Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena) is one of the finest examples of Romanesque-Gothic style architecture and is one of the most beautiful churches in Italy! And if you know that Italy has thousands of churches, one more impressive than the other, then this probably says it all.
So if you are wondering whether the Duomo of Siena is worth a visit, don’t even hesitate – it absolutely is!
But if you do even some quick research, you’ll realize that the Cathedral of Siena is so much more than just a big church. In fact, the Siena Duomo Complex is made up of 7 different marvels, each unique and worth a visit in its own right.
In this guide, we give you a better idea of what to expect when visiting the Cathedral of Siena. You can read more about all the main sights at the Duomo Complex, see which ticket options are best for you, or which tickets/tours you have to prebook if you absolutely do not want to miss a certain experience.
We also include some practical information such as the dress code, etc.
In other words, this article should give you a better idea of what to expect when visiting Duomo di Siena and answer any practical questions you might have. Take a look!
Siena Duomo Complex: What to See
As already mentioned, there is a lot to see at the Siena Duomo Complex, and almost every place has a separate entrance. The good thing is that all the main sights are located inside or adjacent to the Cathedral building and almost all of them are included in this all-in pass (more info about tickets and tours further below).
However, some places are easier to visit than others. There is one part that can only be seen with a guided tour, and one where you can expect a long and very slow queue, especially if visiting in the high season.
TIP: Further below in this guide, you can find more detailed info about each of these sites, as well as pictures to give you a better idea of what you can expect to see.
But first, a short overview of the main places to see at the Duomo di Siena:
- Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena). This is the main Cathedral building with an awe-inspiring interior and remarkable floors that are fully uncovered during certain periods each year. The main entrance is via the stairs at Piazza del Duomo.
- Piccolomini Library (Libreria Piccolomina). Can be accessed directly from the Cathedral and is an absolute must-see.
- Museum (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo). This is a religious art museum to the east of the main building. The main reason to come here is actually not the museum itself, but the place you can access from there – Facciatone.
- New Cathedral & Panorama (Panorama dal Facciatone). This is an unfinished part of the Duomo di Siena where you can visit an outdoor terrace that offers stunning 360° views of the city. Accessible from the upper floor of Museo dell’Opera, you might spend an hour or even more queuing here in order to get on the outside terrace.
- The Crypt (Cripta) is located on the right at the back of the Cathedral. The interior is very pretty and visiting here only requires a few minutes of your time.
- Baptistry of San Giovani (Battisero) is located at the very back of the Cathedral. Just like the crypt, it only requires a few minutes of your time and its gorgeous interior is absolutely worth a quick look.
- Gate of Heaven (Porta del Cielo). This is the only part where you can only visit with a guided tour. The tours are timed and the spaces are limited, so it’s best to book at least a few days in advance. This is the ‘rooftop’ of the Cathedral where you visit the attic and get to enjoy unique views of the interior of the church from above as well as some nice high-angle views of the city.
In addition, you can also visit the Oratory of San Bernardino (Oratorio della Compagnia di San Bernardino). This church/religious art museum is located on the other side of the town center, about 10-15 minutes walk from the Duomo. If you have a full day in Siena and are highly interested in religious art, you may want to check it out. It’s a bit of a hidden gem that – despite being included in the Duomo ticket – hardly sees any tourists.
The Cathedral of Siena and all the main sites are open daily throughout the year.
In the high season, the Cathedral, Piccolomini Library, and Museo dell’Opera are normally open from 9.30 am to 7.30 pm, except on Sundays and public holidays when the Cathedral is closed in the mornings. The Facciatone, the Crypt, and the Baptistery open half an hour later and close half an hour earlier.
The opening times of all the sites vary a bit and depend on the season and the day of the week. You can find up-to-date information on the opening hours on the official Cathedral website.
Here are the best ticket options for Siena Cathedral:
- Cathedral & Piccolomini Library. This ticket gives you access to the main Cathedral and Piccolomini Library which has an entrance inside the church.
