Duane McLaughlin

Exploring Saint Peter’s Square

Experience the grandeur of Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City, a pivotal site for art, history, and religion in the heart of Rome.

Attraction Vatican City
Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City


Saint Peter's Square is one of the most iconic and visited places in Rome, Italy. It is the main entrance to the Vatican City, the smallest and holiest state in the world. The square is surrounded by majestic colonnades and adorned with fountains, statues, and an ancient Egyptian obelisk. It is also the place where millions of pilgrims and tourists gather to see the Pope and attend his weekly audiences and blessings.

Setting Expectations: Downsides and Time Considerations

While Saint Peter's Square is undoubtedly a must-see attraction in Rome, it also comes with some drawbacks. The square can get very crowded, especially during religious events and holidays. You may have to wait in long lines to enter the basilica or the museums, or go through security checks and metal detectors. The square is also exposed to the sun, so it can get very hot in the summer. You should plan your visit accordingly and bring water, sunscreen, and a hat.

Depending on how much time you have and what you want to see, you may need to spend at least half a day or a full day exploring Saint Peter's Square and its surroundings. The basilica, the museums, and the Sistine Chapel are all worth visiting, but they require time and patience. You may also want to climb up to the dome of the basilica for a stunning view of the city, or visit the Vatican Gardens for a peaceful stroll.

Tips for your visit of Saint Peter's Square

  • The Papal Audience: If you want to see the Pope and receive his blessing, you can attend the Papal Audience every Wednesday morning at 10:00 am. You will need to reserve a free ticket in advance from the Prefecture of the Papal Household or from your hotel or tour operator. You should arrive early to get a good spot and be prepared for large crowds.
  • The Swiss Guards: The Swiss Guards are the official guards of the Pope and the Vatican City. They wear colorful uniforms and carry halberds. You can see them at the entrances of the square, the basilica, and the museums. You can also watch their changing of the guard ceremony every day at 11:00 am.

Some other tips for your visit are:

  • Dress appropriately: You will need to cover your shoulders and knees to enter the basilica and the museums.
  • Book online: You can save time and money by booking your tickets online for the museums and the dome. You can also book guided tours or audio guides for a more informative experience.
  • Visit early or late: The best time to visit Saint Peter's Square is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when it is less crowded and more pleasant.

Practical Information

Opening Hours: Saint Peter's Square is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The basilica is open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm (6:00 pm in winter) every day except Wednesdays, when it closes at 10:00 am for the Papal Audience. The museums are open from Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm (last entry at 4:00 pm) and on Sundays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm (last entry at 12:30 pm), except on some religious holidays. The dome is open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (5:00 pm in winter) every day except Wednesdays.

How to Get There: You can reach Saint Peter's Square by public transportation or by walking. The nearest metro station is Ottaviano-San Pietro on line A, about 10 minutes walk from the square. You can also take bus number 64 or 40 from Termini station or bus number 62 from Piazza Venezia. Alternatively, you can walk from other attractions such as Castel Sant'Angelo or Piazza Navona, which are about 20 minutes away.

Price: Saint Peter's Square is free to enter. The basilica is also free, but you will need to pay 10 euros to climb up to the dome (8 euros if you take the elevator). The museums cost 17 euros for adults, 8 euros for students and children under 18, and free for children under 6. You can also buy a combined ticket for the museums and the dome for 25 euros.

Crowds: Saint Peter's Square can get very busy, especially during religious events and holidays. The busiest times are on Sundays at noon, when the Pope gives his Angelus prayer and blessing from his window, and on Wednesdays at 10:00 am, when he holds his Papal Audience. You should expect long lines and crowds at the basilica and the museums as well, especially in high season.

Weather Considerations: The weather in Rome can vary depending on the season. The summer months are hot and sunny, with temperatures reaching up to 35°C. The winter months are mild and rainy, with temperatures ranging from 5°C to 15°C. The spring and autumn months are pleasant and sunny, with temperatures averaging around 20°C. You should dress accordingly and check the weather forecast before your visit.

Photography: You are allowed to take photos and videos in Saint Peter's Square, but not inside the basilica or the museums. You should respect the sacredness of the place and avoid using flash or tripods. You should also be careful of your belongings and avoid pickpockets.

Accessibility: Saint Peter's Square is accessible to wheelchair users and people with reduced mobility. There are ramps and elevators at the entrances of the square, the basilica, and the museums. There are also accessible restrooms and drinking fountains. However, the dome is not accessible, as it requires climbing stairs or taking a narrow elevator.

Facilities: Saint Peter's Square has several facilities for visitors, such as restrooms, drinking fountains, information desks, souvenir shops, post office, pharmacy, ATM, and Wi-Fi. You can also find a tourist office, a police station, a hospital, and a fire station nearby.

Tours: You can join guided tours or audio tours of Saint Peter's Square and its surroundings. You can book them online or on site. They usually last from one to three hours and cover different topics and languages. Some of them also include skip-the-line access or special access to hidden areas.

