Visiting the Duomo in Florence: Complete Guide + Tips!

Magnificient, multi-colored, and imposing, the dramatic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore deserves its status as one of the most iconic buildings in Italy–but in order to get the most out of visiting the Duomo in Florence, you’ll need to do more than simply step inside!

Thanks to the many things to do there, visiting Florence’s Duomo (in English, cathedral) can be an all-day or even multi-day affair.

In fact, when visiting Florence, you’ll notice that the area surrounding the cathedral is referred to as the Duomo Complex, thanks to its numerous sightseeing points.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve visited the Duomo at this point–if you count strolling around the outside, it’s definitely over 50–and continue to be fascinated by this extraordinary building.

Whether you have one day in Florence or several, here’s how to make the most of your time at the Duomo Complex!

kate storm and jeremy storm visit the duomo florence italy
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A (Very) Brief History of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

In 1296, ground broke on the new Gothic-style cathedral that was to be built in the center of Florence… and in 1436, a whopping 140 years later, it was consecrated and considered complete.

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Today, the famous Florence Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is considered one of the defining pieces of Renaissance architecture–because, as it turns out, styles can change in almost a century and a half.

But that is far from the full story!

close up picture of a mosaic on florence cathedral

When ground broke on the cathedral, no one actually knew how to complete a dome as large as the Duomo’s, especially without using the flying buttresses that were so iconic to Gothic architecture (see Milan’s Duomo for a great example).

The cathedral stood, incomplete and without a dome, for more than 100 years before a contest was held in 1418 to allow architects to compete for the chance to complete it.

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Filippo Brunelleschi won and pulled off an engineering marvel (I highly recommend the book Brunelleschi’s Dome if you’re interested in the full story–it’s compelling!).

While the cathedral was considered complete in 1436 as it was consecrated ground past that point, it took until the 19th century for every last piece of the intricate marble exterior (with marble sourced from Carrara, Prato, and more) to be finished.

view of florence cathedral on a sunny day

Do you need a tour to visit Florence’s Duomo?

A tour isn’t required to visit the Duomo in Florence, but if you want historical context and/or to climb to the top of the cupola, it definitely helps!

This popular tour is a great way to gain context for your visit to the Duomo and includes access to all of the Duomo Complex sites.

If you’d prefer a longer tour that also encompasses the Galleria dell’Accademia, where the statue of David is located, you can’t beat this extremely well-reviewed tour.

As you’re planning your visit to the Duomo Complex, keep in mind that climbing to the top of the cupola/dome is by far the most competitive part of the visit, and visiting needs to be reserved in advance.

If you have your heart set on summitting those 463 steps, planning ahead is a must!

Book your tour of the Duomo Complex today!

detail shot of the marble facade of cathedral santa maria del fiore

The Best Things to Do at the Duomo Complex in Florence

Circle around Santa Maria del Fiore on the ground level.

Before doing anything else when arriving at the Duomo Complex, take a moment to fully encircle the Piazza del Duomo.

The building is gorgeous from every side, and strolling around the exterior is an excellent way to start appreciating just how massive it is!

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It’ll also give you a chance to get your bearings and see where different monuments are located, from the baptistery right in front of the cathedral to the entrance to the cupola climb on the north side.

While the cafes and restaurants lining the edge of the piazza are–unsurprisingly–not generally known for their affordable prices or mind-blowing cuisine, there’s no denying that they have one of the most scenic views in town if you’d like to enjoy a drink.

Gelateria Edoardo, located on the corner of the piazza, is delicious and a great place to grab a cone to stroll around the cathedral with!

kate storm and ranger storm in front of florence cathedral santa maria del fiore

Step inside the cathedral.

The interior of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the only part of the Duomo Complex in Florence that is free to visit (other than enjoying the exterior, of course).

As a result, lines get very long, so consider arriving first thing in the morning (the cathedral typically opens at 10:00 AM).

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Keep in mind that the interior of the cathedral is surprisingly empty (though the inlaid marble floor and the interior of the dome are showstoppers).

This is due in part to the fact that much of art and many of the artifacts from the Duomo were moved after the devastating flood of 1966.

the last judgment painting in the interior of florence duomo dome

Admire the baptistery (inside and out!).

Constructed in the 11th century, the Baptistery of Saint John–often simply referred to as the Baptistery–is both older and arguably more ornate than the cathedral located next door to it.

