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Three Reasons To Avoid Milan Cathedral Like The Plague

Milan cathedral and balloons

Milan tourist attractions

Look on any travel website for things to do in Milan and inevitably Milan Cathedral (or il Duomo MIlan, in Italian) will appear. This architectural gem is a vision of beauty, with 135 spires, over 3,000 elaborate statues and glittering marble. Your brain struggles to comprehend the sheer size, scale and dedication to a project which took over 600 years to complete!! This incredible structure wows you with its beauty, its pearly, pink facade reminiscent of a decadent wedding cake.

Alas, the magic ends when you try to visit the 5th largest church in the world. Visiting Milan Cathedral is like volunteering to be a test subject for medieval torture techniques. Here are three reasons you might want to avoid Milan Cathedral and spend your time in Milan visiting other attractions.

Milan cathedral from the roof
Milan cathedral spires and views

Three reasons to avoid Milan Cathedral

Ticket chaos

Buying tickets to Milan cathedral is chaotic at best. Entering the ticket hall to the right of the cathedral, (assuming you are facing the building) you face total disarray. It is hard to tell where the lines begin, as souvenir stands and countless groups litter the hall. There are no clear signs advising you what to do, where to go, or what tickets to buy.

We think (please do not hold me to this) that you are supposed to take a number (if you can find one, which we could not) and wait for it to be called if you want ticket advice.

Alternatively, you can head to the self service kiosks to the left of the ticket hall. These seem equally unfathomable to most of the confused looking visitors. It is unclear that you need two tickets for the rooftop and interior. One for Milan Cathedral and one for the cathedral rooftops. Furthermore, we could find no option to purchase a combined ticket. Holy cow!!

We bought tickets to the ‘Terrazza’, assuming wrongly that it would include entrance to the Cathedral, and only discovered our error after an hour of queuing.

Milan cathedral rooftop views
Milan cathedral rooftop views

No entry without pre-paid tickets

Sadly, we were not the only people caught out. Many people queued for an hour to get to the ticket check point (from where the wait is at least a further hour) only to discover that entry without a pre-paid ticket was not possible. Admittedly, the small signs by the entrance do indicate that you need to buy tickets beforehand, but these signs are conveniently hiding behind endless lines of tourists. Staff make no effort to offer any guidance to people joining the lines and there are no larger billboards offering advice.

Painfully long entry lines

Once you purchase your ticket, be sure to get into the right queue. Note, the queue to the left is for the rooftops, whilst the queue to the right is for the cathedral. Strictly speaking, it may not be to the right when you enter, as our line was so long, it snaked around the entire front of the building. Only at the entry, is there a small sign, (not even A4 size) indicating that this queue is for the cathedral only. WTF?!

When I queried why there was no entrance to the rooftop from the cathedral, the response was that the two are not joined. So, apparently the rooftops of Milan Cathedral are not joined to the Cathedral itself!

Of course, the ticket does not indicate this, and the aforementioned lack of larger signs does not help. The signage is woefully inadequate at best!

It took over 3 hours from ticket hall to the rooftops of Milan’s cathedral. Even without our error, it took almost two hours to reach the rooftops. We then would have to queue for a further two hour to visit the Cathedral. It seems that the architect of the visitor experience to Milan cathedral either does not give a shit, or is totally thick!

Jason on Milan cathedral rooftop
Jason on Milan cathedral rooftop

The rudest staff

The staff at Milan Cathedral would make even the snootiest Parisian look like a friendly pussy-cat! One group, caught unawares by the need to pre-purchase, were turned away with a disdainful shrug of the shoulders. To add salt to their wounds, they were not allowed to wait to enter until one of their party returned with tickets. Instead, they received a cavalier hand gesture prompting them to return to the back of the queue!

Upon discovering our own error, I suggested that perhaps the signs needed improving, or that a combined ticket to reduce queuing time might be a good idea. Evidently, the staff at Milan Cathedral do not encourage or appreciate feedback. Apparently, I was ‘stupid for coming to Milan Cathedral on such a busy day.’ Wow, that sure is one way to make an impression!

Milan cathedral by night
Milan cathedral by night

Just ONE reason to visit

Now, here is the thing. Whilst this attraction might lack any semblance of organisation, to miss it would be a tragedy! On a clear day, the views are stupendous.

From snow covered mountain peaks in the distance, to the bustling Piazza below, thronging with stalls, and shoppers, the panorama is hard to beat. When you emerge from the narrow staircase, into the dazzling sunshine, to see innumerable spires, gargoyles and angels, you will almost forget you nearly got frost-bite during your wait. Your eyes light up, you try to capture every incredible vista on camera and you gaze out in awe at the rooftops and spires. It is a stunning sight to behold. So, whilst there are three pretty major reasons to avoid Milan Cathedral like the plague, you may find the Doumo’s allure too great.

Milan cathedral from the terrace
Milan cathedral from the terrace

Have you visited Milan Cathedral?

Perhaps you have visited Milan Cathedral. If so, I would love to hear your experience. If you have any tips for beating the queues, that would be a huge bonus. Maybe you visited at a different time of year, when it was less manic. If so, please let us know. This attraction is a breathtaking reminder of the capabilities of mankind, and it would be shame to miss it. I sure as hell, am in no rush to repeat my experience however.

