With its amazing combination of art, architecture and food, Florence is definitely a tourist magnet. But, that never stops me from going to this popular destination in Italy! And on the top of my things to do in Florence list is always a visit to the Florence Cathedral (and a climb to the top of its duomo), one of the most popular attractions of the city. Its fabulous architecture, the magnificent dome and beautiful frescoes make it an absolutely essential experience when you travel here. Plus, the cathedral is smack dab in the middle of the old town where there are several other places of interest that will take you to the time of the Renaissance.
Duomo di Firenze: About the Florence Cathedral
& the Climb to the Top
About the Florence Cathedral
Although work on the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, simply called the Florence Cathedral, started in the late 13th century it took almost a century and a half to complete the structure. In fact, the work on the façade continued even in the 19th century. Designed by architect Arnolfo di Cambio, the cathedral also benefitted from the work of other architects and artists. You can see the impressive marble façade with its pink, green and white hues while the interior is simple in its design.
Of course, the most stunning feature of the Florence Cathedral is the spectacular dome (duomo) or the cupola, an architectural marvel of the time. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the massive brick-built dome topped by a lantern stands out in the historic center when you see panoramic views of the area. While at the cathedral, definitely light a candle for a loved one who has passed on (my husband and I both lit one for our grandmothers), plus take a look at the splendid frescoes of the Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari that cover the inside of the duomo. But, absolutely don’t miss a climb to the top of the duomo through a long narrow flight of steps.
Climbing the Florence Duomo Steps
Climbing the steps of the duomo comes with excellent rewards–a closer look at the frescoes on the dome interior and incredible panoramic views. The cathedral has a height of around 114 meters and you have to climb a series of 463 steep steps to reach the top. And, there is no elevator. If you have health issues such as heart or major knee problems, then it is best to avoid it. Those with claustrophobia may find it tough too. If you have reasonably good health and fitness levels, you can do it!
TIP: If you are worried about a crowd of people following you up the stairs right on your heels, then it is best to go first thing in the morning.
I’m not going to lie, when a so-called friend had told me about climbing to the top of the Duomo, I was daunted at the thought of it. He conveniently forget to mention the 463 stairs! By step number 462 I was thinking about defriending him on Facebook, isn’t that what people now do when they believe someone has done them wrong? But, then came step number 463, when you reach the top of the dome and emerge on the viewing deck. You can see the mesmerizing sight of Florence and its amazing historic center.
Truly, while the climb is a little difficult at times due to the narrow interior passage and steep stairs, the view is well worth all the huffing and puffing on the steps!
BOOKING: While entry to the Florence Cathedral is free, you need a ticket to climb the steps to the dome. If you buy a combo ticket, it gives you entry to the complex of buildings including the cathedral dome, Giotto’s Campanile, the Florence Baptistery and a couple of other places. Though you don’t technically need a tour, for priority entrance (otherwise lines can be long), an educated guide and access to 5 attractions of the cathedral site, check out this tour.
Where is the Florence Duomo Located?
One of the best things about the Florence Duomo is its location on the Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square). You can also visit Giotto’s Campanile and the Florence Baptistery that are part of the complex situated in close proximity on the square. All these are located in Florence’s historic center, a top UNESCO World Heritage site due the presence of the historical structures.
If you are up for another climb, walking up the 400 plus steps of the Campanile (bell tower) also gives you great views including a close look at the superb exterior of the cathedral dome. Designed by Giotto, the Gothic architecture of the tower is quite marvelous. Equally wonderful is the Florence Baptistery where several famous Italians were baptized. It is a fabulous structure with exquisite doors and impressive mosaic ceiling. As I walked around the Piazza del Duomo, I also spotted various other buildings such as the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, and Loggia del Bigallo near Piazza San Giovanni.
Top Attractions Nearby
There’s no end to the remarkable attractions near the Florence Duomo all of which are within walking distance. If you are an art aficionado or even if you are not, the Uffizi Gallery is a must visit in Florence. This art museum built in the 16th century has some of the best works of art especially Renaissance art and sculpture. Artists featured here include Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Caravaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo and Rembrandt. It’s quite possible that you will be hypnotized by the artwork just like I was. Another place for art lovers is the Accademia Gallery with its collection of sculptures and paintings. It has a vast assortment of sculptures by Michelangelo including the original statue of David, a testimony to the sculptor’s genius. Admire the perfection and the beauty!
One of the other frequented places nearby is the Piazza della Signoria. On this square, you can visit the lovely Palazzo Vecchio museum. Another fantastic place of interest located a few minutes away from Florence Cathedral is the extensive Palazzo Pitti that was once the palatial home of the Medici family. This imposing palace is a museum today and its many rooms showcase works of art, various royal chambers and fascinating exhibits. You can continue your exploration behind the palace at the Boboli Gardens which is also a vast area with much to see. In between all your sightseeing in Florence, you can grab a bite at any restaurant or drop in at the Mercato Centrale with its fresh produce including fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat as well as a food court open for lunch and dinner.
For more of the cities top attractions, read the city’s Bucket List that lists 40 of the best things to do in Florence.
When you are in Florence, a visit to the Florence Cathedral with its dazzling duomo is unmissable. There are vibrant squares, beautiful churches, science museums and historical places located close to the Florence Duomo. Take your time to see them all. Though the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral has been crossed off my bucket list multiple times, I hope to travel here again to see it once more.
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