No matter where you are in Rome, you can see the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. To help you make the most of your time in the Eternal City, here are six of the best places to the view the dome - both inside and outside of the Vatican City itself. To truly get under the skin of this historical region, join us on our Vatican tours or walking tours in Rome, or read on to enjoy some of our favorite viewing points for yourself.
St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world, and one of the holiest shrines to Catholicism. It is a beautiful, awe-inspiring example of Italian Renaissance architecture and can be visited daily. The dome was designed by famous artist Michelangelo, who also created the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. So, here are the best viewpoints…
1. St. Peter’s Square
It goes without saying that one of the best places to see the dome is from St. Peter’s Square inside the Vatican City. Tours of the Vatican will take you here, and it’s an incredibly impressive space. St. Peter’s Square is actually a 372 meter long oval, and on important Catholic occasions such as Easter it is completely packed with worshipers from around the world. From the square, surrounded by 140 statues of different saints, you can see the beautiful front of St. Peter’s Basilica and, of course, the dome on top. Entry into St. Peter’s Square is free and it’s easily one of the best places to see St. Peter’s Dome.
2. The Vatican Gardens
Also located inside the Vatican City, the lush space of the Vatican Gardens offer a spectacular view of St. Peter’s Dome. Filled with beautiful flowers and shrubbery as well as rare plants - brought as gifts from official visitors from around the world - the gardens span half of the city. To see the dome framed by palm trees, arbors, hanging branches, archways and more, head to the Vatican Gardens.
You’ll get views like nowhere else, and there is plenty to see in the garden itself - fountains with turtles in, a cactus garden, sculptures and botanical walkways. It’s the perfect place to relax after spending time amongst the hustle and bustle of Rome and the Vatican City, and you’ll see St. Peter’s Dome from angles you could only dream of otherwise!
3. Pine Cone Courtyard
A little-known secret of the Vatican City is Pine Cone Courtyard, so named because of the Fontana della Pigna - a former Roman fountain that faces the courtyard. The fountain, a large bronze pine cone, originally stood near the Pantheon in Rome. It was moved to its current location in 1608; the courtyard was originally created as part of a bigger space to connect the palace of Pope Innocent VIII with the Sistine Chapel. It was designed by Donato Bramante and was finished by architect Pirro Ligorio. The courtyard was eventually split into two, when the Vatican Library was built - Pine Cone Courtyard is the upper half.
Looking out from the fountain itself across the courtyard, you will be greeted with a view of St. Peter’s Dome. Tours of the Vatican often include access to Pine Cone Courtyard, so be sure to check it out and see the dome from a different angle while you are there.
4. The Aventine Keyhole
Stepping outside of the Vatican City, there are still incredible views of St. Peter’s Dome to be had. At the intersection of via di S. Sabina and via di Porta Lavernale, on the Aventine Hill, is a green door. It looks like any old door, but if you get right up close and look through the keyhole you’ll be treated to a small but impress view of St. Peter’s Dome. There is a lane of greenery, and perfectly situated in the center is the dome!
The door is set in the middle of the walls of a villa owned by the Knights of Malta. When you look through the keyhole you’ll technically be seeing three countries at once: Maltese land, with a bit of Rome beyond it and finally St. Peter’s Dome in the Vatican City. There is often a line of eager travelers, but it’s definitely a unique way of seeing the dome. This is often referred to as the Orange Garden Keyhole, given its proximity to the stunning park known as the Orange Garden of Rome. You can see the dome through the orange trees as well, which is a particularly special scene at sunset.
5. Palatine Hill
For those into history and archaeology, Palatine Hill is likely on your list of sites to visit in Rome already. It is one of the famous Seven Hills of Rome and is regarded as the founding site of Rome. The hill is adjacent to the Colosseum and the Forum and allows you to explore ancient Roman ruins such as the Imperial Palaces, Romulan Huts and Houses of Augustus and Livia.
It also offers spectacular views of the city below, including St. Peter’s Dome. It’ll be in the distance, but with the whole city laid out at your feet you’ll feel like you’re truly on top of the world!
6. Castel Sant’Angelo
Located a short drive from the Vatican City, on the right bank of the Tiber, Castel Sant’Angelo is a fortress also known as Hadrian’s Tomb. It is impressive in its own right, a towering circular building flanked by columns and statues, and currently operates a museum. But alongside that, it offers a photographers-favorite view of St. Peter’s Dome. With unique angles and excellent framing, Sant’Angelo is definitely worth a trip if you’re wanting to capture the best of the city.
You may be able to see St. Peter’s Dome from anywhere in the city, but these are definitely some of the best and most iconic views. Whether you want perfect pictures or a chance to see it without hordes of crowds, choose the one that suits you best. Vatican tours can take you up close, and the rest of the city offers something different entirely. The dome is one of the most well-known scenes in Rome, so make sure you don’t miss out!