There are so many churches in Florence, that picking which one to visit may be a real challenge!
Deemed the cradle of the Renaissance, the Athens of the Middle Ages, Florence is a powerhouse for beautiful churches and architecture. Taking inspiration from Romanesque and Gothic design, Florentine artists and architects at the time created their own unique, distinctive style of Mannerism.
At the time of philosophical revelation and monetary support from the Medici family, artists and architects such as Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Giotto and Vasari thrived on producing timeless and sublime art. Considered the greats of Western art history, these artists crafted worldly spaces.
Regardless of your creed or faith, you’ll be simply awestruck by many beautiful churches in Florence, as they are equally places of worship and protectors of precious art. Some of the less famous churches of Florence have astonishing works of marble inlay, mosaic, stone carving, bas-reliefs on façade, and, of course, impressive frescoes.
Read on for an extensive – though by all means not exhaustive – guide to the magnificent churches in Florence.
The Most Beautiful Churches In Florence
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Situated in Piazza Duomo, the Duomo Religious Complex is home to the Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore, that is Florence’s Cathedral – definitely one of the most beautiful churches in Florence.
This is a massive church, a whopping 116,50 meters (more than 383 feet) tall. Construction of the church started in 1296 upon wishes by Arnolfo di Cambio, who followed the works until 1302. It took 170 years to complete the church, with the contribution of artists and architects. The exterior is made in white Carrara marble, green Prato marble, and red Siena Marble. The interior is packed with beautiful sculptures and paintings by a multitude of artists.
As part of the Duomo Religious Complex, you can also visit Giotto’s Bell Tower, Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Baptistery of San Giovanni.
Giotto’s Bell Tower measures 84.7 meters (almost 288 feet) and from its top you can get incredible views of the city. The climb can be challenging, even more so on a hot day – the steps are very narrow and steep – but you can stop at about every 100 steps for views, yet the views make it worth it.
The Dome of Florence Cathedral was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. Modeled after the dome of Rome’s Pantheon, what’s special about it is that it’s a self supporting structure. It’s 116 meters (380,5 feet) tall. The views from up there are magnificent – that’s if you can bare the climb. The views of Brunelleschi’s Dome from a distance are probably the most impressive skyline of Florence.
The Battistero di San Giovanni – St. John’s Baptistery in English – is another beautiful monument in the Duomo Complex. Here, important personalities in Florence – including Dante Alighieri and members of the Medici Family – got baptized.
It is worth visiting all these religious sites as each one of them offers something particularly different, from its history and design perspective. The entrance is free for the Cathedral, but tickets are required for the other monuments – you can get them on the official website of the Duomo Complex.
For last minute Florence Duomo tickets with Brunelleschi Dome click here or here.
There are various tours of the Duomo Religious Complex that include all attractions – or at least, tickets to all attractions. The following are some good options:
Florence: Cupola Climb Tour with Duomo Complex Entry Tickets – an excellent option if you just want to visit the Duomo and the Dome. You could also consider this option if you prefer a small group tour, or this one.
Florence Cathedral: Terraces and Dome Skip-the-Line Tour – similar to the tour above but you also get to explore the terraces.
VIP Private Tour Florence Cathedral Dome & Monuments – a great tour that goes to the Cathedral, and then you’ll to pick between the Dome and Giotto’s Bell Tower.
Florence: Cathedral Guided Tour & Tickets to 4 Attractions – actually a very cost effective tour considering it goes to the Cathedral and in addition you get tickets to all attractions in the Duomo Complex.
You may also want to read my post How To Get Florence Duomo Tickets.
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
One of the most important monastic complexes in Italy, the convent was built between 1279 and 1357. An additional layer as added over a century later, in1470. This was a Dominican monastery, where monks would practice and preach the values of charity, humility.
The façade makes it one of the most impressive churches in Florence. The interior is as impressive as the exterior, and true marvel. Here you’ll be able to admire Giotto’s Crucifix, which hangs in the middle of the central nave, purposefully place so as visitors would not forget Christ’s struggle. The church also holds the famous Holy Trinity by Masaccio, a young renaissance great. You should also visit the two cloisters, which have beautiful frescoes and history to view.
Here are some tours of the church you may want to consider:
Santa Maria Novella Entry Ticket & Audioguide – great if you have a small budget, because you can go at your own pace and it’s actually quite cheap.
