Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore)#2 in Best Things To Do in Florence
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The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (known simply as the Duomo) is not only Florence's religious center, it's also the city's most recognizable attraction. Occupying the Piazza del Duomo in the heart of the city, this massive Gothic cathedral was erected during the 14th century on the former site of the Roman church, Santa Reparata. You'll know you're in the right place when you find yourself straining your neck to see the church's massive, iconic dome. The red-tiled cupola was designed by Brunelleschi and is described as a must-see by experts and travelers alike.
Visitors like to joke that the cathedral was designed inside-out: its exterior boasts intricate designs and breathtaking features while the interior is surprisingly plain. For many, the main reason to visit is to climb to the top of the dome (the cupola) where you'll find spectacular views of the city. (Be aware that there is no elevator and some of the narrow walkways require you to stand to the side while people pass in the opposite direction. Some visitors report this is not for the claustrophobic.) However, if you are interested in looking around inside, guided tours are available.
Access to the cathedral changes seasonally, but generally, the church is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 (with shortened hours on Sundays); the dome operates on different hours. If you're mostly there to climb the more than 400 steps, it's best to try and get there as soon as the doors open (usually around 8:30 a.m.) to beat the crowds. Tickets, which cost 18 euros (about $20), grant you admission to all five monuments in Piazza Duomo, including the cupola climb. They must be reserved in advance online. If you only choose to visit the cathedral, there is no admission fee (though you can expect to wait in a fast-moving line). You are also welcome to attend Mass and other religious ceremonies. For more information, visit the Duomo's website.
More Best Things To Do in Florence
#1 Piazza della Signoria
Loggia dei Lanzi, in the Piazza della Signoria, is an open-air (and free) museum that was designed in the 14th century by Orcagna, an influential architect and artist. Below the building's curved arches are dozens of sculptures (notable ones include Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines and Cellini's Perseus), which draw crowds of tourists and locals alike. Behind it sits the Galleria degli Uffizi. The Piazza della Signoria is also filled with its (more than) fair share of sculptures, including a towering replica of Michaelangelo's David.
Take your time wandering around, and if you get tired, grab a seat along the Loggia dei Lanzi, or make your way to a cafe near the Fountain of Neptune. Recent visitors said this is a must-see spot and a great area to people-watch, view magnificent sculptures and rest travel-weary feet (though past travelers recommended avoiding the restaurants in this area, calling them "outrageously overpriced." To avoid the height of the crowds, visit in the evening. Access to the area is free 24/7.
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