and wealth are extraordinary. This is not surprising since the basilica is 218 meters long and 136 meters high.
You don’t know where to direct your gaze. If you want to admire the basilica in detail, you can spend hours inside. We saw a lot and missed a lot. Unlike us, if you want to see everything, make a list of the areas and objects that you absolutely want to see.
Statues, pillars, relics, tombs, chapels… The diversity of the pieces is remarkable. Whether you are a believer or not, Catholic or not, you can only be charmed. Centuries of history and a part of the western civilization are in these places.
Take a look at everything: the pillars and columns, the floors, the ceilings, the chapels…
On the Vatican website, you have on this page a very precise description of the interior of the basilica: https://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_pietro/it/basilica/interno.htm. Translate it with a tool like Google Translate if necessary.
For lack of an exhaustive list of things to admire, here are some pictures we took inside the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome:
Before or after your visit, you must look carefully at the exterior architecture and the famous dome of the basilica.
Is it possible to take pictures in St. Peter’s Basilica?
Yes, photos and videos are allowed.
However, if you are allowed to take a picture of the nave, it is logically forbidden to do the same in the chapels. Do not enter the chapels to go in front of the faithful and take pictures of the altar…
Similarly, and this is my very opinion, taking selfies in front of Michelangelo’s artworks or doing dances to post videos on Insta in a holy place is rather ridiculous (and yet, very common apparently!).
Is it a good idea to visit St. Peter’s Basilica?
No doubt the answer is a big yes!
This is the place that impressed me the most in Rome. St. Peter’s Basilica is a work of art. Whether it’s its exterior or its interior, you never tire of looking at it.
Like all the other basilicas in Rome, admission is free, so even if you’re on a budget, the financial criteria is not a problem.