What is one of the most iconic structures in all of Florence?
The Duomo of Florence, of course. It is one of the largest cathedrals in the world!
It is an absolute must to include not just the Duomo, but everything connected to it, mainly a visit to:
- the crypt and a climb up the cupola
- the Baptistry
- the Bell Tower and a trip to the top
- the newly renovated Museum of the Duomo with it's incredible collection of artwork (including work by Donatello and Michelangelo)
After all, the cathedral and these monuments are the very soul of Florence, the religious center of the city. In fact, sometimes it seems that the city practically revolves around these artistic, architectural monuments. The cathedral, built on Roman ruins, has grown with the city until finally realizing mammoth proportions that left even one of the most advanced architects of the time, Arnolfo di Cambio, stumped at to how to close the gaping hole now covered by the Brunelleschi cupola. They builders and politicians of the time lived with hope that mankind would figure out how to close the ceiling by the time they reached that part of the church.
With so much to take in, the best way to see all of the monuments in Piazza Duomo is to visit with a professional guide. We particularly recommend one that includes a few exclusive extras, such as the rooftop terrace on the Duomo - an area which is usually closed to the public.
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You Need to See it From the Inside Out
A walk around the exterior of the Duomo will give you only a limited idea of its immense historical importance and beauty, especially since the facade that you see today was finished only in the late 1800's. To truly appreciate the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore, you must plan a visit inside. Start with the archaeological digs in the Crypt, and work your way through the church to the cupola before heading back out. You can then tackle the Bell Tower by Giotto and the Baptistery with its monumental doors (the originals are in the Museum... the next stop), only then will you have an idea of just how much the area has grown since the 1200’s and the number of major artists (Arnolfo, Giotto, Michelangelo, Donatello, Brunelleschi) who have left their mark in Florence.
One of the best solutions to visiting the entire complex, in my experience, is the Duomo & Hidden Terraces Tour which includes entrance and a guided tour of the Church and the Crypt underneath the Cathedral floor, access to several off-limit areas to the average tourist (like the central nave and the area by the main altar) and entrance to the Baptistery, Bell Tower, and Museum of the Duomo. The ticket is valid for the following 72 hours, so no need to rush your way through.
The true highlight, of course, (which you can’t do any other way but through this tour) is the exclusive access to the Circular Room of statues that lead to the Rooftop Terraces.
This tour is VIP treatment, almost as if you were the Pope himself.
We met our guide right in front of the official ticket office for the Duomo, and were immediately whisked off to the Cathedral steps for a privileged fast-entry into the cathedral, skipping the line. Our highly trained tour guide, Maria, is part of OPA, the “cathedral works organization” created when the Duomo started to be built hundreds of years ago and still operating today! Her knowledge on all of the Duomo monuments was exceptional, and she kept our attention with amusing anecdotes and “behind the scenes” stories. The Duomo maintains high standards when selecting their guides, and it shows, with a clear and articulate English she explained the important details and answered all of our questions.
Duomo & Rooftop Terrace Tour at a Glance
Duration: about 1.5 hours
Includes: Guided tour of the Crypt and Church, EXCLUSIVE entrance to the panoramic Circular Room & roof top north side Terrace, then on your own you continue climb up to the top of the dome
Days: Offered Monday, Friday and Saturday during fall/winter and more days during spring and summer
Note: Proper clothing is mandatory, you can be denied entrance into the Cathedral if your shoulders and legs are not covered properly
Extras: at the end of the tour, keep climbing and visit the Cupola!
A World of Wonder Underneath the Cathedral
The Duomo is one of the top attractions in Florence, gathering hundreds of visitors everyday, and when you do it on your own you can face long lines, crushed crowds and then spend so little time inside soaking in the marvelous wonders within its walls. The advantage of a tour meant that our group jumped to the head of the line and several times we were given access to off-limit areas - where we could spread out and admire the frescoes, the statues and the architecture calmly. Standing in the center of the main nave, with the other tourists roped off and milling around on the perimeter, we had room to gaze and explore.
Below the church floor are layers and layers of history. The first step on this tour took us down into the crypt, where we find the remains of four prior churches, clearly outlining the progressive expansion of the basilica. We saw the original entrance, the walls of the ancient Roman city and several pieces of the extraordinary mosaic floors of the first basilica.
Keeping to a tight but well organized schedule we whizzed through the line entrance to the cupola. The staff gave us the impression that we were the only persons there, because they stopped all other traffic while we climbed the stairs (all 153 of them) with a little bit of calm. Open exclusively to participants of the tour, we were escorted into the “Circular Room,” about one third of the way up to Brunelleschi’s Dome, where we could admire the massive statues built as a temporary decoration to the facade in the 16th century on the occasion of Ferdinand de' Medici's wedding. Upon the renewal of the Great Museum, the idea was to include these original statues but... they couldn’t get them out of this room! So the museum includes copies, but the only way to see these up close is to go on this tour.
The Extraordinary & Exclusive Views
Our Review of this exclusive Duomo Terrace Tour
We loved: the knowledgeable guide and her anecdotes about the church and its history
Ideal for: a comprehensive overview of the Duomo and its monuments, with spectacular panoramic views from the rooftop
Then came the pièce de la résistance: the exclusive rooftop terrace of the Duomo. The vista from the terrace is spectacular and this is the primary reason why we highly recommend this tour!
The terrace is the perfect distance up for those who balk at doing all 463 steps to the top of the Dome in one go (as opposed to the 414 to the top of the Bell Tower). Not only did we have a panoramic visual of Florence, Fiesole and the mountains beyond but it was an intriguing new perspective of the exterior of the cathedral, the closeness of the cupola and the Baptistery out front.
There is a maximum of 20 persons per tour, but they can never be too small - which is great! Our small group of just three people was a fantastic plus as we navigated the steps, the terrace and received our guides undivided attention. As a local, I appreciated the exclusivity of going out on the terraces, because I know they are hardly ever open to the public (sometimes they are open on September 8th). When I spoke to the other participants, and asked them if they felt the exclusivity, the consensus was:
The price / expectation ratio was in my favor! I would book it again just for the VIP service. I loved the luxury of standing in the middle of the Duomo with all that space - while the tourists were in lines outside. And this view of Florence, just incredible!
The guided part of the tour ended after the rooftop terrace, where we were given the choice of continuing up the remaining 360 steps to the very top of Brunelleschi's masterpiece, getting a close up of the frescoes and more stunning panoramic views. We could also exit down the stairs and proceed to the other monuments, but once you're up there, I highly encourage you to make the trek now, you are practically already to the top ;-) Also remember that once you exit, this ticket to the cupola is no longer valid (one entry per monument on that all-inclusive pass is allowed).
If you are making your plans to visit the Duomo and the monuments surrounding it in Florence, then there is no better way to see them all than in the company of a professional guide that will give you access to exclusive areas of the Duomo.
Want an alternative?
If you want to visit the terraces of the Duomo in the morning and not include the guided tour of the cathedral, check out this "skip the line" tour that offers wine tastings and possible lunch right after the visit.
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