How to make the best of your visit to Milan Cathedral
Milan Cathedral | Milano di Duomo | 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
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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
4 | Paintings on the wall
There are large paintings on the walls, representing scenes from the bible.
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.
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
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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
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
Updated March, 2020
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