Florence – Climbing the Duomo

Hi friends, welcome back to my Italy series! As with most people that visit Florence, the Duomo, officially called Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore, was my favorite sight in Florence. I loved walking by this beautiful church every day and it’s hard to appreciate the sheer size of this iconic sight until you see it in person.

Construction of this cathedral began in 1296 but the roof wasn’t added until 1400. The cathedral underwent an exterior facelift in 1870 when the green, white, and pink marble was added over the previously brick facade. As I mentioned in my last post, the famous David statue was originally commissioned to be on the roof of this church before they moved him to Palazzo Vecchio.


The architects of Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore always intended for it to have a domed roof, but they didn’t know how to execute such a monumental task. Over one hundred years after construction began, Filippo Brunelleschi finally solved the cupola conundrum. He intently studied the Pantheon and came up with a design using two domes and massive, sturdy pillars inside the cathedral. The outside dome is visible with the terracotta tile and the inner dome is thicker and more supportive. The bricks are laid in a herringbone pattern to self-reinforce, and the lantern on top holds them all into place. It took 14 years to build the dome (finished in 1436) and it is the largest masonry dome ever built.

Jon and I got to go inside briefly on our dome tour and the cathedral was noticeably bare inside. Most of the sculptures and paintings were moved to the Duomo Museum across the street for preservation. There’s always a long line to go inside (no ticket required), but not much to see besides a faraway glimpse of the dome. I’d recommend going early because people were lined up before the church opened. You can also go under the Duomo to see the excavations of the Basilica of Santa Reparta, the prior cathedral of Florence. Nobody knows exactly when the cathedral was built, their best guess is around 400AD. The visit to Santa Reparta was included with our ticket, but we didn’t make it down this time.

Climbing the dome is a must and you have to reserve a time slot to do so. I booked a brief tour through the Duomo website and then afterwards we were free to climb the dome. I was nervous because I’m slightly claustrophobic, but the climb between the two domes wasn’t too bad. We started climbing the 463 steps up and were held in the first balcony of the dome while we waited for the group up top to come back down. They let you have about twenty minutes at the top and then they make everyone go down so it doesn’t get overcrowded. I liked this system because it gives your legs a break and you get time to enjoy the paintings on the dome up close. When our necks needed a break we would admire the birds eye view of the nave below. This cathedral has the third longest nave in Christendom at 153 meters.

On the inner dome, the Last Judgment was painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari from 1572-1579. It is an eerie painting, especially on the balcony when you’re up close and personal with it. You really can’t appreciate the size and detail of this mural without climbing up close.

The views from the top overlooking Florence sure were spectacular! The stairs and tight quarters were definitely worth it. I found the climb down harder because I get dizzy easy. I never have to worry about this, but if you’re tall watch you head because the ceilings are quite low.

I’m so glad that we climbed the dome and I think it’s a must do in Florence. The views of the city and being up close to the paintings on the dome make the climb more than worth all the steps. This is a popular activity so I’d highly recommend booking your time slot as soon as possible. This is the tour we booked and it gave us access to all of the Duomo sights, but there are a few different passes to choose from. I hope you enjoyed following along on this tour, I’ll be sharing the Duomo Museum, Baptistry, and Bell Tower next.

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49 thoughts on “Florence – Climbing the Duomo

    1. Thank you! For some reason we got more winded going up the 3 flights of stairs in our hotel than the dome 🤷🏻‍♀️

      1. It was being repaired when we first arrived so we got in the habit of taking the stairs, we were on the third floor so it wasn’t bad.

    1. Thank you! 🥰 I agree, we also like going out early before everybody wakes up and gets in the way of my pictures

  1. What amazing photos! I can’t get over the size and scope of the cathedral.

    I often have that same dizzy feeling when coming down long or steep flights of stairs; the worst was a spiral staircase we had to come back down from in France somewhere and the down side was the super skinny stair treads on the inside while people were walking up right beside us. I was so thankful to step off that final stair.

    1. Thank you!! It’s hard to get all of the cathedral in one picture. Those narrow spiral stairs really make me nervous! They’re hard enough without feeling dizzy. Reaching the bottom and the fresh air is such a relief!

  2. Always a highlight when you can climb the dome of these old cathedrals and other buildings. That dome ceiling is spectacular and one can only imagine what it took to paint it. The views are incredible. I like the comparison to the Pantheon as we did climb that dome in 2007 and again, the climb was well worth it. Thanks for sharing Lyssy. Happy Tuesday. Allan

    1. I agree, it’s always worth the stairs and narrow passages up. The views never disappoint. I imagine those painters had a lot of neck pain, seems like it could be a dangerous job too.

  3. The Duomo is magnificent Lyssy and as we were staying close by, we were constantly walking past, admiring its size and architecture. We went inside but didn’t climb to the top of the dome. I don’t think this was possible at the time of our visit as it was when things were just starting to open up after Covid. The same thing applied at Pisa’s Leaning Tower as it was deemed too enclosed a space at that time to go to the top. A good excuse to return sometime though!

    1. It is an amazing site to see in person. I wonder if they had people climb with masks on after Covid, that seems like it would be extremely hard. Definitely a good excuse to go back and make the dome climb!

  4. I love a good view, and I’d definitely brave the lines and steps up for the reward! I didn’t get the chance to climb the Duomo when I was in Florence, but it looks like your climb merited gorgeous views of the city from the top– all of those rustic, red roofs are like a step back in time! I hope to return to Florence some day to check it out!

    1. It really did have spectacular views, so worth it! It’s so different from the NYC skyline I see out my window, it’s a lot more charming haha. Climbing the dome is a good excuse to go back one day!

  5. Extraordinary architecture, Lyssy, inside and out. That’s quite a punishing climb with the steps, but absolutely worth it clearly. I haven’t visited a church rooftop with a time limit before. Looking at the temperature insanity that’s sweeping across Europe now I bet you’re glad you did this visit earlier in the year.

    1. So worth the steps! I’d never had a time limit before, but it was nice to not have all the crowding like there usually is. Our last afternoon was 80 in Rome and I thought glad it wasn’t like this our trip, so I can’t even imagine how miserable it is right now! I’d much rather have a light jacket, less sun screen to wear ha!

  6. I recently climbed the dome of the cathedral in Berlin, and even though there are a lot of steps, being high up in city centres really gives you a different perspective of the space. I think it’s best to do it after a few days when you’re already familiar with the place.

    1. I completely agree! I’ve never regretted all the stairs and it’s nice when you know what you’re looking at.

    1. It’s such a stunning cathedral!! Hope you can see it in person one day 🙂

  7. Fabulous shots of this iconic cathedral and surrounding area. The climb up the dome is definitely worth it. And it’s a great way to burn off all that gelato and pasta!

    1. Thank you! Haha yes for sure, and it worked up an appetite for the massive Florentine steak 🙂

    1. You got the views without all the stairs! Hope you can make it back to climb up one day.

  8. The “double dome” design was why we studied the Duomo in architecture school, and your photos brought back memories of the trek up all those stairs. The view down into the nave is stunning… and dizzying. I’d forgotten where the cathedral falls on the “longest” list but it certainly looks like a top three from up above. Glad you planned this activity in advance, as most people don’t realize it’s even an option until they get there.

    1. It is amazing how they could make the dome back then, and how much smaller the people were to fit in between the domes. It is a bit dizzying looking down at the little ants of people below, I’m glad the area was screened in tightly. I think I had the tickets purchased four months ahead of time, I wasn’t going to miss it.

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