All Articles An insider’s guide to visiting the Duomo in Florence

An insider’s guide to visiting the Duomo in Florence

Tips and tricks for visiting the cathedral.

Liz Shemaria
By Liz ShemariaMay 10, 2024 4 minutes read
Florence's Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in full view, taken from the top of adjacent Torre di Arnolfo by the Piazza della Signoria
Image: Joseph Quam/Unsplash

There is no way to visit Florence without seeing the Duomo. It towers over the city, looming in the background on practically every street corner: outside a train window as you approach Santa Maria Novella train station, from a terrace cafe in the historic center, and while walking down Via dei Servi. The 37,000-ton engineering marvel is unmissable.

While the street-level views are fantastic, the cathedral is just as majestic from above, as I quickly discovered when I moved to the city. I frequented places like the hillside town of Fiesole, the panoramic Piazzale Michelangelo, and rooftop bars like Divina Terrazza at the Grand Hotel Cavour for the breathtaking views.

Yet, nothing beats experiencing the Duomo from the inside if you truly want to get up close and personal. Yes, you'll have to climb its 463 steps, but the effort is well worth it.

As Florence's main landmark, attracting an average of 1,875 visitors daily, you'll need to be prepared. If you don't plan ahead, you could spend hours waiting in line, or worse, miss out on tickets altogether. Here are some practical tips I learned to ensure your visit to the Duomo is as smooth as possible.

View of Florence's river and Duomo from Piazzale Michelangelo
View from Piazzale Michelangelo
Image: Tom Podmore/Unsplash

Plan ahead

Tickets need to be booked at least three weeks in advance. They are offered daily on the Opera di Santa Maria Del Fiore website (the official ticketing site for the Duomo). Many private tours also include a Duomo climb in their itineraries.

Tip: You can book as early as seven months in advance on the Duomo website.

People sitting and walking around high-ceilinged museum with various stone sculptures
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
Image: Herbert C/Tripadvisor

Pick your ticket

If you want to climb the Duomo without a guided tour, the Brunelleschi Pass, from the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore website, will give you access to all of the monuments in the Duomo complex. It includes ascending the bell tower (campanile) and visiting the baptistery, cathedral, Brunelleschi’s tomb, and the Opera del Duomo Museum.

Tip: A Brunelleschi Pass gives you three days to see the monuments, starting with the date you go to the Duomo, and reservations can’t be changed.

Spend your time wisely

Tickets are booked in 45-minute slots with 125 tickets available for each, starting at 8:15 a.m. until 3 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. (depending on the daylight). The Duomo only closes due to severe weather, and that’s rare.

Tip: Although Florence is a popular year-round destination, visiting the Duomo in the morning and winter may offer fewer crowds.

Travelers say: "We skipped the long lines and opted for a backdoor tour that allowed us to climb to the top of the Duomo. We were able to see the cathedral, get a close-up of the dome, and then walk around the roof. The stairs were very steep and narrow. I would not recommend it to someone who is claustrophobic, but there were lots of children doing the climb with no problem." —Madeline A

Prepare for the climb

There are 463 steps to the top (and the same way down), with a steeper, narrower, and shorter stairwell, as you get closer to the summit; it’s a mix of spiral and straight stairs, with and without railings. If you're over 5 ft. 7 in., you’ll need to hunch during the final stairs, and the climb isn’t accessible for travelers with limited mobility.

Wearing layers will help you adjust to the change from cool to hot during the trek up. Keep in mind, you’ll need to follow the cathedral’s dress code: cover your legs and shoulders, and remove hats and sunglasses. Flip-flops are also not permitted in the cathedral, which is for the best as sneakers are more comfortable anyway.

If you’re out for the day and need to store your stuff, there’s an area next to the Opera del Duomo Museum for backpacks and large bags (included in the ticket price). Forgot to drop it off? Don’t sweat it. When you climb up to the cupola, you’ll be asked to check your backpack at the cathedral entrance.

Tip: Watch your time. There’s a five-minute grace period for the ticket. If you’re stuck in line at the bag check and are late, you may risk losing your reservation.

Travelers say: "The Duomo is incredible for a number of reasons. First of all, it is simply immense. It dominates the whole city, and you can see it from everywhere. Secondly, the exterior is beautiful with its white, pink, and green marble. Lastly, it is worth the trip both inside and up to the top of the dome. About halfway up the stairs, you can admire some incredible paintings of angels and devils. The view from the top is just amazing." —Richard M

Get inside the Duomo

Expect to go with the flow of traffic, but you may step aside or ahead as needed. Halfway rest points in both directions include a view of Giorgio Vasari’s Last Judgement frescos decorating the cupola’s interior in a plexiglass-walled gallery.

Within the dome, you'll see the genius of its mastermind—clockmaker, goldsmith, and sculptor, Filippo Brunelleschi. Following the 15th-century stairs that masons used, some of that mystery is revealed as you pass in the space between two connected domes.

Tip: At the top, get your camera ready for Florence views, but know that you’ll have no more than 10 minutes before you’ll have to make your way back down.

Exterior of bell tower, with lots of people walking around adjacent plaza
Large bell inside tower
Campanile di Giotto
Image: Left: Catherine L/Tripadvisor; Right: Wang2383/Tripadvisor

Go beyond the Cupola

Climbing the Duomo is one way to see and learn about the cathedral and its monuments in the Piazza del Duomo. By planning a full day, you’ll have time to climb the Duomo and see the complex’s other monuments, too.

Climb the Campanile

With a combined ticket, and as part of many guided tours, you’ll have access to the campanile bell tower, climbing its 414 steps to see the Duomo next door.

Tip: I like this climb because it is less crowded than the cupola and not as tight for space.

Visit the Opera del Duomo Museum

Many of the sculptures adorning the cathedral and its baptistery are copies, to save these masterworks from the elements. But you can see the originals in the Opera del Duomo Museum behind the cathedral.

Tip: The museum has 28 rooms, so save at least a full afternoon to explore it.

Step inside Santa Maria del Fiore

The Duomo climb begins inside the cathedral, but once you’ve finished, you’ll be forced to exit. Though the lines can be long and it’s often closed for religious events, Santa Maria del Fiore is free to enter and can usually be visited until 3:45 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

Tip: Without a timed ticket, plan to come to the cathedral in the early morning when crowds may be thinner and lines shorter.

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Liz Shemaria
Liz Shemaria is a journalist and third-generation Northern Californian based in Italy. She's reported on arts, culture, and culinary traditions for BBC Travel, AFAR, Italy Magazine, and Fodor’s (online and Essential Italy guidebooks), and is a founding editor of Hidden Compass. She thrives in unfamiliar situations and has trekked solo in Himalaya, interviewed artists in military-ruled Burma, and perfected the art of picking prickly pears in Puglia. Follow her travels on Instagram @lizshemaria.