Milan Cathedral – How to make the best of your visit

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How to make the best of your visit to Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral | Milano di Duomo | Italy

Milan Cathedral, Italy - How to make the best of your visit
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Milan Cathedral, Italy

Milan Cathedral is a mesmerizingly beautiful masterpiece standing in Piazza del Duomo. Its white and pink marble façade glistening in the autumn sun was a sight to behold and the one landmark that should not be missed.

45°27’30.59″ N 9°11’17.40″ E

Milan Cathedral
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Visiting Milan, Italy

As a visitor to Milan, you will note that it is a City that is easy to get to, both by air and land. Exploring Milan will undoubtedly require a few days, or multiple visits or just a weekend getaway but my planned visit to this City was a brief one – a little shopping, a little exploring and a little adventure. Above all, if there was one thing I wanted to do in Milan, it was to visit the iconic landmark – Milan Cathedral | Duomo di Milano which took centuries to build and to experience the magical Walk on the Rooftop of the Duomo.

How to make the best of your visit to Milan Cathedral

There are many reasons to visit this masterpiece and there are so many interesting and fascinating “spots” to explore and to delve deeper in this Cathedral of over 600 years old but I limited my curiosities to the ones listed in this article – Top 10 Highlights. I hope my list below will inspire you to visit this iconic building (if you haven’t already) and act as a guide to make the best of your visit to Milan Cathedral.

Before I take you through the highlights, here are some factual information to the Cathedral which may guide you to make the best of your visit here.

Some factual information on Milan Cathedral

1 | Milan Cathedral is the fifth largest Cathedral in the world

Standing at 515 ft (157 metres) long and 302 ft (92 m) wide in Piazza del Duomo, Milan Cathedral can house up to 40000 people. It is the fifth largest Christian church in the world following St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome , the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and Seville ’s Cathedral.

Milan Cathedral in the centre of Piazza del Duomo
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Milan Cathedral in the centre of Piazza del Duomo

This large Cathedral has seen a lot of history pass her by because it took almost 600 years to complete this masterpiece. Construction began in 1386 and the final pieces laid in 1960s but seeing the scaffolding on the roof of the Cathedral, something tells me that the work is not quite complete yet! The construction of the Cathedral involved many thousands of workers (as one can imagine!) and a new canal system in its many waterways to transport the special marble from Val D’Ossola. During its construction, many architects, sculptors and artists contributed to its fabric, making it an international creation, creating a unique and an impressive piece of architecture, merging the Gothic and the Romanesque style.

The main entrance to Milan Cathedral, Italy
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The main entrance to Milan Cathedral, Italy

2 | Milan Cathedral is a unique majestic structure

The Cathedral’s splendour of white and pink marble (sourced from the Candoglia quarry in Val D’Ossola) can be admired from many corners of the City. Its roof is covered in openwork slender pinnacles and spires crowned with almost 2000 sculptures that overlook the city. Apparently, this Gothic Cathedral has the most statues than any other building in the world! On the highest spire of the Cathedral, you will find the Madonnina, a gilded bronze statue of Mary, which was sculpted by Giuseppe Perego in 1774. I understand that over the years the Madonnina has become the symbol of Milan.

The Milan Cathedral, standing stall in the glistening sun. The white and pink marble facade is a sight to behold
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The Milan Cathedral, standing tall in the glistening sun. The white and pink marble facade is a sight to behold
Madonnina-Symbol of Milan
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Madonnina-Symbol of Milan

From the floors of Piazza del Duomo, looking up to this majestic structure, Milan Cathedral’s forest of one hundred and thirty-five spires seem to touch the sky and I felt a tingle of excitement and amazement as I approached this imposing Cathedral. Its rich decorations are a sight to behold and truly gave meaning to what Mark Twain had said of this wonder back in 1867:

“What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems in the soft moonlight only a fairy delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath! How sharply its pinnacled angles and its wilderness of spires were cut against the sky, and how richly their shadows fell upon its snowy roof! It was a vision! —a miracle! —an anthem sung in stone; a poem wrought in marble!”

MARK TWAIN, INNOCENTS ABROAD

However, not all may agree with me or Mark Twain! For even back then in 1875, there were differing opinions on the Duomo. Oscar Wilde visited Milan Cathedral and wrote of his disappointment on the Cathedral to his mother in June of 1875. He described it as “an awful failure”. Here’s the extract I found:

“The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic. The over-elaborated details stuck high up where no one can see them; everything is vile in it; it is, however, imposing and gigantic as a failure, through its great size and elaborate execution.“

OSCAR WILDE

I shall let you make up your own mind whether it is a beautiful structure or a failure – in the meantime though, please read on and find out what it is really like on the outside and inside of Milan Cathedral.

