Sharing space with Rome’s Colosseum and Pisa’s Leaning Tower, Florence’s Duomo is one of Italy’s defining sights. Construction began in 1296 and ensued for nearly 150 years, though its eye-widening neo-Gothic white, green and pink marble facade wasn’t put into place until the 19th century.
Entering the cathedral itself is free and wholly worthwhile, though in truth it probably won’t occupying most people for long. The ground floor is oddly bare, as most of its former treasures have been moved to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Descending into the crypt (admission three euros; Mon-Wed & Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 10am-4:45pm) for a gander at parts of the 5th century Chiesa di Santa Reparata, uncovered during excavation (1965-74) is a nice side attraction. However, the primary draw is up above.
The legendary dome itself, built between 1420 and 1436, was at the time an unmatched engineering marvel, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The 91 meter high, 45.5 meter wide dome was cleverly built using consecutive rings supported by a vertical herringbone pattern.
The steep, 463-step climb to the top of the dome costs eight euros (hours 8:30am-7pm Mon-Fri, 8:30am-5:40pm Sat) and is very worthwhile, though claustrophobics might disagree. The based of the dome allows close-up viewing of the amazing, 16th-century, interior frescoes by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. Finally, the apex allows for pulse-quickening, panoramic views of Florence. The lines for this thrill can be fantastically long, depending on the season. It’s a good idea to arrive early.
You can also climb to the top of the campanile (bell tower; admission 6.50 euros; hours 8:30am-6:50pm daily). The line for this is shorter than the Duomo, though the view is slightly less impressive.