Climbing up St Peter’s Basilica’s dome

Climbing to the top of St Peter’s Basilica is possible, and it’s actually one of the highlights of a trip to Rome! Here is how to make it.

Cupola San Pietro

Not that many visitors know that it is possible to climb up to the top of St Peter’s dome (“cupola”) : it is a fantastic experience, and a great opportunity to enjoy a fantastic and dizzying city panorama all around Rome and to admire a top down view of St Peter’s basilica nave.

At the entrance to the basilica, after the security check, there is a sign that directs you to the far right of the portico (past the Holy Door) and to the kiosk for the elevator. Note that the Basilica entrance is on the right side of the colonnade (follow the queue… or click here to learn how to skip it).

You can take the elevator to the roof level (saving 320 steps), but if you want to be on the top of the cupola you must take the stairs for the last portion (551 steps in total). The entrance cost is Cost 7 Euros for elevator, 5 Euros for stairs.

After the brief elevator ride (or the first 320 steps), before your climb to the dome, you can stop and enjoy the view from the gallery inside the dome looking down into the basilica . Take a few moments to absorb the astonishing beauty of the cupola from within – and look down – the main altar.

St Peters insight from cupola_3

St Peters insight from cupola_2

St Peters insight _angel

Michelangelo himself designed this dome, which measurs  135m (450 ft.) above the ground at its top and stretches 42m (139 ft.) in diameter. Legend has it that in deference to the Pantheon, Michelangelo made his dome 1.5m (5 ft.) shorter across, saying “I could build one bigger, but not more beautiful, than that of the Pantheon.” Carlo Maderno later added the dome-top lantern.

The climb to the top of the dome proceeds through progressively narrower and sloping stairs. The narrow passageway can be uncomfortable you are claustrophobic (it could also get crowded and hot in summertime). Luckily, there are “slits” here and there to let fresh air in, and since you’re going up during the daylight hours you’ll have the interior lights plus sunlight now and then.

St Peter_climbing up the cupola

Once at the top, you will be rewarded by the views so often seen in photographs: St Peter’s square…

St Peter's square from cupola

… the Sistine chapel and the Vatican museums…

Vatican museums from cupola

… the Vatican gardens

Vatican Gardens from cupola

Back on the roof, you have access to restrooms, water fountains, a gift shop and a new coffeebar. Take a walk to the front of the basilica to look into the Square and observe the huge statues on the façade and the imposing Cupola just above you.

St Peters cupola

St Peter's facade statues

Vatican_tough jobs

When you’re ready to leave, there is again the option of elevator or stairs. Consider taking the stairs down, as this area contains marble plaques of all the famous who have visited the dome over the years. Going down takes much less time than going up!

Astonishingly, the exit is directly in St Peter’s nave, that you can now visit.

St Peters (navata)

St Peter_St Peter statue

St Peters Navata 2

Tips & Infos

Hours 8:00 – 18:00 (Apr – Sep) 8:00 – 16:45 (Oct – Mar)
Cost 7 Euros for elevator, 5 Euros for stairs

Web site (Italian): http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_pietro/it/cupola/orari.htm

Dress code: St. Peter’s has a strict dress code: no shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no bare shoulders. I am not kidding. They will not let you in if you do not come dressed appropriately. In a pinch, guys and gals alike can buy a big, cheap scarf from a nearby souvenir stand and wrap it around legs as a long skirt or throw over shoulders as a shawl.

Drop your bags: They no longer allow you to take large bags or purses into the basilica. Luckily, they’ve also arranged a drop-off point for all bags in a room just to the right of the steps leading up into the church. This service is free.

Free Tours: There are free guided visits to St. Peter’s run by volunteer professors and scholars from North American College in Rome. They’re offered Mon–Fri at 2:15pm and 3pm, Sat at 10:15am and 2:15pm, and Sun at 2:30pm. They meet in front of the Vatican tourist info office, which is to the building along Piazza S. Pietro just left (south) of the main steps into the basilica.

Otherwise, follow this link to skip the queues and get a complete St Peter’s basilica tour.


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51 thoughts on “Climbing up St Peter’s Basilica’s dome

  1. Thanks for this description! The kids will be really impressed with me now that I know all this 🙂 Is it possible to book the dome tickets online beforehand?
    Kind regards, Gitte

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  2. I just got back from Rome and climbed all the steps. I have not found any accurate descriptions of what you are actually climbing. There are not 320 steps to the roof level. There are actually less than 200. After the roof level, the real climb starts and it is definitely over 320 steps. I counted them and everybody has to climb them as there are no elevators past this point. This is a formidable climb. There are a LOT of steps. It is very steep and extremely narrow much of the way. I believe I counted close to 340 from the very top down to the roof level but I am not 100% sure as it was hard to concentrate. I’m glad I did it but I’m very surprised they don’t tell you this when you get there. The 7 euro you pay for the elevator implies you are skipping the steps but if you want to go to the very top, you are definitely going to have to climb well over 300 steps.

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    • The entrance to the Dome stairs and lift is on the riht side of the basilica, after the security check. There you will find the ticket office.
      Last time I went, it was Sunday, lunch time, and the queue was not longer than 10′. As usual, the sooner, the better(the dome opens at 8:00). Consider that on the way down you can access directly St Peter basilica, so you won’t need to go over the queue again.
      Here are the opening time and the ticket cost (no possibility to book it in advance): http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_pietro/it/cupola/orari.htm

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  3. Hi! How long is the free tour? I plan on booking a 3pm ticket into the Vatican Museum, but still want to catch part of the 2:15pm tour. Thank you!!

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  4. This is a wonderful description. However this tour is not to be taken lightly by couch potatoes or those who rarely do any stair climbing. I nearly passed out!

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  5. If we don’t want to go into the basilica just the cupola is this possible? Do we still need to get in the queue for the basilica or is there a separate queue/entrance?

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  6. Hi iam enjoying your blog so much. We are heading to Italy in September. We will be doing a few of the places that you have written about so pleased I found your site thank you

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  7. What an interesting and descriptive article. I’m having a cruise holiday in October and have just 1 day in Rome so am trying to make a plan in advance so that I see as much as possible. I was planning to start my day at St Peter’s but now am torn between beating the queue to the roof and the free afternoon tours. Do you know if there any sort of audio tour available?

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  8. I was under the impression that you could take the elevator to the roof level only of St. Peter’s, if you so choose, than return by elevator without having to climb to the top. Is that correct or are you committed to climb the remaining stairs once you are at roof level? I have a partner with an ankle injury who would like to have this view of the church but cannot climb at this point.
    Thank you for generously sharing your infomation.

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  9. Is the entrance in the St. Peter’s Basilica free of charge if you do not need audio guide tour?? Is it possible to buy tickets JUST to climb the Dome online, so we can skip the line??

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    • St peter is a church, so you don’t need a ticket. However, the security controls may take a lot of time, especially at rush hour. The ticket office for the dome is located after the security checks, so you won’t be able to skip the queue. Try to come early in the morning or at lunch time, there’s usually less crowd

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