3 | Other facts that you may wish to know

  • There are about 3200 to 3400 statues in total, both inside and outside of the Milan Cathedral but no-one really know the exact figure.
  • The central porch of the Cathedral dates back to 1800 and was sculpted by Ludovico Pogliaghi

Highlights of Milan Cathedral

Inside of the Cathedral is spectacular as you will see from the highlights below. The rooftop terraces are even more so, given the incredible views it offers over the City of Milan. Walking on the rooftop of the Duomo was an experience I longed to cherish, and I was very happy to be able to tick that experience off my list. Catching the sunset when I visited, well it was the icing on the cake, an exquisite experience that will last a lifetime, an experience which I strongly encourage you to go for if you can. Have a look at both the videos below on my rooftop experiences.

Outside Milan Cathedral

1 | Walking on the rooftop of Milan Cathedral | Duomo di Milano

The rooftop, without a doubt is the highlight of the Cathedral’s experience. There are two ways to access the terraces of the rooftop of Milan Cathedral – by stairs and by lift.

If you wish to take the stairs, there are about 250 steps, not many but they can be narrow. If you wish to take the lift, and avoid climbing altogether, you need to purchase a ticket that includes this option.

The changing hues as the sun sets over the City of Milan_4
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Sunset from the rooftop of the Duomo

Purchase your tickets to the rooftop experience here

The rooftop offers an incredibly beautiful, slender pinnacles of intricately carved marbles holding a saint or a statue. There are so many towers, spires and statues that you would be totally lost in counting them if you tried! There are 135 spires and 2000 decorative marble statues on the rooftop alone. The close-up of the spires is an impressive sight. Looking at the statues and spires just made me wonder at the incredible talent of the masons to carve something so intricate and beautiful.

I was totally taken into the distant views of the snow-capped mountains of the Alps – I was fortunate as the day was clear and sunny, although the autumnal chill and the breeze on the rooftop saw me with my coat and scarf all the time.

Watch these videos and you will see what an amazing sight and experience it can be.

The changing hues during a sunset on the rooftop of the Duomo
The reflection on the Duomo as the sun sets
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Inside Milan Cathedral

From the outside of the Cathedral, though huge, I did not really feel how mega-huge it is until I stepped in. Inside of Milan Cathedral is vast and elegant. The marble floor is captivating from the moment you step in. There are three aisles.

NB: Dress Code – Shoulders and knees must be covered to enter the Cathedral.

2 | The uniquely designed marble floor of Milan Cathedral

The marble floor just rules the Cathedral! You can set your watch by it and it has a legend. So here goes…

Uniquely designed marble floor rules the Cathedral
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Uniquely designed marble floor rules the Cathedral
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Uniquely designed marble floor rules the Cathedral
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Uniquely designed marble floor rules the Cathedral

2.1 | Sundial on the floor of Milan Cathedral

Along the left wall runs a long-gilded brass strip broken up by the twelve zodiac signs. It is a watch and a solar calendar – you could set your watch by it. The brass strip is the meridian and is also a sundial. Sunlight from a hole on the ceiling allows the sun to shine through and leave a mark on the zodiac sign., the bronze strip on June 21st (the summer solstice), and on December 21st (winter solstice), the sun reaches the Meridian which is on the opposite wall. At one time, Milan’s City’s clock was set by it and the Italians also used it as the prime reference for their astronomy. This ancient meridian and sundial were placed in 1768 by astronomers from the Accademia di Brera.

The Meridian at Milan Cathedral was the astronomical reference for the Prime Meridian until it was replaced by Greenwich Meridian, England in 1884.

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The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London

According to the Cathedral’s resources:

“Being a watch and a solar calendar perfectly working, it had required over centuries of several checks and restores. One of these was made in 1827 and it was necessary because of the lowering of the floor plan.

A second test was made in 1929 by astronomer Louis Gabba on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Observatory of Brera.

The last check was made in 1976 as the excavations of the first subway line and the lowering of the phreatic aquifer caused a further lowering of the Cathedral floor. The gnomic hole, site at the first vault of the first bay of south aisle, was also widened.”

DUOMO DI MILANO

Unfortunately for me, the sundial was presently not working because of work being carried out on the roof of the Cathedral and the use of scaffolding blocked the sunlight coming through the vault.

2.2 | The legend

Although the Cathedral is dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary Nascent) and associated with Christianity, legend has it that it was also associated with pagan spirit which explains the unusual find of zodiac signs in a Christian place of worship.

