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Yes you can! And I highly recommend it! Climbing the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica was one of the highlights of my trip to Rome.
History of the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica
The dome was designed by Michelangelo, who worked on the construction of the Basilica beginning in 1547. By the time of his death (he died at 89 in 1564), construction had reached the drum of the dome. The drum alternates highly prominent double columns with gabled windows. Then, Giacomo Della Porta, Michelangelo’s pupil, took over the project. He then raised the vault of the dome about 7 metres and completed it in 1590, in just 22 months, under the pontificate of Pope Sixtus V. The dome has since been used as a model for other domes around the world. Although built by different techniques, some examples are those of Saint Paul’s in London (1675), Les Invalides in Paris (1680-1691) and the Capitol building in Washington (1794-1817).
To get to the dome, follow the signs for “Cupola” in St Peter’s Basilica. Follow the signs until you reach the ticket office. You can either purchase tickets there, or if you are like me, you bought the Omnia card. A number of Vatican attractions are covered by the card. This is also where the elevator is that takes you up to the dome.
From here you have two options:
1. Climb all the way on foot (551 steps)
2. Take the elevator and then climb the rest on foot (320 steps)
How Much Does is Cost?
I don’t recall if there is an extra cost to take the elevator with the Omnia card. However, I’m going to assume there is, since if you don’t use the card, there is for sure an extra cost. The entrance cost is 10 Euros for the elevator, 8 Euros for the stairs. CASH ONLY! I’m told there is not much to see if you do choose to walk the whole way. I will note, being that I had my shoulders and knees covered (in respect) and it was summer when I went, it was rather hot. That’s something you’ll want to take into consideration when making your decision.
Climbing the Dome
If you take the elevator, you will reach an interior balcony (pictured above) which is actually the base of the dome. You can then move onto the terrace where you can stop to catch a breather and get access to bathrooms, a water fountain, a souvenir shop and a café. I was actually really thirsty and hot by this point so I went a got a cup of water. They will charge you for even a small cup of water so just be prepared for that. From this terrace, you can see the Piazza and the upper statues of the apostles! If you open the picture above of the dome up bigger you can see the people at the top.
A Magical View of Rome
After your short break, you head up the spiral staircase to the upper area. Be forewarned that if you’re not a fan of small spaces or have trouble with stairs this isn’t for you. I wound up walking up the steps with some lovely people and we all had to pause every so often while climbing. It’s a narrow staircase only broken up by some small windows. You can see some more detail on what this looks like at Rome Wise. I recall it took about 15-20 minutes. This obviously depends on your speed. However, it is worth it once you see that 360º view of St Peter’s Square and the city of Rome.
It is 100% worth the effort getting up there! The view from the dome of St Peter’s Basilica is completely gorgeous! On your way down there is another staircase so you won’t be a salmon swimming up-stream the wrong way. Thank goodness! The estimate for this is an hour, once again depending on your speed and how much time you spend up there.