Tips for Navigating Italy’s Cathedrals

Updated 2019.

Our friend Martha Bakerjian, the Italy guide for, recently published a new mobile app: Italy Travel Tips & Hints, available on iTunes and Android. The tips and hints included in the app are based Martha’s personal travels throughout Italy over the past 30 years, as well as questions she gets from her readers. Here she helps travelers to Italy navigate through Italy’s cathedrals:

A cathedral, usually called a duomo or cattedrale (or sometimes chiesa madre in southern Italy), is the main church of a city or town. It’s usually dedicated to the town’s patron saint or the Virgin Mary (Santa Maria). Many of Italy’s cathedrals are lavishly decorated and hold magnificent works of art. Sometimes important religious art and artifacts are housed in an adjacent museum. The cathedral usually sits on a grand square or piazza.

Two of Italy’s most famous cathedrals are il Duomo in Florence and Saint Mark’s (San Marco) in Venice. Milan’s duomo is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral. People sometimes mistake Saint Peter’s Basilica for Rome’s cathedral however Saint Peter’s is in Vatican City, a separate country. Rome’s cathedral is San Giovanni in Laterano.

Most cathedrals can be visited for free, but some charge a small fee to help with upkeep. Donations are appreciated, though. Larger cathedrals can often be visited on a guided tour which can be a good idea since there’s often lots to see inside.

Visiting tips (also for churches):

Dress: It is considered disrespectful to enter a cathedral (or church) in shorts or sleeveless tops and some will not allow you to enter if dressed inappropriately. Women can carry a scarf or shawl to cover shoulders or use as a skirt.

Photos: Some do not allow any photos and some allow photos without flash; look for a sign as you enter (camera with a line through it means no photos).

Cell phones: Turn off your cell phone when entering.

Mass: Visitors are usually not allowed during mass unless they want to attend mass. Some cathedrals allow entrance to the dome, roof, or adjacent bell tower (admission charged) where there are spectacular views.

See photos from Milan Duomo Rooftop and Florence Duomo Dome.

Photo by Arian Zwegers,