Climbing St Peter’s Dome in Rome


If you’ve ever wondered how to get views like this, you have to consider climbing to St Peter’s Dome in Rome, actually at the Vatican. Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica was always one of the top places I wanted to go in Rome. Truly it is magnificent. I could spend all day inside and in fact have gone back on a number of visits. The other highlight of that  is climbing to the top of the dome, or cupola, and seeing St Peter’s from inside the dome.

At the entrance to St Peter’s look for a sign saying “cupola” directing you to the far right. This will take you to where you need to go to locate a kiosk near the elevator which goes up to the dome.

For eight euros, you can ride the elevator as far as you can, and then you start walking the 320 steps to the dome. Interestingly there still is a fee of six euros  if you choose to walk rather than ride the elevator for the first part of this ascent. No thank you, as the 320 steps were more than enough for me to contemplate when I took on this venture on my first visit to the Vatican. The cupola is open Apr – Sep 8:00 – 6:00pm,  Oct Mar 8:00 – 4:45pm

As you get off the elevator you will find yourself on an inner balcony which is actually at the base of the dome. You can spend as much time as you please here and you are able to take photos looking up to the top of the dome, as well as all the way down into St Peter’s.

From here you can either start climbing the spiral staircase to the top or take the steps down to the roof level. As you can see, the space is fairly narrow and steep. On the roof level you will find restrooms, a water fountain, a gift shop and a newly opened coffee bar, which was not here ten years ago when I made this climb.

Vatican Steps to the Cupola

Once you begin climbing the steps you will find that the staircase curves and is quite narrow. Periodically there are small windows which give you a chance to take a peek out and get a glimpse of what your view from the top will be like. It’s also a good opportunity to take a short rest and catch your breath, as this climb is strenuous and will leave you huffing and puffing even if you are in fairly good condition.

Once at the top though it is all so worth it as the views of Piazza San Pietro and all of Rome are nothing short of spectacular. Now this is the photo opportunity you have been anticipating and you can remain at the top to take it all in just as long as you like.Once at the top though it is all so worth it as the views of Piazza San Pietro and all of Rome are nothing short of spectacular Click To Tweet

On your way, down you will emerge inside St Peter’s and this is one of the benefits of climbing the cupola prior to visiting St Peter’s Basilica, as you do not have to wait in the line again. Good luck!


Have you ever made this climb? I’s love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment.

Grazie and Ciao

If you liked this story you may be interested in my stories as a solo traveler  for 3 months in Italy. My award-winning memoir, Memoirs of  a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy, is available on Amazon.

Memoirs of a Solo Traveler - My Love Affair with Italy







16 Responses

  1. Ron

    The german poet Goethe did the same in Rome 1786:

    “The morning of this happy day I must endeavour to perpetuate by a few lines, and, at least by description, to impart to others what I have myself enjoyed. The weather has been beautiful and calm, quite a bright sky, and a warm sun. Accompanied by Tischbein, I set off for the Piazza of St. Peter’s, where we went about, first of all, from one part to another; when it became too hot for that, walked up and down in the shade of the great obelisk (which is full wide enough for two abreast), and eating grapes which we purchased in the neighbourhood. Then we entered the Sistine Chapel, which we found bright and cheerful, and with a good light for the pictures. The Last Judgment divided our admiration with the paintings on the roof by Michael Angelo. I could only see and wonder. The mental confidence and boldness of the master, and his gandeur of conception, are beyond all expression. After we had looked at all of them over and over again, we left this sacred building, and went to St. Peter’s, which received from the bright heavens the loveliest light possible, and every part of it was clearly lighted up. As men willing to be pleased, we were delighted with its vastness and splendour, and did not allow an over-nice or hypocritical taste to mar our pleasure. We suppressed every harsher judgment: we enjoyed the enjoyable.

    Lastly we ascended the roof of the church, where one finds, in little, the plan of a well-built city,—houses and magazines, springs (in appearance, at least), churches, and a great temple, all in the air, and beautiful walks between. We mounted the dome, and saw glistening before us the regions of the Apennines, Soracte, and toward Tivoli, the volcanic hills,—Frascati, Castel-gandolfo, and the plains, and, beyond all, the sea. Close at our feet lay the whole city of Rome in its length and breadth, with its mountain palaces, domes, etc. Not a breath of air was moving, and in the upper dome it was (as they say) like being in a hothouse. When we had looked enough at these things, we went down, and they opened for us the doors in the cornices of the dome, the tympanum, and the nave. There is a passage all round, and from above you can take a view of the whole church and of its several parts. As we stood on the cornices of the tympanum, we saw beneath us the Pope, passing to his midday devotions. Nothing, therefore, was wanting to make our view of St. Peter’s perfect. We at last descended to the area, and took, in a neighbouring hotel, a cheerful but frugal meal, and then set off for St. Cecilia’s…”

  2. victoriabenchley

    I always enjoy your posts, Margie. Thank you for sharing. This brought back some great memories as I climbed the dome last summer with my family. The tilt of the walls almost gave me vertigo, so I had to focus on the steps. The view proved well worth the effort (even if I had to utilize the rope at the top of the stairs)!

    • margieinitaly

      Thank you Victoria..

      I also find that once you’ve reached the top of any of these climbs in Italy, there is a huge sense of accomplishment!! Brava!!

  3. Un po' di pepe

    It’s been a while since I climbed the duomo of San Pietro. Definitely worth doing. I have a great foto of my up there age 11. I will have to dig it up!

  4. stellalucentellc

    Love your photos. Feels like I was there walking with you! Reminds me of “La Dolce Vita,” when the American actress character who visits Rome practically runs up the stairs at St. Peter’s since she is so excited to see the view.

    • margieinitaly

      Thank you so much Kathy!!! I so appreciate your perspective. I’m going to have to watch that film again!!

  5. apollard

    I left a scallop shell up there from a beach in New Zealand as a gesture of my pilgrimage…it’s very special. Have you looked at older pictures of this view when the Borgo was still in place that Mussolini pulled down. Fascinating.

    • margieinitaly

      Grazie, Cara… How interesting to leave something from your home town. I haven’t seen those photos…will have to research them. Grazie

    • margieinitaly

      Happy to provide, Karen….Now I’m sure you always have a camera. I’m enjoying your photos from Calabria very much

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