Bringing Children: Saint Peter's Square is a family-friendly attraction that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. They can learn about history, art, and religion while admiring the architecture and sculptures of the square. They can also have fun watching the Swiss Guards or looking for the Pope's window. However, they may get bored or tired in the basilica or the museums, so you should plan your visit accordingly and bring some snacks and games.

Bringing Pets: Pets are not allowed in Saint Peter's Square or its surroundings. You should leave them at your hotel or find a pet-sitter before your visit.

These details are subject to change; please check the official website for the latest information

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Saint Peter's Square?

    Saint Peter's Square is a large plaza located directly in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, the papal enclave in Rome. It is named after Saint Peter, an apostle of Jesus and the first Pope. It was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII, as an appropriate forecourt for the faithful to see the Pope give his blessing.

  • What are the main features of Saint Peter's Square?

    The main features of Saint Peter's Square are the massive Doric colonnades, four columns deep, which embrace visitors in "the maternal arms of Mother Church". At the center of the square is an ancient Egyptian obelisk, erected at the current site in 1586. On either side of the obelisk are two granite fountains, constructed by Bernini and Carlo Maderno. The square also offers a spectacular view of the majestic St. Peter's Basilica and its dome, designed by Michelangelo and completed by Giacomo Della Porta and Domenico Fontana.

  • How can I visit Saint Peter's Square?

    Saint Peter's Square is open to the public every day, free of charge. You can access it from Via della Conciliazione or from Borgo Santo Spirito. You can also visit the interior of St. Peter's Basilica, which houses masterpieces by Bernini, Maderno, Borromini, Canova, and other artists, as well as the Vatican Grottoes and the pre-Constantine Necropolis. To enter the basilica, you need to follow a dress code that requires covering your shoulders and knees. You can also visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, which house Greek and Roman sculptures, tapestries, Egyptian antiquities, frescoes, and works by Giotto, Beato Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Perugino, Pinturicchio, Titian, Carracci, Caravaggio, Poussin, Reni, Guercino, and Michelangelo. To visit the museums and the chapel, you need to book a ticket online in advance.

Must see

  • The Obelisk

    The obelisk in Saint Peter's Square is one of the 13 ancient obelisks that adorn Rome. It is one of the Egyptian ones brought to Rome in the time of Caligula. It stands over 25 meters high; with the base and the cross, it reaches almost 40 meters. It is not the tallest obelisk in the city, but it is perhaps the most important of all, given the extraordinary scenery that surrounds it. Inside is a relic of the Holy Cross.

  • The Colonnades

    The colonnades in Saint Peter's Square are a masterpiece of Baroque architecture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. They consist of 284 columns arranged radially in four rows. They symbolize the Church's universal embrace towards believers and non-believers alike. Bernini played with optical illusions to obtain a spectacular and scenic result. If you cross the square, you can see the columns come together and move apart, with a feeling of movement and alternation between full and empty. If you look at the columns from one of the two marble disks on the pavement marking the ellipse foci, the colonnade seems composed of a single row.

  • The Basilica

    The basilica in Saint Peter's Square is one of the largest and most beautiful churches in the world. It was built over about two hundred years on the site where Saint Peter was martyred and buried. The basilica has a magnificent façade by Carlo Maderno and a stunning dome by Michelangelo. The interior of the basilica is richly decorated with marble, mosaics, statues, altars, chapels, and tombs. Among the highlights are Bernini's Baldachin over the main altar, Michelangelo's Pietà sculpture, Maderno's nave with its colossal statues of saints, Borromini's spiral staircase to access the dome, Canova's tomb of Pope Clement XIII, and Cavalier d'Arpino's frescoes in the dome.

  • The Museums and the Chapel

    The museums and the chapel in Vatican City are some of the most visited and admired cultural attractions in the world. They house an immense collection of art and history, spanning from ancient times to modern times. The museums include the Pio-Clementine Museum, the Chiaramonti Museum, the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, the Gregorian Etruscan Museum, the Pinacoteca, the Raphael Rooms, the Borgia Apartment, the Gallery of Maps, the Gallery of Tapestries, and the Gallery of Candelabra. The chapel is the famous Sistine Chapel, where you can admire the magnificent Last Judgment by Michelangelo, as well as frescoes by Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Rosselli, and Signorelli.

Additional tips or recommendations for visitors are to check the opening hours and days of the basilica, the museums, and the chapel before planning your visit. You should also be aware that there may be long queues and security checks to enter these places. You should also respect the silence and the sacredness of these places. You can also attend a papal audience or a mass in Saint Peter's Square or in the basilica if you are interested in seeing the Pope or participating in a religious ceremony.

Lesser known stories and Interesting Facts

  • The Moving Obelisk

    The obelisk in Saint Peter's Square was not always there. It was originally located in Nero's Circus, where Saint Peter was crucified upside down. In 1586, Pope Sixtus V decided to move it to its current location as a symbol of Christianity's triumph over paganism. The moving of the obelisk was a colossal engineering feat that involved 900 men, 140 horses, 44 winches, and 75 ropes. The operation was supervised by Domenico Fontana, who devised a system of pulleys and counterweights to lift and transport the obelisk. The operation took four months and was completed on September 10, 1586. During the final phase of the moving, a strict silence was imposed on everyone involved. Legend has it that a sailor named Bresca broke the silence by shouting "Water on the ropes!" to prevent them from catching fire. He saved the obelisk from falling and was rewarded by Pope Sixtus V with a papal coat of arms and a privilege to supply palm leaves for the basilica on Palm Sunday.

