I have a thing for looking for the best viewpoints. I almost always want to find the tallest thing in the area and climb to the top of it. Heck in Lisbon it was my main goal for our one full day in the city. So it wasn’t surprising that I had a similar strategy for our time in Florence. I wasn’t crazy about spending all of my time in museums (though I still went in a few). Instead I wanted to see Florence from above. And so I did. These were the top 4 best views in Florence that I found in our short time there.
1. Top Of The Dome
Climbing to the top of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore’s dome is probably one of the top things to do in the city. And for good reason. Taller (by far) than the buildings surrounding it, one can almost see the entirety of the city.
But be warned. It is quite a hike to get up there (463 steps to be exact).
To start you need a ticket. Luckily a single ticket to the Il Grande Museo Del Duomo will grant you access to 5 major sites: Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Crypt of Santa Reparata, and the museum.
You can’t buy a ticket to just one of these attractions, you have to buy this joint ticket. The cost is 15 euros per person. With the ticket you can get access to each attraction once, and the ticket will remain active for 48 hours (allowing you to visit all 5 attractions).
But to climb the dome, you’ll also need to book your time. You can do so online or at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (right behind the duomo here). This is what we did. Right by the front doors in the museum is a vending machine type thing. Here you scan in your tickets and select your time.
We bought our ticket at the Crypt of Santa Reparata and then booked our climbing time at the Museum for the following morning. Since it was already mid-day, all of the times left were after 5pm and therefore sunset. Though I bet the view is beautiful at night, I wanted to see the city during the day.
Now, I already mentioned this once, but it bears repeating. This is one hell of a climb. Think lots of narrow, winding spiral staircases.
After we were pretty well out of breath, we finally popped out in the church, but along the inside of the dome. I actually found this part to be quite intimidating. Though there was plenty of plexiglass to protect us, just knowing how far below us that cathedral floor was, was just a bit nerve-wracking.
We made our way around the inside before heading back up towards the top of the dome.
This part of the climb was made up of narrow passageways and very steep staircases. Basically the dome is actually two domes. An inner one and an outer one. And we were climbing up between the two.
Now for the most part there is a separate way up and down. But for a good stretch near the top, the foot traffic goes both ways. So think lots of squeezing against the sides of walls to let others go by.
But then we were there! The top of the dome!
I was surprise by the amount of space at the top. The lantern is huge and we were easily able to find spots at the railing on every side.
And guess what? There are no safety barriers here. No fence or glass to get in the way of your view. It wasn’t that scary though since there wasn’t a steep drop off (due to the slope of the dome).
Ryan and I lingered at the top, taking it in from all angles. I found a small, blue-domed church in the distance that I instantly fell for.
And I loved being able to capture the dome, church, and campanile in one photograph.
Once it was time to go, the climb down was much easier. The only main difference is that the walk inside the dome is on a different level (above the circular windows) than it was on the way up.
This allowed me to study the murals painted on the inside of the dome more closely…and make a startlingly discovery. The painting depicts (in my opinion) both heaven and hell. Heaven near the top and hell at the bottom. And in hell, well, the demons aren’t being very nice to the people. I’ll leave it at that and let you make your own discovery.
Cost: 15 euros per person
Entrance: Right about here
2. Top Of The Campanile
Know what else you get with the ticket described above? Access to Giotto’s bell tower (or campanile). And for this one you don’t need to book your climb.
We climbed the bell tower the day before we did the dome (due to our time window for the dome being the following morning).
There wasn’t a line for the bell tower when we approached, but there was one on our way out. So even though you don’t need to book your time, you may still have to do some waiting.
Okay the bell tower. I found the climb here to be almost easier since there were several levels in the tower where you could pop off and take a breather. However Ryan found the climb much harder since the entire climb is two-way traffic.
There’s a lot of waiting for others here. But the passageways weren’t too skinny (that is until you reached the top levels). And it is slightly shorter than the dome.
So by the time we reached the top I wasn’t too tired. And the views of Florence were glorious.
Now the very top of the campanile is fenced in. I knew this before we did it, so it wasn’t a surprise for me.
And actually…it didn’t really bother me. Because unlike the dome, it’s a straight drop here. The only thing between me and an 82 meter fall was that fence. And I was kind of happy for it.
Plus I was able to get some pretty nice pictures in between the wires of the fence. Including that classic one of the dome I had seen all of the internet before we went to Florence.
Cost: 15 euros per person
Location: Google Map
3. Sunset At Piazzale Michelangelo
I read, from several different sources, that the place to watch sunset was at Piazzale Michelangelo. And they were definitely right.
But be warned (I feel like I’ve said that for every view on this list…oh well), this is one hell of a hike.
Now maybe it was because my knee was acting up or not, but I was severely out of breath by the time we reached the piazza. We went straight up the hill from the stone gate tower next to the river. And though the switchbacks here were made of roads and paths…they were still switchbacks.
But we finally reached the piazza and the view was glorious.
We hung around on the small landing right below the main piazza and squeezed our way to the landing. You should note the word squeeze here. This is a very popular sunset spot.
But after snapping a few photos (okay maybe dozens) we backed off and let others get their perfect photo.
We then wandered up to the main piazza for a bit before sitting back on the steps and relaxing.
There’s also a little snack bar stand that sells beer located at the piazza if you feel so inclined. But at that moment I just wanted to relax and watch the show.
Because, well, we did get one hell of a show that night.
Location: Google Map
4. Cafe At The Rinascente Department Store
I know what you’re thinking. A department store? Great view? Come on.
But it’s true.
Located by Piazza della Repubblica this department store has a rooftop cafe (Caffe La Terrazza) with an amazing view. Or at least half of the seating does anyway.
To get there just make your way to the department store and then up. You’ll need to take like 4 (or was it 5?) escalators to the top level. Then head to the other side of the store to take the stairs the rest of the way up.
And boom! Great view of the duomo from the right hand side of the rooftop.
Now you may not get the seat. But we were able to score some pretty sweet ones that were in the middle and still had the beautiful view.
But just know that you’ll need to order something in order to sit. And this is not exactly a cheap cafe. But if you linger through sunset (like we did), I think you might just find that it’s worth it.