- OPA Si Pass. This all-in pass is the most popular and best-value option. It gives you access to all the main places of the Siena Duomo Complex except the Gate of Heaven which requires a tour.
- Porta del Cielo Pass. This pass includes everything covered by the OPA Si Pass as well as a guided tour of the Gate of Heaven (Porta del Cielo). Guided tours are timed and it’s best to book in advance. In the low season, you might be able to get a free spot on the day itself, but I wouldn’t count on it. In the summer, definitely book in advance. The Gate of Heaven tours run from 1 March to 6 January.
The all-in passes include an audio guide (via a QR code that you scan directly from your smartphone, so bring headphones if you want to use it). The passes are valid for 3 consecutive days and you can only visit each place once. But you really don’t need more than 2-3 hours in order to see everything anyway.
If you would like to learn more about all the amazing things that you get to see at the Duomo of Siena, you can also opt to visit the Cathedral as part of a guided tour. However, keep in mind that most guided tours only include the Cathedral and the Piccolomini Library and not the other parts of the Duomo complex.
Here are some of the best walking city tours that – among others – also visit the Cathedral of Siena:
- City walking tour, including the Cathedral and Piccolomini Library. This is an excellent 2-hour tour to get the first introduction to the city and learn more about the Duomo of Siena.
- Private city tour with optional Cathedral visit. This is a 3-hour tour for just your personal group. It covers all the main sights in Siena and can also include a visit to the Cathedral if the option is chosen.
Just like pretty much any other major church in Italy, the Duomo of Siena asks you to dress modestly when visiting the church. As a general rule, this means that your knees and shoulders should be covered.
So shorts, short skirts, and sleeveless shirts or spaghetti straps are – in principle – not allowed inside the church.
That being said, if you are wearing normal-length shorts (just above your knees), it’s very unlikely that anyone will be bothered by that. It’s all about being respectfully dressed and not showing up there in your beach attire.
When we visited the Siena Cathedral recently, they also had some single-use covers that they were handing out to tourists whose shoulders weren’t covered. We even saw some people with VERY short shorts inside the church. It’s actually funny how they were asked to cover their shoulders, but not their legs.
My own family – husband and kids – all wore (normal length) shorts and sandals and I wore a knee-long summer dress with wide shoulder straps. I took a light shawl with me just in case they asked me to cover up, but it wasn’t needed.
TIP: If you are visiting Italy in the summer and are worried that your clothing might not be deemed appropriate to enter the church, it’s always helpful to carry a light, wide summer scarf/shawl with you. You can always wrap it around your shoulders or use it as a skirt.
READ ALSO: Best Cathedrals in Italy (+Practical tips for visiting Italian churches)
Visiting Siena Cathedral with Kids
In case you are wondering if it’s a good idea to visit the Siena Duomo with kids, here is some info and tips based on our experience.
The first time we visited Siena with kids, they were all just toddlers and were sitting in strollers. On that trip, we simply visited the Cathedral and the Piccolomini Library. Visiting all the other places with strollers would have been a bit more challenging. Also, young kids and long church/museum visits usually don’t go well together. So my recommendation for families with very young kids is to just visit the main church.
On our most recent visit to Siena, our kids were teenagers. This time, we visited the entire Siena Duomo complex. They were really impressed by the church and the magnificent interior. But what they enjoyed the most were the two places that involved stairs and nice views – Facciatone and the Gate of Heaven.
However, the wait time at Facciatone was so long that it was really getting too much even for teenagers. There was another family waiting in line with younger children (6-10 years old), and they had difficulties keeping the kids quiet and motivated for such a long time.
So which parts of the Duomo complex to visit and how much time to spend everywhere really depends on your interests and your family situation. As a minimum, you can definitely visit the Duomo and the Piccolomini Library with children of any age.
Now that you know all the practicalities, here’s an overview of all the best places not to miss at the Siena Duomo Complex:
Siena Cathedral (Duomo)
The 13th-century Cathedral of Siena will be the highlight of your visit. Regarded as one of the best examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture in Italy, the Duomo looks very striking, with its distinctive light and dark stripes on the exterior as well as on the columns inside the church. They are composed of white and very dark green marble – colors symbolic of the city.
