If you travel to Tuscany, one of the top tourist attractions is the Duomo Florence. It’s the main church in Florence, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Located in the heart of Florence at Piazza del Duomo, it’s one of the most visited places in Europe. That’s for an excellent reason: these are architectural and artistic wonders.
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I highly recommend visiting at least the Florence Cathedral and the Duomo when you travel to Florence. It’s featured in my 3 day Florence itinerary as a must see spot. There are several structures in Piazza del Duomo: Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery of St. John, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, and others, including the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral.
The Cathedral is the largest building in medieval Europe and the fourth largest in all of Europe in the present day. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the Historic Center of Florence. Visiting the Florence Cathedral is one of the best things to do in Florence. Trust me, it’s worth climbing up hundreds of stairs to the top of the Duomo. You’ll enjoy one of the best views of Florence from up there.
Admiring the Exterior of the Duomo Florence: Piazza del Duomo
You should absolutely walk around Piazza del Duomo and appreciate the cathedral from the outside. It’s a massive building that you have to see in person. It’s hard to gauge the sheer size of the Duomo Florence from photographs alone. This is one of the most famous places in Italy and you’ll quickly see why: the Duomo is magnificent.
There are so many intricate carvings, statues, and mosaic tiles in shades of white, pink, and green. Walking around Florence is like living in a museum. You need to see everything right up close. Walking around the outside of the Florence Duomo Complex is totally free and it’s right in the middle of the city, so you can do this as many times as you like when you travel here.
Places to Visit at the Duomo Complex in Florence, Italy
Once you’ve thoroughly explored the exterior of the cathedral from all sides, it’s time to go inside the church. When you travel to Florence, you must climb to the top of the Duomo’s cupola, admiring the interior of the cathedral on your way.
I’ll also show you some other places to go within the Duomo complex as well. If you only have a short amount of time in Florence, I suggest checking out the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the observation deck at the top of the Duomo.
Visiting Inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (It’s Free!)
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the third longest church in the world at 153 metres long, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. The first longest church is St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the second longest is St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. When it first opened in the 15th century, it was the largest church in Europe.
This is the third cathedral of Florence, built over top of the second cathedral. It’s dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, the Virgin of the Flower, which references the lily (the symbol of Florence). Construction on this church lasted many years. The first stone was laid on September 8th, 1296, and the drum of the dome wasn’t completed until 1421.
Visiting Santa Maria del Fiore is completely free. Make sure you respect the rules of attire as this is a place of worship. You must cover your shoulders, knees, and refrain from wearing sandals, hats, and sunglasses.
As it’s a free attraction, there can be long lines that grow throughout the day. The lines do move rather quickly, but we recommend arriving early. Allow yourself about 30 minutes to fully experience the interior of the Florence Cathedral.
Brunelleschi’s Dome: The Duomo Florence
You must book your entry time for the Duomo ahead of time. There are only a limited amount of spaces for each time slot every day, and they do sell out. Plan in advance to book the best time slot for your schedule. Give yourself about one hour to see the Duomo. This includes seeing the interior, climbing the stairs, and admiring the view at the top.
Even with a limited amount of people allowed at one time, we found that the wait times were still lengthy inside the Duomo. Try to book your visit as early in the day as possible for shorter wait times.
The Duomo was added in the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi. The dome is egg-shaped and built without using any scaffolding. It was revolutionary at the time and it’s still an architectural feat. The cathedral took about 140 years to complete, with some finishing touches extending beyond that time.
The dome was constructed as a support-free dome with a double shell. When you climb the stairs, you’re hiking in the air space between these two domes. The inner dome supports the structure, made out of light bricks. The outer dome serves as a protective barrier from the elements.
On your way to the top, you have the opportunity to stop on two different levels to gaze up at the painted inner shell of the dome. These famous ceiling frescoes, painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari from 1572 to 1579, depict the Last Judgment.
Climbing to the Top of the Cupola, Brunelleschi’s Dome
It takes 463 steps to get to the top of the cupola, but it’s well worth the trek. Unfortunately, there is no elevator and you will be required to climb the stairs.
You’ll get a little bit of a workout, which will help you burn off all the pizza and pasta I’m sure you’ve been eating in Italy. On the way up the stairs, you’ll be able to catch little glimpses of what’s to come.
Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views of the city. With a 360 degree panoramic view, you can see everything from up there. From the tops of the rust roof buildings to the rolling Tuscan hillside off in the distance, this scenery will leave you in awe.
While admiring the interior of the Florence Cathedral and the inside of the Duomo was worth the price of admission, the panoramic scenery from up top was the highlight of our visit. Next, I’ll detail another great place within the Duomo Florence building complex where you can see amazing views, too.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
Giotto’s Bell Tower (Giotto’s Campanile) stands next to the Duomo. It was designed by Giotto in 1334, but was not finished until after his death. It is one of four main monuments in the Piazza del Duomo. Giotto’s Campanile is one of the finest examples of 14th century Gothic architecture and likely built more for decorative purposes than functional ones.
The bell tower is 84 metres tall and 15 metres wide, and it is thought to be the most beautiful bell tower in Italy. The marble reliefs are copies of the ones by Andrea Pisano, and the original ones are located in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Pisano completed the bell tower after Giotto died in 1337, and he only made some small changes to the design (gave the bell tower a flat roof rather than a spire).
You can climb to the top of Giotto’s Campanile for more stunning panoramic views of Florence. If you have the time to visit both the bell tower and the Duomo, definitely do it. If you find yourself with a shorter period of time in Florence, I suggest only visiting the Duomo and participating in some other activities with your remaining time in Florence.
