Visiting St Peter’s Basilica in Rome – guided tours, tickets, Papal audience

St Peter's Basilica, Rome

If you are visiting Rome, St Peter’s Basilica must be on your must-see list.

This attraction in the Vatican is built on top of St Peter’s grave, the first Pope of Christianity. Hence, is quite a popular destination.

More than 5 Million tourists visit St Peters Basilica every year.

To know everything about this Basilica, continue reading.

Besides the usual information you need to know while visiting St Peter’s Basilica, this article also covers –

1. What to see in St Peter’s Basilica
2. How to avoid the crowd at St Peter’s Basilica
3. St Peter’s Basilica hours
4. Best time to visit St Peter’s Basilica
5. Guided tours of St Peter’s Basilica
6. Best St Peter’s Basilica combo tours

What is St Peter’s Basilica?

St Peter’s Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage site located on Vatican Hill in Vatican City.

One of the most frequented sites by tourists, it is a beautiful sight in the skyline of Rome.

With a capacity of over 60,000 people, and covering over 22,300 square meters, it is one of the world’s largest churches.

A church gains the title of a Basilica only after the Pope designates it, because of the historical significance of the church or if the church houses any historical relics.

St Peter’s Basilica in one of the 4 major Basilicas in the world.

When was St Peter’s Basilica built?

St Peter’s Basilica has a history dating back to 2000 years ago.

Work on it was begun by Pope Julius II in 1506 and completed in 1615 under Paul V.

However, this is not the original church of St Peter. What we see today is the second.

The original church was built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine, on the spot where St. Peter was thought to be buried.

By the early Renaissance, though, the ancient church was in serious disrepair.

Later, Pope Julius II went head to head with Michelangelo to build the St Peter’s Basilica by tearing down the old structure and make a new one.

Where is St Peter’s Basilica located?

St Peter’s Basilica is located on the Vatican Hill.

St Peter’s Basilica is located in the Vatican City west of the River Tiber and near the Janiculum Hill and Hadrian’s Mausoleum.

What is St Peter’s Basilica height?

The world’s largest Basilica is a whopping 186 meters tall (218 if we consider the porch), with a height of 46 meters in the central aisle.

The main dome of the Roman Basilica is 136 meters high and 42 meters large in diameter.

Who built St Peter’s Basilica?

Construction on the current St. Peter’s Basilica was started by Pope Julius II in 1506 and completed in 1615 by Paul V.

The original church was built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine, on the spot where St. Peter was thought to be buried

St Peter’s Basilica’s Dome

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was designed by Michelangelo, who took on the construction of the dome in 1547.

However, after Michelangelo’s death in 1564, his pupil, Giacomo Della Porta took over the construction of the Basilica’s dome. By then, the construction had reached the drum of the dome.

Giacomo Della Porta raised the vault of the dome about 7 meters and completed the construction in 1590.

The dome has a double calotte, with an inner diameter of 42.56 meters and it measures 136.57 meters from the base to the top of the cross. The lantern is 17 meters high.

Who is buried under St Peter’s Basilica?

St Peter is supposed to have been buried under St. Peter’s Basilica. However, the Basilica is known to have many more graves.

Having said that, it is a shrine built by the Vatican to memorialize the site of St. Peter’s burial.

Is Peter’s Basilica largest church in the World?

No, St Peter’s Basilica is not the largest church in the world.

Basilica of Our Lady Peace, in Ivory Coast, is the largest church in the world as per the Guinness Book of World Records.

St. Peter’s Basilica was once the largest church but in 1990 after the construction of Basilica of Our Lady Peace, it became the second largest church in the World.

Why is St Peter’s Basilica famous?

St. Peter’s Basilica is famous for many reasons. Since St. Peter’s Basilica is in the Vatican City, the Pope often says mass at here.

The St. Peter’s is one of the largest churches in the World with a capacity of 60,000 people.

Its architecture goes back to 1506.

St. Peter’s Basilica also houses work by famous artists like Michelangelo and Bernini.