The Cathedral’s interior is awesome, with every surface covered by some sort of ornate decoration or sculpture. These include beautiful works of art by the likes of Donatello and Michelangelo and exquisite frescoes over the main altar. The wooden choir is intricately carved and the octagonal pulpit is quite magnificent, inspired by ancient Roman sarcophagi.
Gazing up at the star-studded dome almost feels like getting a glimpse of heaven, whilst the inlaid-marble floor is especially breathtaking. Made up of 56 marble mosaics depicting various scenes, it is considered by many to be the masterpiece of the entire cathedral.
Good to know: Much of the Cathedral floors are covered to protect it from damage, although a couple of times a year it is fully uncovered (usually in the month of July, and from mid-August to mid-October). Alternating sections of the floor are always available to view, so you will definitely be able to see at least part of it during your visit.
Step through the small door to the left of the Cathedral’s nave and you’ll be awed to discover the Piccolomini Library. This small room – built for Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini (who later became Pope Pius II) – is astonishing in its beauty.
Every inch is covered in an intricately detailed painting by the Renaissance master Pinturicchio and his assistants (who included the young Raphael!). In wonderfully vivid colors, it depicts 10 different scenes related to the life and career of Piccolomini.
The library was originally intended to conserve Piccolomini’s extensive collection of manuscripts. You can see the few that still remain, along with a stunning copy of The Three Graces sculpture in the center of the room. Be sure to look up, too, and admire the splendid ceiling which glows with golden details.
The Gate of Heaven (Porta del Cielo)
Another way to appreciate the spectacular beauty of the Siena Cathedral is to see it from above. The ‘Gate of Heaven’ tour allows you to do just that, by visiting the rafters of the Duomo. They also call this a tour of ‘Cathedral rooftops’.
You’ll start by ascending a rather steep, winding staircase of around 80 steps to the upper level, the attic of the cathedral if you like. From there, you’ll have almost a bird’s eye view of the church under your feet and its decorative floor, which looks even more amazing from high up.
You’ll also walk through various corridors and outdoor passages, alternately admiring the cathedral’s interior or the views of the terracotta rooftops across the city to the hills.
You’ll also get a chance to look through a mosaic window in the dome and see statues and decorative features that can’t be seen from the ground.
Good to know: As already mentioned before, the Gate of Heaven can only be visited with an official tour. It’s not that much of a tour actually – most of the time, you just follow the staff, and the explanation they give is quite limited.
If you want to visit the rafters of the Duomo, we highly recommend pre-booking it in advance. The ticket also includes all the other sites which you can visit before or after the tour on your own. For opening times and booking details, see here. Even in the peak summer months, we booked this tour just a day before our visit and there were still tickets available. But we were really flexible with our timing.
The Gate of Heaven tours run from March to the first week of January.
Cathedral Museum (Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana)
Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana is the Cathedral’s museum. It’s located in the right nave of the ‘New Cathedral’, an area originally intended to enlarge the main building. More about it – below.
Founded in 1869, Siena Cathedral Museum is one of the oldest private museums in Italy. Some of its most famous pieces are the altarpiece panel paintings of the Maestà, by Duccio di Buoninsegna.
This was originally a double-sided altarpiece, measuring an incredible 17 x 16 feet. Taken down and stored for two centuries, it was later disassembled by the city council and parts of it were sold. These can now be seen in important museums across the world. The majority of the Maesta, however, remained here in Siena.
Other treasures on display include 14th-century marble statues that once decorated the facade, along with the Madonna del Perdono Tondo. You can also see precious silk fabrics, jewelry, illuminated manuscripts, and a beautiful stained glass window that was once located above the apse of the Cathedral.
Good to know: While the museum is interesting, most people just rush through it and go straight to the top floor where you can access the terraces – see below.
New Duomo Panorama (Facciatone)
The ‘New Duomo’ is the unfinished part of the Siena Cathedral which was started with the intention to enlarge the church even more.
