For the first time visitor to Rome, a visit to St Peter’s Square and inside to St Peter’s Basilica is pretty much mandatory. (The Vatican Museums the other must see is about 5 minutes walk from St Peter’s Square).
Entrance to the vast majority of St Peter’s Basilica is free. If you want to you can pay to climb up to the famous Dome for fantastic views (there is a lift) and there is a worthwhile museum/treasury if you have a real interest.
The basilica itself really is impressive and well worth the visit. If you’ve visited a few cathedrals and religious sites in your time, St Peter’s is head and shoulders above the rest. The size, scale and grandeur of the place really is an experience not to be missed.
The only downside, is like most things that are world class it is rather popular.
You will have to queue in St Peter’s Square, the only variable is for how long. So do yourself a favour and get down to the square as early as you can, perhaps by 9 a.m.
Many tourists will twin a visit to St Peter’s with a visit to the Vatican Museums. Bob’s opinion is that to minimise queueing time you should visit St Peter’s in the morning and the Vatican Museums after lunch. Sunday is for all practical purposes not realistic to visit and Monday as a result tends to be busier than other days during the week.
Perhaps wander over to the Vatican Post Office and write home about your experience between visits at lunchtime.
Your only decision really when visting is whether you just shuffle around the basilica independently or try and make sense of what you are seeing by investing in an audio guide or a guided tour.
A popular activity is to take a lift or climb the stairs to the Dome of St Peter’s for great views. The price differential between stairs and lift is surprisingly small so maybe lift up and walk down.
The other way to part with your cash inside the basillica apart from donations is the treasury museum and is worthwhile if you have a real interest in the subject matter.
Most guided tours take a couple of hours and often have fast track entry.
If you queue up and just shuffle around independently within the basilica you may spend as much time queueing as visiting if you turn up at the end of the queue at 11 a.m. during the visitor season.
Below is a video clip of what to expect …