The Duomo Complex is home to one of Florence’s star attractions – its massive cathedral , the Duomo, and its surrounding buildings! Also called the Duomo (duomo means cathedral in Italian), the Duomo Complex includes the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, the Baptistery, the Campanile, the Dome, a crypt, and a museum!
Every visitor to Florence, whether religious or not, should spend some time at the Duomo. However, planning a trip to the Duomo Complex can be a bit daunting, especially on a first trip to Europe or when traveling with a large group! So, here’s my suggestions on visiting the Duomo!
The Duomo is located right in the heart of Florence and is home to six attractions – (1) The Duomo; (2) The Baptistery; (3) the Bell Tower; (4) the Museum; (5) the Dome; and (6) the Crypt. I recommend seeing each attraction but if you are short on time, I would prioritize the Baptistery, the exterior of the complex, and the Bell Tower, in that order!
THE BAPTISTERY – This is the small, circular building located directly in front of the cathedral. This is the oldest building in the Complex and one of the oldest buildings in all of Florence, and you should not miss a visit here! Lines can form in the summer, but the interior is not very big – you just go in for a few minutes, snap some pictures, and leave – so it moves pretty quickly. Even if you do not enter, do not miss the East Door, which Michelangelo famously called the Gates of Paradise (you will know it from all of the tourists taking pictures).
THE DUOMO – AKA the Church of Santa Maria del Fiore. This is the third largest church in the world and honestly, its much better from the outside than it is from the inside. Its outside is done in red (really pink!) and green and some say it represents the Italian flag, although that may be false… Definitely view the outside; the inside is worth about 15 minutes if you have time. The Duomo is capped with its famous cupola!
THE DOME – Along with the Baptistery, the Dome, also called the Cupola or Brunelleschi’s Dome, is the main attraction of the Duomo Complex. The Dome is the well known dome on top of the cathedral, which can be seem throughout Florence! Its particularly lovely at dawn and dusk! The Dome was designed by Fillippo Brunelleschi in the early 1400s, and it was really a marvel of its time. Visitors who get to the Duomo Complex early OR do not mind waiting in line can climb the Dome for stunning views of the Duomo Complex and the city of Florence.
THE MUSEUM – The underrated Duomo museum is located directly behind the Duomo. This museum is modern and houses a lot of original works that have been removed from the interior and exterior of the other buildings. Its very modern and a good place to leave travel buddies who do not want to, for example, climb the Duomo. The main ticket office for the Duomo Complex is also located in the Museum.
THE CAMPANILE – The bell tower, also known as the Campanile or Giotti’s Bell Tower, is the tall building located near the cathedral and the Baptistery. Designed by Giotti in the 1300s and finished by Andrea Pisano and Luca della Robbia, the top of the bell tower doubles as an outdoor deck, with stunning views of the Duomo Complex, Florence, and the Dome. The Campanile is a good alternative to the Dome, as lines generally are not nearly as long. Like the Dome, there is no elevator and visitors have to climb 414 stairs (although its not as claustrophobic as the Dome).
THE CRYPT – The crypt, which I have admittedly never visited, is located underneath the Duomo and reveals the remains of the original church built on this site. It also contains the remains of a Medici, Florence’s most famous family, and possibly of two popes – Stephen IX and Nicholas II (not formally confirmed).
HOW LONG SHOULD I SPEND AT THE DUOMO COMPLEX
I recommend allowing at least two hours to visit the Duomo Complex, not including climbing the Dome. Allow a lot of extra time for climbing the Dome. Of course you can spend more or less time depending on your schedule, but I think two hours allows you to explore without feeling rushed. There are also lots of shops and cafes surrounding the Doumo Complex and while touristy, they are provide a respite for tired travelers. Side note – the 2 hour estimate is only applicable if you buy your tickets in advance!
TICKETS TO THE DUOMO COMPLEX
As an initial matter, every attraction in the Duomo except entrance into the cathedral (but not the Dome) cost money; entrance to the cathedral is free. Tickets to the Duomo Complex come in a combination ticket for €15/person. While tickets can be purchased in the Museum, you should really try to purchase them online via the Duomo’s website (here). Print the tickets before you get to Italy, and be sure to reserve a time to visit the Dome! Pro tip – buy directly from the Duomo Museum to avoid increased prices by third parties. If you fail to pre-buy your tickets, day of tickets are sold in the Duomo Museum.
