Climbing St. Peter’s Basilica Dome is the best way to get breathtaking views of Rome.
I have been to Rome countless times, I have even lived there for a while and I have done my fair search of great viewpoints from where to admire the city. I have yet to find a place that offers views of Rome that are better than those from St. Peter’s Basilica Dome.
Not just that – the Dome, which is the second tallest building in Rome, can be seen from many places in town and makes for a mighty sight, especially at night when it is beautifully illuminated.
Mind you, getting to the top of the Dome is more of an hassle than most of us would like. Much like the rest of the Vatican – in fact, much like the rest of Rome – the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is crowded and you will find a long line of people waiting to get their tickets. After all, climbing to the Dome is one of the most popular things to do in Rome.
To discover more about Rome, check out my post “30 Unmissable, Fun And Cheap Things To Do In Rome.”
The good news is that if you go there prepared and know what to expect, your experience will be all the more enjoyable.
In this post, I will explain everything you should know before visiting St. Peter’s Basilica Dome and share plenty of useful information on how to get the tickets and skip the line as well as tips that will help you make the most of your time there. Before I do so, however, let me share some background information on this gorgeous building.
A Bit Of Information About St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
St. Peter’s Basilica Dome was built to cover the main basilica – which is the largest church in the world and, together with the rest of the Vatican, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its height of 136 meters and diameter of 42 meters, this is one of the largest domes in the world.
While the church was built thanks to the efforts of many artists such as Bernini, Bramante and Raphael, the Dome was designed exclusively by Michelangelo, who was apparently inspired by the Pantheon in its design and who started working on it in 1546 when he was 71. He died before the Dome was completed, in 1564, but his students carried out his legacy and work and the Dome was finally completed in 1590 (the church was only completed in 1626).
There are 551 steps to climb in order to get to the top of the Dome (or 320 if you opt to take the elevator to the interior balcony and then climb the rest of the way), and the climb isn’t the easiest: the steps are narrow; there is a part where you have to hold on to a rope and bend; it is narrow and dark – not to mention crowded. Yet, you should climb it – or you’ll end up regretting not having done so.
In fact, once you reach the top of the Dome, you get breathtaking views of St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Gardens and the city of Rome.
How To Get Tickets To St. Peter’s Basilica Dome And Skip The Lines
Much like other famous tourist attractions in Rome, there are long lines to get to St. Peter’s Basilica Dome and it may take you anything between one hour to one hour and a half (if not more) to get through the line and finally start climbing.
You may be wondering if such a line is actually worth it, especially when you may only be in Rome for a short time. While the short answer to your question is yes – the view is worth every minute you have to wait in line – the good news is that you actually don’t have to spend endless hours in line!
There are proven ways to avoid the long lines to get tickets to St. Peter’s Basilica Dome. That’s how I managed to visit a bunch of times!
Keep in mind that to date there are no options to buy online tickets to the Dome via the official site of the Vatican. If you want to climb all the way to the Dome, you either wait in line to buy tickets in person (though if you go super early you may be able to avoid the line) or opt to buy the tickets via a third party site.
Below, you will find my secret ways to avoid the lines at St. Peter’s Dome.
Way N. 1: Head to St. Peter’s Basilica Dome before it opens at 7:30 am
Perfect for: Early risers and travelers on a budget
Advantages: It’s the most budget friendly option
Disadvantages: The secret is bound to spell soon
If you want to climb the Dome but don’t wish to go on a guided tour you really don’t have many options to avoid the lines. Your best bet is to head to the Dome as soon as it opens, at 7:30 am, and hope that the rest of the tourists decide to sleep in that day.
PLEASE NOTE: A lot of sites claim that the entrance to the Dome opens at 8:00 am. However, the official site of the Vatican states it opens at 7:30 am.
Keep in mind that in order to get to the Dome you have to go through the Basilica, which opens at 7:00 am.
