The dome of Saint Peter’s basilica

Saint Peter’s basilica is the massive centerpiece of Vatican city. On top of it all as its literal high point sits the dome. Which you can climb almost all the way to the top.

How much time should I spend here?A couple of hours
How much does it cost?Less than 10 euro’s
How far from the city center?20-30 minutes
What modes of transport are available?Train, bus, tram, walking
What is the nearest subway stop?Ottaviano
Where can I find it?Google Maps link
Is there an official website?Click here

There are two paths to the ‘cupola’: by stairs and by elevator. And if you want to use the elevator, you will need to pay a couple of euro’s extra. If you want the exercise, then by all means take the stairs. But I would recommend even if you are fit, you take the elevator as you will be climbing a lot of stairs whether you take the elevator or not. This is because the elevator doesn’t run all the way to the top. It only goes to the roof of the basilica. From there it’s stairs all the way to the top.

The warning sign before going on to the dome of Saint Peters.
The warning sign before going on to the dome of Saint Peters.

If you want to visit the top of the dome; you need to be in reasonable shape. If you are having trouble walking several flights of stairs, please do not attempt to climb the dome. You can go to the top of the basilica no problem, but the dome is a one-way affair and once you embark on the journey to the top, you will have to complete it.

The roof

On the roof of Saint Peter’s basilica, you’ll find that you can roam around quite a bit. There is of course the way up to the dome, but the roof itself is also nice to explore as there is a souvenir shop and a cafe. No, I’m not kidding.

Just roam around a little bit and then make your way to the dome. Tie those shoelaces here, because it will be reasonably tight quarters going up because you are basically moving along the side of the dome up towards the roof. And if you stand still, so does everybody behind you.

When you move up, you’ll also move through the dome itself on the inside. This gives spectacular views of the center of the basilica. It also gives you a close-up look at the mosaics on the ceiling of the basilica.

Inside the dome, you get great views down into the basilica.

The dome

The way to the top is rather special. It isn’t an elevator or some straight stairs. You are moving up, inch by inch, in between the inner wall of the dome (the part you see when you look up from the basilica floor) and the outer wall (the part you see when you stand on St. Peter’s square. So part of the way up is actually not straight but bent to the right.

When climbing towards the top of the dome, the quarters are tight. And slanted to the right.

The top

Once you get to the top, you get 360-degree views of Rome, the Vatican, and what lies beyond if the weather is right. Just walk around and take it all in if you reached the top.

View from the dome over St. Peter’s square.

But while you are here, pay special attention to the grounds inside the Vatican to the west. These grounds are the Vatican gardens and encompass nearly 50% of the entire Vatican. (More information about the Gardens of Vatican City on Wikipedia)

The western part of the Vatican grounds.

How do you get to the dome

Go to St. Peter’s square and join the line for the basilica. Once you clear security, head over to the vestibule of St. Peter’s basilica and instead of entering the church, take a right turn and follow the signs ‘cupola’ or ‘dome’.

After passing a souvenir shop, you will end up at the cash register and you’ll need to make a choice between the stairs and the elevator. Pick the elevator. Then join the queue to the elevator and you’ll be taken to the roof of the basilica.

From there follow the signs and good luck.

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