The Duomo Terraces
The Duomo Terraces weren’t open when we visited Italy, but it’s another way to experience the amazing Duomo Florence. The Cathedral Terraces are a continuous balcony at the base of the dome that offer a close-up view of the architecture and marble carvings.
The main function of the Duomo Terraces were for workers who maintained the cathedral. While it’s still used for that purpose today, tourists can also explore this balcony for an alternative view of the Duomo and Florence.
The Baptistery of San Giovanni
The Florence Baptistery (Baptistery of Saint John or Battistero di San Giovanni) is the oldest building in Florence and it sits opposite of the Duomo. It was already completely built before they began building the Duomo. Built in the Florentine Romanesque style, its construction likely started in the 4th or 5th century.
The Baptistery is most famous for its three sets of bronze doors with relief sculptures. Many notable Italian figures were baptized here, and the Baptistery contains the monumental tomb of Antipope John XXIII, by Donatello.
To visit the Battistero di San Giovanni, you must book a combined ticket with the Opera del Duomo Museum. You can visit the Baptistery on its own without a ticket to the museum, but these tickets are only available on the first Tuesday of each month.
Opera del Duomo Museum
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to visit the Opera Museum when we were in Florence as it reopened in late 2015. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to visit when we return to Florence someday. In 1891, the museum was founded to conserve the works of art that have been removed from the Duomo and Baptistery.
There are more than 750 works of art across three levels at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The main floor houses a sculpture gallery, including the main altar by Girolamo Ticciati and sculptures from Di Cambio’s workshop.
The second floor features artwork from the Bell Tower, the Cupola, and the works of Baccio Bandinelli. And the third level showcases models and proposals for the new facade, as well as an outdoor terrace facing the Cupola.
Your ticket to the Opera Museum also comes with a ticket to the Baptistery. Please note that you must visit the museum first before the Baptistery with this combined ticket.
Plan Your Visit to the Duomo Florence
I don’t recommend simply showing up at many tourist attractions in Florence. As Florence is such a popular city to visit, many of the top attractions have timed tickets. By purchasing timed tickets, you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle (you won’t need to wait in huge lines to buy tickets) and you’ll have guaranteed entry to these locations. These places do sell out in advance, so you need to plan ahead to avoid disappointment.
How to Book Tickets and Tours to the Duomo Florence
It is easy to purchase tickets to any of the above attractions from the official Duomo website. You can buy tickets in person from the official Ticket Office in Piazza del Duomo no. 14/A, but it is subject to availability and there are no guarantees. I don’t recommend waiting to buy them.
You can also purchase tickets to Brunelleschi’s Dome in advance from this popular booking website. It ensures that you have a set time and you can skip the line. For only a little bit of an extra cost, you can book a guided tour and receive some explanation behind what you’re observing.
Another site that I didn’t mention that you can also visit is the Crypt of Santa Reparata, at the Santa Reparata church. It doesn’t look like you need any tickets to visit.
How to Dress While Visiting the Florence Cathedral
It’s important to dress appropriately. Bring something to cover your shoulders and knees, or wear pants/long shorts and a top with sleeves. Don’t have bare shoulders. Wear comfortable footwear as you’ll be climbing a lot of stairs.
You won’t be able to bring any large bags or backpacks when you visit the Duomo in Florence. Small bags and purses are allowed, but you’ll need to leave the larger backpacks behind at your accommodation (or luggage storage facility).
When to Arrive and Which Sites to Visit
Don’t rush your visit. And please be patient. It will take some time to get to the top of the cupola. You want to have enough time to admire the artwork, the architecture, and the view. I don’t suggest trying to book all of these attractions in the same day. It will all become a blur at some point!
Don’t arrive any more than 5 minutes before your scheduled appointment as there won’t be any line-up (but you won’t be allowed in early). And you aren’t able to show up late. Any longer than 5 minutes later than your scheduled appointment and you could forfeit your ticket.
When we visited, we only checked out the Cathedral and the Duomo. If you plan to visit the Bell Tower, don’t visit on the same day as the Duomo. That will be way too much climbing in one day and you’ll see two similar attractions. I suggest visiting the Cathedral and the Duomo one day, and choosing the other attractions for another day.
Other Important Tips You Need to Know
There are lots of great restaurants near the Duomo in Florence. Here are my favourite vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Florence (many are within walking distance of the Duomo) and here are the best gelato establishments in Florence.
For short term stays in Florence, we loved staying at La Farina Apartments, about a 20 minute walk from the Duomo. In case you want to explore other parts of Florence and decide to stay longer in the city, there is a wide selection of accommodation options available in Florence.
Wondering how to get to Florence? We love traveling by train in Europe, and it’s really easy to reach Florence by train from many major cities around the continent. We reached Florence by train from Venice, and it was a very comfortable journey.
More Florence Blog Posts
Justin and I absolutely loved traveling to Florence, so we have lots of great Florence travel blog articles. Here are even more blog posts in addition to the ones that I’ve already mentioned that you may find useful:
- From Florence to Pisa: Take a Half Day Trip to Pisa
- Michaelangelo’s David at Accademia Gallery in Florence
- 5 e Cinque Vegetarian Restaurant in Florence
- Libreria Brac Restaurant in Florence
- Kunnubio Restaurant in Florence
- Discover Tuscany With Florencetown (Siena, San Gimignano, Chianti)
- 25 Best Movies About Italy You Need to Watch