There are lots of secret places in the Vatican. This secretive place has been mostly unseen by the general public.
The areas we are able to explore are highly guarded and very few people know what really goes on behind the Vatican’s doors. However, there is one area that most people do not realise is actually open to the public!
Just about every visitor to the Vatican will make their way to St Peters Basilica. The largest Christian basilica can hold over 60,000 people inside and is particularly famous for the giant ornate dome that sits atop it.
The dome is amazing to see from the square out front of the basilica but if you’d like to see an even better view, why not climb up it!
That’s right, you can climb to the top of the dome of St Peters Basilica.
Tickets for the dome
The most common reason people do not climb the dome at St Peter’s is because they do not know they can! The option to climb is relatively cheap and available most days, you just have to know where to go.
Climbing the dome
First thing first, don’t let the word climbing scare you too much. It’s a relatively easy trip to the top however we do need to note it is unfortunately not accessible to those with mobility restrictions.
When you make your way through the Vatican on a tour, you’ll be led to the entrance of St Peters. Typically this is where all Vatican tours end as they allow you to freely explore the basilica. Hidden away, next to the path leading to the basilica is the entryway.
There ate two levels to climbing the dome. The first level can be reached by stairs or a lift, while the second winds up the dome.
The first level allows you to look down into the basilica itself. Watch as thousands of people explore this truly holy place. There are many reasons people visit the basilica. Some come for its religious significance while others visit just to say they have. There is an abundance of stunning artwork here from some of Italy’s most famous creators.
The first level features bathrooms, a small refreshment stand and a gift store. At this level you can also walk out onto the rood of the basilica. Head to the front of the roof and see Jesus and the Apostles. The large statues can be seen from the square below.
Up to the top
From here you can choose to take another 320 stairs to the top of the dome. Now let us warn you, they are steep, narrow and spiralling. They are perfectly safe, and in our opinion worth the effort to ascend, however, they may not be the best choice for those who are claustrophobic.
By the time you reach the top of the staircase, you will be in a full corkscrew, with a rope instead of a bar to hold onto! That’s right, a rope!
There are plenty of windows along the way though so you’ll not feel too closed in. There is also a second set of stairs used to get back out so you don’t need to worry about colliding into any fellow travellers.
When to climb
The dome is open year-round so no matter when you choose to go you should be able to climb. There are some days when the dome climb may sell out, or be harder to get tickets to.
If you’re visiting during peak periods such as near-religious holidays, we recommend trying to climb the dome sooner rather than later. While it is magnificent to climb the dome to watch the sunset, just about every person who climbs wants to see this so it may not be possible.
Early mornings are a great time to climb as you are less likely to have crowds or lines to get into the dome.
Finding the dome
If you are coming through the Vatican Museums, you should be able to find the dome as you exit the Sistine Chapel.
If you have troubles, feel free to ask your guide or nearby Vatican staff. They will happily assist you in finding the entrance to the dome. You can only climb the dome if you have gone through security for either the basilica or the Vatican museums, there is no skip-the-line tickets for the dome itself.
A climb up the dome is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the perfect addition to your visit to the Vatican. Not only are you treated to world-class views of St Peter’s Square and Rome on the roof but you’ll be able to get close looks at amazing artworks many people miss.
Michelangelo worked on the dome until his death, it was one of his final works and you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to see it, we say don’t miss it! The dome itself also has a very fascinating history. Many spectacular architects worked on it until its completion. Although the dome was modelled partly on the Roman Pantheon, many are surprised to learn it is in fact smaller. Michelangelo believed the work there looked more like that of angels than humans. He felt that though he could build a bigger dome it would not be more beautiful, so it is 1.5m narrower than the Pantheon.
St Peter’s Basilica is a must-visit for anyone in Rome or visiting the Vatican. Upgrade your visit by climbing the dome! We promise you won’t regret it.
Related article: Bernini and the Vatican