Home City Breaks How to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo

How to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo

by Kat

I think that ever since I first set eyes on a photo of the Milan Duomo it shot its way on to my destination bucketlist. I have a bit of a penchant for visiting beautiful churches and cathedrals and this was, from as far as I could see in the photos, one of the most spectacular. Add this to the fact that I love Italy anyway – it is a place where there’s something beautiful to look at on every corner – and I didn’t need much more convincing to go to Milan. So when I found myself with a few extra days off work last summer and Milan popped up whilst I was deep in a Skyscanner flight search (it happens) it seemed an inevitable choice.

Now of course the main purpose of my trip was to see the Duomo so that was my number one priority during the short time I had in the city, and I managed to do that but it’s safe to say I could have saved myself a lot of time and stress had I done a few things differently but hey, travel experiences aren’t always perfect, and now I’m here to share what I learnt so you can avoid making the same mistakes!

How to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo | Kat is Travelling How to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo | Kat is Travelling

Buy your ticket in advance

Did I mention that there are a lot of things in this article that I learnt the hard way?  I had read quite a lot of advice online and looked up whether to pre-buy my tickets to the Duomo but in the end decided against it after reading so many people on TripAdvisor mention that it’s not necessary. I don’t know when these people last visited Milan Duomo but from my personal experience I wished I had pre-bought my tickets.

If, like me, you decide not to pre-buy you will need to head to the ticket office adjacent to the building to buy a ticket where you will find the world’s most confusing and disorganised queuing system. I won’t go into how it works here because it would take far too long but basically it’s a more elaborate version of the Argos queuing system (so now you have an idea of how much it’s the WORST). You’ll end up queuing to get in a queue to buy a ticket if you do this, and believe me there is enough queuing you need to do in this place anyway without adding more to the itinerary. Just buy online before you go and save yourself the ticket queue at least.

How to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo | Kat is Travelling How to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo | Kat is Travelling

Buy the right ticket for what you want to do

Unlike most cathedrals there’s not a standard ticket you buy to enter the Milan Duomo. This being one of the largest cathedrals in the world you will need different tickets to access different areas of the building as well as the nearby cathedral musuem if you intend to visit that too.  I had done a little bit of research about the different tickets before my arrival so I knew about this beforehand and that I was going to get one of the Duomo Passes because I intended to see everything, some other people in various queues with me though found after a LONG time spent queuing they were denied entry to areas because they had not bought the right ticket… so dont do that.

You can find an explanation of the different types of tickets and their prices on the official website. You will need a different ticket to go inside the cathedral than you will to visit the rooftops and you can buy either separately. You also need to consider whether you want to walk up to the roof or get the lift as these are different price tickets too and have different entrances so there’s no way to sneak in on a cheaper ticket.

How to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo | Kat is Travelling How to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo | Kat is Travelling

Go in the early morning/late afternoon

It seems obvious to tell you to try to plan your visit for as soon as the cathedral opens as this is most likely to be the quietest time of the day, however if you’re not able to do this I discovered another trip somewhat by accident.

It just so happens that on the day I visited Milan Duomo I woke up feeling a little under the weather. By the time I’d arrived and been through the entire ticket queuing debacle plus queued up outside in the midday sun for half at hour to go inside the building I was feeling SO unwell that I had to sit down inside and try not to faint for a good while. I honestly don’t remember much of the inside of the building and I honestly couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to visit this place and come specifically to Milan to see it only to be blighted by my own body. I hoped I’d feel better having sat down for a while but when I didn’t I decided to retreat to the hotel (luckily it wasn’t far) and lie down for a few hours. I knew if I tried to make it up to the terraces right then I’d have the worst time ever.

So I came back in the afternoon… it was around 3pm by the time I made it to the entrance for the terraces and there was no queue whatsoever! I felt so much better and the lighting was also so much better for my photos at that time of the day making it easily the best decision I’d made in a while (almost makes up for deciding not to buy my ticket online right?)

How to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo | Kat is TravellingHow to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo | Kat is Travelling

Other things to note before you set off

  • If you’re short on time prioritise seeing the terrace over the interior. The queue for going inside the Milan Duomo is always huge, probably because it’s the cheapest ticket and you expect it to be as spectacular inside as the outside. It is not. The exterior is what makes this building remarkable and getting the chance to see the detail of the archways and the figures that sit atop the spires up close is the best part.
  • If you want to go inside the cathedral your clothing needs to cov.er your shoulders and knees. If you’ve travelled around Italy before you’ll know this is the case with most of the holy buildings, especially the smaller churches, so it’s good to carry clothes with you that you can fashion to fit this dress code anyway in case you want to pop in somewhere unplanned. i kind of thought because this was such a huge attraction and requires you to purchase entry tickets that they would be somewhat lax on the dress code but I did see people being turned away for not having their knees covered. I even saw a lady denied entry because she was wearing a netted top and you could see tiny bits of her shoulders!  Better to just abide by the dress code than queue for an hour to be turned away!