3 | The marble columns of Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral has large sculpted marble columns or pillars if you prefer, that reach the ceiling. There are fifty-two columns, one for each week of the year and they are very high. Really high. Majestic, impressive and somewhat portrays a stately feel.  Looking up, the columns seemed to lead to heavens above!

High, very high pillars inside Milan Cathedral
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High, very high pillars inside Milan Cathedral

4 | Paintings on the wall

There are large paintings on the walls, representing scenes from the bible.

Large paintings all around on the walls of Milan Cathedral that tells the stories from the Bible, both Old and New Testament
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Large paintings all around on the walls of Milan Cathedral that tells the stories from the Bible, both Old and New Testament

5 | Private Chapels and places to reflect

There are private chapels where you can have a sit and reflect. Very quiet, peaceful and a sense of calmness all around.  

6 | Stained glass windows at Milan Cathedral

Walking around the Cathedral, there are large, rich stained-glass windows. Each has a history associated with it such as the historical moment or the artists who created them. The Cathedral is lit-up by sunlight seeping through these stained-glass windows that gives a sort of enlightening charm. The windows are also lit from the inside to aid visitors to appreciate the details that these windows depict. The larger windows are located at the oldest part of the Cathedral.

The central stained-glass window depicts the scenes of the Apocalypse. The side windows tell the stories from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Pro Tip: When you are in the middle aisle, marvel at the central window in all its glory with the mysterious sun that seems to illuminate the nave and the enlightening charm will have you in awe.

Large stained-glass windows behind the altar
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Closer look at the stained-glass window in Milan Cathedral
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Stained-glass windows on the left and right side of aisles that depicts stories from the Old and New Testament of the Bible in Milan Cathedral

Stained-glass windows on the left and right side of aisles that depicts stories from the Old and New Testament of the Bible in Milan Cathedral
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Large stained-glass windows behind the altar

You may wish to know: Stained glassmaking is an art that developed along with the Milan Cathedral over the many centuries that had taken to complete this majestic structure. It began in the early 1400s and the most recent stained-glass window at Milan Cathedral was made in 1988.

7 | The statue of Bartholomew the Apostle, patron saint of the tanners

You will find him behind the altar. Saint Bartholomew is depicted with his skin hanging off his shoulders as a reference to the martyrdom he suffered.

8 | Home to one of the precious objects in Christianity

I learnt that the Cathedral is home to one of the most precious objects in Christianity and it is situated in the dome above the altar. The spot is marked with a red light bulb. This is where one of the nails used during the Crucifixion of Christ is placed. The public can only see it once a year, on the Saturday closest to 14 September when the nail is exhibited at the altar until the Monday after evening prayers.

Pro tip: If you want to see this precious object, Plan your travels around the Saturday closest to the 14th September. Also, to bear in mind, it will be one of the busiest times at the Cathedral.

9 | Crypt

You will find the crypt through a mini stairway and it is in the Chapel of Saint Charles Borromeo, where his remains are buried since 3rd November 1584.

Photography was not allowed here, understandably but I did find the ceiling of the entrance to be rather attractive. I was allowed to take photos of this.

The ceiling of the main hall in the Crypt of Milan Cathedral
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The ceiling of the main hall in the Crypt of Milan Cathedral

10 | The Baptistery

I did not see the Baptistery. I am informed that visitors can climb down under the Cathedral to the archaeological remains to see what is left of the Basilica di Santa Tecla and the ruins of a Christian baptistery from the fourth century. Legend has it that Saint Ambroise baptised Saint Augustin in 387 in the large octagonal baptismal font which is in the centre of the building.

My conclusion on Milan Cathedral

I think you know what I think of Milan Cathedral by now! It was an incredible visit and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Cathedral at a reasonable pace. Though it was off-season, it was still busy with visitors. The 10 highlights or “spots” that I have listed above are the ones that you should not miss when visiting this iconic structure. If you were to ask me, what’s the one highlight that stood out, then it is without a doubt is the Sunset on the rooftop of Milan Cathedral. May I also add, that the one landmark that should not be missed when in Milan, this must be the Milan Cathedral | Duomo di Milano.  

Travel tips & Practical information when visiting Milan Cathedral

1 | Opening hours of Milan Cathedral

The Cathedral and the Rooftop is open Everyday.

Cathedral – 8 am to 7 pm | Rooftop – 9 am to 7pm | Last entry is at 6pm

For further details on their daily activities and prayer times, please check their official website here.

For Accessibility information, click here.

2 | Dress Code

When visiting/entering Milan Cathedral, ensure you are dressed in a manner where Shoulders and knees are covered.