Santa Maria Novella Private Tour – a more expensive tour with a guide you can ask questions to; it lasts two hours.
Make sure to also read my post A Guide To The Basilica Di Santa Maria Novella, Florence.
Basilica di San Lorenzo
This church stood as the Cathedral of Florence for 300 years. It was the parish church for the Medici family: you can visit the museum which holds an underground chamber, holding the tomb of Cosimo di Medici.
The façade was supposed to be covered by Michelangelo’s works, but due to a lack of funds and other complications, this never came to fruition, hence it remains unfinished today. Nonetheless, it is inside the church where the beauty and treasure lie.
In 1419 Florentine architect Brunelleschi (the same of the Duomo’s Dome) rebuilt the interior structure with geometric forms, giving it a minimalist and modern touch. The Cannon’s Cloister is an enchanting green space, with a two-story courtyard loggia, with rich and round arches. The Laurenziana Library designed by Michelangelo is also part of the complex, holding the most prestigious collection of Italian manuscripts.
The highlight of the church is probably the Medici Chapel (Cappelle Medicee in Italian), the burial place of the Medici family. It is divided into parts: the crypt, and the Cappella dei Principi (of the Princes), in which the walls are covered with marvelous marble and semi-precious stone. Another bit you should not miss is the New Sacristy, which was designed by Michelangelo and preserves some of his extraordinary masterpieces.
For a guided tour of the Medici Chapel, click here.
Basilica di Santo Spirito
The Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit is located in the Oltrarno quarter. It was historically an Augustinian church and convent, and it became a center of scholarly activities, as well as the office building of the Augustinian order in 1284.
Brunelleschi began designs for the new building in 1444, as the old church caught fire. Much like Michelangelo’s thwarted San Lorenzo façade, Brunelleschi’s façade was never built as he died two years before completion.
The architectural design was part of the artwork – he worked to bring classical order, which is central to Renaissance architecture. The main altar, an out-of-place Baroque motif, is at the centre of the crossing square. The colossal Pietra forte Corinthian columns give the church monumentality.
A part of Michelangelo can be found here too – as he found refuge in this church as a young adult, he happily obliged to sculpt a wooden crucifix that is can be admired in the Sacristy.
Basilica di Santa Croce
Santa Croce is the second most famous church in Florence after the Duomo. Built in the Middle Ages by Arnolfo di Cambio, it’s also one of the largest Franciscan churches in the world. Restoration works of the church started in the 16th century, overlooked by Giorgio Vasari who designed the monumental altars. The church was then beautifully frescoed too.
During Renaissance times, Santa Croce was known to be a renowned theological school. Later on, it became known as the ‘Tempio dell’Itale glorie’ (the temple of Italian glories), since about 15,000 Florentine personalities are buried here – among them are Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei and Machiavelli, each having a beautiful funerary monument.
Inside the church, you can spot the beautifully preserved Crucifix by Cimabue, and a picture of the Last Supper. Make sure to visit the twelve chapels, most of them decorated in classic Gothic style. Cappella Peruzzi and Pazzi (foes of the Medici) can be found to the left of the altar.
If you wish to join a tour to explore the Basilica, these are some good options:
Florence Santa Croce Church Tour – it lass one hour and shows you the highlights.
Florence: Santa Croce Basilica Guided Tour and Entry-Ticket – a small group tour that lasts 75 minutes.
Florence: 2 Hours Santa Croce Guided Tour with Entry Ticket – the most comprehensive tour, lasting two hours.
Head over to my post A Guide To The Basilica Di Santa Croce, Florence.
Basilica di San Miniato al Monte
This Basilica is one of the lesser known churches in Florence. Completed in 1062, its exterior is decorated with green and white marble, similar to Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella. Majestically sitting atop the Piazzale Michelangelo, from where you can enjoy magnificent views of the city, it is thought by many Florentines to be the most beautiful church in the city.
The Basilica is named after the first evangelist and Christian martyr in Florence, who was thought to have been a Greek merchant or an Armenian prince. The myth is that Minias picked up his decapitated head and flew over the Arno to the church site. Hence, the church’s dedication to the saint.
Its interior is Romanesque, with three naves. The floor of the apse shows an impressive marble mosaic work portraying signs and animals of the zodiac, alluding to a pagan motif, enriched with symbolic significance. The chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal in the left aisle constitutes an extraordinary gem of Mannerism, preserving a blend of architecture, painting and sculpture.
