I finally had the chance to cross off one of my bucket list destinations: Florence in Italy! It was about bloody time, seeing as it is my namesake city, and it was everything I had imagined and more. Its history as a cultural, economic and political center cemented its position as a flourishing and well-to-do city in Europe, and the preservation of its monuments has been incredible.
From the Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Vecchio to Uffuzi Gallery and Gallerie Dell’Accademia, almost every structure has been painstakingly and delicately restored and maintained; with a few exceptions (Uffuzi Gallery! *shakes fist*), the visiting process is streamlined and efficient, enabling visitors to Florence to truly enjoy their trip and take in the sights without wanting to yank all their hair out.
The panoramic skyline of Florence is not complete without the famous Duomo, or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Brunelleschi’s Dome, but the Duomo is only one monument within the greater complex housed within Piazza del Duomo and Piazza San Giovanni. These monuments in the UNESCO-listed historic centre of Florence date back to the 13th and 14th centuries and are a testament to the creativity and innovation from the Italian Renaissance.
The five monuments that make up the Duomo complex include the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower), the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Crypt of Santa Reparata and the Opera Museum. All of these monuments are unique and take time to properly explore, so the best way to plan your tour is to spread out the monuments over two (or more) days.
Don’t have a lot of time to spend in Florence? Then you’ll want to stay near the Duomo Complex – don’t worry, it’s easy to get around the city on foot! Click here for accommodation options in Florence, Italy!
This complex is probably the most popular landmark in Florence – it goes without saying that there are often what can only be described as “hordes” of people visiting each of the monuments. I’ve now visited the Duomo complex a handful of times and climbed Brunelleschi’s Dome twice – here are some of my best tips. If you want a hassle-free visit, read on for my recommended two-day itinerary to get the most out of your time at the Duomo complex! Here’s what you need to know before visiting the Duomo in Florence.
Is it your first time to Italy? Click here for 14 things you should know before your trip!
Duomo Florence Ticket Options
Option 1: This is perhaps the most critical step to ensuring an amazing and stress-free visit if you want to climb the Duomo in Florence – while it’s not 100% compulsory, it will guarantee a unique and exclusive view of Florence and the Duomo. The “Little Peek on Florence” tour (it is AKA the “A Glimpse of Florence” tour) is a guided tour of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, exclusive entrance into the private north Terrace (normally kept under lock and key and not open to the public!), and allows you to skip the massive queues for the climb up to Brunelleschi’s Dome.
Group sizes are kept small and the guide walks you through the rich history and significance of the Duomo complex – better than any for-hire audio guide, guaranteed. The tour includes access to the Brunelleschi dome so it is not necessary to book the access time separately.
The tour takes about an hour and a half and costs €33 per person (double the price of a regular ticket, but worth it – believe me). The ticket also provides one entry to each of the other monuments (except for the Cathedral which you can re-enter as it has no admission fee) within the Duomo complex within 48 hours of the first entry, and is usually hosted at 10:30 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from January to March, and Monday to Saturday from April to December.
Update: Unfortunately it looks like this tour is no longer running due to various reasons. You can however still book a guided tour to the Dome with priority access to the climb independently after the tour is over. This tour only runs on certain days of week and you can book it online for €30 per adult here. You can also book a visit to the North Terrace for €25 per adult here, but the terrace will be closed to the public at the end of October 2021. It may reopen after the winter months but it is unclear at this point.
The Little Peek on Florence tour has undergone several “rebrands” over the years and might be brought back into the rotation in the future – I will update this post as I know more!
Option 2: If you’re not interested in (or unable to) join the tour, you can also buy regular Duomo tickets online or in person at the main ticket office at Piazza Duomo 14B . If you are booking online you can also book entry at a specific time and date into the bell tower, museum, baptistery and terraces. Ticket prices are available here. I recommend booking your Florence Duomo climb and visit to the bell tower on 2 separate days unless you are a glutton for punishment – the stairs are no joke!
You must book your Florence dome climb in advance. Once the online purchase process is complete you will pay and receive an e-mail with your tickets – print the tickets off and bring them with you.
If you are visiting during the peak season (July to October) make sure you purchase your ticket ASAP! It is not uncommon for the Dome climb to be fully booked for days. This photo was taken on a Monday in October 2017 – slots for the Dome climb were fully booked until Thursday! Imagine if you only had 2 days in Florence and the Duomo climb was fully booked – that would be the biggest bummer.
Dress Code for the Duomo
If you’ve visited the Vatican, then you’ll know that proper attire is pretty much non-negotiable – no bare shoulders and short skirts that sit above the knees!
Bring a shawl, scarf or cardigan if you’re planning to wear a tank/spaghetti top so you can cover your shoulders as the Duomo dress code is strict and people do get turned away, especially from the Cathedral and Baptistery. Wear comfortable shoes or sandals for the Dome and Bell Tower climbs, steer clear of flip flops.
Things to Bring to the Duomo
A shawl/scarf to cover bare shoulders, a small bottle of water for the climb and your camera/smartphone.
