The Duomo - Worth the Climb!
Updated: Jan 1, 2019
The daunting 400+ steps to the top...
Planning a trip to Florence and wondering if you should climb the Duomo or the Giotto Bell Tower, or both?
In September of 2015, I climbed both the Giotto Bell Tower (the Campanile) and the Duomo (the Cupola) in the early morning. I had seen the afternoon line-ups winding around the Duomo days before and knew I didn't want to have to wait in those lines, particularly in the early September heat. In addition, I had read up beforehand that the best (and easiest) way to get to the top was to schedule the climb first thing in the morning to avoid the large crowds. This was the best tip I could have received and was grateful when the time came for the climb.
the giotto bell tower (414 steps)
I lined up for 8am to purchase tickets for the first time slot to climb the tower. There were only a few people in line and I managed to get in first thing. The climb up the tower was 414 steps through a narrow and winding staircase, which at times, was dark. There's not a lot of room to move so make sure to bring as little as possible - i.e. no big knapsacks or bags as this will hinder your movement in the narrow stairwell. I had brought only my DSLR camera which was attached to my strap and carried it across my body and lightly cupped it in one hand during the climb to make sure it didn't bang against the tower walls.
The tower climb does have some advantages and it's generally regarded as easier and less crowded. Once at the top, you'll have the up-close views of the Duomo, albeit through a wired fence. The top of the bell tower has wired fencing across the entire facade (most likely to prevent injury) but the spacing between the wires is wide enough to be able to slip your camera/lens through to get unobstructed shots of the Duomo. The climb back down is generally easier too however, keep in mind that there is only one stairwell going up and down. The decreased crowds in the early morning though make two-way traffic flow along the same stairwell much easier for everyone.
the duomo (463 steps)
When I climbed the Duomo in 2015, you didn't need advance reservations to do the climb. However, sometime in 2016 the rules changed and you now need to book it in advance. I'd recommend you book first thing in the morning at 8:30am to avoid the heat, humidity and crowds. And if you're a photographer, the early morning light will serve you well once you're at the top!
The climb itself is a little more arduous than the Bell Tower climb as you need to manuever up the narrow and dark stairwell with heavier traffic. There are windows along the climb, which provide different views of Florence but the climb itself is rather disorienting. Just over midway up the Duomo, you encounter the gallery platform that circles the perimeter of dome and allows you a view of Giorgio Vasari's magnificent frescoes of the Last Judgement painted on the dome's ceiling. Vasari died before completion and Federico Zuccari was called upon to complete the work.
Once you arrive at the top, you are treated to one of the most incredible (and unobstructed) views of Florence. There is no wired fencing and you are allowed as much time as needed to make your way around the cupola and enjoy the views from every angle.
the duomo vs the giotto bell tower
So which climb would I recommend? If I had to choose just one, I'd pick the Duomo. And most people do, hence the reason you need to reserve your time in advance. If you're an art history buff, you don't want to miss out on the beautiful frescoes designed by Vasari painted across the ceiling of the Dome as you make your way to the top. Not to mention, Felippe Brunelleschi's Dome is a masterful feat of architecture and engineering.
This was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Florence, both for the challenge and experience of the climb, as well as for the magnificent views that you are rewarded with once you're at the top.
Final tip: Book the cumulative ticket online (there's no extra cost than what you would pay on the day) and you can pre-book your Dome climb. There is a 15 min window between your booking time to allow you to skip the line but again, I highly suggest you book it for first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. You won't regret it! You can buy your tickets online here: https://www.museumflorence.com/
One final note: if you're claustrophobic, this is not the activity for you. The dark, narrow and winding staircases can be daunting, and likely more so for those who don't like closed spaces.
"Remember that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away." -Vicki Corona
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