I took advantage of my recent visit to Europe to spend a few days in Italy. Plane tickets between Copenhagen and Milan were not very expensive and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to set foot in Italy for the first time!
And for the occasion, my friend Signe agreed to accompany me. We flew one Friday morning to Bergamo airport, from where we took the bus to Milan. Just one weekend, it was a short time to explore the Italian city, but we knew that we absolutely wanted to visit the Duomo, probably the most famous building in Milan, and that’s what we have done on our first morning there.
And let’s say that the experience proved … interesting. Maybe because we were on a Saturday morning of a long weekend in Italy, we waited in line a very long time and almost lost patience a few times as the process to access the Duomo seemed complex and not very well explained.
But yes, the cathedral of Milan is worth visiting, but here are some tips after our experience!
Buy your tickets in advance
And if possible, take the “Skip the line” option. You might have to wait a lot (especially on weekends and holidays) in order to enter the Duomo. First you have to wait to enter the ticket office. Wait before you can access a ticket counter. Then wait to enter the cathedral. If you want to climb on the roof of the cathedral, you will have to wait in another line there too.
Buying a ticket online does not completely eliminate the wait. You still have to go through the ticket office to exchange the voucher that was purchased online against a real ticket. In all, we waited almost two hours before having a ticket to enter the Duomo. It seems that since we had the option “Skip the line”, we could have entered the ticket office directly. But this is not clearly indicated (NOTHING is clearly indicated at the Duomo!).
In short, buy a ticket online with the “Skip the line” option. Present your voucher at the entrance of the ticket office (located in the yellow building south of the Duomo). Wait until your number is called to access a ticket counter. Once you have your ticket in hand, head to the right entrance of the Duomo (and make sure to line up at the place that is accessible to you with your “Skip the line” ticket). Go through security, present your ticket and finally enter the Duomo!
Make sure you know a little about the Duomo
The Duomo of Milan is the third largest cathedral in the world (after St. Peter’s Basilica and the Cathedral of Seville), the largest of Gothic style. Its construction began in 1387 and spread over more than six centuries. The architecture of this colossal building is stunning, both inside and out.
It is no wonder that a building of this size is full of historical facts, unique architectural details and unique works of art.
For example, it is interesting to note that the cathedral has 52 pillars to represent the number of weeks in a year. Or that the building has more than 3,000 statues (of which nearly two-thirds are on its exterior facade).
It is also easy to miss the most precious relic of the cathedral: a nail from the cross of Jesus. This nail is suspended under the vault, 42 metres above the altar, and its presence is indicated by a small red point of light.
There is so much to see and learn that it can be easy to miss out on what makes this cathedral one of the most prestigious in the world. There are few signs inside the building, but you can rent an audio guide at the ticket office. Or, equip yourself with a good guide to learn as much as you can about the cathedral and not miss anything!
Visit the roof
It is possible to access the roof of the Duomo for an additional cost (which varies if you decide to take the elevator or to go by the stairs). My advice: do not miss this opportunity. The visit of the roof of the Duomo is undoubtedly the highlight of the cathedral. The spires of the Duomo are a symbol of Milan, and to climb on the roof allows to see them more closely. And as there are more than a hundred (not to mention the thousands of statues and gargoyles), it almost feels like walking into a jungle of Gothic architecture.
The walk on the rooftop also offers a magnificent view of the Piazza Duomo, the famous covered gallery Vittorio Emanuele and the city of Milan. On a clear day you can see the Alps to the north.
The additional cost of the ticket for a visit of the roof is worth it. The climb up the stairs is not so painful, but it should be noted that the staircase is narrow and without any windows.
Even if you are luckier than me and visit the cathedral on a day when there are fewer tourists, you will still have to be patient. Security is taken seriously at the Duomo, and everyone has to go through the metal detector, and all the bags are searched.
For me, who does not usually like “mass tourism” places, the experience was particularly trying. The long wait, the many tourists, the lack of clarity on the ticket purchase process, all that made me almost want to give up the project to visit the cathedral. Fortunately, my friend was more patient than me, and made me notice how much to visit the Duomo was a unique opportunity that we could not miss.
As churches usually invite to meditation, visiting the Duomo is perhaps the perfect opportunity to take a break, sit back and take the time to appreciate the beauty of the place. After all, the pleasure of traveling is also to be able to appreciate the chance we have to see such wonders …