The construction started in 1339, but the emergence of the Black Death in 1348 prevented any further development. Up to this day, you can see the unfinished structure of this ‘New Cathedral’. After almost 7 centuries, I think it’s safe to say that they are not intending to finish it anymore.
This is now one of the most popular places to visit inside the Siena Duomo complex. This is because you can climb to the Facciatone, a viewing terrace that offers 360° panoramic views across Siena. It sits atop the unfinished facade of the ill-fated New Cathedral and is one of the best viewpoints in the city.
However, on busy days, visiting here requires a lot of patience. The staircase is quite narrow and twisty, only capable of accommodating traffic in one direction. So they only allow small groups of people at a time and the next ‘batch’ can only enter when the first one has left the upper level of the terrace.
As you can imagine, this means that there is usually a long wait in order to access this narrow terrace. When we visited, the queue was ‘not too bad’ – starting at the entrance of the last room of the museum. But even then, we waited for over 45 minutes. Based on the signage, we saw that the queue can get much longer than that. So if you are visiting here at an even busier time, it might mean that it takes several hours…
While we absolutely enjoyed our visit, we thought that the wait was borderline not worth it. I guess it all depends on how much time you have in Siena. If you are here in the quiet season, it’s probably not even an issue. But if you are visiting in the summer months, you may want to come here first thing in the morning and head straight to Facciatone. We visited about two hours before the closing time and by the time we left, they were telling people not to start queuing anymore or they wouldn’t be able to go up.
Baptistery of St John (Battisero di San Giovanni Battista)
Built from 1319 to 1325 near the base of the apse, the Cathedral’s baptistery has an unfinished marble facade but a spectacular interior.
It houses various works of art, including a series of beautiful frescoes by Renaissance artists and the triptych of the Madonna with Saints and Stories of Saint Stefano. You can also see a pulpit created by Nicola Pisano.
But the star of the show is the jaw-dropping baptismal font, which was created by some of the greatest sculptors of the era.
Hexagonal in shape, it features six gilded bronze panels recounting the life of John the Baptist. You can see Donatello’s infamous Feast of Herod, depicting the moment when the head of St. John the Baptist was delivered on a plate, plus the carved figures of Faith and Hope.
Good to know: The Baptistery is located at the northern end of the Cathedral and can only be accessed from the outside. For some reason, there are very few people here compared to the main facade at Piazza del Duomo where the main entrance of the cathedral can be found.
Crypt (Cripta del Duomo di Siena)
The Crypt is one of the most fascinating sites of Duomo di Siena, and it’s hard to believe that it was only discovered some 20 years ago! In fact, it’s considered one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the past decennia.
Located under the Duomo and accessible from the eastern side a bit past the Museum at the New Duomo, this underground crypt contains a cycle of paintings dating from the second half of the 13th century.
The colorful frescoes are incredibly well-preserved and absolutely stunning! In addition, you can see the foundations of the Cathedral structure dating back to the 12th-14th centuries.
Good to know: You only need a couple of minutes for a quick visit here – don’t miss it!
Oratory of San Bernardino
In addition to all the sights mentioned above, the all-in Duomo ticket also includes an entrance to the Oratory of San Bernardino. This is a museum focused on paintings from the Sienese school from the 13th century on.
However, while all the other places mentioned above are located just next to each other, the Oratory is on a different side of town, about 10-15 minutes walk away.
We still didn’t get there on our multiple visits to Siena, so I’m not sure if it’s really worth it. But if you have some time to spare and want to make the most out of your ticket, you can check it out too.
It’s really all about how much time you have in Siena. Because there is a lot more to see beyond the Duomo complex as well!
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Siena
So, this is our guide to visiting the Cathedral of Siena. I hope that it gives you a better idea of what to expect so that you can plan your visit accordingly.
Have a great time in Siena!
TIP: You may also like to take a look at our other guides to the region:
- More of Tuscany:
- More of Italy – see our Italy travel page for guides and travel itineraries for a big variety of destinations all over the country.
If you found this post helpful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!