St. Peter’s Basilica has many treasures. These include Christian relics, the tombs of Popes and many other important personalities.

Recommended Reading: St Peter’s Basilica facts

St Peter’s Basilica history

The site of St. Peter’s Basilica was originally the Circus of Nero and a burial site.

It is believed to be the place where St. Peter was martyred during the reign of Nero.

St Peter was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, and the first ever Pope in 64 AD.

Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor in Rome decided to erect the Basilica from 319 AD to 349 AD.

The original Basilica built by Emperor Constantine stood for over 1000 years, but later started deteriorating.

It was Pope Julius II who decided that the Basilica was beyond repair and had to be demolished and reconstructed.

The new Basilica took 120 years to complete and all the great architects of the Roman Renaissance and Baroque were part of its design.

Some of the most exemplary artists who contributed to the construction of the St. Peter’s Basilica were Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donato, Giacomo Della Porta, and Maderno.

The original design was conceptualized by Bramante in 1506.

After Bramante’s death, Raphael took over as the main architect for the St. Peter’s Basilica.

After Raphael died in 1520 Michelangelo took his place.

Michelangelo succeeded as the Copamaestro, the superintendent of the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo contributed to the construction to a large extent and influenced a lot of decisions.

After his death in 1564, his pupil Giacomo Della Porta continued the construction.

A few years later, Pope Paul V asked Carlo Maderno to extend the nave.

St Peter’s Basilica was completed on 18th November 1626 and was consecrated by Pope Urban VIII.

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What to see in St Peter’s Basilica

There are a lot of things to see while visiting St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Do check out St Peter’s Square, also known as the Piazza San Pietro, which is in front of the Basilica. It has two fountains on each side.

There is also a 40-meter high Egyptian obelisk, which was brought to Rome in 37 B.C.

The front of the square has two statues of St. Peter and St. Paul.

You must also spend time at St. Peter’s Baldachin, a 29-meter high bronze canopy which is located right under the dome of the Basilica.

It was worked on by Baldachin and completed in 11 years. He worked on the canopy from 1623 to 1634. The Baldachin stands over the papal altar which is directly above St Peter’s tomb.

Only the Pope may serve at the altar.

Another attraction at St Peter’s Basilica is St Peter’s statue.

It was created by Arnolfo di Cambio way back in 1300. This statue features St Peter seated on a throne.

The statue was placed in the St Peter’s Basilica in 1605.

Pilgrims frequent the statue and touch or kiss the feet, which has led to the wearing out of the right foot.

Is St Peter’s Basilica free?

It is free to enter the main St Peter’s Basilica.

However, an admission fee is charged if you want to see specific parts of the Basilica.

If you get a guided tour or an audio guide you will be charged.

If you wish to climb the dome itself, there is a ticketed option as well.

Your options include taking the steps all the way (551 steps) or a lift part of the way and then go on foot (320 steps).

How to avoid the crowd at St Peter’s Basilica

Since the St Peter’s Basilica is free to enter, it is always crowded.

Add to it the fact that is one of the oldest World Heritage sites and a pilgrimage site, the queues to enter the Basilica are long.

The best way to avoid the queue at St Peter’s Basilica is to book a self-guided dedicated entrance ticket.

With this ticket, you can avoid the crowd and save time at Saint Peter’s Basilica, which is known for its long entrance lines.

With fast track access, you will save up to – and often more than – one hour to get access to the most important Catholic church in the world.

Besides getting you quick entry into the Basilica, this ticket also provides you with an audio guide on your mobile or tablet. You must download this application (instructions will be provided on your Skip The Line voucher).

This audio-guide details 31 points of interest in St Peter’s Basilica, for you to explore.

Buy TicketsSkip The Line St Peter’s Basilica entrance tickets

If you are visiting St Peter’s Basilica as a pure tourist (and not as a believer), chances are you aren’t interested in Papal appearances and/or Mass.

Papal Appearances: If you don’t wish to see the Pope, avoid visiting the St. Peter’s Basilica on Sundays and Wednesdays. During the papal appearances the St. Peter’s Basilica gets a lot of visitors.

