Things to do in Saint Peter’s Basilica
The magnificent Saint Peter’s Basilica, located in Vatican City in Rome, is one of the largest Catholic churches in the world and is considered an iconic symbol of the city and the heart of Christianity. The combined work of Bramante, Michelangelo, Maderno and Bernini among others, the church overflows with Renaissance beauty and is a must-see for anyone visiting Rome.
Built on the tomb of Saint Peter and the remains of a 4th century church, Pope Julius II commissioned Bramante to build a new basilica in 1506. After Bramante died in 1514, construction stalled and he was succeeded by a number of different architects, all of whom made changes to the design. Most notably was Michelangelo, who took over in 1547 at the age of 72; he didn’t live to see its completion. It fell to Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana to oversee the dome’s construction and Carlo Maderno to finish the project who completed the main facade in 1615.
Beyond its imposing architecture, it is also well worth a visit for its stunning interior features and masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque art. Don’t miss Bernini’s enormous Baldachin (canopy), which hangs over the main altar and is one of the heaviest bronze objects in the world. The cathedral is also home to Michelangelo’s famed Pieta, sculpted when the artist was just twenty-four.
Visit the Vatican Grottos, a necropolis below the nave where you will find the graves of more than one hundred popes. You can also climb to the top of the dome for an additional fee and experience magnificent views over Rome from the viewing platform.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome, Saint Peter’s Basilica receives thousands of visitors and pilgrims per day, so it is advisable to book ahead with a guided tour. Saint Peter’s Basilica is within walking distance to many of the other popular tourist attractions in Vatican City such as the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums, so a combined tour is a popular option.
Dress code for entry into Saint Peter’s Basilica is strict and is reinforced by security so don’t be caught out when visiting. Men must wear long trousers and cover their shoulders and women must not have either bare shoulders or skirts shorter than knee length.
Saint Peters Basilica is open daily from 7am to 7pm April to September and 7am to 6pm October to March. It is advisable to visit early in the morning before the crowds arrive or book skip the line tickets as the line for security can be long. It is accessible by foot from many points in the city or via public transport. The nearest subway stop is Ottaviano-S. Pietro station and all hop on hop off buses stop at Vatican City.
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“I highly recommend the tour of St. Peter's. It was so convenient to have it organized to avoid the long lines, be in a small group, have someone answer your questions personally, get your audioguide with easy to follow instructions and information you can access at your own pace, independently. We even went thru the Holy Door as part of our own tour...Wonderful and an easy way to fit in the Vatican tours. I recommend taking the Vatican Museum tour as well! The cafeteria was great!”