How to avoid the crowds at Milan Duomo | Kat is Travelling

But… is the Milan Duomo worth it?

One hundred percent YES.

I tend to find that most of the time the things that are really popular are so for a reason and the Duomo is one of the places that fits into that category. It’s true that the ticket buying process and queuing can leave you searching for the will to live, however, there are ways to minimise the pain of it and once you actually get to see the cathedral up close I can guarantee you’ll be so pleased not to have missed it. I don’t know about you but I tend to conveniently forget a lot of the external circumstances of visiting an attraction as time goes on anyway… you won’t remember standing in a queue for the Duomo but you will remember walking on the rooftops of Milan.

Top tips on how to have to most enjoyable visit to Italy's magnificent Milan Duomo (Cathedral)

Top tips on how to have to most enjoyable visit to Italy's magnificent Milan Duomo (Cathedral)Top tips on how to have to most enjoyable visit to Italy's magnificent Milan Duomo (Cathedral)

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Francisco Ferreira 28/08/2018 - 16:12

I like your post!
I have a little doubt: how much time can I spend in a queue to buy tickets?

Kat 29/08/2018 - 21:58

Hi Francisco, thank you for your comment. I hope the post was helpful!
I think I was in the queue to buy a ticket for around 1 hour. However I was there at probably one of the busiest times of the day (around 11am), if you go early in the morning or late in the afternoon you’ll likely have a shorter waiting time.

Once you have a ticket you have to queue again to actually get into the duomo, this took another 30 minutes. I recommend buying your entrance ticket online if possible before you go so you do not have to queue to get a ticket only to get into the duomo – you will save yourself at least an hour! 🙂

Christine 02/10/2018 - 04:09

Hi, thanks for this article! As you mentioned best time to visit could be early morning or later afternoon – does the day of the week makes any difference? I’m planning to visit on a Sunday 🙂

Kat 03/10/2018 - 23:54

Hi Christine, in regards to my personal experience I went on a weekday (if my memory serves me correctly it was a Friday) in July. I would presume that it would be slightly busier on a weekend in comparison to a weekday, however the time of the year you are visiting is also likely to make a difference. I would expect the summer to be busier than out of season so if you’re going anytime between now and next summer you’d probably be fine early morning or late afternoon on a Sunday 🙂

BeardedGlass 08/07/2019 - 11:20

Hi! Thank you for this. I’m currently researching for our trip next month and I’m trying to make everything go smoothly!

I have a question about tickets and queuing. I know you didn’t buy them online, but if you have any info about it it’ll help tons.

Anyway, I’m confused about the merit of buying tickets online. I have read testimonials that when people bought their tickets in advance, they went to the Duomo, and the guards told them they have to exchange it to “proper passes” at the window/counter. So they have to line with everyone else wanting to get a ticket… which now obviously seems like it definitely ultimately defeats the purpose.

What’s the point of buying online then?

Kat 09/07/2019 - 23:03

Hey, so as far as I know when you buy your ticket online you’re right you do still have to go to the ticket office to exchange it. However you don’t have to get in the queue with the rest of the people buying their tickets.

Instead you go to a machine and I think enter your confirmation or scan a code (there are staff around to help you) and it issues you with a ticket stub that has a number on it. You then wait for your number to be called and you get to go straight to one of the desks and exchange your confirmation for the actual passes. It’s a much quicker process and you effectively skip the long queue.

This is how it seemed to work when I was there and from looking online I think it’s still the same.

Hope that helps!

BeardedGlass 23/07/2019 - 07:59

Thank you for the reply! (I forgot to click subscribe so I had a hard time trying to find your blog/this article again)

Anyway, I have searched the forums and it’s like what you said. The ticket sold online includes a bar code and a QR code that I’ve now printed myself. I thought it can be used as is because it said on the ticket “you can scan this bar code at the entrance”. But I guess just to be sure and not waste time queuing, I’ll confirm first at the ticket offices.

Only a couple of weeks left till we’re in Milan. Your blog helped me a lot! I can’t wait to fill up all my camera’s memory cards (and our stomach!) we’re so excited.

Kat 24/07/2019 - 23:50

Yes, I’d recommend at least popping into the ticket office and checking with one of the staff there (there are a few people by the door directing the crowds) to be on the safe side!

So glad to have helped with your planning. I absolutely love Italy, and Milan is beautiful – the duomo especially. I hope you have a fantastic time! 🙂


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