We have seen it hundreds of times in postcards, films, photos... but not everyone who comes to St. Peter's Basilica climbs the Dome, located inside the temple. The experience without climbing to the top of Vatican City is not complete.
In all the rankings of best things to do in Rome you will always have this plan in the top and from there you will see the incredible view of St. Peter's Square from the heights with the rest of the city at your feet. Although entering the Basilica is free, going up to the dome requires a special ticket. I'll tell you the best way to get tickets.
Avoid the long queues at St Peter's Basilica with this guided tour that includes a visit to the dome.
Don't miss anything of the great Christian temple of the Vatican and let yourself be guided by an expert who will take you inside the Basilica and exclusively to the terrace of St. Peter's dome.
During the approximately two hours that this visit lasts, you will have the opportunity to tour the great Basilica of St. Peter and discover all the works of art housed inside thanks to the art expert guide who will tell you every detail.
All this in addition to climbing up to its imposing dome, something that doing it on your own can be a great waste of time and energy due to the famous queues that form around the monument. And believe me, you'll need both to climb it.
Seeing the panoramic views from the top of the Vatican will be one of your favourite moments in Rome and making it easier with this guided tour of the dome is something you'll be grateful for.
Recommended if... You want to get an in-depth tour of the Vatican's Catholic temple without missing out on the climb to the highest Christian dome in the world.
What is the guided tour of St. Peter's Dome like?
The tour with access to St. Peter's Dome area is in small groups, which will bring you closer to the environment. Thanks to the specialised guide, you will learn about the historical and artistic value of the works of Michelangelo and Bernini housed in the Basilica and you will also visit St. Peter's Square to appreciate the famous Colonnade.
On the other hand, it is important to know that until recently, the only way to get tickets to go up to the Dome of St. Peter's was to queue inside the temple, as they were not sold online. Today, that has changed and you can now book a guided tour to the Dome. This way you can avoid long waits at the ticket office.
Is it worth buying tickets online for St. Peter's and the Dome?
Entering the Basilica is free, but to go up to the Dome you will need a special ticket which you could only buy at the Basilica itself. To save unnecessary queues (the capacity is limited and the wait is very long) there is a pack that combines the guided tour with the entrance without queues to St. Peter's Basilica and access to the Dome.
All this is done in a small group tour accompanied by an expert guide and I assure you that it is worth it: the Basilica is full of details and history and the crowds of people waiting to buy tickets in the Basilica itself will make you have to go up to the Dome already tired.
This also saves you the queues to enter the temple itself, which can last for hours. All in all, for a very reasonable price you get a guided tour, skip-the-line access and exclusive entry to the Dome, which is not easy to find online.
Ticket prices for the Dome
To enter the Dome you will have to pay €8 if you want to walk all the way up or €10 if you want to combine it with a lift ride. This price does not include a guided tour and will not save you from queuing. If you choose to secure your ticket in advance and buy the pack that includes the guided tour of the temple and tickets to the Dome, the price is around €42.
How to buy tickets to the Dome in the Basilica
If you prefer to improvise and buy tickets for the Dome "on the spot", you can do that too. Once you get inside the Basilica, you will immediately see the signs that take you to the ticket office for the Dome.
But once you get past the queues in St. Peter's Square to enter the Basilica you risk missing out on the dome as again the queues for the ticket office will take the edge off. Or there may simply be no tickets available.
Although the entrance to the Basilica is free and you do not need any special ticket, you can skip the queues by buying the skip-the-line tickets for St. Peter's Basilica on the official Hellotickets website in advance.
Opening hours of St. Peter's Dome
St. Peter's Dome is open all year round. Normally, you can visit it from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm between October and March, and from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm from April to September.
But I say normally because these opening hours can be modified in case there is a religious festivity or celebration that requires St. Peter's Basilica to be closed to the general public for security reasons. Therefore, I recommend that when you plan your trip to Rome, you take into account that the Basilica may be closed on some days.
Best time to climb St. Peter's Dome
In general, as in any tourist spot in the city, the fewer people you come across, the better. And this is usually the case first thing in the morning. Besides, at that time of day the city is still quiet and the faint colours of the morning are beautiful.
The tranquillity and silence from the top of St. Peter's is also highly valued, so I encourage you to get up early. In general, it is also a good time to see St. Peter's Basilica and even the Vatican Museums.
What the climb up to St. Peter's Dome looks like
I'm not going to lie to you: the climb is not easy, there's a lift only in one section and it's probably not for the claustrophobic. But if you take it calmly and energetically, I assure you that you won't regret it.
