Tips for Visiting Florence’s Duomo
The Piazza del Duomo (“Cathedral Square”) is the busiest square in the city and one of the most visited places in Europe. The Duomo complex consists of several attractions and is a must-see on our 1-day itinerary of Florence. Visiting the Duomo requires special planning to see everything effectively.
Are you planning to visit the world-famous Duomo in Florence? Read on for a step-by-step guide!
Early morning in the Piazza del Duomo.
Things You Should Know Before Visiting the Duomo
Florence’s Duomo is the city’s most iconic landmark. The white and green marbled facade topped by a red-tiled dome dominates the Renaissance cityscape. Work on the cathedral began in 1296 but took almost 150 years to complete. The crowning jewel of the Duomo is the dome, an architectural marvel which was added over a hundred years after the construction of the cathedral.
Five monuments make up the Duomo Complex: Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower), the Baptistry of San Giovanni, and the Crypt of Santa Reparata. Also included is the Opera Museum (Museo dell’Opera), which houses many of the cathedral treasures from days of yore.
How much time does it take to explore the entire complex? That depends on your schedule and level of interest. If you only have a short time in Florence, be sure to explore the headliners – the Cathedral Dome, Campanile, and Baptistry – which take only a couple hours. Otherwise plan to spend most of a day exploring all the monuments plus the museum (which is air conditioned – a relief in the summer).
Be aware that there is a dress code for visiting the Duomo. Jesus might have hung out with prostitutes, but don’t expect the church to be as forgiving. Outfits that reveal shoulders and knees are frowned upon. Skimpy tops, spaghetti straps, or bare midriffs are not allowed inside the church. Skirts should be knee length to cover knees. If in doubt, carry a light shawl or scarf to wrap around you when you go inside.
A view of the Florence Cathedral from the Palazzo Vecchio.
Duomo Ticket Options
A ticket is required for most of the monuments and attractions throughout the complex. Only entry to the cathedral is free, but free entry excludes the Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Crypt of Santa Reparata.
The good news is that a single ticket allows access to all of the monuments. The cost for the all-inclusive ticket is €18. There are a couple ways to purchase tickets:
- On-site. Tickets can be purchased on-site at one of several locations: the main ticket office (across from from the main entrance of the Baptistry), inside the Campanile, the Crypt entrance (inside the Cathedral), or the Museum.
- On-line. Purchasing online is highly recommended. Not only can you skip the queues at the ticket office(s), but daily availability is limited to climb to the top of the dome. Purchasing online in advance guarantees entry to the dome when you want it (you’ll have to choose a designated time from a list of entry options).
Tickets are valid for 30 days from the date selected at the time of purchase. You may use your ticket to gain entry to each monument one time. Tickets are usable for up to 72 hours from your first entry.
Buy tickets: Il Grande Museo del Duomo
Little Peek on Florence Tour
The Little Peek on Florence tour is for those looking for a more exclusive, red carpet tour of the Duomo complex. This guided tour of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore includes exclusive access to the central areas of the cathedral which are normally closed off to the public. On the way up to the Dome, you’ll have private access to the North Terrace. The terrace offers unobstructed views of the Dome and beautiful views of the Florence cityscape. Your ticket also includes entry to all the other monuments, the same as the standard ticket. Not bad for €30!
The Little Peek on Florence tour is offered only once daily and has limited availability. Be sure to book online early to guarantee your spot.
Availability: January to March: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; April to December: Monday through Saturday
Start time: 10:30 (tour takes 1 hour)
Participants: Maximum 20
Buy tickets: A Little Peek on Florence Tour Tickets
Print your ticket
You must scan the bar code printed on your ticket in order to enter each monument. The bar code scanners sometimes have trouble reading digital versions that might be saved to phones or tablets. Make things easier for yourself by having a printed version of your ticket on hand.
The beautifully ornate facade of the Florence Cathedral.
Duomo Opening Hours
All of the monuments have different opening and closing hours which vary throughout the year. It’s best to confirm the opening hours with the official website before your visit.
The Duomo is the most popular attraction in Florence. The plaza around the Duomo fills up fast with tourists, and we’ve seen 3-hour-long lines wrap completely around the Cathedral at mid-day. If you’re planning to spend all day touring the entire complex, it’s best to start as soon as the Duomo opens in the morning. If you’re planning to catch the highlights (the Dome, the Campanile, and the Baptistry), plan to visit later in the afternoon when the sun is lower to the west, which guarantees the best light on the dome.
Keep in mind that aside from Dome, tickets allow access throughout day and can be completed in any order. Walk around and choose the attractions with the shortest lines.
The Duomo is closed the first Tuesday of each month.
The interior of the Baptistry is quite ornate, but there’s no denying that the highlight is the amazing mosaic ceiling.
Baptistry of San Giovanni
The Baptistry of San Giovanni (or Baptistry of Saint John) is a freestanding, octagonal structure directly across from the Cathedral entrance. The Baptistry is the oldest building in the Piazza del Duomo, constructed between 1059 and 1128.
Three sides of the Baptistry – north, east, and south – contain intricately designed bronze doors. The east doors are the most famous, dubbed by Michelangelo as the Gates of Paradise. The south doors contain reliefs that depict the life of John the Baptist, the namesake of the building.
The interior of the Baptistry consists of a single, ornate room. The highlight of the interior is the domed ceiling which is adorned by a magnificent mosaic ceiling. It can get quite hot and stuffy inside during summer months, so plan to visit earlier in the morning when the temperatures are cooler. It only takes a few minutes to tour the Baptistry, so hop in when the line is short.
