I had mixed feelings about Florence when we were planning our vacation to Italy last fall. Out of all of our stops, I was least excited about Florence. I am not much of an art kind of gal, so the idea of museum after museum seemed beyond boring to me. However as soon as we exited the train station and walked into the bustling streets, I could tell Florence was a special place. The buildings are historic, well persevered and are actually used as homes and establishments. It felt as if we really were witnessing how people during the renaissance time period experienced the city (minus the cars and electronics that is). Don’t get me wrong I loved Rome as well, but for the most part other than the ancient sites, it looked like a normal working modern city. My favorite experience from Florence was our experience at the Cathedral di Santa Maria, which is where the famous Duomo is located. From research and now personal experience, I picked up a few tips and tricks on the best way to visit Florence’s Duomo and am so excited to share with you all.
The Firenze Card
My first tip if you are planning on traveling to Florence would be GET THE FIRENZE CARD! The Firenze Card is a godsend and worth every penny. For 72 Euros you get entrance into all (well 72 to be exact) of Florence’s main attractions including the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore’s Duomo and its Giotto’s Bell Tower + Baptistery of San Giovanni AND get to get in the fast track pass line. Even if you are visiting at off peak seasons, the lines will be long here. The pass is good for 72 hours so you will have plenty of time to visit the most important sites (and then some!).
Understand the Lingo
I will admit- this was one of the hardest things for me. When looking on a map and guide books of Florence for the ‘Duomo’ I was left confused when it was not sticking out like a sore thumb. So here is a little break down.
- The Duomo is the ‘Dome’ that is attached to the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore and was built as an addition to the Cathedral about two hundred years later
- You can climb to the top of the Duomo/Dome to the ‘Cupola’
- Going into the Cathedral is free, climbing the Duomo to the Cupola, and the Bell tower is not free (but are included in you Firenze Card Pass)
- The Baptistery and the Bell Tower are separate structures but decorated to match the Cathedral
- The Bell Tower = The Campanile
- The area where the Cathedral, Bell Tower, etc are located is called the Piazza del Duomo
Know the History
Sure you can visit Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore without knowing a lick about its background- but knowing just a tid bit of history will help you appreciate this gorgeous place even more. I won’t get into much detail but here are a few history points to know before your visit:
- The Cathedral was originally built in the 13th century by Arnolfo di Cambio
- The exterior of the Cathedral is ordained in pink, white and green marble
- The Cathedral was actually built over top of another church from the 7th century named Santa Reparata. The ruins of this church are visible under the Cathedral in the ‘crypt.’ The entrance fee is also included in the Firenze Card Pass!
- The Dome was added on in the 15th century from Filippo Brunelleschi’s design
- The fresco paintings inside on the dome ceiling was designed by artist Giorgio Vasari and his apprentice Frederico Zuccari around 1572 and depicts “The Last Judgement”
- The Bell Tower is 82 meters high, was built in 1334 and started by the designer/architect Giotto di Bondone
- The Baptistery opened in 1128 and is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist
Climb the Bell Tower vs The Duomo
The baptistery and the bell tower are ordained with the same design as the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore and located just steps from it. By all means if you have time climb both the Duomo and the Bell Tower, but if you had to choose one I would climb the tower. It has slightly less steps than the Duomo (although not as high) and less of a line. The best pro about climbing the bell tower versus the Duomo are the views. You get to see the Duomo in all its glory- where as if you climb the Duomo itself you can’t see it!
Whether you decided to climb the Bell Tower or to the top of the Duomo’s Cupola, be prepared for a ton of steps. The Cathedral’s bell tower (which we climbed) has 414 steps and is 82 meters high. The climb is gradual which is good with various open levels where you can sit, rest and take in the views. In between each of those levels the stairway and the stairs themselves are SUPER NARROW! The steps and clearance gets smaller and smaller as you get to the last levels to the top. So narrow that only one person can pass at a time which leads to major traffic jams and lots of people stepping on your feet. If you are claustrophobic, have a heart condition, or have children- I do not suggest climbing the bell tower. I already said this above but, if you are able to make it to the top of the bell tower, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Florence AND the Duomo. Well worth it.
The Duomo has slightly more steps at 463 and takes you to the top of the interior so you can enjoy the fresco paintings on dome ceiling before reaching the top to the Cupola. Here you are slightly higher (by 10 meters) than you would be at the bell tower at 92 meters high, and can take in amazing views as well.
Leave book bags and large purses behind (especially if you are climbing the tower) if you are able and wear sneakers for the climb! If it is during the warmer months, prepare for it to be hot during the climb. On the reverse if you are visiting during the winter months make sure you bring a jacket with you.
Finally take a ton of photos!
Here are some of my favorite from our visit around Piazza del Duomo!
And if you are looking for more pictures and info on our trip around Italy I have posted a ton and still have so much to share with you guys! Check out some of our time in Venice – here (more coming soon), visit to the islands of Burano – here and Murano – here, Tuscany’s Vignamaggio Winery- here, Tuscany’s Montefollonico, Tuscany’s Montalcino, Rosewood’s Castiglion del Bosco, Tour of the Vatican with Walks of Italy – here, Food Tour in Trastevere Rome With Eating Europe- here, the best way to see the Colosseum in Rome – here, Roaming the hidden gem of Aqueduct Park in Rome – here, a quick trip to the island of Capri- here. Also check out our long layover in Istanbul Turkey – here!