Duomo Florence Opening Hours
All of the monuments have different opening and closing hours and these may change on different days of the year, so it’s best to check the official website before your visit.
It’s also best to head to the monuments well before their closing time as some don’t permit entry within a certain time frame before closing. The best time to visit the Duomo in Florence is when it opens in the morning, or right before it shuts in the afternoon.
Where to stay around the Duomo complex
I’ve visited Florence a handful of times and these are the hotels that I find myself coming back to. You can also click here for other highly rated hotels near the Duomo in Florence.
Hotel Calzaiuoli is a 2 (yes, TWO!) minute walk away from the Duomo Complex. I’ve now stayed at Hotel Calziuoli a total of 3 times because the staff are extremely friendly and accommodating, rooms are bright, comfortable and spacious, and the breakfast spread was amazing. Click here to book your stay at Hotel Calzaiuoli!
La Tana Dei Leoni is an amazing guesthouse right in front of the Ponte Vecchio. It was an amazing room and great value for money – I would highly recommend this over Hotel Calzaiuoli for anyone with a slightly lower budget! Click here to book your stay at La Tana Dei Leoni!
Agnolo is a 2-bedroom apartment in the Santa Croce district of Florence. The apartment is extremely spacious and offers 2 separate bathrooms as well. The kitchen is well equipped if you want to self cater or keep some wine and food in the fridge, and the bedrooms were very comfortable. Perfect for anyone traveling as a group or with family! Click here to book your stay at Agnolo in Florence!
Planning your perfect trip to Florence? Click here for even more Italy hotel booking tips and recommendations!
What to see at the Duomo in Florence
Got your Duomo tickets sorted? Great! Now it’s time to plan your visit to the monuments of the Duomo complex in Florence. Here are the key places to visit in the Duomo complex.
1. Baptistery of San Giovanni
The Baptistery of San Giovanni is the oldest building in the square, with the original structure dating back to the 4th or 5th century (though it has undergone rebuilding since then).
The octagonal structure is famous for its three sets of large bronze doors with the oldest on the south side depicting the life of John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence.
The layout inside the Baptistery is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, and its domed ceiling is adorned with opulent gilded mosaics dating back to the 13th century.
2. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fior
Head into the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the most famous cathedral in Florence and the third largest church in the world. It was completed in the 15th century and was built on top of an earlier cathedral.
The entire cathedral was once open to the public, but the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (the institution that manages the entire complex) soon realized that the marble floors were being damaged by the heavy foot traffic, and visitors were eating and drinking in the cathedral, often casually tossing their trash inside this place of worship. They therefore decided to create a boundary so that visitors could explore and walk along the walls of the cathedral but not in the heart of the cathedral.
Take the time to learn the history and cultural, civic and religious significance of the cathedral and the broader complex, and be regaled with stories of the construction of the cathedral, the dome, the influence and contributions of the Medici family and the attempted assassination of Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici during Sunday mass. Don’t miss the wonderfully intricate frescoes on the interior of the dome depicting the The Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari which took a total of 11 years to complete. The Cathedral is closed on Sundays.
Did you know that most tourist attractions in Italy have skip-the-line options? Click here for 14 things you should know before you go to Italy!
3. The North Terrace
A little under halfway up on the way towards Brunelleschi’s Dome, there is a set of discreet steel gates to the entrance of the North Terrace. The terraces mainly served as a path for workers who were involved in the maintenance of the Cathedral, and have only been open to visitors since 1985.
The terrace is not usually open to the public unless you join a guided tour, and offers panoramic views across Florence as well as unobstructed views of the Dome. I can’t quite explain the feeling of being one of only a handful of people wandering along the terrace, taking in Florence’s skyline and sea of sunset-colored roof tiles – I highly recommend signing up for the guided tour to visit the “secret” Duomo terraces!
4. Brunelleschi’s Dome
After your tour of the North Terrace, you can continue on the long journey up to Brunelleschi’s Dome through narrow and slightly claustrophobic passageways. Is it worth climbing the Duomo in Florence? Yes! Climbing the Duomo in Florence is a must-do – the experience is unique and you are also rewarded with spectacular views across Florence.
There are a total of 463 steps up to the Dome but the stairways are so narrow that many areas are mostly single file, meaning you may have to power through so you don’t keep people behind you waiting, or you might have to squeeze aside and let those heading in the opposite direction pass (and use these precious moments to catch your breath).
The Duomo climb will take you anywhere from 20-40 minutes at a leisurely pace to make your way 91 metres up from ground level. The views from the Florence Duomo climb are out-of-this-world. The 360-degree, panoramic skyline will make you forget about all 463 steps you crawled up to get there.
See? Once you’ve soaked in the skyline and all it has to offer, mentally prepare yourself for the walk back down (jelly legs guaranteed).
What is the best time to climb the Duomo? The O.P.A has done a great job in managing the number of people who climb the Duomo at any given time (remember, reservations are mandatory) so in my humble opinion there is no real “best” time to climb the Duomo. If you’d like to catch the beginning of the sunset (during the summer months) then I’d recommend starting the climb in the late afternoon if you are not on a guided tour.
