St Peters Dome - How to climb Michelangelo's masterpiece

If I can climb St Peters dome, you can, too! I love this climb and think it's one of the most special things you can do in Rome.

view of saint peter's square from saint peter's domeThis is one of the most iconic views of Rome and you can see it yourself by climbing the dome of Saint Peter's basilica!

(Almost) anyone can do it!

Here's how:

Climbing the Dome of St Peters Basilica
Everything You Need to Know

If you visit St Peters Basilica, one option once inside is to climb Michelangelo's dome (cupola.)

On this page, you'll find everything you need to know about St Peter's dome including:

No time to read the whole page?

You can climb the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica by purchasing a ticket for it from inside the basilica itself.

There is NO WAY to skip the line to climb the cupola of St. Peter's, as everyone must go through security to get into the basilica (although I have some tips for skipping that line on my YouTube channel.)

However, once inside the church, the line to purchase tickets and climb the dome is not that long. You'll find it just to the left of the entrance near the equestrian statue of Charlemagne.

Tickets cost 8€ if you go on foot or 10€ if you take the elevator / lift to the first level.

The lantern at the tippy top that affords the view in the photo at the top of this page is only accessible on foot.

Tour rating:

4.5 stars

(4.6/5 stars)

What's it like to climb St Peters dome?

Going up inside St Peter's dome is an extraordinary experience.

You get to see St Peter's basilica in a whole new way.

Not to mention the stunning view you get of Saint Peter's square below.

Most people simply don't get to it, perhaps for lack of time, not knowing it's there, or fear it will be too strenuous.

I advise you to make time, and to at least visit the dome to the first level, which almost anyone can do.

climbing st peters dome to the first level

st peter's basilica - mosaics inside the domeOnce you are up and inside the dome you can see the beautiful mosaics that line the walls - up close!

Fun fact 

Did you know nearly everything inside St Peters basilica that looks like a painting is actually a mosaic?

Look closely at the above photo!

Don't let the word "climbing" throw you off!

There are two parts to climbing St Peters dome: You can take the (231) stairs or the lift/elevator to the first level, and wind up on the inside of Michelangelo's dome.

This is so special, because you will be looking down on the inside of St Peters basilica from above, and, if you are lucky, you may hear some singing floating up to reach you.

When that happens, it's just magical!

From here, you can see right up close the mosaics that make up the dome's design. 

looking down inside st peters basilica from the domeYou can look down on the inside of St Peters basilica from the dome. There is a little grate but you can still see the grandeur very well!

At this level, you can also walk out onto the roof of the basilica.

Here, you can go to the front and check out Jesus and the apostles

These are the statues you see on the roof of the basilica when you look at it from the square.

There is also a bathroom, a very small refreshment stand, and a gift shop.

st peter's basilica rooftop - jesus and the apostlesIf you climb the dome to the first level, you can go out onto the roof of Saint Peter's basilica and see the apostles!

Visiting St Peters dome in a Wheelchair

There is an elevator to the roof so if you are in a wheelchair, you can reach the first level.

There is a restriction however.

The elevator opens out onto the roof.

From here you can see the dome up close, but from the outside; move towards the front of the basilica and see this side view of the apostles (above); visit the restroom, snack bar and gift-shop.

To reach the inside of the dome, even at this level first level, there is a small staircase.

So depending on your level of immobility, you may not be able to access the inside of the dome. 

climbing all the way to the very top of st peters dome

As I said, there are two parts of a visit to the cupola, or Saint Peter basilica dome.

The first part, above, can be reached by elevator (and a small staircase.)

So if you take the elevator, you bypass 231 steps, and it's NOT strenuous, exhausting or claustrophobic.

The second part is optional.

It means taking the next 320 stairs to the tippy top. 

Not only is there not an elevator, but you will find a narrow single-file staircase that slowly spirals up, with the roof sort of slanting in towards you as you go. 

And at the very end, as it gets narrower and narrower, you will have a corkscrew staircase, with a rope to hang onto! (In my video, I show a rope but actually there is no longer a rope.)

staircase to st peters dome1The narrow, slanted staircase leading to the top of the dome.
staircase to st peters dome2A rope they used to have that you could hold on to.
staircase to st peters dome3These are the corkscrew stairs you will use to begin your descent.

It is definitely claustrophobic.

But, there are windows along the way so you will not feel totally closed in.

And the stairs to go down are in another part so you will not run into people on your way up.

I'm a bit claustrophobic and, hey, if I can do it, (just about) anyone can do it!

The perfect 3-day itinerary in Rome

Trying to figure out how to organize your visit to Rome? I've got the perfect 3-day itinerary for first-time visitors (or those who have not been here in a while.) It works for a 2.5 day visit as well.