I recommend to climb the Dome first and then visit the Basilica afterwards – you have to go through the Basilica anyways once you come down.
TIP: If you want to admire Rome in the golden light of sunset, you may opt to climb to St. Peter’s Basilica Dome right before it closes. You can visit the church afterwards even in this case, as it closes later than the Dome.
You can choose between two tickets:
- The €8 ticket which means you have to climb all 551 steps to the top of the Dome;
- The €10 ticket which includes the elevator to the interior terrace, from where you will have to climb the remaining 320 steps.
The €10 option usually implies having to wait in line for the elevator, so if you are fit you may as well opt for the cheaper option and climb from the very beginning.
Way N. 2: Join a guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica with Dome climb
Perfect for: Those who want a thorough tour of St. Peter’s Basilica
Advantages: You can buy your ticket online and get a guide to accompany you throughout your visit
Disadvantages: It’s significantly more expensive than the other option
At the moment, there are no direct skip the line or guided tour options that include skip the line tickets to visit St. Peter’s Basilica Dome. The good news is that, since you are likely going to visit St. Peter’s Basilica anyways, you can opt to get a guided tour of the Basilica that also includes a visit to the Crypt and a Dome climb. That’s the easiest, most hassle free option you have if you don’t want to buy tickets in person.
Guided tours of St. Peter’s Basilica that also include a Dome climb generally start around 8:00 am. You will head straight to the Dome, taking the elevator to the first terrace, and then climb the remaining stairs all the way to the top. Once you are done admiring the views from the Dome, you head back down to visit the Basilica.
These are the best guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica that also include a Dome climb:
- St. Peter’s Basilica with Dome climb and crypt – the most budget friendly option, it costs €49 per person, it includes an elevator to the first terrace.
- St. Peter’s Basilica guided tour with Dome climb – it costs €49 like the previous one, and includes a visit of the papal sarcophagi.
- St. Peter’s Basilica from Top to Bottom with Dome Climb & Crypt – this tour costs €49 and it is one of the best around.
- St. Peter’s Basilica guided tour with Dome climb and crypt – at €89 it’s similar to the ones above but it is a private, small group tour.
Other Useful Information For Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
Ways of climbing to the dome
When you climb the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, you have two different options:
- Climb all the way to the top – in this case, you will have to climb all of the the 551 steps to reach the very top of the Dome.
- Take the elevator to the first terrace and then climb the rest – in this case, you will have to climb only 320 steps from the first terrace to the top of the Dome.
The price difference for the two tickets is minimal, so you may want to invest in the elevator to ease your way to the top. However, keep in mind that this easy option comes with a cost: there generally is a line to get the elevator.
Once you get to the first terrace you will get the first, gorgeous views of Piazza San Pietro below, and of the upper statues.
From the first terrace, you have to continue climbing along a very narrow spiral staircase, at times having to hang on a rope. It’s a dark climb, but you will occasionally find a small window to peak outside. It will take you roughly 10 minutes to climb this final section.
You will go down via another staircase.
How to get to the St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
The entrance to the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is inside the church, which is located in Piazza San Pietro. You have to get in and then head right immediately after the security checks. There are clear signs pointing to the ticket office of the Dome.
The best way to get to Piazza San Pietro is by metro. The nearest metro station is Ottaviano, which is on line A: it’s a 5 minutes walk to the entrance from there.
The metro system in Rome works decently, tough there are regular mishaps. On a good day, there is a train every 5 minutes.
You can buy metro ticket at the kiosks at the metro station, at bus stops, in tobacco shops and newsagents. A metro ticket costs €1.50. You have to validate it before getting on the train, and it can be used for multiple rides (including on the bus) for up to 100 minutes.
Alternatively, you can get a day pass for €7. This gives you access to unlimited metro, train and bus rides in the city. A 2-day pass costs €12.50 and a 3-day pass costs €18.
Keep in mind that if you get the Roma Pass this generally include access to public transportation for its duration.
