Visiting Il Duomo in Florence — Photos, Tips & Obstinate Germans

In Florence we did absolutely nothing original and loved every minute of it. First stop: the “Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore,” otherwise known as Il Duomo. It was marvelous, except for the part when a pack of delusional wrong-way Germans almost smothered us in the claustrophobic one-way stairwell.

Visiting Il Duomo


The Il Duomo Museum

The cathedral has undergone several face lifts over the years, and all the retired friezes, statues, gargoyles and whatnot go to the museum next door. It’s also got a collection of relics featuring jawbones, pinky fingers, and other body parts of saints. I love that stuff. It’s so weird! Scout says this museum was one of the most impressive museums she’d seen so far, which seemed a bit strange until I realized she was still high from the sublime seafood risotto she’d polished off  half-an-hour earlier. Actually, seeing the cathedral artwork at eye level was pretty interesting.

The greatest Il-Duomo tip ever:  Skip the hour-long cathedral line and buy your dome tickets in the emptyish museum instead. After seeing the museum, you’ll be allowed to enter the cathedral through a shortcut. Even in July! When it’s packed!

Michaelangelo’s Pieta

(Not the famous one. That’s in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.)

Funny story. A touron in front of us found a camera case on the ground and wanted to put it where the owner would find it. Nice, right? But he PUT IT ON THE STATUE for god’s sake. The guard freaked, yelling and throbbing and frightening the poor touron nearly to death.

Inside Il Duomo

Cathedrals are designed to keep your gaze (and thoughts) upward, but seriously, check out this fantastic floor. 

Oh wait…now I’m looking up! Look at these details from the ceiling frescoes.

Il Duomo rooftop

The view from the base of the dome

See those ceramic pots? They have a purpose. Rainwater collects in them and then streams out holes in the bottom onto hundreds of new roof tiles which have been placed underneath. The sun and water age the new tiles so when replacement tiles are needed, they will blend in with the existing roof. This “tile factory” isn’t visible from down below, just from the walkway around the roof. Smart, hey?

Mark has extreme vertigo and the walkways are narrow, so by this time we reached this walkway-in-the-sky he was practically paralyzed. He decided to slouch back down the stairs and wait for us on the ground, but the interior door had been locked behind us, which meant he had no choice but to continue on. Poor thing.

And then the Germans attacked

The huge dome stays up because Brunelleschi’s innovative (for the 16th century) double-shell design makes it hollow and light. Between the two shells is a cramped, narrow staircase that you need to slog up to get to the very top. We were there in July during peak tourist season (couldn’t be avoided) so there were masses of people going up at once, even though you can’t tell by this photo. At one point a group of about 20 Germans accidentally came down the up-only staircase, which made things really freaky and tight. Then to make matters worse they chastised us for not making way for them. God it was horrible. If you’re ever in this stairwell and people start coming from the opposite direction block their way and tell them to turn their butts around!

TIP: If you plan to climb the dome in July or August when Florence is packed, go first thing in the morning or late in the day. Unlike us.

View from the top of Brunelleschi’s dome

Look at that!

And that!

And that!

The most amazing restaurant in Florence

So, you’re wondering what restaurant is so good it makes a 10-year-old love museums? It was Ristorante Lorenzo de’ Medici (Via del Giglio, 49, Florence). If you’re ever in Florence, go there. Cool, dark and elegant—a respite from the summer heat. Genuinely friendly servers. Fantastic food, great prices. My ravioli with with truffle sauce and Scout’s seafood risotto were standouts.

Germans notwithstanding, it was another fantastic day.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clélie July 30, 2011 at 4:29 am

Oh, lovely, lovely Firenze. You have some broken images that don’t show … the first one is the museum. Third pic down, I think. I am so glad you got to visit this. How neat for Scout to see it at that age. Wow. Memories. So glad you’re having a great time. I must be dreaming, but I’m quite sure you’ve already been to Rome, judging by Facebook, so perhaps I am just very confused.


2 Renee July 30, 2011 at 9:45 am

Thanks so much for telling me about the photos Clélie. We had some broken links, why I don’t know, but they should be fixed now. I really appreciate that kind of feedback.

Yes, we’ve already been to Rome, but the blog runs a bit behind since it takes me a few days to get posts together, edit photos and find internet access. And yes, Scout is very lucky to be seeing these things, though she’s beginning to burn out. We’ve been seeing and doing a lot this past three months (those damn Schengen visa rules don’t give us much time), and all three of us are looking forward to planting ourselves somewhere in Turkey and relaxing for a while.


3 The Ippels July 30, 2011 at 4:41 am

We looove Florence! Not surprised that Scout enjoyed it so much. It left quite an impression on Serena and she was only 5 then. Are you going to see Michaelangelo’s David? It’s worth paying the admission to see the real thing rather than the freebie knockoff out in the public square.


4 Renee July 30, 2011 at 9:56 am

Yes, we went to the Accademia and saw the real thing, which was fantastic. While we were there, we had a great time arguing about whether the freaky-large hands were intentional or just a mistake. Did you guys see the musical-instrument display? I enjoyed that a lot too.

Here’s a fun story. While we were looking at the statue, we got abused by a security guard. You’re not supposed to take photos of the statue (why not, God knows), but about 75% of the visitors were taking them in anyway, some in plain sight, others sneakily on their iPhones. Well we were following the rules and NOT taking pictures, though we had our iPhone out because we were listening to a podcast about the statue. On the screen was a photo of David, which a guard saw and assumed we’d taken. Why, out of all those people, he fixated on us I’ll never know. We got a huge dressing down in Italian, though we threw it right back in English, because the fellow was plain wrong. Things got very juicy for a minute! So now when we listen to podcasts, we keep the screen dark just to avoid misunderstandings. As the saying goes, all part of life’s rich tapestry.


5 Clélie July 31, 2011 at 4:28 am

Lovely photos, all looking great now. And the blog timing makes sense now. Okay! How is Archie enjoying himself?


6 Renee July 31, 2011 at 4:44 am

Archie is doing great. He’s adjusted very well to camper life and gives us peace of mind by guarding the rig when we go out. There’s only been one difficulty: Since we started traveling he stopped liking children and will snap (in the air) if they try to pet him. He’s pretty cute and is a kid magnet, so I need to pay attention and run interference. I hate to tell the kids no though. 🙁


7 Atomos July 31, 2011 at 4:09 pm



8 elaine August 2, 2011 at 6:01 pm

amazing indeed! Everything from the floor of the cathedral to the top of the roof is incredible. I’m so grateful for your blogging because we get to enjoy highlights of your adventure with you guys. you’re doing an awesome job on the blogging btw.

ravioli with truffle sauce!! yum!!!!! 🙂


9 Renee August 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Thanks, Elaine. I appreciate that a lot. Wish I could get more posts up but we’re busy doing stuff!


10 Brother Bill August 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm

How beautiful! Sounds like y’all are enjoying your trip tremendously. Enjoy! Bill


11 Renee August 9, 2011 at 7:30 am

Cheers, BB!


12 Jeff P August 8, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Can someone please beam me straight to Ristorante Lorenzo de’ Medici? Thank you!


13 Renee August 9, 2011 at 7:29 am

Hey, Jeff! if you can figure out how to do it, by all means do. Best meal we’ve had so far.


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