Florence’s Duomo: Take the Secret Tour

Atop the CupulaBy Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

Florence is one of Italy’s most visited cities…it’s part of the “Big Three” destinations that nearly every American who visits Italy wants to see. Rome, Florence and Venice.

In Florence, architecture, history and the Renaissance are what keep people coming back. One of the city’s highlights is the historic Duomo, or cathedral, Florence Cathedral, formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore.

It was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to a design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was structurally completed by 1436, with the dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The Duomo is the largest brick dome ever constructed, and once held the title of the world’s biggest dome until modern times.

When you visit Florence, you can see the Duomo on your own, and marvel at it from the outside with the large crowds, or you can consider another way of seeing it–the Florence Duomo Tour.

Cathedral St Mary Flower
The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower at night.

You knew there was a better way, right?

Ciao Florence has been offering a small group VIP Duomo tour all the way up to the top of the Brunelleschi Cupola and the secret terraces for the past several years and they’ve had excellent reviews from travelers. We interviewed several people who took the tour and shared their experiences with us,  Claudio Zuffuto, and Pammela Nieto.

Window view from the Duomo.
Window view from the Duomo.

How crowded is the Duomo and how much of a difference did having a private guide make to the experience?

Claudio: “The Cathedral is one of the most visited sites in Italy so as might imagine in August it was very crowded. The private guide definitely adds to the experience, for a first-time visitor it provides a lot of context as to why this place is so special.”

Pammela added, “It is pretty crowded, in high season the line is really big and you have to wait about 1-2 hours to enter just to the Cathedral. If you wanted to go to the Baptistery, the Tower or the Dome you have to do different lines so you can lose all your day. I think is better to do a private guide to enjoy the experience, not just because you will save time but also because you will learn some info that is not on the internet!” 

What was your personal highlight of the Duomo Tour?

Claudio: “For me, it was going onto the terraces, I had visited the Cathedral before but the terraces are not open to the public, so getting out there provided a new perspective.” Pammela: “I loved the explanation that they gave us before we went to the Duomo, they gave us amazing info about how the cathedral was built.”

What else do you recall from your visit to Florence that you’d say any other visitor shouldn’t miss?

Claudio: “There is so much to see in Florence that it’s hard to pick, it really depends on individual tastes and interests, but I really enjoyed the Boboli Gardens and Santa Croce.”

Pammela added, “Galleria degli Uffizi is a must! I even think it is much better than Galleria dell’Accademia. Also, Piazzale Michelangelo is amazing and from here you can have amazing views from Florence.”

The exterior of the Duomo in Florence.
The exterior of the Duomo in Florence.

Tell us about your tour guide? Was she/he knowledgeable about the history of the Duomo and Florence?

Claudio: My guide was very knowledgeable about both subjects.” Pammela:  “Yes! He really had a lot of information to share and it was pretty obvious that he was doing something that loves because he was able to share with us his passion for Florence and its history.”

What did you learn about this place that you didn’t know?

Claudio: “I did not know that it spent so long unfinished because they could not figure out how to build such a large dome.” Pammela added, “That the gold sphere at the top of the Dome fell down and they put a marble plate on the floor of the square to indicate the place where it fell.”

Was the tour the right length, did you want to stay longer or was it just right?

Claudio: “I thought the tour was the perfect length, about two hours if I recall correctly. Once there you also have the option to climb to the top of the Dome and the ticket you get allows you to continue visiting the rest of the complex.

Pammela added, “I think is just perfect, you have the opportunity to stay if you want to continue with the visit on your own or if you have another thinks to do you are able to go! 

Inside the Duomo.
Inside the Duomo.

Was the crypt a little bit scary?

No, it is just a dark and humid space.

Did anyone in your group have to change due to the strict dress code?

Pamella: “Yes! Some girls that weren’t properly dressed had to buy some scarfs to cover their knees and shoulders.”

Tell us anything else you learned about the Duomo and any recommendations for future travelers who might want to take this tour?

Claudio: “I learned that the facade we see today was only added in the 18th century. My main advice would be to book in advance, especially if you are going in the summer months.”

Pammela: “If you want to climb the tower or the Dome you have to be mentally prepared that there are A LOT of straights to climb and the spaces are really reduced so if you have problems with reduced spaces you won’t be able to do it, instead of climb the dome you can go to the terraces where you’ll also have amazing views from Florence.”

Find out more about this private tour at Ciao Florence’s website.

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One thought on “Florence’s Duomo: Take the Secret Tour

  1. Are those teeny tiny people on top of the dome in the first picture? What an amazing place, must go on my bucket list. I totally agree with you about guided tours. We were lucky enough to visit the Vatican once, and when our guide led us past the masses of people waiting in line and in through a side door, I knew it was worth every penny we’d paid for the tour. Thanks.

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