Saint Peter’s Basilica

If you make a list of the top 10 places in the world that you must have visited once in your life, then St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome will probably rank very high on that list. This church is quite literally the HQ of the christian faith, or to be precise, the Catholic faith.

How much time should I spend here?A couple of hours
How much does it cost?Free
How far from the city center?15 minutes
What modes of transport are available?Train, bus, tram, walking
What is the nearest subway stop?Ottaviano
Where can I find it?Google Maps link
Is there an official website?Click here
What can you combine it with?Vatican Necropolis

Where you might mistake Castel Gandolfo for something of a town hall, there is no mistaking this building. It is meant to impress, and it does with its size alone. When you walk up to the basilica, be sure to walk up from the east. This way you can get the best views and you can see it getting bigger and bigger with every step you take.

The facade of St. Peter’s basilica.

You might expect this to be one of the most beaten path things on the beaten path list. Let’s not kid ourselves here, you will not be alone in visiting St. Peter’s. Thousands of people visit the basilica every day, and you’ll probably have to wait in line to get in. Depending on the season, you might even have to wait a long time.

Another thing to be honest about when talking about St. Peter’s: it is not the prettiest church in Rome. Now this is subjective, but I’ll take Santa Maria Maggiore (near Termini station) over St. Peters any day. But boy does the basilica impress. This is still the most important church in Christendom, and you should not skip it under any circumstance.

What is there to see in St. Peter’s?

The basilica itself is huge, but there is sort of a natural walking way as a part of the basilica is roped off most days.

The area in the center is closed off to the public.

You’ll find that the area around Michelangelo’s Pieta is especially busy. This statue is behind a glass pane to protect it from outsiders. You might think that seems a little excessive for a statue, but an Australian Geologist famously attacked the Pieta in 1972. The glass pane was already planned by that time, according to The New York Times, but it proved that the statue needed to be protected from the many tourists visiting the basilica.

The Pieta made by Michelangelo.

Be prepared: The Pieta is one of the most popular parts of the basilica, and if you want to get close, make sure you get in early.

As you make your way around the basilica, you’ll find that it is clad with the most beautiful statues, paintings and mosaics. You’ll never forget that you are in the Vatican. While you are walking around, don’t forget to look up. The high ceilings really give you a feel for the grand scale of this building.

Depending on the time of day, the top windows in St. Peters catch the sun in a special way. As you can see in the picture below, the sunbeams fall straight into the basilica and make for a godly spectacle.

The light in the window shines right through into the basilica.

What else is there to see/do in St. Peters?

St. Peters is much more extensive than the basilica itself. It is part of many (connected) buildings in the Vatican and most have a separate entrance.

If you just want to visit the basilica itself, stand in line on St. Peters Square and once you clear security, head over to the large doors in the center of the basilica. You’ll find signs there, pointing you to the entrance of the basilica. You should be able to walk straight in from the vestibule to the basilica.

As with most churches in Rome, visiting the basilica is free of charge.

You’ll also find signs there for the route to the ‘cupola’ (the dome) of St. Peters to the right of the vestibule. This is an entirely separate thing for which you must pay. I’ll write a separate article on that specific part.

There will also be signs to the Vatican Grottoes. This is where a lot of the previous popes are buried. But maybe more importantly, you can take a look at why this basilica is called St. Peter’s.

The church is supposedly built on top of the grave of St. Peter. And what you are looking at is the upper part of the grave of what some believe is the tomb of St. Peter. The actual grave (and there is an actual grave) is one level lower below the floor.

Whether or not the grave found beneath the floor is actually that of St. Peter, is a matter of faith rather than fact. And you can visit the actual gravesite of St. Peter if you take the excavation tour of the necropolis beneath the basilica. Daily visitor allowance for this part of the basilica is extremely limited, so if you want to see this part of the church, then book well ahead.

More information about St. Peters tomb (Wikipedia).

If you want an audio guide in the basilica (which I recommend if you have the time) then head over to the cloakroom before you enter the basilica. There they hand out the devices and headsets. Please note that these are not free.

How to get to St. Peters Basilica

If you are already in Rome, then things are pretty easy. If you are close to a subway stop, then go to either Lepanto or Ottaviano station and walk from there. Ottaviano is closer by but the route from Lepanto can be a bit more scenic if you head south from the station and walk to the Vatican via the Castel Sant’ Angelo. Personally I would always take this route, but if you are short on time, then Ottaviano is the way to go.

The road to the east gives perfect views while you walk towards Saint Peter’s square

There are bus stops closer to the Vatican if you can’t walk far. Please check Google Maps for the right route and remember that Roman busses are convenient but are not exactly on time.

More information about transport in Italy.

If you are more of a hop-on-hop-off kind of person, then there are several companies and routes driving through Rome, taking you from highlight to highlight. This includes the Vatican, so there is a stop relatively close to St. Peters Basilica where you can do your hop-off.

Google Maps link.

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