Your trip to Florence isn’t complete without a visit to the city’s beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. This imposing Gothic cathedral is visible right across the city, thanks to the landmark dome that rises high into the Florence skyline. Outside, the walls are clad in white, pink, and green marble like an ornate iced wedding cake. Inside you’ll discover impressive frescos and beautiful mosaic floors.
In the 15th century, architect Filippo Brunelleschi won a competition to design a dome for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. His huge egg-shaped cupola was the largest of its kind when it was completed in 1434, and has dominated Florence’s landscape ever since. Climbing the dome will reward you with some of the best views of the city too. You’ll need comfy shoes, as there are 463 steps to ascend with no option to take a lift. The climb involves navigating narrow passageways that were originally installed for workmen to use, not with tourists in mind. But once you’re at the top, you can walk out onto the lantern and enjoy spectacular 360-degree views across the city and surrounding countryside.
On the way up, you’ll get a close up look at Giorgio Vasari’s Last Judgement fresco (1572-9) painted on the domed ceiling. The route to the lantern takes you along a walkway around the base of the inside of the dome. You’ll walk right next to the painting, so you can see individual brushstrokes as well as other details not visible from the floor of the cathedral. The walkway is enclosed, but if you suffer from vertigo it might not be for you as there’s a 40m drop down to the floor below. If you do have a head for heights, this is the best way to admire the stunning marble mosaic floor of the cathedral.
What to see inside
Arriving at Florence Cathedral, you’ll be greeted by the statues of Arnolfo di Cambio and Filippo Brunelleschi, the two architects responsible for designing the building during its 200-year construction. The huge building is over 500 feet long and when it was first erected it was the largest church in the world. It held this distinction until St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City was completed 200 years later. Now the fourth biggest cathedral in the world, with its intricate details and huge dimensions it’s hardly surprising it took 200 years to build.
Once inside, look up to see the impressive clock over the entrance. Designed in 1443 by Paolo Uccello, it’s one of just a few in the world that displays the time from sunrise to sunset, with the 24th hour marking the setting of the sun. Then follow the beautiful mosaic patterns on the floor as you discover the artwork inside the cathedral. As well as Vasari’s fresco in the dome, look up to the three frescos along the left nave.
Explore deeper into the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
To make the most of your visit to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, rent an audio guide or take a group tour to learn more about the building and its fascinating history.
Head down into the crypt to see the remains of the old church of Santa Reparata, which occupied the site before the cathedral you see today was built. After visiting, go back into Piazza del Duomo to explore other parts of the cathedral complex, including the Baptistery and the Opera del Duomo Museum.
In the museum you can see many statues and treasures from the cathedral, including Ghiberti’s original Baptistery doors (the ones hanging at the Baptistery are copies). The Campanile, also known as Giotto’s Bell Tower, also stands in the piazza. It’s more climbing, with 414 steps this time, but out on the terrace you’ll enjoy more wonderful views of the city and get a chance to get some great up-close shots of Brunelleschi’s terracotta tile-topped dome.
How to get there
Located in Piazza del Duomo, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is right in the heart of old Florence. It’s easy to get there on foot from the main train station, which is about a 10-minute walk away. The Uffizi gallery is also around a 10-minute walk away past some of Florence’s best shopping streets.
The cathedral is open every day, with hours varying depending on the season. While entry to the cathedral itself is free, there is a charge (and queues) to climb the dome.