How To Visit Florence's Duomo and Climb Brunelleschi's Dome
Updated: Feb 15
Here's my guide to visiting the Duomo complex in Florence Italy, including how to get skip the line tickets and climb Brunelleschi's dome. It will help you make the most out of your visit to the Duomo, which is Florence's #1 attraction.
The burnt orange Duomo cupola is the very symbol of Florence, a city overflowing with beauty and art. A visit to the Duomo and a climb up Brunelleschi's dome is on every Florence visitor's bucket list.
I'll tell you about the Duomo, Brunelleschi's iconic dome, and how to visit both without waiting in the notoriously long queue. Smart travelers save hours of lining up by planning ahead.
The Duomo: Cathedral of Santa Maria della Fiore
Florence Cathedral is the most prominent, and popular, landmark in Florence. It was built over 172 years, beginning in 1296. The Commune of Florence hired architect Arnolfo di Cambio, a man responsible for building much of 13th and 14th century Florence.
Florence Cathedral is nicknamed the Duomo. It's also called the Cathedral of Santa Maria della Fiore, or St. Mary of the Flowers. There was no such saint in real life. But Florence, or Firenze, means lily flower. So the city cathedral took on the symbol of Florence.
Florence Cathedral is Gothic in style, but not in the light and elegant way you think of Paris' Notre Dame. It's made of brown sandstone and beautifully faced with pink, green, and white marble.
Filippo Brunelleschi's magnificent terra cotta colored dome, built from 1420-36, is the highlight. It's a true Renaissance masterpiece. When it began building the Duomo, Florence knew it lacked the requisite technology to complete the dome.
Before Brunelleschi, the Duomo lay open for well over a century. But Brunelleschi was the perfect balance of architect and engineer, visionary and traditionalist.
Brunelleschi developed a “dome within in a dome” double shell concept that worked without wooden centering. Financed by Cosimo de Medici (the Elder), it catapulted the Medici name forward in Florentine society.
Brunelleschi's dome was over a foot wider than the Pantheon in Rome. That was intentional; size mattered. It's still the largest brick dome ever built.
While Florence Cathedral is elegantly "frosted" with colored marble on the outside, inside Florence Cathedral is austere and almost empty. You might even wonder if it was ever finished.
Climbing the Duomo's Dome: Reaching the Top of Florence
If you need to burn off some pasta carbs, climb the 463 steps to the top of Brunelleschi's dome. It's one of the best things to do in Florence. When you make the climb, you're between the two domes Brunelleschi designed.
But be forewarned, it's very tight. The narrow twisting corridor gets clogged. It can be hot, stuffy, and potentially claustrophobic. And there's no elevator. If you're doing the dome climb in the summer, it will be stifling.
About 2/3 of the way up is a viewing ledge at the base of the drum. From here, you have a splendid view of Giorgio Vasari’s dome fresco of The Last Judgment, painted from 1572-79. The fresco was cleaned and restored in 1996.
Covering some 3,6000 square meters, the fresco is the largest one in the world. Originally, the architect Brunelleschi wanted his dome covered in gold mosaics like the Baptistery. But that plan was never realized.
READ: Must See Art in Tuscany
120 years after Brunelleschi's death, Giorgio Vasari was commissioned by Cosimo I to fresco the dome. The Last Judgment is divided in to five zones. Enthroned in the center is Christ the judge. The various levels separated by bands show the other players in the drama -- the elders of the apocalypse, saints, member of the Medici family, and the damned in hell.
READ: Who Were the Medici?
In their monumentality, the figures floating against the background of heaven are reminiscent of those of Michelangelo, who Vasari revered. Michelanglo's The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel was Vasari's inspiration.
Back inside the dome, the climb gets progressively more challenging. The magnificent panoramic view from the top is worth the discomfort though. You can see all of Florence and some of the Tuscan countryside.
Tickets For the Duomo and the Dome Climb
So how does this all come about? What's the best way to get Duomo and dome tickets in Florence? You have three options. Option 1 is the best way to go, I think.
1. Purchase the "Grande Museo del Duomo" combination ticket online for 18 euros, which gives you one entry to each of the Duomo sites over 72 hours. The ticket includes admission to the Duomo, Baptistery, Campanile, Duomo Museum, Brunelleschi's dome, and the Santa Reparata crypt (inside the cathedral).
A PDF containing a barcode will be sent to you via email. You can have it scanned on your phone. Click here to see my comprehensive discussion of these (and other) must see Florence sites.
The dome climb is ONLY possible with an advance reservation. You can book a time slot when you purchase your combination ticket online. Dome climb time slots can fill up days in advance, so reserve well ahead.
Once you've made the reservation, you can't change it. Show up 20-30 minutes early. The entrance for the dome climb is on the north side of the Duomo.
2. Book a guided tour with Get Your Guide or another company. The disadvantage of this is that you aren't free to set your own itinerary and pause on things you personally want to admire.
3. You can buy your combo ticket in person in Florence and try to reserve a dome climb entry time. Go to either the main Duomo ticket office (facing the Baptistery) or at a ticket machine in the Duomo Museum lobby.
Opening Hours of the Duomo Sites To Plan Your Visit
To help plan your visit to the complex, here are the time schedules of the Duomo sites. They all open and close at different times. Check the website because sometime's hours change.
I would start with the Baptistery at 8:15 am, move on to the Duomo Museum, and then have a bell tower climb scheduled for 11:00 am or so. Don't rush through the wonderful museum, which has an outstanding collection of Medieval and Renaissance sculpture and a reconstructed Duomo facade.
You don't want to climb both the Duomo dome and the Giotto bell tower on the same day. Also, because there are religious sites, you must dress conservatively. No sleeveless tops or short/skirts above the knee.
Duomo:10:00 am to 4:30 pm
Brunelleschi's Dome: 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
Giotto Bell Tower | Campanile: 8:15 am to 10:15 am & 11:15 am to 7:30 pm
Crypt: 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
Duomo Museum: 9:00 am to 7:00 pm (but closed Sunday afternoon)
Baptistery: 8:15 am to 6:30 pm
If you just love Florence, here are some of my other Florence guides:
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