Lift vs. stairs
If you decide to walk the entire climb, you should know that you have 551 steps ahead of you (if you take the lift, you will save a good part of it and "only" have to climb 320). You should know that even if you pay the lift fare, you will also have to climb stairs.
Queues for the Dome
Regarding the queues, in both options you will have to wait your turn -there are usually quite a lot of people- but as you can imagine, the queues to take the lift are longer if possible.
Another thing you should know is that the queue to go up is different from the one to go down, so you will not be able to turn back if you regret it in the middle of the ascent (I doubt you will regret it, but if you don't like very reduced or narrow spaces, think carefully before going up).
In general, I recommend that you take it easy, enjoy the immensity of the Dome from the inside and don't rush to get to the top. The views from the top will make you forget your tiredness.
Why it's worth climbing St. Peter's Dome
The view, the view, the view. Without a doubt, one of the best panoramic views of the city. From the top of the Dome you will have a totally different perspective of the city and many of its details. Here are the things to look out for to get the most out of your visit.
Bernini's sculptures on the Colonnade
From the top you will be able to contemplate, in the foreground, the 140 sculptures at the top of Bernini's colonnade in St Peter's Square. From above, these figures take on another dimension and open out onto the skyline of the impressive Piazza.
The perfection of St. Peter's Square
If the Piazza is impressive from below, the sensation of seeing it from the sky is unparalleled. You will be able to appreciate its majestic size, the perfection of its ellipsis and the optical effect of this architectural marvel.
St. Angelo's Castle and its passages
On the horizon, the profile of Castel St'Angelo and the walls (or "pasetto") that link the Vatican to the Castle stand out in the foreground. The immensity of this fortification is hard to imagine as you walk along the streets around it, but from the heights it takes your breath away.
The rooftops of the city
Rome's skyline is a myriad of orange rooftops, stone domes crowning every street and a myriad of terraces and penthouses full of flowers and life. The best skyline in the city can be seen from the top of the Dome and is well worth a leisurely stop.
Inside the Dome
The way to the top is also enjoyable: between each step, don't forget to take a look at the Dome's skyline to enjoy its immensity and its details.
Other things to see in St. Peter's Basilica
Tour St. Peter's Basilica at your own pace: it's huge and its interior is loaded with worthwhile works: from Michelangelo's Pietà, which you'll recognise immediately because there are always visitors admiring the image, to the central baldachin. Take your time and enjoy it because it is full of details.
And if you choose the guided tour of St. Peter's Basilica, you won't miss any detail and you will be able to understand the historical, artistic and religious importance of the largest Catholic church in the world.
Michelangelo gave life to this spectacular marble sculpture of almost two metres between 1498 and 1499 to represent the Virgin Mary picking up the body of her son Jesus who died on the cross. The quality of the details, the dimensions and the perfect proportions soon made it one of Michelangelo's most admired works. It is currently located in the first chapel on the right, very close to the entrance of the Basilica.
Although the last Popes have not been buried in these crypts, if you decide to descend into the bowels of St. Peter's Basilica, you will be able to see the tombs and mausoleums of more than 100 Popes and the necropolis of St. Peter. You can buy the entrance ticket inside the church itself, as you need a specific ticket to access the crypts, which costs around 13 euros.
This colossal structure designed by Bernini to cover the altar of the Basilica dominates the interior of the church, capturing all eyes from practically every corner. It is made of bronze and stands almost 30 metres high (you'll have to stand a long way back for it to fully appear in a photograph).
Other things to do in the Vatican
Join a guided tour of the Vatican Museums
To help you organise your visit to the Museums, the first thing to know is that, in general, when we talk about tickets to the Vatican, we are talking about tickets that give access to the Vatican Museums, where thousands of works are housed and of course, the popular Sistine Chapel.
The Vatican City itself is free to move around and you can walk around the square and even into the Basilica without having to buy any tickets or pay anything at all. More or less long, more or less early and more or less exclusive (you can choose to do it in a large or small group), a tour of the Vatican Museums is practically a must. Walking past so much history and symbolism without understanding much is a shame.
Turn around the colonnade in St. Peter's Square
Vatican City would not be the same without the marvellous circular colonnade that makes it up. If you also like photography, you will enjoy playing with the perspectives of this work of art.
Take the opportunity to see the Pope live
Whether you are religious or not, seeing the Pope live is something you can easily do when you visit the Vatican. You'll have to stick to specific days and times (Wednesday mass or the Angelus on Sundays) but you can.
Don't leave the Vatican without eating well
Eating well near the Vatican is possible. This touristy area has some hidden restaurants that are well worth a stop. Whatever you're looking for (pizza, pasta, a sweet snack or an amazing sandwich), you'll find some great places around the Vatican.