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About Anne

Anne is the founder and editor of Frommilestosmiles. If she isn't travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 90 countries on six continents and sampled everything from backpacking to bank bursting travel. Her mission is to help you enjoy more luxurious travel without the luxury price tag through the use of airline and hotel rewards and other money-saving travel tips

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  1. ooh no! And here I thought it must be fairly easy. I am not sure if I want to stand in queues. I will use this post as tips to plan a visit better but there is no way I am not going in.

  2. ROFL. I’m with you. I just took photos of the outside. I may have went inside but it was quick. And I definitely skipped the roof. Yikes, 3 hours? Good for you. That’s too long of a wait for me.

  3. It is sad when tourist attractions don’t make some effort to make visiting them easy. I am sorry you had such trouble and the staff couldn’t be bothered. It hurts everyone when tourists have bad experiences. They share that and then people are less likely to visit in the future.

  4. I’ve never been there, although I”ve travelled throughout Italy. I think I’d rather go during low season and if it was really that busy, admire it from the exterior. But, I think I would try my best to buy a ticket in advance if I really wanted to go. Thank you for the tips 🙂

    • Definitely go for buying in advance. It’s only €3 to visit the interior but €9 for the terraces. It’s just a bit rubbish that it’s not clear they are separate tickets with separate lines

  5. We have not visited Milan though we passed through it on our way to Venice. We would love to get there, of course to visit the Cathedral but more so to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The Chaos at the Milan Cathedral has become the order of the day in so many popular landmarks across the world. It is a catch-22 situation, you have to see it in spite of the crowds!

    • Totally so speaking of the Last Supper. I quite liked the idea of visiting that but gave it up for much the same reason. There are restrictions on when it can be visited and it has to be booked in advance. If you do decide to go see it, definitely do your research in advance to avoid disappointment

  6. Wow this sounds intense! I don’t think I would personally have the patience to wait 3 hours for a tourist attraction and I probably would have walked away! It sounds incredibly frustrating with the convoluted method for purchasing tickets and poor signage for the lines. I imagine that inside it must have been crushingly busy as well? I’m sorry that you had such a poor experience but it’s important information for other people considering visiting the cathedral.

  7. I have been to Italy twice but never to Milan. It seems incredible that it’s so badly organized, given the importance of the monument. But I think it’s about the same everywhere. If I go to Milan, I would probably be contented with a view from the outside, just like I did in Barcelona with the Sagrada Familia. With this ocean of tourists, the inside was totally unapproachable. I didn’t even try. I am French and live near Paris, and because of the constant queues with all the tourists, I can’t even enter Notre-Dame aymore without spending my afternoon at it. And BTW, “The staff at Milan Cathedral would make even the snootiest Parisian look like a friendly pussy-cat” that was funny lol

  8. I’m so sorry you had such a bad experience there. It sounds horrendously frustrating. I was lucky enough to visit in winter about 20 years ago and there was no one there, just us and those gorgeous gargoyles and angels. It is still one of my favourite memories from my first trip to Europe. I’m glad you still managed to find it a special experience after all the blips trying to get in.

    • Yes I’m still bummed that I couldn’t enter twenty years ago(wearing shorts in the height of summer and a naive traveller.). There were no crowds then and no fees to enter. Double bubble!

  9. These are hardly the reasons to avoid the visit, just your bad experience.
    We went there in late May the day before Champions League final so you can imagine the crowds.
    However, we had no difficulty obtaining tickets and I would not say there was chaos or bad manner from the staff. Just wait till the start bussing Chinese groups, then you will be able to complain.

  10. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience there! I have been and must have been at an off-time because I did not have the same things happen. I will say some of those staircases are tiny, so if someone is going slow that will definitely hold you up.

    • It is a relief that this is clearly not an all year problem as the building is so magnificent it would be a shame to miss it. Sadly, after two seperate visits I have yet to visit the interior because of the shambles and I have no plans to return.

  11. Sad you had such a crappy experience! When we visited the Doumo it wasn’t like that at all. Such a beaut piece of architecture. One of the highlights of Milan for me.

  12. This looks like a rookie traveler mistake and not the savvy traveler you are suppose to be.

    • Or, in reality a product of the time of year given it was NY. No amount of planning can change the crowds, unless we went at a different time of year. Perhaps you have a magical way of making extra tourists disappear? if so please share as it is a trick I would love to know. Of course, we definitely could have gone on a skip the line tour but that wouldn’t be travelling the globe 4 less…

  13. I’m planning to visit Milan this year, so this article came right on time! You have offered some great advice that I’m gonna follow. Thank you!

  14. I visited there last Fall and had no problems. You must have hit it on a peak day. It is also helpful to research sites like this from Rick Steve’s etc. To avoid pitfall mistakes and lines when possible. We loved our visit except for the super rude african guys force selling bracelets in the plaza area out front.

    • Definitely was peak and goes to show how research makes the difference. I know what you mean about those hawkers. I found them quite intimidating and we really felt we had to watch our backs, especially at night.

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