Admission to St Peter’s church in Rome is free but security queues are long and skip-the-line tours are only possible in combination with the Vatican Museum.
Admission to St Peter’s Basilica is free and does not require a ticket but lines at security are often very long and slow-moving. Skip-the-line timeslot-reservation tickets are not sold and guided tours of the basilica have no special fast-track entrance, except when visiting the Vatican Museum first. Seeing St Peter’s Basilica directly after a tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel is a very good timesaving option, if available. Otherwise, turn up early, even slightly before opening time, to clear St Peter’s security lines fast and see the church (or climb the dome) in relative calm.
No Skip-the-Line Tickets for St Peter’s in Rome
Admission to St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City is free but all visitors must queue up at the airport-style security checkpoint to enter the church complex. There are currently no skip-the-line options or fast-track lines for the security checks, other than seeing the Vatican Museum first.
For travelers not interested in tours, the best fast-entry option is to visit the basilica first thing in the morning. Turn up right at opening time (7:00), or in the high season even ten to 30 minutes early — it will be time well invested.
Climb the dome (tickets sold only onsite) at opening time and similarly see the grotto (free) as soon as visitors are allowed in. The basilica can easily cope with thousands of visitors but the cupola stairs and grotto aisles are best visited while uncrowded.
The basilica is mostly closed on Wednesday mornings due to papal audiences. Wednesday mornings without papal audiences — most likely in the winter season — are a great time to visit the church as few tours are scheduled and many visitors expect the cathedral to be closed.
Queues are often shorter later in the day but parts of the basilica are closed off from late afternoon in preparation for services. Closing time is 19:00 (18:30 October to March) but visitors may be hustled towards the exit earlier.
In addition to the typical airport-style security check to enter St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, visitors’ fashion is also inspected: no bare shoulders or bare knees (not even tights under short skirts) are allowed and that applies to all visitors including children. Also, no offensive visible tattoos or such slogans on clothes.
Fast Entry to St Peter’s Basilica on Guided Tours?
Currently, not even full guided tours have access to fast-track security lines to enter St Peter’s Basilica. As there is no telling how long the wait will be, and in summer two hours in the blazing sun is not uncommon, avoid booking a tour where the guide is met only after the security check.
As many tours are available for St Peter’s Basilica, most are scheduled for early morning when the queues are the shortest. A very popular tour includes climbing the dome of St Peter’s for magnificent views of the Vatican City and Rome. These tours usually start early morning, as skip-the-line is not available at the dome or crypt.
Skip-the-Line to St Peter’s Basilica after Vatican Museum Tours
A great option to skip the security lines at St Peter’s Basilica is to see the church after a visit to the Vatican Museum. Guided tours use special fast-track security lines at the Vatican Museum with no need to repeat the check at the Basilica. For this option to work, the tour of the museum should be in the morning or early afternoon.
Many tours of the Vatican Museum use a direct entrance after the Sistine Chapel to enter St Peter’s. Often these tours do not include a tour of the basilica itself (usually termed “basilica entry” or “fast access”) and allow free exploration of the church once out of the museum itself. However, adding the basilica for a full Vatican City tour is hardly more expensive than just a guided tour of the museum.
The shortcut after the Sistine Chapel is officially for tours only, and is sometimes closed without much warning, but solo travelers could usually use it too. In the room directly after the Sistine Chapel, use the exit to the right rather than to the left — follow a larger group out to be inconspicuous. (This exit is one-way only — don’t use it if using an official audio guide or with anything in the museum lockers.)
Seeing St Peter’s directly after a tour of the Vatican Museum is a very good option for skipping the huge security lines at the basilica. The only downside is that it then not possible to explore the Vatican Museum further on your own after the end of the tour.
See Visiting the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel for skip-the-line options. The museum is usually crowded, the Sistine Chapel often unpleasantly so, making it very sensible to pay a bit more to see the museum early morning, or in the evening (usually only on Friday and Saturday in warmer months and without admission to St Peter’s afterward).
Combine St Peter’s Basilica with Other Rome Sights
Small discounts are often available when booking more than one tour or sight at the same time, e.g. touring St Peter’s with admission tickets to for example the Castel Sant’Angelo, Villa Borghese Gallery, or the Colosseum and Forum. These are often good options to secure timeslots at popular sights but note that transportation is usually not included between the sites but as a bonus, it is often possible to see sights on different days.
An increasing number of sights in Rome require time-slot reservations but these are always sensible when offered even when not obligatory. The high season in Rome is increasingly long and tickets for top sights such as the Borghese Gallery and Colosseum are best secured well before travel. Guided tours are great skip-the-line options at the Colosseum, Forum, St Peter’s Basilica, climbing St Peter’s church cupola, and the Vatican Museum.