Wheelchair Access at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican

By John Sage
Vatican wheelchair access at St. Peter’s Basilica is possible by a combination of wheelchair ramps and elevators. There is a wheelchair ramp near the metal detectors, an elevator near the gift shop, and a wheelchair ramp in the portico leading up into the church. Vatican disabled access inside St. Peter’s Basilica is over a flat, smooth (and huge) floor. Accessible guided tours of the Vatican are possible by booking in advance.

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Video of John Sage describing St. Peter’s Basilica
accessibility from St. Peter’s Square:

 

 

The excavations (scavi) are underneath the main altar and are not handicapped accessible. Wheelchair users can reach the base of the dome by asking a staff member where the elevator is located. Be sure to also look for the tombs of Pope John Paul II and John XXIII (both on the right side of the church).

Admission to the church is free for all. Audioguides are available at the cloakroom for a fee. The pope usually does a blessing from his apartments at noon on Sunday. The Papal Audience on Wednesday is possible by getting tickets through your local Catholic Church at home.

Many Vatican disabled visitors choose to visit by taking a Vatican accessible guided tour. The tour includes a visit to the Vatican Museum, Papal Apartments, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The only accessible guided tour of the Vatican that visits the all of these parts of Vatican City is not provided by the staff and must be arranged by an outside tour guide. The tour allows visitors to by-pass the long lines and provides detailed commentary on all the art and history of Vatican City.

We gave the St. Peter’s Basilica a 4 Star Sage Accessibility Rating because it has ramp and elevator access. Although it has cobblestones to approach it, they are not severe. It did not get a 5 star rating because of the presence of cobblestones, the 20 meter slope leading up to the coat check, and the steep ramp in the portico.

 

When standing in St. Peter’s Square facing St. Peter’s Basilica, the line forms on the right and there is a wheelchair ramp.

 

 

To enter St. Peter’s Basilica, most visitors ascend the flight of stairs shown in the image on the left. The elevator is located on the right side of these steps. Ask the staff member at the coat check to call the elevator for you. You may want to also pick up an audioguide here. An accessible restroom is located near the coat check. The Vatican gift shop is located at the top of the elevator.

After you take the elevator up, you’ll need to go to the far end of the porch to get to the ramp into the church. Staff members will open the metal barriers for you.

The ramp into St. Peter’s Basilica is a little steep and shown on the left. The interior of St. Peter’s Basilica is step-free and very large. There is generally plenty of room to navigate through the tourists except near the Pieta and John Paul II’s tomb where it can get crowded.

When you enter the basilica, Michelangelo’s Pieta statue will be on your right. If you visit late in the day, you will have an easier time getting up to the rail to get a good view of it. Ask a staff member to show you the elevator to reach the base of the dome.

Accessible Route between the Vatican Museums / Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica

Most able-bodied visitors to the Vatican will visit the Sistine Chapel, then exit to the St. Peter’s Basilica by a flight of stairs.Vatican disabled visitorsneed to go back to the Vatican Museums entrance and take the 0.6 mile (1.0 km) route shown below. The route is flat in some places and slightly downhill in some places.

 

Accessible route from Vatican Museums to St. Peter’s Basilica (north is up):

Aerial view (facing south) showing St. Peter’s Square relative to the Vatican Museums:

 

 

The sidewalk from the Vatican Museums to St. Peter’s Square follows the Vatican city walls (shown in the image below). The sidewalk is flat in some places and slightly downhill in other places. There are no cobblestones.

 

Back to Part 1: Wheelchair Access at the Sistine Chapel

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