St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the top attractions in Rome and a must-see for many visitors. The main church at the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica is an important place of worship as well as a work of art in and of itself. This is where you will find Michelangelo’s evocative Pietà and Bernini’s stunning Baldacchino.
Because St. Peter’s is a church, it is also free to visit. However, there can be a very long line to enter the basilica, even if you arrive early. This is due to the number of people who want to visit the church, as well as increased security measures which have been enhanced in recent years and slow the speed of the line.
The good news is that there is more than one way to skip the line at St. Peter’s Basilica and enjoy San Pietro without having to wait an hour or more.
NOTE: During 2021, the self-guided skip the line tickets are temporarily unavailable. The best way to be sure you will get in at a dedicated time is to take a 1-hour tour:
The bad news is that they both cost a little bit of money but it may be worth the small price in order to save time when visiting the attraction. (But I have tips on when to visit for the best shot at a short line at the end of the post).
How to Skip the Line at St. Peter’s Basilica
There are three ways to skip the line at St. Peter’s Basilica:
- Take a group tour of the Vatican Museums
- Take a necropolis tour
- Buy fast track entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica without visiting the museums. When this is unavailable, you can book a short tour of the basilica.
All official tours of the Vatican Museums end in St. Peter’s Basilica. After visiting the museum’s art collections, tour groups enter the Sistine Chapel and are then allowed to exit through a dedicated door and follow their guide into St. Peter’s Basilica. This means that you will need to purchase a guided tour of the Vatican Museums.
If you visit the museums on your own without a tour guide, then you can try to be sneaky and walk through with a group when they exit through the door towards St. Peter’s but I don’t recommend this and it is going to be pretty embarrassing if you get caught. (Note that purchasing the audio guide of the museums does not give you access to the tour exit either). As of July 2019, the Vatican is also requiring even tour guides to show that they have reserved to use this door so sneaking through is almost impossible. Tour guides pay €1.50 per person to use this special exit. You cannot purchase this additional access on your own. It is only possible as part of a tour.
If you prefer to visit the church directly without first taking a tour of the museums, then you can either wait in line or purchase fast track entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica online.
(From this point in the line – about 1/3 of the way wrapped around St. Peter’s Square – our wait was approximately 50 minutes).
When I visited, I was waiting with a friend and my young son. I was tempted to buy the tickets to skip the line simply to get him out of the sun so I went and spoke with the people working at the St. Peter’s fast-track entrance. That means that I can confirm:
- There is no way to purchase St. Peter’s skip-the-line tickets from the Vatican directly. (I assume this is because the church is officially free to enter).
- There is no way to purchase Fast Track tickets on the spot. If someone is walking around trying to see you a skip the line ticket to enter the church then it is probably a scam or they do have real tickets but are going to sell them to you at a steep markup.
- You must purchase tickets to skip the line at St. Peter’s online from a third-party like Tiqets. These will allow you to walk past everyone waiting in the normal line and go check in with a representative wearing a Vox Mundi vest. They will allow you into their dedicated security line.
- These third-party skip the line tickets also include an official audio guide.
Again, no tickets are required to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. These are simply made available in case you want to skip the line and go directly to the airport-style security check.
The tickets work based on timeslots and you can check the availability to pick your preferred entry time.
The Best Time to go to Avoid the Line St. Peter’s
If you don’t want to pay to skip the line, there are other steps you can take to avoid the line at St. Peter’s:
- Ignore popular advice and avoid going first thing in the morning. This is when everyone goes! The best time to find a short line for St. Peter’s is in the afternoon around 3 pm (though if there is a verrrry long line then you risk not getting in before it closes).
- Do not go on Wednesday. The basilica is closed on Wednesday mornings when the Pope comes out to give his public address.
- As with all things in Rome, come in the offseason. In the winter there are fewer people and a shorter line.
Regardless of how or when you visit, remember that there is a dress code for the Vatican and you must cover your knees and shoulders in order to enter the church.
Note: The links here are affiliate links which mean I receive a small commission if you choose to buy them. You are under no obligation to do so. Keep in mind there is no other way to buy skip the line tickets or I would have included that information as well!