Is it Worth Climbing St Peter’s Dome?

by Sarah de Winne
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St Peter’s Dome dominates Rome’s skyline. It is the central dome of the magnificent St Peter’s Basilica, the papal seat and burial site of St Peter located in the Vatican City in Rome. Not everyone realises that you can climb St Peter’s Dome, so make sure you build time into your Rome itinerary to do this.

Without hesitation, yes, it is worth climbing St Peter’s dome!  If you are in good health and can manage the stairs, don’t miss the unique experience of climbing the world’s tallest dome designed by Michelangelo.  Enjoy a close-up view of the stunning mosaics on the dome and panoramic views of Rome. 

Climbing St Peter’s Dome was one of the highlights of our weekend break in Rome and is an experience that we will remember! Our guide gives you detailed information about what to expect when you climb St Peter’s Dome, how to buy tickets and when to visit.


How To Climb St Peter’s Dome

1. Find the Ticket Kiosk at St Peter’s Basilica

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!

2. Choose Your Ticket Option

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. On the way down, we took the winding stairs all the way to the bottom!

If you don’t like tight spaces, watch our video below to get a better idea of whether you will feel claustrophobic. Be aware that climbing St Peter’s Dome can make you very dizzy as you go round and round in a spiral! 

We climbed St Peter’s Dome 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. If you visit in the summer months, make sure you take a leak-proof water bottle to keep you hydrated.

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

Stunning 360 Degree Views of Rome

The view from the top of St Peter’s Basilica is amazing.  Once you’ve completed the climb to the top of St Peter’s Dome, you will step outside 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, Rome and beyond.  The effort of climbing St Peter’s Dome 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. 

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.

Beautiful Mosaics and Bird’s Eye View of the Basilica

However, it’s not just worth climbing St Peter’s Dome for the outside views. 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 Dome Tickets?

You can buy tickets to climb St Peter’s Basilica Dome in person from the ticket kiosk to the right of the main steps to St Peter’s Basilica.  In addition, several companies offer guided tour tickets that include climbing St Peter’s Dome. Click on the banner below to read more about this option.

When to Visit and Climb St Peter’s 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.  This is the time when the Dome (cupola) is open to the public. 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. 

When you descend from St Peter’s 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 St Peter’s Dome later in the day before it closes (6.00 pm from April to September and 4.45 pm from October to March).

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 St Peter’s Dome (cupola) 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!

Although entrance to the main St Peter’s Basilica is free, 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 551, 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.

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