Climbing to the top of St Peter’s dome is one of the highlights of a trip to Rome. Here is how to climb the dome and how to skip the queue.
Not that many visitors know that it is possible to climb up to the top of St Peter’s dome (the “cupola”). Actually getting on top of St Peter’s dome is one of Rome must do, 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.
When to visit St Peter’s dome
Best thing for you would be to visit the dome first thing in the morning, when it opens, at 8:00 AM. Not much queue at that time, you may have the dome almost for yourself.
In that case, you may first climb up the dome and then visit St Peter’s basilica (when you get down from the dome you will end up in the nave).
A good alternative is to climb on top of St Peter’s dome before it closes: you will then admire Rome in its unique sunset golden light. In Wintertime, you will see Rome’s lights and, at Christmas, the huge Christmas tree in St Peter’s square.
Similarly, first go up to the dome, then visit the Basilica, which closes later than the dome.
In summertime, better to avoid climbing on top of St Peters dome in the hottest hours of the day: the stairs and the viewpoint can get very hot and uncomfortable at that time.
How to climb up St Peter’s dome
In order to climb up St Peter’s dome, you need to go throw St Peter cathedral security check.
At the entrance to the basilica, after the security check, look right. 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.
This is where you purchase the tickets to St Peter’s dome. 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). However, if you want to get to the top of the dome you must take the stairs for the last portion. This makes 551 steps in total.
The entrance cost is Cost 10 Euros for elevator, 8 Euros for stairs.
After the brief elevator ride (or the first 320 steps) stop before your climb to the dome. Here you can enjoy a great 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 looking down – the main altar.
Inside St Peter’s dome
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. He then said: “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 if you are claustrophobic. Note that it could also get crowded and hot in summertime.
Luckily, there are “slits” here and there to let fresh air in. Since you’re going up during the daylight hours you’ll have the interior lights plus sunlight now and then.
The view from the top
Once at the top of the dome, you will be rewarded by the views so often seen in pictures: St Peter’s square…
… the Sistine chapel and the Vatican museums…
… the Vatican gardens
Back on the roof, you have access to restrooms, water fountains, a gift shop and a new coffee bar. Take a walk to the front of the basilica to look into the Square. Observe the huge statues on the facade and the imposing Cupola just above you.
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.
Climbing on top of St Peter’s dome: tips & Infos
Opening hours 8:00 – 18:00 (Apr – Sep) 8:00 – 17:00 (Oct – Mar)
Cost 10 Euros for elevator, 8 Euros for stairs (updated March 2018)
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. However, guys and gals alike can buy a big, cheap scarf from a nearby souvenir stand. Wrap it around legs as a long skirt or throw over shoulders as a shawl and they will let you in.
Drop your bags: they no longer allow you to take large bags or purses into the basilica. Luckily, there is a drop-off point for all bags in a room to the right of the steps leading 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.
Enjoy your ascent to St Peter’s dome!
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