Shoulders and knees must be covered to enter the Cathedral. You may be refused entry if not appropriately dressed even if you have fully paid ticket.

3 | Duomo Museum

The Duomo Museum is located next to Milan Cathedral. The Museum showcases three exhibitions that tells the story of the Cathedral of over 600 years.

4 | Ways to experience Milan Cathedral

There are more than one way to experience Milan Cathedral for memories that will last a lifetime. If its worth exploring, you will find them here – below are your choices:

Milan Cathedral, Italy - How to make the best of your visit
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The Fast-Track Milan Cathedral and Terraces Guided Tour offers you a complete tour of Milan Cathedral, with skip-the-line entrance and access to the terraces. The ticket includes access to the archaeological area under the cathedral. Afterwards, you can explore the Duomo Museum as well. This tour comes with a full money-back guarantee if you do not enjoy the experience. Check T & C and

Spires and statues on the rooftop of the Duomo
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To experience all areas of Milan Cathedral plus the terraces, museum and the archaeological area, take a look at Milan Cathedral and Rooftop Ticket which gives you the opportunity to explore at your leisure. This ticket is valid for 3 days. Includes audio guide. Non refundable. Buy your ticket here.

Sunset over Milan viewed from the rooftop of the Duomo
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If you don’t have much time and your visit to Milan is a hurry, you still visit Milan Cathedral Terraces by Elevator Fast-Track Options – this fast-track ticket save precious time and you can ride the dedicated elevator to get stunning views from the Milan Duomo terraces.

Beautiful architecture awaits you when you reach the terraces of the Duomo
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There is yet another option for you to skip the line and experience a tour of Milan Cathedral and Terraces

There are more combination of choices which you may wish to have a look at and consider.

5 | Getting to Milan Cathedral / Duomo di Milano

From Milano Centrale Station:

To get to the Cathedral, you will need the Piazza del Duomo. The distance between Milan’s Central Station and Piazza del Duomo is 2 miles / 3.2 km. There are Three ways to get to Milan Cathedral from Central Station. I took a taxi and it was 10 Euros. Have a look at the following and you can decide what suits you.

If you are looking for the quickest way to get from Milan’s Central Station to Piazza del Duomo is to take a taxi. It takes 7 to 10 minutes depending on traffic. It costs around 10 Euros.

If you are considering the cheapest way to get from Milan’s Central Station to Piazza del Duomo, then it is the line 3 subway which costs 3 Euros and takes 15 min. It is located right in the Piazza del Duomo.

You can take a direct bus departing from Central Station m2 m3 and arrives at via larga. It is about 7 to 9 minutes walk to Piazza del Duomo, The bus services depart every two hours, and operate every day. The journey takes approximately 13 min. Costs 3 Euros.

6 | Planning your trip?

Here is all you need in this 6-step guide to create a stress free vacation Your Way!

If you are planning a trip to Milan, take a look at the following services to enhance your travel experiences. I use them when planning my own travels and I am sure you will find them useful too.

Find the Best Flight Deals on offer with Skyscanner – the best price comparison site for flights. You can access it here – Skyscanner

Find the perfect hotel room in booking.com with flexible dates and last-minute cancellations. There are 5669 hotels and accommodations in Milan and I am certain you will find one to suit your needs – you can access booking.com here

Find great day tours on Get Your Guide for a seamless and hassle free, skip the line experiences – do a search and have a look at Get Your Guide here

You may also be interested in reading about my experiences in other parts of Europe – Amsterdam , | Geneva andLondon.


What do you think? Is this post valuable to you in planning your visits to Milan Cathedral? If so, please let me know in comments below or via Contact Form, I would love to hear from you.

My sincere hope is that the travel tips offered in this blog will help you plan your memorable visit to Milan Cathedral.

Happy discovering Milan Cathedral

Georgina

Updated March, 2020

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A detail guide to maximising your visit to Milan Cathedral without missing the important "spots". via @GGeorgina_mytimelessfootsteps/
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31 Responses

  1. […] Milan Cathedral – How to make the best of your visit […]

  2. Georgina
    |

    If there is one thing you want to do in Milan, it will have to be the sunset on the rooftop of the Duomo. It is such an experience that you too will recommend it to your friends. Thank you so much for your encouraging comments.

  3. Georgina
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    I am sure you will soon visit Italy. Glad the post was useful. Thank you for your encouraging comments.

  4. Georgina
    |

    Thank you Albi. So glad that you found the article informative, I appreciate it.

  5. Georgina
    |

    You are absolutely correct – it is such a unique and beautiful experience.