Holy Days: Mass and some special events are held on the holy days such as Easter, Christmas etc, and these holy days can get crowded.

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St Peter’s Basilica hours

The St Peter’s Basilica is open daily. However, the timings to visit the St. Peter’s Basilica differs during different months.

During the months April to September, St. Peter’s Basilica’s timings are form 7 am to 7 pm from the. During the other half of the year i.e. from October to February the opening hours are 7 am to 6 pm.

St Peter’s Basilica hours for mass

St Peter’s Basilica is a Parish church with mass celebrated daily throughout the day for the local community and the several thousand visitors who drop by the St Peter’s Basilica.

If a visitor wants to go the confession, St Peter’s Basilica has facilities for the same before or after the mass.

Daily Mass at St Peter’s Basilica

From 7.30 am to 8.30 am, you can discover Mass being praised at one of the numerous holy places in the Basilica. You can join in the Mass by choosing your dialect.

7 am: A Mass is held on most days in Extraordinary Form at the Altar of Saint Michael. The EF Mass starts around 7.15 am.

8.30 am: A Mass in Italian is conducted at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Immediately after the mass, adoration begins.

9 am, 10 am, 11 am and 12 pm: Mass is conducted in the Altar of Saint Joseph, the left transept. This Mass is conducted in Italian with homily.

5 pm: A Mass is conducted at the Altar of the Chair (Cattedra) in Latin. This Mass also includes singing, homily in Italian.

Eucharistic Adoration in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel is from Monday to Saturday. Adoration follows the 8.30 mass until Benediction at 4:45pm

Sunday and Holy Day Mass times at Saint Peter’s Basilica

9 am: Mass of the Parish is held in Italian at the Altar of the Chair with homily.

10.30 am:  Solemn Mass along with singing in Latin at the Altar of the Chair (Cattedra) along with homily in Italian

11.30 am: Mass in Italian at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel with homily

12.15 pm, 4 pm and 5.45 pm: Mass at the Altar of the Chair (Cattedra) in Italian along with homily

1 pm: Mass in Italian with homily at the Altar of St. Joseph – (Left Transept)

Apart from the public masses, visiting priests also conduct masses for which reservations must be made. These masses are conducted from Monday to Saturday at 7.15 am and 8 am.

English Masses at St Peter’s Basilica

There are no scheduled masses conducted in English at St Peter’s Basilica.

St Peter’s Basilica hours for Papal audience

The Papal audience usually starts at 10.30 am, however, it might start at 10 am during the summer because of the heat.

The security check begins from 8 am to 8.30 am and most people arrive early to get good seats.

People usually start arriving at 8.30 am to 9 am. The Papal audience is almost 2 hours long.

You can get the monthly schedule here.

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Best time to visit St Peter’s Basilica

Tourists and believers who have visited this Vatican attraction believe that the best time to visit the St Peter’s Basilica is between 7 am and 8 am.

The lines during this time of the day are short and almost non-existent.

To avoid the crowd, you can also plan a visit sometime during late afternoon. However, late afternoon queues also depend on the season. If it is the tourist season St. Peter’s Basilica might be crowded even during that time.

Guided tours of St Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world. The church is also a heritage site and is home to some of the most famous artworks.

Thus it is best explored with someone who can help you make the most of your visit.

Therefore most visitors to St Peter’s Basilica prefer a guided tour to get the full experience.

Check out three of the best guided tours of St Peter’s Basilica

1. St. Peter’s Basilica with Dome Climb and Crypt

This guided tour will give you a full experience of the Basilica.

You will experience the sacred atmosphere of the Basilica Square by getting an early start. Post which you will take an elevator to the first terrace of the dome to experience the mosaics in the morning light.

Once on top of the Basilica’s Dome, you will be able to view the numerous attractions in Rome. The view is breathtaking.

Next, you see the work of the artists – like Bernini’s Baldachin and Michelangelo’s ‘Pietá.’

