When one googles “things to do in Milan“, Duomo aka Milan Cathedral tops most lists. Located in Milan city center, this magnificent building and surrounding areas might just be the most bustling place that you’ll find yourself in. Precautions and preparations should be taken, especially as you prepare your visit with little ones.
Below is a comprehensive account of how to best navigate Duomo with young children.
Duomo in a Nutshell
For a long time, I thought “Duomo” was the name of the famous cathedral in Milan. But it wasn’t until a random comment from a tour guide did I learn that duomo literally means cathedral in Italian. There are countless duomos in Italy, but Duomo Milan is the largest duomo in Italy, and fourth largest in the world.
It took over 600 years to build Duomo Milan– constructed in 1386 and not officially completed until 1965!! Such long architectural timeline suggests that the final product will not disappoint. As you tour the building and the grounds, I’d imagine you’d be awed by both the exterior architecture and decorative interiors. One can spend hours studying each stained glass window, towers, statues and observe something different.
Unfortunately, you are traveling with children, so the luxury of time is not on your side. So, how should you best utilize your time? Should you bring a stroller? What are some tricks and tips? Read on.
Things You Should Know Before Visiting the Duomo in Milan
Tip #1: Get to Duomo via Metro
If you are coming anywhere from central Milan (zones 1-3), we recommend taking the metro as that is an easy way to navigate around the city.
The “Duomo” stop can be found on the red and yellow lines.
Where and How to Buy Metro Tickets
We’ve found that it’s the easiest to buy tickets at the station at any one of the ticket vending machines. There is seldom a line and if there were one, the wait is short.
It is also possible to purchase tickets through various outlets around the city, including newspaper stands and bars. So, if you just happen to be finishing up some refreshments, why not kill two birds with one stone and grab your metro tickets.
Later, we found that it’s also possible to purchase tickets via the ATM mobile app and pay by credit card or PayPal.
Fares & Discounts for Children and Families
The regular fare is 2 euros per person. All children aged 5 and under are free of charge. Up to two children, aged 6 to 10, are free of charge.
We haven’t had any issues, but it is always best practice to bring any identification of your child(ren) as proof of age. Depending on who is checking tickets; sometimes a big stink can be raised if your child is on the borderline between free and not.
Tip #2: Purchase Duomo Tickets Early & Online
It’s worth it to purchase your fast pass tickets online before you get there. Ideally, before you get to Italy. The WiFi here are not that reliable and depending on where you are staying, you may have delayed connection speeds.
Duomo tickets are timed and are only valid during a 1 hour window. If you wait to buy your tickets in person, you risk waiting in long queues at the ticket office.
To purchase tickets, simply google “Duomo Milan tickets” and you’ll see several third party ticket sellers. They get a commission (at no cost to you) for recommending you to the official webpage to buy the tickets. We recommend using Tickets-Milan.com as they provide you with lots of details on which ticket option might make sense for your party.
As a family of 3, we opted for the Family FastPass – which included a visit to the Duomo Cathedral, Museum and Rooftop via Elevator. It is possible to access the rooftop via stairs but we don’t recommend this option if you have young children with you as the stair climb might yield some complaints.
The FastPass ticket allowed us to cut the line, in some sense, so wait time to enter the cathedral was minimal.
Tip #3: Opt for the Audio Guide
Hiring a tour guide is definitely the preferred modus operandi, but when you have children, especially any that are in the pre-school or toddler age group, it would be particularly difficult to remain focused and engaged.
We recommend getting an audio guide instead. It costs 6 euros a device or 10 euros for 2 devices. And these can be grabbed as soon as you enter the cathedral on your right hand side.
These audio guides are easy to use and prompts are short and sweet. The best part about the device is that it has a visual component to it. That is, if you prefer to see the written words, it is also possible to scroll through the information and skip paragraphs if you wish.
They do, however, ask that you would supply an ID as collateral for the audio guides. So, if you feel queasy about handing over your passport, be sure to remember to bring with you a drivers license or another form of identification. One ID per family.
There is one downside to having an audio guide and that is– if you choose to take your audio guides outside–and you most definitely should–to check out the facade as well as rooftop spires, you’ll have to come back into the cathedral after your tour to return the audio guides. This may add additional time to your visit as you will need to wait in line and pass through security, yet again.