5. Opera Museum
The Opera Museum re-opened in November 2015 after renovation, and features 6,000 square metres of artwork, statues and reliefs across 28 rooms.
My favorite display? The Galleria della Cupola that houses centuries-old wood models, large modern models and a mini theater playing a short documentary of the history of the Dome. Did you know that when they began construction of the Cathedral, they had no idea how they were going to complete the Dome?
Want amazing views of the Florence skyline? Click here for 8 places to go for the best views of Florence from above!
6. Giotto’s Campanile
Climbing the Duomo in Florence is a must-do, but what many people don’t realize is that there’s more to the complex and other important monuments to visit. After the Dome itself, Giotto’s Bell Tower is probably the second-most recognized monument within the complex and considered the most beautiful campanile in Italy. A mere 7 metres shorter than the Dome, there are 414 steps up to the top and also offers amazing end-to-end views of Florence.
When you are planning your Duomo visit make sure you try to schedule your Duomo climb and entrance to the bell tower on two separate days – there’s no way I would recommend that anyone tackle both the Dome climb and Giotto’s Bell Tower in one day.
You might be thinking to yourself, “is it absolutely necessary to climb the Dome and the Bell Tower?” And I would say yes! Both offer unique experiences, views and are covered by your ticket. There are just a few differences between the two climbs: the Bell Tower passageways are slightly wider, less claustrophobic and less crowded, the climb up is segmented with several landings on the way up where you can stop and rest, and unlike the Dome climb that offers you views around the Dome, the Bell Tower offers you a closer look at the Dome itself.
Just one small thing to note – while the view from the Bell Tower terrace is sublime, it is slightly obstructed by wall-to-wall wire frames.
The best time to climb the Bell Tower is when it opens in the morning because the lines tend to be shorter, but the Dome will be backlit in the summer months. You can also try to line up to climb the Bell Tower before it shuts if you are adamant on getting a perfectly lit shot of Brunelleschi’s Dome.
7. The Crypt
Inside the Cathedral is a stairway that leads down to the excavated ruins of the ancient cathedral of Santa Reparata, the original and smaller cathedral of Florence. Said to be built in the 5th century AD, the church became unable to host the increasing number of people flocking into its halls to worship, and so the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was commissioned to be built in its place.
Prego! You have visited all the amazing monuments that make up Florence’s “Duomo Complex”. I hope this guide is able to help you to plan a stress-free and enjoyable visit!
Ready to book your trip to Florence? You’ll want to stay near the Duomo Complex – don’t worry, it’s easy to get around the city on foot. Click here for accommodation options in Florence, Italy!
Where to eat and drink around the Duomo complex
ToscaNino (formerly known as La Terrazza): Would you like a coffee or tea with that view? If so, this alfresco terrace is the place for you. Head into the Rinascente department store at Piazza della Repubblica and take the elevator up to the top floor for a lazy (and crowd-free) afternoon.
Trattoria Le Mossacce: a little hole-in-the-wall with delicious home-cooked Italian fare.
Golden View Open Bar: Slightly more upscale but the view and service can’t be beat. Book ahead and ask for a balcony table for an incredible view of the Ponte Vecchio.
La Posta: Hands down the best bruschetta, penne pomodoro, ravioli rose we had in Florence (we eat almost every meal here, on every single trip). This family-owned restaurant always delivers heartwarming service and outrageously good food.
La Petite: Sister restaurant of La Posta, try their twist on the classic carbonara but with duck instead of bacon!
Casa Del Vin Santo: Beautiful pizza, delicious wine.
Mercato Centrale: Such a fun building to visit! The food court upstairs offers everything from pizza to steak to sushi, and the fresh market downstairs is extremely photogenic and a great place to pick up souvenirs.
da Garibardi: Located right next to Mercato Centrale, da Garibardi serves delicious traditional Italian fare and offers a gluten free menu as well.
La Ménageré: A beautiful, hip coffee shop offering a wide selection of salads, pastries and sandwiches if you want something light, or a more extensive menu if you want a sit-down lunch/dinner.
Divina Terrazza at the Grand Hotel Cavour: A beautiful rooftop bar located within a swanky hotel – come here for incredible cocktails and views of the Duomo. You must make a reservation in advance and may be asked to leave some form of photo ID with the reception desk downstairs. The reservation fee is 18 Euros per person with one drink included.
I hope you found this guide useful in helping you plan your visit to the Duomo in Florence! Don’t forget to read my other Italy-related travel guides if you’re visiting other regions in this beautiful country.
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- Read this guide for where to find the best viewpoints in Florence
- Pisa is a popular day trip destination and can be easily reached by train from Florence in an hour. Here’s my guide to visiting the Piazza del Duomo & Leaning Tower in Pisa
- Siena is another UNESCO-listed city in Tuscany. Here’s my 1 day itinerary for Siena
- Wine lovers should venture outside of Florence to visit Tuscany’s wineries. Here’s how to get a taste of Tuscany in a day
- For even more Italy destination guides and travel tips head on over here
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