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How to climb St. Peter's dome in Rome

One of the great attractions of Vatican City is the immensity of St. Peter's dome and of course, its views. I tell you everything you need to know: schedules, prices, and types of tickets to touch (almost literally) the gates of Heaven.

Carmen Navarro

Carmen Navarro

8 min read

How to climb St. Peter's dome in Rome

Karim Ben Van

We have seen it hundreds of times in postcards, movies, photos, or even from inside St. Peter's Basilica itself. But not everyone who comes to the Basilica goes up to the Dome. And this, for me, is a big mistake.

The experience without climbing to the top of Vatican City is not complete. You can't leave Rome without seeing the incredible sight of St. Peter's Square from up high with the rest of the city at your feet.

How to climb St. Peter's Dome

To St. Peter's Dome you will have to climb 551 steps on foot (for $ 10) or by taking an elevator and a short flight of stairs (for $ 12). To do so, you will have to buy tickets inside the Basilica, as soon as you cross the entrance door, on the right of the naves you will see the ticket office to get your tickets, it is signposted with signs in all languages.

In the same place, you can also buy tickets for the crypts of the Popes. None of these tickets are available online. Online you can only get those for the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums or a guided tour for St. Peter's Basilica.

Get Vatican tickets

How to get tickets for St. Peter's Dome

St. Peter's Dome | ©Aldo Loya
St. Peter's Dome | ©Aldo Loya

Entering the Basilica is free, but to go up to the Dome you will need a special ticket that you can only buy at the Basilica itself. Once you get inside, you will immediately see the signs that take you to the point where the ticket office for the Dome and the access to the crypts is located.

The price is 10 dollars if you want the option of walking up or 12 dollars if you want the combined entrance with walking and elevator access.

Although the entrance to the Basilica is free and you don't need any special ticket, you can skip the queues by buying online in advance the tickets for St. Peter's Basilica without queues.

By the way, if you are interested, in the same place where you buy tickets to the Dome, you can buy tickets to see the tomb of St. Peter and the crypts of other Popes (the price is 15 dollars).

Get tickets to the Vatican

Dome ticket prices

To access the Dome you will have to pay 8€ if you want to walk all the way up or 10€ if you want to combine it with going up a section by elevator. You can buy it inside St. Peter's Basilica, which you can access for free.

If you will allow me a tip, there is a little trick to skip the queues at the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica. Once there, you will see that the queues go almost all the way around the square, and after several hours waiting in the sun, you will not want to go up to the Dome.

The best thing to do is to buy a ticket for the Vatican that includes skip-the-line access to St. Peter's Basilica for $ 42 at Hellotickets and you will enter directly into the temple, without waiting.

Get tickets to the Vatican

St. Peter's Dome schedules

Schedules for visiting St. Peter's Dome | ©Alexander Schimmeck
Schedules for visiting St. Peter's Dome | ©Alexander Schimmeck

St. Peter's Dome is open all year round. Normally, you can access it from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. between October and March, and from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from April to September.

But I say normally because these hours can be modified in case there is a holiday or religious celebration that requires that St. Peter's Basilica is closed to the general public for safety. Therefore, I recommend that when you plan your trip to Rome you count on the fact that it could be closed on some of the days.

Best time to climb St. Peter's Dome

Detail of St. Peter's Dome | ©Briana Tozour
Detail of St. Peter's Dome | ©Briana Tozour

In general, as in any tourist spot in the city, the less people you cross paths with, the better. And this usually happens early in the morning. Besides, at that time the city is still quiet and the faint colors of the morning are beautiful.

The tranquility and silence from the top of St. Peter's is also quite appreciated, so I encourage you to get up early. In general, it is a good time to also see St. Peter's Basilica and even the Vatican Museums.

What is the climb to St. Peter's Dome like?

Vatican Stairs | ©UnSplash
Vatican Stairs | ©UnSplash

Here I'm not going to lie to you: the climb is not easy, there is an elevator only in one section and it is certainly not suitable for claustrophobics. But if you take it with calm and energy, I assure you that you will not regret it.

Elevator vs stairs

If you decide to walk the entire climb, you should know that 551 steps await you ahead (if you go up by elevator you save a good part and "only" have to climb 320). It is 10 dollars without elevator and 12 dollars with elevator. However, you should know that even if you pay the rate with elevator you will also have to climb stairs.

Queues for the Dome

Regarding the queues, in both options you will have to wait your turn -there are usually quite many people- but as you can imagine, the queues to take the elevator are longer if possible.

Another thing you should know is that the up queue is different from the down queue, so you won't be able to turn back if you regret it in the middle of the ascent (I doubt you will regret it, but if you don't like tight spaces, think carefully before going up).