The mosaic gold ceiling of the octagonal building is an absolute marvel, and it alone is worth stepping inside the Baptistery for!

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The exterior, though, might be even more famous.

The Baptistery features 3 different sets of golden, sculpted doors, the most famous of which are the “Gates of Paradise”, carved by Lorenze Ghiberti and named by Michelangelo.

The Gates of Paradise face the front of the Duomo–or their replicas do, anyway!

The replicas seen on the Baptistery today are magnificent, but if you want to admire the originals, head over to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo–more on that in a bit.

inlaid mosaic ceiling of florence baptistery, one of the best things to do duomo florence tips

Climb Giotto’s Bell Tower.

Built between 1334 and 1359, 3 talented architects are responsible for the stunning bell tower (or campanile) that accompanies the Florence Duomo–but the first to work on it, Giotto, gets top billing in the name.

If you hope to climb Brunelleschi’s Dome, you may wonder if it’s worth ascending the 414 steps up the bell tower, too!

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While that depends on how much you love views and how much time you have to enjoy Florence, the view waiting at the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower is definitely worth the climb.

The view from the campanile offers absolutely magnificent views of the cupola itself, something not as easily admired from the top of the dome, as well as the rest of the Piazza del Duomo (including the Baptistery) and Florence.

It’s a magnificent view, and we absolutely loved the experience!

view of florence cupola from giotto bell tower, alternative climb when visiting duomo florence tips

Enjoy the view from the exclusive Duomo Terraces.

Looking for one of the most unique views when visiting the Florence Duomo?

Try the Duomo Terraces!

These mid-level terraces are situated below the cupola, and can only be accessed via tour, not an independent visit.

This popular tour that we mentioned before includes access to them, as well as the the cupola!

Book a Duomo tour that includes the terraces today!

close up view of florence duomo detailing on exterior of cupola

Climb to the top of the cupola.

Of all the things to do at the Duomo in Florence, this is by far the most iconic–and also the most competitive ticket to get.

The cupola, the dome, Brunelleschi’s Dome… whatever you call it, ascending the 463 steps to the top of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is an unforgettable experience.

The stairs you climb were originally used by construction workers, so expect tight spaces and quite a bit of exercise along the way!

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Once you get there, though, the view from the top is sublime.

If you want to climb the cupola during your Duomo visit, though, you’ll need to plan ahead: tickets virtually always sell out in advance.

Booking a tour like this is often a convenient way to get around sold-out tickets, as tour companies often have a pre-booked number of slots already available to them.

Book your climb up Brunelleschi’s Dome today!

view of giotto bell tower from florence dome climb

Explore the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo–or to keep it simple, the Duomo Museum–is located directly behind the cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo.

If you have time, it’s well worth a visit.

This is where you’ll find the original doors to the Baptistery, as well as lots of intricate art.

You’ll also find an entire display on the building of the cupola, complete with some construction equipment dating back to the 1400s!

If you’re planning to climb the cupola during your trip to Florence, visiting the museum before you do will give you incredible context for the rest of your visit.

display on the building of the florence duomo in museum, tips for visiting duomo florence italy

Visit the Crypt of Santa Reparata.

During your time visiting the Florence Duomo, you’ll likely hear that the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was built on the site of an earlier church.

Well, Santa Reparata was that church, and today you can visit it in its original location… right underneath the Duomo.

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You’ll also find artifacts of even earlier Christian worship in the Crypt of Santa Reparata.

The entrance to the crypt is inside the cathedral, so if you hope to visit, be sure to have your Duomo ticket in hand before standing in line to enter the cathedral!

historic fresco and statue in crypt florence

Spot the secret bull statue.

If you are standing in line to climb the cupola of Florence’s Duomo (or if you just walk by the line), you’ll be able to look up and spot an unusual sight.

Underneath the dome, among the many carvings, one sticks out more than the rest: a bull.

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No one is quite sure why this bull was carved into the third largest cathedral in the world.

Rumor has it that it may have been either a tribute to the working animals who contributed to the building of the Duomo, or an act of petty revenge by a spurned lover–personally, I find the second theory more entertaining!

What to Do in Florence: Bull of Santa Maria del Fiore

Essential Tips for Visiting the Duomo in Florence, Italy

Plan ahead, especially if you want to climb the cupola.

