Buy tickets to visit the rooftop terraces of Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano)— it is 250 stairs (or a short elevator ride) for close-up views of the gargoyles and Gothic spires.
Italy has many fine cathedrals and churches worth seeing but the opportunity to easily reach the rooftop makes Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano) particularly interesting to visit. Going up to the roof and terraces gives visitors a rare close-up view of many of the statues, pinnacles, spires, gargoyles, and flying buttresses that adorn the largest Gothic building in Italy. Buy skip-the-line tickets to access the roof only by stairs (or elevator) or as combination tickets with the interior of the church and the Duomo museum (stairs pass or lift pass). Guided tours are available for the roof only or for both the terraces and the church interior. Some guided tours are hardly more expensive than fast-track lift tickets.
Visit the Rooftop Terraces of Milan Cathedral
Climbing up to the roof of Milan Cathedral is one of the major attractions of visiting the largest Gothic church in Italy. It is around 250 stairs to the roof (or pay extra to use the elevator) for views and an experience that will be remembered long after the interior is forgotten or confused with that of another church.
Milan Cathedral is adorned by around 2300 sculptures (with a further thousand inside the church). Visiting the roof allows visitors to get closer to many statues, the 135 pinnacles, 96 gargoyles, the flying buttresses, and many further architectural details that cannot be appreciated from ground level. (Oscar Wilde already complained in 1875 that the art was too high up to be seen from the piazza.)
Using the Stairs or Elevator Tickets to Milan Cathedral Rooftop?
Whether to use the stairs or elevator to the rooftop of Milan Cathedral depends on the need to save money and the level of fitness. The stairs are around €6 cheaper and other than there being around 250 of them, there is no real challenge. The stairs are not claustrophobic and use a one-way system. It takes only a few minutes — often far less than elevator users queue while waiting for the lift.
It is important to have a ticket before getting into the security queues — buy online or at the ticket shop to the south of the cathedral.
The elevator is fast and on especially warm days less sweat-inducing (but it will still be very warm on the roof). Currently, most visitors are expected to use the stairs to descend but even when normal service is resumed, many find using the stairs to go down faster than queuing for the lift.
Visitors emerged from the staircase and the elevator at the terrace level of the transept. From here, all have to use stairs to reach the higher levels but this is as simple as walking on a promenade in a park. Only visitors with restricted mobility would not be able to ascend higher (and may of course always use the lift rather than stairs on the way down).
On the Rooftop Terraces of the Duomo di Milano
Once on the roof area, visitors are free to roam and enjoy the forest of pinnacles, flying buttresses, and other Gothic detailing. In contrast to the Duomo in Florence where a major attraction is to climb to the top of the cupola, or Siena cathedral where visitors see mostly the terraces and church interior from high up, it is possible to actually walk on the roof of the nave of Milan Cathedral. (A similar experience is possible on the equally impressive Seville Cathedral in Spain.)
The roof of the nave is far flatter than could be expected from the high, pointed western facade — it was only added in the early 19th century on instructions by Napoleon. (Assuming that the French would pay for it was an expensive miscalculation.) It is easy to go up to the peak of the roof or simply enjoy the views from the terraces.
The highest spire of the church is topped by a gilded statue of the Madonna (known as La Madonnina) — it was added in 1774 with her head at 108.5 m (354 ft) the official height of the church. The roof itself is around half that height.
Views from Milan Cathedral Roof
The views of Milan from the roof are magnificent with the Alps visible on a clear day. No information is supplied on the roof of the sights or what could be seen making a guided tour a good option.
If traveling solo, eavesdrop a bit on the guides to find the sculpture of Mussolini and the boxers at the back of the western facade. The final details of the church were only completed in 1965 and maintenance work continues permanently.
The imposing Velasca Tower — a mid-20th-century office building resembling a medieval guard tower on steroids — dominates the view to the south. Towards the west is the Castello Sforzesco and immediately to the north is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II — Italy’s oldest shopping mall where posh brands such a Prada and Tiffany rub shoulders with expensive cafes and fast food outlets such as Burger King. (There is no need to be sniffy, the nearby McDonald’s makes surprisingly good cappuccino at a fraction of the price of the outdoor cafes while still giving stunning views of the Duomo.)
Further from the center are more modern skyscrapers including the UniCredit Tower — at 231 meters (758 ft), it is the tallest building in Italy (if its spike is included). Milan is very much the business and financial center of Italy.
Visitors’ Information and Tickets for the Rooftop of Milan Cathedral
Opening hours for the rooftop of Milan Cathedral are daily from 9:00 to 19:00 — final ascent at around 18:00.
Online time-slot reservation tickets are now the norm but tickets may still be bought from the ticket office to the south of the cathedral if any are still available for the day.
Tickets are available for rooftop access only (via stairs or using the lift) or as a combination Duomo Pass including the inside of the cathedral and the Duomo Museum — again as Stairs Pass or Lift Pass. Guided tours give skip-the-line access at busy times and normally use the elevator. Fast track passes for using the south elevator are also available but some guided tours giving similar benefits are hardly more expensive.
The rooftop access doors are well signposted with the stairs entrance at the northern side where the transept and nave met, while the elevators are at the meeting of the transept and apse (choir). Individuals often use the north elevator and tour groups (and fast-track passes) the south but it depends on maintenance. Signposting to the various entrances is very clear.
The roof is of course totally exposed to the elements so dress according to the weather. On sunny summer days, the heat is very intense and shade very limited for much of the day. When it rains, it rains — the roof has no additional roof.
More Tips on Milan Sights and Tickets
- Securing Tickets for the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci — buy early or only guided tours are available.
- How to Buy Tickets or Book Tours for Leonardo’s Last Supper Museum.
- What to Expect when Visiting the Last Supper Museum in Milan.
- Tips on Buying Tickets for the Milan Cathedral Complex.
- Visit the Rooftop of Duomo di Milano on Stairs or Lift Pass Tickets.
- Top Leonardo da Vinci Sights and Art to See in Milan
- Visit the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana to See Leonardo Da Vinci’s Musician Painting and the Codex Atlanticus.
- Cheapest Public Transportation to Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP).
- Book luggage storage in advance — close to transportation hubs is generally the better option.
- Book Last Supper Tours at Viator.
- Buy Admission Tickets for the Duomo and top sights in Milan from Tiqets.
- Book Guided Tours for the Duomo, Last Supper, and other sights in Milano from Get Your Guide.
- Buy Milan Guidebooks at Amazon.