For that reason, we strongly recommend that you visit the rooftop BEFORE you enter the cathedral. The entrance to access the elevator is located behind the cathedral – look for signage as you walk past the ticket office and public restroom.
Tip #4: Walk the Cathedral clockwise
There is no one way to walk through the cathedral but to optimize time and ground covered, we recommend starting at the six o’clock position and work your way clockwise up the left aisle, until you reach the altar. Then, cross over to the right and then behind the altar (if it’s open) before doubling back down the right aisle.
As you work your way around the cathedral, your audio guides will provide short epithets on each of the spots.
There is usually a line to see the crypt of Carlo Barromeo and we recommend skipping this as it’s not that interesting (in the bigger scheme of things and the small space and waiting in line might not entice a youngster as it would to history-hungry adults).
Instead, we recommend saving time at the end to check out the archeology sites. Just before you exit, there is a short flight down into the basement. Our 3-year old enjoyed walking through the short maze of paths and checking out and touching various rocks.
Tip #5: Bring coins to use the public restroom
When you are traveling with children, you should at all time know where toilets are. Unfortunately, in Italy, public restrooms are rare.
Duomo Milan does have a public toilet, which is located next to the ticket office, to the right of the cathedral if you are facing the front. It costs 50 cents euros to access. There is a change machine on site, but it only accepts 1 euro and 2 euros coins.
Tip #6: Invest in an anti-lost harness
I’m all for free-range parenting but letting your young children roam freely isn’t ideal as there are just too many people. We personally don’t recommend bringing a stroller, as some sites at Duomo are not stroller friendly, i.e. the crypt or archaeological area. Other places, like the elevator, are simply too cramped to accommodate a stroller. If your baby is too young to walk independently, consider using a baby carrier.
And so, we think that an option to reign in your hyperactive child is to consider investing in an anti-lost harness. In a very crowded space, this harness would ensure that you will always keep a close connected tab on where your child is at all times.
The anti-lost harness is simple: just loop one end on your child’s wrist and the other around your wrist. You can hold his or hand, or if your child runs away from you, there won’t be any freak outs or dealing with a runaway child in a huge crowd of people.
Tip #7: Shop the “Duomo Shop” for Souvenirs
The Duomo Shop is located across the street from the ticket office and restroom. Sometimes,you’ll see a long line forming, don’t let that scare you. It’s most likely not the store that’s busy, but that many are lining up to buy admission tickets to Duomo.
Souvenir options are plentiful and costs reasonable. We were able to pick up our usual Christmas ornament as well as a few other interesting items – namely a 300 piece puzzle and a gold coin.
During the wintry months, it’s also good to stop inside the shop for a brief respite from the chilly weather. There aren’t any seats inside or coffee shops, however, so keep your souvenir shopping short and to the point.
Tip #8: Be Wary of Vendors
There are many vendors in the Piazza selling their wares. The most common of which are actually balloons for children. Sometimes a vendor would come near your unsuspecting child and hand him a balloon or small toy.
If you do not want to be in the situation where your child is wailing and your feeling guilty about making a purchase, then just watch out for these people. Usually averting your eyes and walking away quickly is enough to send a message to the vendors.
Tip #9: Bring Some Snacks to Hold You Over Until Dinner Time
Duomo Milan is one of many attraction spots in the historical area so it’ll be tempting to squeeze in other things to do. We recommend pacing yourself and allocating ample time, accounting for time needed for bathroom breaks, souvenir shopping and waiting in line.
Contrary to popular beliefs, we don’t think the area has many appropriate dining spots. Of course, if you just want a quick bite, there are many sandwich stops in the vicinity. But a sit down spot in the area is usually a tourist trap and the restaurants are more expensive than it’s worth.
Therefore, we recommend bringing some snacks or simple food items to hold yourself over, until you can take the kids to a better lunch spot away from the Duomo and the crowd.
We highly recommend visiting Duomo Milan with children. Just plan ahead and be prepared to take on the crowd. The experience is certainly interesting as there is just so much to do!
Have you been to Milan recently? What other tips and advice do you have to offer families traveling with young children?