You get one ticket for all attractions and you reuse the same ticket, scanning when entering each attraction. The ticket is good for 48 hours from its first use. If you are climbing the Dome and registered for a time, that is a separate ticket.
MY RECOMMENDED ITINERARY TO THE DUOMO COMPLEX
Before visiting, I recommend first deciding if you plan to climb the Duomo. If you, or anyone in your party does, arrive very early in the morning to skip the lines! If you do not arrive early, allot 2 – 3 hours to wait in line and climb the Dome. And, whether you climb the Dome or not, arrive early to miss the crowds at the Duomo Complex. The early bird really wins here!
Either after you climb the Dome or when you arrive if you do not, I recommend first visiting the Baptistery. Allow 15 minutes for the inside and another 10 for pictures of the exterior. Next climb the Campanile to miss the lines. However, if you climbed the Dome, I would skip the Campanile. Visiting the Campanile can take between 30 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the line (2 hours is a lot though, and will probably only be that long in the summer). After the Campanile, enter the cathedral. I recommend allowing 20 minutes for a visit to the cathedral, longer if you want to visit the crypt. Finally, end your tour at the museum to check out the Duomo Complex’s original artwork! You can also send people who do not want to climb the Campanile to the Museum to kill time while you climb the Campanile.
The Duomo Complex is ringed with overpriced cafes, souvenir shops, and non-Italians selling crappy trinkets. It can also get super crowded with tourists, especially during the high season. Definitely watch out for pickpockets. That being said, the numerous cafes and shops will occupy fellow travelers time who get tired of the Duomo Complex. Finally, be sure to wear appropriate clothing or something to layer for visiting the cathedral and the Baptistery. Wearing sleeveless and very short bottoms is frowned upon in Italy (and sometimes entry is refused).
STEAL OUR TRIP
Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral: Generally open 10 – 17h (5:00 p.m.) except Sundays, when the cathedral is closed until 13h. Check the website for the most recent opening hours; they can change daily depending on events and religious holidays. Dress appropriately for a place of worship (no short shorts or spaghetti straps). Admission is free, and entrance is opposite the Baptistery.
Dome: Generally open 8:30 – 19h (7:00 p.m.), closes earlier on Friday and Saturday, and only open from 13h (1:00 p.m.) – 16h (4:00 p.m.) on Sunday. Check the website for the most recent opening hours, as they can change due to the season, weather, number of people, or events. The Dome is accessible only from the outside of the cathedral, on the side, in the middle of the cathedral. Access is included in the combination ticket, and you must make a reservation for a time to visit when you buy your ticket. However, even with the reservation, you will still have to wait in line (based on personal experience) and are not guaranteed entrance to the Dome. Visitors have to climb 463 stairs, there is no elevator, and the climb can be quite claustrophobic.
Baptistry: Generally open 8:15 – 10:15 and 11:15 – 19h30 (7:30), with a longer mid-morning break on Wednesdays and closing at 13h30 (1:30 p.m.) on Sunday. Check the website for the most recent opening times. Entrance included in the Combination ticket. The Baptistery is considered a place of worship, so be sure to dress appropriately.
Campanile: Open generally 8:15 – 19h (7:00 p.m.). Closed for a time some mornings, like the Baptistery. Check the website for the most recent opening times. Visitors are required to walk up 414 steps; no elevator. While lines exist, this is a good alternative to an over crowded Dome.
Museum: Generally open 9 – 19h30 (7:30 p.m.). Check the website for the most recent opening hours. Closed the first Tuesday of each month. This is a great spot for restrooms!
Crypt: Open Generally open 10 – 17h (5:00 p.m.), although hours change daily. Again, check the website for the most up to date information. Entrance located at the back of the cathedral. Entrance included in combination ticket.
ON A BUDGET
The Duomo Complex really is what it is and costs what it costs. If you are really tight on cash, the outside views are spectacular on their own! However, avoid the Duomo Complex for food, drink, and shopping. You can get much better deals outside tourist central Florence!