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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, tickets - to touch (almost literally) the gates of heaven.

Carmen Navarro

Carmen Navarro

9 min read

How to climb St. Peter's dome in Rome

San Pedro at night, illuminated | 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 serious mistake.

The experience without climbing to the top of Vatican City is not complete. You can't leave the magnificent city of Rome without seeing the incredible sight of St. Peter's Square from above with the rest of the city at your feet. I'll tell you the best way to get the entrance to the Dome.

Guided tours with ascent to St. Peter's Dome

Until recently, the only way to get tickets to go up to the Dome of St. Peter's was to queue inside the temple, as they were not sold online. Today that has changed and you can now book guided tours that include the ascent to the Dome. This way you will avoid long waits at the ticket office.

If you want to explore St. Peter's Basilica in depth as well as skip the lines, I recommend a combined tour of the basilica that includes the Crypts of the Popes as well as the climb to the Dome. An expert guide in Art History will explain the most relevant of the architecture and the magnificent works housed in St. Peter's Basilica; information that, I assure you, is not to be missed.

Finally, keep in mind that, for very little difference in price, you can book a tour in small groups, so that the visit will be intimate and very authentic.

Why it is worth buying this pack of tickets to St. Peter's, the Dome and the Crypts

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. To save unnecessary queues (the capacity is limited and the wait is very long) there is a pack that combines the entrance without queues to St. Peter's Basilica with access to the Dome and the Crypts of the Popes.

All this is accompanied by an expert guide and I assure you that it is worth it: the Basilica is full of details and history and the crowds of people waiting to buy tickets in the Basilica itself will make you have to go up to the Dome already tired.

This also saves you the queues at the entrance to the temple itself, which can last for hours. In short, for a very reasonable price you have included the guided tour, access without queues and entrance to the Dome and the Crypts, something that is not easy to find online.

Ticket prices for the Dome

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 an elevator ride. If you choose to buy the pack that includes the guided tour of the temple, tickets to the Dome and the Crypts and the guided tour, the price is about 44 Euros.

If you don't want to buy the pack but 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.

How to buy tickets to the Dome in the Basilica

If you prefer to improvise and buy tickets for the Dome "in situ", you can also do so. Once you get inside the Basilica, you will immediately see the signs that lead you to the point where the ticket office for the Dome and access to the crypts is located. The price is 8 euros if you want the option of walking up or 10 euros if you want the combined ticket with access on foot and by elevator.

Although the entrance to the Basilica is free and you do not need any special ticket, you can skip the queues by buying online and 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 crypts of the Popes (the price is 13 euros).

How to climb St. Peter's Dome

To the Dome of St. Peter's you will have to climb 551 steps on foot (for 8 €) or by elevator and walking (for 10 €). To do this, you will have to buy tickets inside the Basilica, as soon as you cross the entrance door, to the right of the naves you will see the ticket office to get your tickets, it is marked 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 tickets for the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums or a guided tour of St. Peter's Basilica.

St. Peter's Dome opening hours

Timetables for the visit of St. Peter's Dome| ©Alexander Schimmeck
Timetables for the visit of 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 should be aware that the Basilica may be closed on some days.

Best time to go up to St. Peter's Dome

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

In general, as in any tourist spot in the city, the fewer people you come across, 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 highly valued, 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.

How is the ascent to St. Peter's Dome?

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 claustrophobic people. 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 8 euros without elevator and 10 euros 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 twice before going up).

My recommendation

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

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

As you can imagine, the queues to access the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica are very 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 lines and go directly to the temple, including the Dome and the Crypts.

Why it is worth going up to 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. I'll tell you what are the things you have to look out for to get the most out of your visit.

Bernini's sculptures 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 realize its majestic size, the perfection of its ellipsis and the optical effect of this marvel of architecture.

St. Angelo's Castle and its passages

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 takes your breath away.

The roofs of the city

The skyline of Rome is a myriad of orange roofs, stone domes crowning every street and an infinity of terraces and penthouses full of flowers and life. The best skyline in the city can be seen from the top of the Dome and it is worth stopping to take a leisurely look at it.

The interior of the Dome

The way to the top can also be enjoyed: between step and step do not forget to take a look at the sky of the Dome to enjoy its immensity and its details.

Other things to do in St. Peter's Basilica

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

Tour St. Peter's Basilica at your own pace: it is huge and its interior is loaded with works worth seeing: from Michelangelo's Pietà, which you will recognize immediately 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 can see the tombs and mausoleums of more than 100 Popes and the necropolis of St. Peter. You can buy the entrance ticket inside the temple itself, since to access the crypts you need a specific ticket that costs 13 euros.

The Baldachin

This colossal structure 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 is almost 30 meters high (you will have to stand far away for it to appear completely 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

So that you can 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).

Take awalk around the colonnade in 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 will have to stick to specific days and times (Wednesday mass or the Angelus on Sundays) but you can.

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

Frequently asked questions

  • How many stairs does St. Peter's Dome have?

    To access the dome you will have to climb 551 steps, although you can take the elevator and "only" have to climb 320.

  • Do I have to be in good physical shape to climb St. Peter's Dome?

    You don't need to be in great shape, but you should know that the space is narrow and not suitable for claustrophobics. Otherwise, if you climb calmly, you will get to the top without any problems.

  • Do I have to be covered to go up to the Dome?

    Yes, please note that to access the Dome you will have to enter St. Peter's Basilica, where you will have to cover your shoulders, knees and neckline. Avoid suspenders and excessively short skirts or pants.

  • How much does it cost to climb St. Peter's Dome?

    8 euros if you choose the option to walk up or 10 euros if you want to use the elevator. You can buy the entrance ticket inside the temple.