Climbing Brunelleschi’s Dome is one of the most sought-after attractions in Florence, and its popularity combined with the small, tight spaces at the top mean that it often sells out far in advance!

If you are hoping to climb the dome, plan as far in advance as you can commit to dates.

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Hoping to nab last-minute tickets?

Booking a tour like this is often a convenient way to get around sold-out tickets, as tour companies often have a pre-booked number of slots already available to them.

view of brunelleschis dome from above on a sunny day

Dress appropriately for touring the church.

Visiting the Duomo in Florence requires following the standard rules for visiting churches in Italy: no shoulders, cleavage, or shorts (men’s shorts that reach almost to the knee are usually fine, but nothing shorter).

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If you’re visiting Italy during the summer, consider keeping a light scarf like this in your day bag so you can always be ready to duck inside a church if you would like.

Don’t worry if you forget, though–there will be approximately 82 salesmen in and around the Piazza del Duomo happy to sell you one if needed.

kate storm standing in front of florence duomo front doors

If you visit the Duomo independently, be sure to still book your tickets online.

Don’t want to book a tour?

We highly recommend still purchasing your tickets online, as the on-site office is both hard to spot (you can’t buy tickets at any of the Duomo Complex sites themselves) and can have long lines.

When visiting the Duomo independently, you can choose from several levels of tickets depending on which places you would like to visit.

Bear in mind that the cupola often sells out well in advance, and always requires a reserved time slot to visit.

If you’d like to visit the other Duomo Complex sites independently but are hoping to score a last-minute ticket to the cupola, this skip-the-line ticket is an excellent option.

Buy your dome climb and Duomo Complex ticket today!

Photo of the side of Florence's Duomo at blue hour with cupola in the background. Checking out the Duomo is one of the best things to do in Florence at night

… But if you need to buy them on-site, you can.

If you need to buy Duomo tickets in Florence and don’t want to do it online, the office to purchase them is located on the far side of the Piazza del Duomo, on the side of the building where the bell tower is located.

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Standing on the side of the Duomo, find the door several steps back from the bell tower where worshippers (not tourists) enter.

Look directly across the street, and you’ll see the ticket office (pictured below).

As of the time of writing, the office is not marked on Google Maps.

front facade of yellow building selling florence duomo tickets

Admire views of the cathedral from a distance–it’s worth the effort.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore absolutely dominates the skyline of Florence, and no trip to the city is complete without admiring it from several angles!

While the views from Brunelleschi’s Dome and Giotto’s Bell Tower are magnificent, in order to fully appreciate the sight of the Duomo erupting from the center of Florence, you need a bit more distance.

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Piazzale Michelangelo, the Boboli Gardens, and San Miniato al Monte are some of the most popular places to admire the Duomo, and they all have gorgeous views!

I’m also partial to the view from the Palazzo Vecchio, where you can get a gorgeous side view of the Duomo.

Book your skip-the-line ticket to the Palazzo Vecchio today!

view of florence duomo from the top of the palazzo vecchio

You don’t have to see everything in one day.

Duomo tickets to the complex sites come in multiple levels, depending on which attractions you want to visit.

All of them, however, include 3 calendar days from the first usage in order to visit the Duomo Complex.

If you’d prefer to, say, visit the Baptistery one day and the museum the next, that’s completely fine.

If you book a tour, make sure that it includes access to all of the Duomo attractions (like this one) rather than just the noted attractions if you’d like to explore the other sites independently.

kate storm in a blue dress looking up at the back of the florence cathedral

Don’t bring large bags to the Duomo, especially if you’re going to complete a climb.

If you need to check them, there’s a cloak room at the Duomo Museum that you can use.

Go early… or late.

Lines to enter the various things to do at the Duomo in Florence, especially at the cathedral itself, can get very long.

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Plan to go early to beat the crowds… or alternatively, go around closing time!

When we climbed Giotto’s Bell Tower, we turned back from the long afternoon line and returned in the evening.

As a result, we walked right in and got to enjoy a stunning evening admiring the Duomo in Florence!

Florence Italy skyline at blue hour with Piazza Signoria lit up in the distance, an unforgettable addition to a Florence itinerary

1 thought on “Visiting the Duomo in Florence: Complete Guide + Tips!”

  1. Bravo. Excellent. We are going again this fall, can’t wait.
    Thank you…great information..for 1st timers and even if you even before.

    Reply

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