My recommendation

In general, I recommend that you take it easy, enjoy the immensity of the Dome inside, and don't be in a hurry to get to the top. The views from the top will make you forget about fatigue.

How to get tickets for St. Peter's Basilica without queues

As you can imagine, the lines to get into the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica are extremely long (even longer than the Colosseum). If you also plan to go up to the Dome, it is best to book a ticket that allows you to skip the queues and go directly to the temple without having to wait. With this ticket that you can get at Hellotickets, you will access without queues to the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica.

Why it is worthwhile to climb St. Peter's Dome

Views from the Dome | ©Michele Francioso
Views from the Dome | ©Michele Francioso

The view, the view, and the view. From the top of the Dome, you will have a totally different perspective of the city and many of its details. Make sure not to miss these views to get the most out of your visit:

The sculptures of Bernini on the Colonnade

From the top you will be able to contemplate, in the foreground, the 140 sculptures at the top of Bernini's colonnade in St. Peter's Square. From above, these figures take on another dimension and open up to the skyline of the impressive Piazza.

The perfection of St. Peter's Square

If the Piazza from below is impressive, the sensation of seeing it from the sky is unparalleled. You will be able to realize its majestic size, the perfection of its ellipsis and the optical effect of this marvel of architecture.

St. Angelo's Castle and its passageways

On the horizon, the profile of Castel St'Angelo and the walls (or "pasetto") linking the Vatican to the Castle stand out in the foreground. The immensity of this fortification is hard to imagine when we see it walking through the streets around it, but from the heights, it definitely takes your breath away.

The rooftops of the city

Rome's skyline is a myriad of orange rooftops, stone domes crowning every street, and an infinity of terraces and penthouses full of flowers and life. The best skyline of the city can be seen from the top of the Dome and it is worth stopping to see it at leisure.

The interior of the Dome

The way to the top can also be enjoyed: between steps, don't forget to take a look at the Dome's skyline to enjoy its immensity and its details.

Other things to do in St. Peter's Basilica

Views of Vatican City | ©Jedi Equester
Views of Vatican City | ©Jedi Equester

Tour St. Peter's Basilica at your own pace: it is huge and its interior is loaded with worthwhile works: from Michelangelo's Pietà, you will recognize it right away because there are always visitors admiring the image to the central baldachin. Take your time and enjoy it because it is full of details.

The Pietà

Michelangelo gave life to this spectacular marble sculpture of almost two meters between 1498 and 1499 to represent the Virgin Mary picking up the body of her son Jesus who died on the cross. The quality of the details, the dimensions, and the perfect proportions soon made it one of Michelangelo's most admired works. It is currently located in the first chapel on the right, very close to the entrance of the Basilica.

The Crypts

Although the last Popes have not been buried in these crypts, if you decide to descend into the bowels of St. Peter's Basilica, you will be able to see the tombs and mausoleums of more than 100 Popes and the necropolis of St. Peter's. You can buy the entrance ticket inside the temple itself, since to access the crypts you need a specific ticket that costs 16 dollars.

The Baldachin

This colossal structure was designed by Bernini to cover the altar of the Basilica stars inside the temple capturing all eyes from almost every corner. It is made of bronze and stands almost 100 feet tall (you'll have to stand far away for it to fully appear in a photograph).

Other things to do in the Vatican

Angelus of Pope Francis | ©Unsplash
Angelus of Pope Francis | ©Unsplash

Join a guided tour of the Vatican Museums.

To organize your visit to the Museums well, the first thing you should know is that, in general, when we talk about "Vatican tickets", we are talking about the tickets that give access to the Vatican Museums, where thousands of works are housed and of course, the popular Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican City itself is free to move around freely and you can stroll through its square and even into the Basilica without having to buy any tickets or pay anything at all. More or less long, more or less early, and more or less exclusive (you can choose to do it in a large or small group), taking a tour of the Vatican Museums is practically mandatory. Walking past so much history and symbolism without understanding much is a shame (surely, almost a sin).

Turn around the colonnade of St. Peter's Square: Vatican City would not be the same without the wonderful circular colonnade that makes it up. If you also like photography, you will enjoy playing with the perspectives of this work of art.

Take the opportunity to see the Pope live: whether you are religious or not, seeing the Pope live is something you can easily do when you visit the Vatican. You'll have to stick to specific days and times (Wednesday Mass or Sunday Angelus), but you can.

Don't leave the Vatican without trying one of its restaurants: having a feast near the Vatican it is possible. This touristy area has some hidden restaurants that are well worth a stop. Whatever you are looking for (pizza, pasta, a sweet snack, or an amazing sandwich), around the Vatican you will find some great places.