You can also get to Piazza San Pietro by bus. From Termini, take bus n. 40 or 64. If you are traveling from Tiburtina, take bus n. 492. From the Colosseum, take bus n. 81. A bus ticket costs €1.50 and it is also valid on the metro for a period of up to 100 minutes.
The opening times of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome vary between winter and summer months.
From 1 October to 31 March, the Dome is open from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm.
From 1 April to 30 September, the Dome is open from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm.
For the updated opening times, you may want to consult the website of the Vatican here. Keep in mind it’s in Italian only, but it is fairly self explanatory.
Good to know
It will take you about one hour to visit St. Peter’s Basilica Dome. This includes the time necessary to climb all the way to the top (depending on which option you pick, anything between 10 and 20 minutes); admire the views and take photos and then head back down to visit the Basilica. You may want to keep this in mind if you are packing your day with other visits.
Keep in mind that there is a strict dress code to enter the Vatican – including the Basilica and the Dome. Avoid wearing shorts, tank tops and flip flops; make sure to cover your knees, chest and shoulders. In general, I recommend wearing long pants or a long skirt even in the summer months, and to carry a light shirt to wear on top of your top for the duration of the visit.
The best time of year to visit St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
Any time is a good time to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, but if you want to climb the Dome I recommend going when the chances of good weather and clear skies are higher, in the late spring and summer months – so between May and the end of September. That’s when Rome is most crowded with tourists, but it’s the price to pay to make sure you have higher chances of good weather – plus, despite the heat, there really is something special about Rome in the summer.
Prices of the tickets to St Peter’s Basilica Dome
The following are the prices for tickets to St. Peter’s Basilica Dome if you buy them in person at the ticket counter:
- €8 for the option that requires you to climb all 551 steps to the top of the Dome;
- €10 if you opt to take the elevator and the climb the remaining 320 steps.
Keep in mind that, no matter the kind of ticket you have purchased for your visit of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Dome, you will have to go through the security checks. For a faster process, make sure to leave any bulky items in your room, and not to bring prohibited items such as umbrellas, tripods, knives or scissors.
Toilets and other facilities at St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
Toilets are located on the first terrace, where you will also find a water fountain, a coffee shop and a souvenir shop. You will have to go a few steps down from the terrace.
The best views of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
The views of Rome from the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica are stunning, but the views of the Dome itself are just as incredible. You will get beautiful views from the Aventine Hill, where Villa del Priorato di Malta has a unique keyhole view of St. Peter’s Dome. If this something you are keen on, I recommend going on a guided tour of Secret Rome. You can book it here or here.
Further readings about Rome
If you have just a few days in Rome, make sure to read my itineraries to help you maximize your time in the city:
- The Perfect Itinerary To See Rome In A Day
- The Perfect Itinerary To See Rome In 2 Days
- The Perfect Itinerary For 3 Days In Rome
- A Fantastic Itinerary For 4 Days In Rome
- A Wonderful Itinerary For 5 Days In Rome
- A Great Itinerary For A Fabulous Week In Rome
- 31 Incredible Places To Explore Rome Off The Beaten Path
If, on the other hand, you have plenty of time in the Eternal City, you may also want to go on a day trip. In this case, head over to my post “20 Great Day Trips From Rome.”
Make sure to also read my posts “All The Food In Rome You Should Eat: 25 Delicious Dishes”and “A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Rome.”
For more tips on how to skip the lines in Rome’s most crowded attractions, read my tip-packed posts:
- Seven Smart Ways To Get Tickets To The Colosseum And Skip The Lines
- How To Get Tickets To The Sistine Chapel And The Vatican Museums And Skip The Line
- How To Get St. Peter’s Basilica Tickets And Skip The Line
- Seven Smart Ways To Get Galleria Borghese Tickets And Skip The Lines
- A Guide To Visiting The Pantheon, Rome + What You Should Know About Pantheon Tickets