Is it Worth Buying St Peter’s Dome Tickets?

by Sarah de Winne
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Without hesitation, yes, it is worth buying St Peter’s dome tickets!  If you are in good health and can manage the stairs, don’t miss the unique experience of climbing to the top of the world’s tallest dome designed by Michelangelo.  Not everyone realises that you can climb St Peter’s dome, so make sure you build time into your Rome itinerary to do this.  Of course, visiting St Peters Basilica is an amazing experience but we’re glad we found out that we could climb its dome.  This was one of the highlights of our weekend break in Rome and is an experience that we will remember!

What is St Peter’s Basilica?

St Peter’s Basilica is a magnificent Renaissance church found in the Vatican City in Rome, Italy to the west of the river Tiber.  In addition to being the papal seat and Vatican church, St Peters Rome is also reputed to be the burial site of one of Jesus’s apostles, St Peter.  The impressive dome of St Peters Basilica Rome dominates the city’s skyline.


Where is St Peter’s Basilica Entrance?

You can’t miss the main entrance to St Peter’s Basilica – it’s basically airport style security scanners to the right of St Peter’s Square as you face the Basilica.

After you’ve cleared security, don’t follow the crowds into St Peter’s.  Instead of climbing the steps to your left which will lead you into the main Basilica, look out for a small wooden signpost to the right which says ‘cupola’.  Keep right and you will arrive at a small ticket kiosk where you can purchase tickets and start your climb to the top of the dome!

How do I Climb St Peter’s Dome ?

Climbing to the top of St. Peters dome is not for the fainthearted!  The dome of St Peter’s is 137 m from the floor of the Basilica to the top of the external cross and has an internal diameter of 43 m.

Before you purchase your tickets, you have two options.  To reach the top of the dome, you can either climb all 551 of St Peter’s dome steps or take the lift part way then climb the remaining 320 steps on foot.   To be honest, we were relieved that we opted for the elevator/stairs option.  Even though, we consider ourselves as fairly fit, the climb gets more difficult as you ascend higher into the dome.  The staircase width becomes narrower and you are pushed towards the right because of the slope of the dome.

If you don’t like tight spaces, watch our video to get a better idea of whether you will feel claustrophobic.

It’s certainly also dizzying to keep climbing round and round in the same direction!  We visited on a cloudy day in February, but we can imagine that on a hot summer’s day, the heat would be intense in the winding corridors, so make sure you take a water bottle like this leak-proof one (amazon Affiliate Link)we found in Amazon to keep you hydrated.  On the way down, we took the winding stairs all the way to the bottom!

What Will I See at the Top of St Peter’s Dome?

The view from the top of St Peter’s Basilica is amazing.  Once you’ve completed the St Peter’s Basilica dome climb, you will step outside the Vatican dome and be rewarded with a dizzying and breath-taking sight. From the top of Saint Peter’s Basilica, you have unrivalled 360 degree views across the Vatican City and Rome beyond.  The effort of climbing this dome in Rome is soon forgotten. 

If you’ve picked a clear day, the whole city stretches out in front of you in the distance.  The colossal landmarks are reduced to miniature monopoly pieces waiting to be identified and reminisced about.  If you want to save money, you also get a fantastic bird’s eye view of the private Vatican gardens not to mention the impressive St Peter’s square.  From this vantage point, you really appreciate the enormous size of the square and the overwhelming sight which must welcome the Pope every Sunday for mass.


However, it’s not just the outside views which merit you buying tickets to climb St Peter’s cupola.  In addition to the spectacular views waiting for you at the top of the dome, there is a hidden gem waiting for you half-way up.  The internal gallery which clings to the sides of the dome offers mesmerising views up into the roof of St Peter’s Basilica and down into the nave of the Basilica chapel far below you. 

The gallery itself is lined with beautifully intricate mosaics which glint with gold.  From here, you can also get a close-up view of the enormous Latin words from Matthew 16 which circle the dome: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock,  I will build my church … I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’  We certainly felt like we were looking down from the heavens and the beauty of St Peter’s Basilica from this viewpoint is overwhelming.

To make the most of your vacation in Italy, check out our posts about other famous Italian cities:

How Do I Buy St Peter’s Basilica Dome Tickets?

The only way to buy tickets for St Peter’s Basilica dome is in person on site.  You cannot buy St Peter’s Basilica tickets online or in advance.

Is St Peter’s Basilica Free?

Yes, entrance to the stunning St Peter’s Basilica is free.  However, it is highly recommended that you arrive early to skip the queues.  We arrived just after 8 am which is when the dome opens.  There were very few people in St Peter’s square, so we took some great photos and didn’t need to queue very long to pass through the Vatican’s security.  After our visit, the queues were unbelievably long and we were extremely glad we got up early!

However, climbing St Peter’s Basilica Cupola is a ticketed option.  There are 2 choices: a 10 Euro ticket for the elevator and stairs or an 8 Euro ticket for stairs only.   Bearing in mind that St Peter’s Basilica dome steps total 521, we opted for the elevator and stairs option!  Even with the elevator, there are 320 stairs to the top of the dome so don’t feel too guilty about taking the elevator part of the way up!

St Peter’s Basilica Hours

St Peter’s Basilica is open every day during April-September from 7am until 7pm.  From October until March, it is open from 7am until 6.30pm.

If you want to climb St Peter’s cupola, the dome opens from 8am until 6pm between April and September and from 8am until 4.45pm during October and March.

When to Visit and Climb the Dome

In our opinion, the best time of day to visit St Peter’s Basilica Rome and climb to the top of the dome is around 8 am.  If you arrive early, you will be rewarded by avoiding the worst of the crowds of tourists who visit the Vatican City every day and minimise queueing times.  Once you descend from the dome, you will find yourself exiting into the middle of St Peter’s Basilica nave which makes you feel rather special.  Alternatively, you could visit the dome before it closes for sunset when there are also likely to be less tourists than in the middle of the day.

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how to climb st peter dome
how to climb st peter dome

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