  • The Hidden Beehive

    The colonnades in Saint Peter's Square have a hidden beehive behind one of their columns. It is located behind the seventh column on the right side of the square, facing the basilica. The beehive was installed in 2015 by Pope Francis as part of his environmental initiative to promote biodiversity and ecological awareness. The beehive is home to about 500 bees that produce honey for the Vatican. The bees are also a symbol of diligence, harmony, and community.

  • The Swiss Guards

    The Swiss Guards are the colorful soldiers that guard Saint Peter's Square and Vatican City. They are one of the oldest and smallest armies in the world, dating back to 1506 when Pope Julius II hired them as his personal bodyguards. They are also one of the most loyal and brave armies in history, as they proved in 1527 when they defended Pope Clement VII from an attack by Emperor Charles V's troops. Out of 189 Swiss Guards, only 42 survived after holding off thousands of invaders and allowing the Pope to escape to safety through a secret passage. The Swiss Guards still wear their traditional Renaissance uniforms, designed by Michelangelo according to some sources. They also carry halberds, swords, and firearms as their weapons. To become a Swiss Guard, one must be a Swiss male citizen, a practicing Catholic, at least 174 cm tall, between 19 and 30 years old, and have completed basic training in the Swiss Army.

  • The Bronze Doors

    The bronze doors in Saint Peter's Square are the main entrance to Vatican City and the Apostolic Palace. They are also known as the Porta Sancta or Holy Door because they are only opened during Jubilee years, which occur every 25 years or at special occasions decided by the Pope. The opening and closing of the Holy Door is a solemn ceremony that symbolizes the opening and closing of God's mercy and forgiveness.

Historical Background

St. Peter's Square is a large plaza located directly in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, the papal enclave in Rome. The square was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII, as an appropriate forecourt for the magnificent basilica and a place where the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing.

The square features an ancient Egyptian obelisk, erected at the current site in 1586, and two fountains, one by Carlo Maderno and one by Bernini himself. The most striking feature of the square is the massive Doric colonnades, four columns deep, which embrace visitors in "the maternal arms of Mother Church". The colonnades are decorated with 140 statues of saints and martyrs, and have a trapezoidal shape that creates a heightened perspective for a visitor leaving the basilica.

The square is named after Saint Peter, an apostle of Jesus whom Catholics consider to be the first Pope. According to tradition, Saint Peter was crucified upside down on this site in the 1st century AD, and his tomb is located under the altar of the basilica. The square is also the site of many important events in the history of the Catholic Church, such as papal elections, canonizations, jubilees, and public audiences.

Nearby Restaurants

  • La Vittoria A cozy restaurant serving traditional Roman cuisine, such as pasta carbonara, saltimbocca, and tiramisu. Located just outside the Vatican walls, near the entrance to the Vatican Museums.
  • Pizza Zizza A popular pizzeria offering a variety of toppings and sizes, as well as salads, sandwiches, and desserts. Located on Via della Conciliazione, the main street leading to St. Peter's Square.
  • La Veranda A refined restaurant located inside the Hotel Columbus, a historic building that once belonged to the Knights of Malta. The restaurant offers a panoramic view of St. Peter's Basilica and serves Mediterranean dishes with seasonal ingredients.

Nearby Attractions

  • St. Peter's Basilica The largest and most famous church in the world, built over the tomb of Saint Peter. The basilica is a masterpiece of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, featuring a dome designed by Michelangelo, a façade by Maderno, and an interior decorated with artworks by Bernini, Raphael, Bramante, and many others. The basilica also houses the Vatican Grottoes, where many popes are buried, and the Vatican Necropolis, where the remains of Saint Peter are believed to be located.
  • Vatican Museums One of the largest and most visited museum complexes in the world, containing thousands of artworks collected by the popes over centuries. The museums include the Sistine Chapel, famous for its frescoes by Michelangelo; the Raphael Rooms, decorated by Raphael and his pupils; the Gallery of Maps, with its impressive ceiling paintings; and many more galleries, courtyards, and halls.
  • Castel Sant'Angelo A fortress built on the banks of the Tiber River by Emperor Hadrian as his mausoleum in the 2nd century AD. The castle was later converted into a papal residence and a prison, and is connected to the Vatican by a secret passageway. The castle offers a stunning view of Rome from its terrace and hosts a museum with historical and artistic exhibits.


St. Peter's Square is not only a beautiful architectural achievement but also a symbol of the Catholic faith and history. Visiting this square is an unforgettable experience that will enrich your knowledge and appreciation of Rome's culture and heritage. Whether you come to see the Pope, to admire the basilica, or to explore the nearby attractions, you will find something to inspire and amaze you in St. Peter's Square.