Despite its breathtaking exterior, the vast interior of the Duomo is shockingly sparse.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Florence’s Cathedral is the city’s most iconic landmark. The white and green marbled facade topped by a red-tiled dome dominates the Renaissance cityscape. The front facade is especially intricate. On the top of the front facade is a series of niches with the twelve Apostles. In the middle sits the Madonna and Child, to whom the cathedral is dedicated.
Despite its breathtaking exterior, the vast interior of the Duomo is shockingly sparse. The relative bareness of the church is said to correspond with the austerity of religious life. Visitors are relegated to the edges of the cathedral in order to protect the marble floor. The only way to cross the barrier and tour the heart of the Cathedral is to participate in the Little Peek of Florence tour.
Be sure to rent an audio guide for €2. The guide points out the Cathedral highlights, including:
- Clock – Located above the main door. It was designed in 1443 by Paolo Uccello. The one-handed clock shows the 24 four hours of the day, which ended at sunset – a timetable that was used until the 18th century.
- Marble floor – This beautiful mosaic is designed to appear three-dimensional. It’s difficult to appreciate the floor in its entirety without climbing to a higher vantage point.
- Dante Before the City of Florence – A famous painting of Dante Alighieri with views of Florence in 1465.
- Dome interior frescos – The underside of the dome is covered by an enormous fresco representing the Last Judgement. The 3,600 square meters (38,750 square feet) of painted surface was completed by various artists in stages starting in 1568 and lasting until 1579.
Entry to the Cathedral is free, although you may ending up standing in long queues.
Did You Know...?
Florence’s cathedral is the 4th largest in the world, after St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Paul’s in London and the Duomo in Milan.
It takes a lot of stamina to climb to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome, but the reward is spectacular panoramic views of Florence.
The Dome (or Cupola, which means “dome” in Italian) of the Cathedral is modern architectural marvel. It was constructed over 100 years after the main portion of the Cathedral had been completed. The plans called for an octagonal, free standing dome that was higher and wider than any that had ever been built. The dome was to be nearly 46 meters (150 ft) across and 55 meters (180 ft) above the ground atop existing walls. The task fell to Filippo Brunelleschi, an eccentric genius who envisioned a double-layered dome held together by a series of barrel-style “chains” to counteract “hoop stress.”
Climbing to the top of the Dome is one of the highlights of the Duomo experience. The ascent consists of 463 narrow, claustrophobic steps, which can become single file in some areas. On the way to the top, you’ll pass along the underside of the dome, with up close views of its elaborate (and sometimes macabre) frescos. The final stairway to the top is through the double layers of the dome. The views from the top are stunning, offering 360-degree panorama views of the city.
Entry to the Dome is located on the north side of the Cathedral. You must define an entry time when you purchase your ticket, which are strictly enforced. The best times to climb the Dome are early-morning when the sun highlights the front of the Cathedral and Campanile, or late afternoon when the waning sun provides golden light on the city of Florence.
The Campanile’s upper levels provide close up views of the Cathedral’s famous dome.
The 84.70 meter (278 foot) Campanile (or Bell Tower) may appear to be connected to the Cathedral, but it is actually a free standing structure. 414 steps lead through the five levels to the top. Like Brunelleschi’s Dome, the Campanile offers sweeping views of the Florence skyline. The difference is that the Campanile provides grand, close-up views of the Dome itself. If you’re lucky, you’ll be at the top when the Campanile’s seven bells begin to ring.
So should you climb to the top of the Campanile directly after climbing to the top of the Dome? Only if you are in good shape. We did it, and it was grueling. The health app on our phones recorded 73 flights of steps between the two. It’s probably best to give your legs a chance to rest before climbing the Campanile.
Once you return to ground level, check out the elaborate hexagonal panels built into the facade of the Campanile. Each one depicts a part the history and ingenuity of mankind (astronomy, building, medicine, hunting, flight, etc). The ones in situ are copies, while the originals have been moved to the Opera Museum.
A Tight Squeeze
The windows at the top of the Campanile are covered with tight wire mesh, apparently to keep objects from being thrown off. This makes photography with a traditional camera difficult. You’ll need to use a phone camera’s small lens to take your shots through the wire mesh.
Brunelleschi’s Tomb is hidden away in the crypt gift shop.
Crypt of Santa Reparata
The Crypt of Santa Reparata is actually the preserved ruins of an old church – the former cathedral of Florence. The current Cathedral is constructed directly over the early ruins. Its name refers to Saint Reparata, an early virgin martyr and the co-patron saint of Florence.
A stairway inside the Cathedral leads down to the crypt. Don’t forget to locate Fillipo Brunelleschi’s tomb – yes, the same guy who designed the dome. The tomb is easy to miss. It’s hidden away in an unassuming corner of the Crypt gift shop.
The original Cathedral artwork and sculptures (like the medallions in this photo) are available for viewing in the Opera Museum.
The Opera Museum (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo) houses all of the artwork and sculptures that once adorned the Duomo. Practically every statue and plinth throughout the Duomo complex is a copy, with the originals moved to the Opera Museum for preservation. The museum is quite large (and quite air conditioned in the summer time), which some of the finest examples of Renaissance sculpture in the world.
The Opera Museum is a must-visit if you are an art, architecture, or history aficionado. If you are on a tight schedule, feel free to skip this one.
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