In my 3-day itinerary, you'll see all the major must-see Rome attractions like the Vatican, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Castel Sant'Angelo, and much more.

And if you have more time, or want suggestions for extra/other things to do, you'll find that there too.

Visit my page with the best 3-day itinerary in Rome for first-timers.

When is the best time to climb St Peters basilica dome

The best time of year to climb the dome

The dome is open daily, year-round.

If you have a choice, you might choose Christmas-time, late afternoon, so you can watch the sunset from there.

And as a bonus, you can get this shot with the shimmering Christmas tree in Saint Peter's Square below:

winter climb of st peters dome with sunsetIt's pretty special to get to see this view at sunset, and with Christmas lights to boot!

Other than winter, you usually won't get a chance to see this view at sunset or by night.

The best time of day to climb st peters dome

As for time of day, the basilica was purposefully made to face east, which means the sun rises in front of it.

I like to climb St Peters dome first thing in the morning, especially in high season, because there is no line, and there are no crowds.

But that does mean a washed out photo.

st peter's square from the dome aboveView from the top of Saint Peter's dome in early morning, with the sun directly in front of me.

So if you want a prettier photo, you will need to visit St Peters dome later in the day.

But usually that means more people, and longer lines.

But don't worry it's beautiful any time!

st peters square as seen from the domeSt Peter's Square as seen from the dome, towards closing time, when the sun is behind you.

Best time during your visit to the Vatican to climb the dome

For most visitors to Rome, a visit to the Vatican means seeing the Vatican Museums (where the Sistine Chapel is), and also St Peters Basilica.

This takes about 3-5 hours, depending on the kind of visit you want.

Climbing the dome takes and additional half hour to an hour (including time spent at the top.) 

As for when to climb the dome during your visit, I suggest the following:

  • If you visit the Vatican Museums, and are on a tour that takes the shortcut into St Peters Basilica, just stay inside the basilica when your tour is finished. You can then climb the dome. If the tour guide wants to take you outside the basilica to visit Saint Peter's Square, you can let them know you prefer to stay inside the basilica so you can climb the dome. Do NOT exit or you will have to wait in the huge security line to get back in.
  • If you do not plan to visit the Vatican Museums, and will only visit St Peters basilica, I suggest visiting the dome before the basilica. This is because it's the most intense part of your visit energy-wise, and in any case, you come into the basilica when you exit the dome. But this is only a suggestion. You could certainly climb the dome after seeing the inside of the basilica.
  • If you are visiting St Peter's basilica at 7am, my favorite time, the dome is not open yet anyway, so you will have to visit the basilica first. 
  • If you are visiting the basilica during the morning or middle of the day, with plenty of time for visiting the dome, then I suggest visiting the dome after the basilica, so as not to have the sun directly overhead. It will be more comfortable heat-wise if you climb the dome in late afternoon, and also you will have nicer photos if the sun is behind you.
  • If you are visiting the basilica later afternoon, then definitely visit the dome first, or you risk not getting in before it closes.

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How to skip the line to Saint Peter's dome

The entrance to St Peter's dome is to the left of the entrance to St Peter's basilica. 

(It used to be to the right of the entrance. In 2023, it moved to the left-hand side.)

There is no way to JUST visit St Peters dome.

You must get to the entrance either via the security lines in front of St Peters Basilica, or by visiting the Vatican Museums or as part of a tour or by visiting Saint Peter's tomb (this tour also ends inside the basilica.)

The ticket office for the dome is inside Saint Peter's Basilica.

It is not possible to book this in advance.

Payment is on site, with cash or credit card.

So you CAN skip the line either to the Vatican Museums, or to St Peters Basilica.

However, in either case, there is not actually a skip-the-line ticket just for the dome.

The lines/wait time will depend simply on what time of day and what time of year you come.

Obviously, the lines will be longest in high season and in the middle of the day.

Note also there are two lines, one for taking the lift/elevator partway, and the other for taking the stairs.

As you might imagine, the line for taking the lift will be longer and slower.

My number one tip for skipping the lines and avoiding the crowds!

Come to St Peters Basilica at 7am when it opens.

No lines, no waiting, no crowds.

Entry to the dome opens at 7:30 or 8am (this depends on who I ask), and you can go then, with nobody in front of you or behind you.

Quiet time!