In the end, you get insights into the history of the St Peter’s Basilica when you visit the Papal crypt.

This is a small group tour of no less than 15 tourists and the human guide will be with you for two and a half hours.

This guided tour of St Peter’s Basilica costs Euros 45 per person.

Buy TicketsSt. Peter’s Basilica tour with Dome climb and Crypt

2. St. Peter’s Basilica guided tour

This Skip The Line guided tour of St Peter’s Basilica is just like the previous tour. Except for two differences –

1. This guided tour doesn’t include a trip up the Basilica’s dome
2. The duration of this tour is one hour

After the 60-minute guided tour is over, you are free to hang around inside the Basilica and explore on your own.

The cost of this St. Peter’s Basilica guided tour is Euros 27 per person.

Buy TicketsSt. Peter’s Basilica guided tour with reserved entrance

3. Audience with Pope Francis at St Peter’s Square

Every Wednesday Pope Francis prays with pilgrims from around the world at the St. Peter’s Square.

This guided tour will ensure you will be standing in front of Pope Francis, and listening to his discourse.

All the details will be taken care of by your tour guide.

Your guided tour tickets will ensure you get a good spot before the Pope begins.

You also receive a set of headsets so that you can hear everything clearly.

Your tour guide will explain everything from the origins of the papacy of the first Christians in the Constantinian era up to the meaning of the Holy See.

This tour is possible only on Wednesdays because that’s when the Pope speaks to the people assembled at the St Peter’s square.

The price of this Papal audience tour at St Peter’s Basilica is Euros 39.

The duration of this guided tour is 4 hours.

Buy TicketsAudience with Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica

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Best St Peter’s Basilica combo tours

The region around St Peter’s Basilica is so full of tourist attractions, that once you step out of your hotel room there is so much to see.

Therefore, combo tours are quite popular amongst tourists visiting St Peter’s Basilica.

1. Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel & Saint Peter’s guided tour

Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica have long lines at the entrance.

This one guided combo tour can help you skip the lines and enter all three of these attractions without having to wait.

The duration of this guided tour is 3 hours. After the guide leaves you, you are free to explore more for as long as you wish.

The cost of this guided tour is Euros 38.90 per person.

Buy TicketsVatican Museum, Sistine Chapel & Saint Peter’s guided tour

2. Skip-the-Line Vatican sites and Colosseum tour

This is a massive tour and includes visits to –

– St. Peter’s Basilica
– Vatican Museums
– Sistine Chapel
– Colosseum
– Roman Forum
– Palatine Hill

In these Vatican sites, you will skip the lines. Thus wasting none of your precious time.

All the tourists will be provided headsets so that you can hear the guides clearly.

This guided tour costs Euros 86 per person.

If you are short on time, we highly recommend this guided tour which lasts for six and a half hours.

Buy TicketsSkip-the-Line Vatican and Colosseum guided tour

3. Tour of Vatican Museums and Papal audience at St Peter’s

This tour is possible only on Wednesdays because that’s when the Pope gives an audience at St Peter’s Basilica.

You start this tour with an audience of Pope Francis I. You can decide to pray with him, or enjoy the surroundings as the sermon goes on.

The Papal audience goes on for two hours.

At 11.30 you start your guided tour of Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica – skipping the lines at every tourist attraction.

This is a 6-hour tour of the Vatican City and costs Euros 67 per person.

Buy TicketsGuided tour of Vatican Museums and Papal audience at St Peter’s

4. Necropolis and St. Peter’s Basilica guided tour

With this guided tour ticket you skip the long queues and experience the beauty of the Vatican City, the smallest state in the world.

You start with a visit to St Peter’s Basilica – a pilgrimage spot for most Christian. After all, Christianity’s first Pope St Peter is buried under the Basilica.

Then you explore the Vatican Necropolis, located beneath St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Grottoes. Mind you, you will be exploring graves dating back to the 1st and 5th centuries at Necropolis.

This two and half hour guided tour costs Euros 59 per person.

Buy TicketsNecropolis and St. Peter’s Basilica guided tour

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