  6. Georgina
    |

    I am so glad that you found the article useful and will be handy for when you visit in the future. Thank you so very much for your comments. I appreciate it.

  7. Medha Verma
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    I have been to Italy but skipped Milan mostly because I didn’t think there was much else to do besides the cathedral. But the cathedral itself looks like a great reason to visit! I didn’t know that you could walk on the rooftop of the cathedral, that sure sounds like something I’d want to do when I get there!

  8. Airborne for Animals
    |

    Thank you for opening my eyes to this beautiful cathedral! I so desperately want to visit Italy

  9. Albi
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    I always love to see a pictures of this cathedral. I haven’t been so far, but now I know all the info about it

  10. clairebromm
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    I loved seeing and walking on top of the milan cathedral, such a unique experience!

  11. gofargrowclose
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    I have never been to Milan but I have heard about the cathedral. It looks beautiful and your review is incredibly detailed and helpful. This would be an excellent guide to use when I go in the future.

  12. Georgina
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    Duomo di Milano has so much to offer and I enjoyed my visit immensely. Thank you so much for your positive comments. i appreciate it.

  13. Georgina
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    I am super happy that you enjoyed the rooftop experience at the Duomo – it certainly makes a memorable activity. Many thanks for sharing your experiences, appreciate it much.

  14. Gabi | The Tiny Book
    |

    Il Duomo di Milano! I’ve lived in Milan for over 18 uears and it’s the first time I’ve read such a comprehensive post about this cathedral! Super well done!

  15. Nina | Lemons and Luggage
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    I loved the Milan Cathedral. It’s so, so stunning. The rooftop is such a quiet place despite being in such a busy area of the city. Such a gem!

  16. Georgina
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    I am so glad that my post inspires you a visit to Milan Cathedral – I assure you, the rooftop experience at sunset will not disappoint. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  17. Sana
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    The cathedral looks majestic. Absolutely loved the floor of the Cathedral. Reading your post I do feel like going to get the rooftop experience.

  18. Georgina
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    Wonderful news Ann! Awesome. Fall will be perfect for sunsets and cool breeze at the rooftop of the Duomo. Look forward to your experiences. Thank you so much for reading my blogs and taking time to share your thoughts. I appreciate it.

  19. Georgina
    |

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read and for commenting. Milan is lovely and the Duomo is even more so. I am sure that you will visit Milan one day and I look forward to your thoughts. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

  20. Ann
    |

    After reading your post the last time, I have started to warm up my travelcompany the process of going to Milan. So maybe we’ll get there in the fall 🙂

  21. 3sistersabroad
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    What a wonderful and very informative post on the Cathedral. The pictures are stunning as Im sure it is in real life. I do hope one day that I get to visit Milan and this beautiful place.

  22. Georgina
    |

    So happy to hear that my article has inspired you to visit and have Milan on your list! Italy has so much to offer besides their grand cities and I totally appreciate by Milan may not have been the top. Thank you so much for your lovely comment. Much appreciated.

  23. Roma
    |

    Some fabulous travel inspo here thanks! We haven’t been to Milan, yet we’ve managed to visit many cities and towns in Italy. Adding Milan back to the list and putting the Cathedral at the top. Thank you

  24. Georgina
    |

    So glad that Milan Duomo is on your list now! The rooftop experience is highly recommended. Thank you so much for appreciating my IG feed on this experience.

  25. Georgina
    |

    Having experienced the rooftop of the Duomo, I would be very disappointed if they close off the rooftop. It is an amazing experience and one I would strongly encourage visitors to Milan to explore. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

  26. Georgina
    |

    It’s never too late – Milan awaits you and you should so go! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  27. Georgina
    |

    So happy that you have visited the rooftop of Milan Cathedral – you know what I am talking about. Completely surreal at times! An experience I would encourage every visitor to to Milan to discover.

  28. Shutterbug Sage
    |

    I was lucky enough to visit the Milan Cathedral a few years ago. The rooftop was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at any other cathedral anywhere in the world. So amazing!!!

  29. Ann
    |

    Milan was on my radar for quite some time, but I kind of forgot about the city since my travelbuddie was a no-go on Milan… I should not have given up on the city, I will keep trying to go there 🙂

  30. Phoebe | Lou Messugo
    |

    I love walking on the roof of the Duomo, it’s such a unique activity and one way to really appreciate the detail of all the statues. I still marvel that its allowed.

  31. Christy La Barthe
    |

    Wonderful post about the cathedral — great information/history and lovely photos to go along. I have never been but definitely adding to my list after reading this and seeing your IG posts.

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