Michelangelo and St. Peter's Dome

Fun facts about the dome of St. Peter's Basilica:

  • The dome of St Peter's basilica is the tallest dome in the world at 136.57 meters (448.1 ft).
  • Michelangelo took over as chief architect of St Peter's basilica in 1547. He was 71.
  • The original Saint Peter's Basilica was built in the 4th century under the emperor Constantine, and by the 1400's it was leaning to one side and in danger of collapsing. So Pope Julius II began to think about rebuilding it. Some of the best architects of the day were called to present designs, including Bramante, Raphael, and others. But in the end, it was Michelangelo who came up with the final design, combining elements of his colleagues' designs, and improving them as only he could.
  • One model for the dome was the Roman Pantheon. When Michelangelo first saw the pantheon, he said it seemed more like the work of angels, not humans.
  • Michelangelo made his dome 1.5m (5 feet), narrower in diameter than the Pantheon. He said “I could build one bigger, but not more beautiful, than that of the Pantheon.”
rome pantheon - inspiration for michelangeloThe ancient Roman pantheon was one of the inspirations for Michelangelo when he designed Saint Peter's dome
  • Michelangelo died in 1564, and at that point the dome was only completed up to the drum. So he never got to see his design realized.
  • In 1585, Pope Sixtus V ordered Giacomo della Porta (one of Michelangelo's pupils, and himself a prominent architect) and Domenico Fontana to complete the dome to Michelangelo's exact specifications. They finished it in 1590. Later, Domenico Fontana added the lantern on the tippy top.
  • In the early 1600's, Carlo Maderno (the nephew of Domenico Fontanta), was ordered by Pope Paul V to add a nave and facade. This is what you see when you stand in St Peter's Square looking at the basilica. As a result, Michelangelo's dome is barely visible from St. Peter's Square, and is best seen from a distance.

St. Peter's Basilica

From St Peter's Square, you can barely see Michelangelo's dome because of the imposing facade.

st peter's basilica view from the square

Even just standing farther back from the basilica, almost outside the square, you start to get a better sense of the beauty of the dome.

st peter's basilica view from a bridge

Some of the best views of the dome of Saint Peter's basilica are from Rome's bridges. Then you can really see just how beautiful, and enormous, Michelangelo's dome is!

Disclosure: If you make a purchase through a link on this page, I may receive a small commission - at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my site!

One of my favorite books of all time is Irving Stone's classic, The Agony and the Ectasy.

It's a biographical novel all about Michelangelo Buonarotti's life. I was so in love with this book that while I was reading it, I stopped half-way and went back to the beginning to start it again.

I just wanted to stay in Michelangelo's world a bit longer and absorb all I could of his passion and his genius.

Practical info about climbing St Peters dome

Costs to climb St Peters Dome

St.Peter's Dome

Entry to Saint Peter's basilica is free.

But if you want to climb the dome, you must pay.

It costs 8 Euros to climb via the stairs, and 10 Euros to take the lift/elevator. 

There are NO discounts or passes for anyone.

You cannot use the Roma Pass, Omnia Pass, Student ID, or any other Rome city pass to get a discount.

Hours of St Peters Dome

  • From April 1  - September 30, the dome is open from 7.30 AM - 6 PM.
  • From October 1 - March 31, the dome is open from 7.30 AM - 5 PM.

Those times are a bit arbitrary.

This is because it's up to the guards to decide when to start shooing people away and when to get serious about "everyone out!" (And even the opening time sort of depends on when the guards are ready.)

Last entry could be the stated closing time, or it could be around half hour before the stated closing time, depending on how long the lines are.

And to climb via the stairs, it's even earlier than that.

So give yourself a little leeway if you don't want to miss visiting St Peters dome.

Bottom line - try to make sure you get to the ticket counter at least an hour before the stated closing time so you are not rushed.

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What you need/what you should not bring to climb st peters dome

To climb St Peters dome make sure you are dressed properly.

And by dressed properly I mean two things:

  • Dress appropriately! - When entering a holy site, this means covered knees and covered shoulders. You will not be allowed into either Saint Peters Basilica or the Vatican Museums if you are not properly covered. (And this means you must be properly dressed to enter the dome too.) Both the basilica and the Sistine Chapel are holy places and they take the modesty dress code seriously. If you are not sure if your shorts or dress are long enough, wear something else. Sometimes they are a little lax but I'd err on the side of caution. Did you come all the way to Rome, and make your way over to the Vatican, only to be turned away?
  • Be comfortable! - I cannot stress enough how important it is to be comfortable when you sight-see in Rome. And by this I mean really comfortable shoes (and socks if applicable).

A few more things to bring/not bring:

  • Don't bring large bags or backpacks. You will need to check them and anyway, it would be difficult to climb St Peters dome with something heavy. 
  • Bring a camera but not a tripod (not allowed.) 
  • Bring a bottle of water.
  • If you're like me, and you easily get low blood sugar, some kind of snack or protein bar.

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Everything you need to know about climbing St Peters dome in Rome

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