How to Get the Most out of Your Visit to the Duomo Complex in Florence, Italy
A step-by-step guide to making the most of your time exploring the monuments within the Duomo Complex in Florence, Italy.
I finally had the chance to cross off one of my bucket list destinations: Florence! 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 Brunelleschi’s Dome, but the Duomo is only one monument within the greater complex housed within Piazza del Duomo and Piazza San Giovanni. 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 Baptistry 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 days.
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. 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!
Before Your Visit
Option 1) This is perhaps the most critical step to ensuring an amazing and stress-free visit – 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 Brunelleschi’s Dome if you want to continue on up. 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 takes about an hour and a half and costs €30 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 hosted at 10:30 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from January to March, and Monday to Saturday from April to December.
*If you book to join the tour, make sure that you bring a printed copy of the confirmation voucher, which will be sent to you one business day after you submit your booking and secures your place on the tour – this is not the same as the “order received” e-mail you receive immediately after submitting your order.
Option 2) If you’re not keen on joining the tour, you can also buy a regular ticket (€15) online or in person at the main ticket office (across the street from the main entrance of the Baptistry), the ticket office in Giotti’s Campanile or the Museum. The regular ticket also provides one-time entry into all of the monuments (again, with the exception of the Cathedral).
Pre-Book Your Entrance Time
Once you’ve secured your ticket, the next thing you need to do to set yourself up for a smooth visit is to book your entrance time to skip the queue for Brunelleschi’s Dome (unless you’re booked on the tour, in which case you’ll be skipping the queue anyway!), Giotto’s Campanile and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. All you do is enter the ticket number listed on the back of your ticket, choose an available time slot, and voila! No waiting around like a stick in the mud.
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 or scarf if you’re planning to wear a tank/spaghetti top so you can cover your shoulders as people do get turned away, especially from the Cathedral and Baptistry. Wear comfortable shoes or sandals for the Dome and Bell Tower climbs.
Things to Bring
A shawl/scarf to cover bare shoulders, a small bottle of water for the climb and your camera/smartphone.
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 Museum is closed on the first Tuesday of each month.
If for some reason you can not live without an Internet connection, there is free WiFi within the complex – connect to the Duomo’s WiFi, then follow the instructions and enter the password listed on the back of your ticket.
10 am: Pick up your “Little Peek On Florence Tickets“
Bring your tour confirmation voucher to the main ticket office in Piazza San Giovanni and pick up your tour tickets.
Once you have your ticket, head straight to the Baptistry of San Giovanni, the oldest building in the square. 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 Baptistry is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, and its domed ceiling is adorned with opulent gilded mosaics.
10:15 am: Head back to the ticket office to meet your guide
Once you have walked through the Baptistry (you can always head back later for a closer look at the doors!), head back to the ticket office as this is where you’ll meet your guide. There is a bathroom there (€1) so you can use it before you head into the cathedral/climb Brunelleschi’s Dome.
10:30 am: The tour begins
The Little Peek On Florence Tour is the equivalent of a “red carpet experience” at the Duomo complex. First, your guide leads you into the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, skipping the queue and behind the velvet ropes into the heart of the 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.
Once behind the velvet ropes, you learn the history and cultural, civic and religious significance of the cathedral and the broader complex, and are 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. Drama, Renaissance-style.
11:15 am: The north Terrace
Skip the queue (again!) and head upstairs towards Brunelleschi’s Dome. About halfway up, you are led aside and through a set of steel gates to the entrance of the north Terrace. The terrace is not open to the public 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.
11:30 am: The trek begins
The long journey up to Brunelleschi’s Dome begins here (if you want to rally on), through narrow and slightly claustrophobic passageways. 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).
20-30 minutes later…
You’re at the top of the world! (Or rather, 91 metres up from ground level.)
The views from the top of the Dome 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).
1 pm: Opera Museum
Head to the Museum and take a minute to connect to the Duomo WiFi and pre-book your entrance for Giotto’s Campanile for day two. The Museum recently re-opened in November 2015 after renovation, and features 6,000 square metres of artwork, statues and reliefs.
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?
10 am: Giotto’s Campanile
There’s no way I would recommend that anyone tackle both the Domb climb and Giotto’s Bell Tower in one day. The Health app on my iPhone says the Dome climb (up and down) was the equivalent of climbing nearly 60 flights of stairs (!), and of course my phone is always right.
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.
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.
We were very lucky and the sun was out for our Dome climb on day one, and it was overcast for our Bell Tower climb on day two: both lookouts were spectacular and showed two different (but equally breathtaking) sides of Florence.
11 am: 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 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.
You have visited all the amazing monuments that make up Florence’s “Duomo Complex” – all within two days. I hope this guide is able to help you to plan a stress-free and enjoyable visit! For those of you who have explored the Duomo, do you have any other tips that I missed? Share them below in the comments section!
Where to eat around the Duomo complex
Trattoria Le Mossacce: a little hole-in-the-wall with delicious home-cooked Italian fare.
La Posta: Hands down the best bruschetta, penne pomodoro, ravioli rose we had in Florence (we ate here six times!)
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.
Where to stay around the Duomo complex
Hotel Calzaiuoli is a 2 (yes, TWO!) minute walk away from the Duomo Complex. The staff were extremely friendly and accommodating, rooms were 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!
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