On the Holy Door of the church, are the Latin words Haec est Porta Coeli, meaning ‘This is the Gate of Heaven’.
The monks of San Miniato still sing Gregorian chants at Vespers in a small chapel at the back of the church, anyone can go and listen. They usually chant at 5:30 in the summer and 4:30 in the winter.
The Badia (Abbey) is dedicated to the Virgin, founded in 978 by Willa, the Marchioness of Tuscany. The original abbey stood at the edge of the first city walls. From substantial donations and backing from past popes and emperors, the abbey acquired several of the surrounding properties where monks engaged in bookish activities.
The Priors and magistrates of the Republic used to meet here before the construction of the Palazzo Vecchio. In 1285, Arnolfo di Cambio was commissioned to restructure the space. Alterations and modifications continued until the 18th century.
Inside, the greatest masterpiece of the church is Fillipo Lippi’s altarpiece which shows the Virgin appealing to St Bernard.
As the oldest church in Florence, the Badia has managed to preserve the wonderful Cloister of the Oranges. It is currently home to the monastic Communities of Jerusalem.
Orsanmichele | San Michele in Orto
Designed by Francesco Talenti, the Orsanmichele is a well-preserved and significant 15th-century Florentine church. Eccentric, it rises like a three-story brown rectangle. A treasure trove of sculpture, it developed from an oratory, then a loggia for a grain market which burnt down in the 13th century.
It was converted into a church as it held a miraculous painting of the Madonna Della Grazie that attracted more worshippers than buyers. The myth is that those who prayed before her were granted miracles. The original painting was lost and replaced with a 1497 painting by Bernardo Daddi.
There are 14 niches in the façade, each housing a statue of a patron saint commissioned by Florence’s guild. Now copies, the originals are in the Orsanmichele Museum on the top floor. Before entering, walk around the building to admire the delicate stonework in the window arches that mark its great architecture.
On Via Dei Calzaiuoli’s side (left) is Lorenzo Ghiberti’s St John the Baptist (1414). On the south side, there are Donatello’s early works depicting the four disciples.
Cappella dei Rei Magi
This is actually one of the most hidden churches in Florence – though in plain sight! The Cappella is located in one of the most ancient palaces in Florence, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, the first of three grand palaces that the Medici family lived in. Construction commenced in 1445.
It’s dedicated to the Re Magi (the three kings) who were regarded as the first pagans to embrace the Christian faith, which was a good symbol for the missionary work organized by Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide.
It was a private chapel used exclusively for the Medici’s prayer and devotion. The frescoes are meant to glorify the Medici family, a form of propaganda to show their wealth and greatness. Along with this, purple porphyry and gold are abundant, just to drive this concept.
Inside, it is a beautiful vault with crisscrossing bands of stucco. The design work was entrusted by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo who completed it in 10 years. Frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli, the Journey of the Magi scene painted by the same artist is a work of elegance and splendor.
Church of Dante: Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi
For fans of Italian literature and Dante, this church should be on your bucket list. It is a tiny, modest church, occluded between huge buildings.
It may not have the grandeur of other churches in Florence, but what it lacks in decadence itmakes up romance and story.
The church dates back to the 11th century. It is where nine-year-old Dante met Beatrice Portinari, his muse who would inspire his Divine Comedy. It was where they had the opportunity to meet, even to only exchange a glance. Dante also apparently married his wife, Gemma Donati in this church.
Beatrice’s family are buried in the church and romantics continue to leave letters for her at the tombs. There is a chest full of poignant messages that lovers leave for Beatrice, asking her to protect their love.
San Marco Monastery
The monastery was a church and convent and is now an extraordinarily decorative museum. It was built on the site of two decaying medieval monasteries from 1438 – 1443. Cosimo de Medici hired the architect Michelozzo to rebuild the religious site.
The space will transport you back in time, to a pristine and preserved 600-year-old Dominican monastery. For an added sense of Renaissance religious history, the famous preacher Girolamo Savonarola lived there.
Delicate frescoes were painted by Fra Angelico, one of the most sublime painters of the Renaissance. In the monks’ dormitories, you’ll find his intimate The Annunciation painting. His style is unmistakable, transforming the hardness of medieval saints into gentle, human-like holy men that are pious and innocent.
If you are traveling to Florence, these other posts will be useful:
- How To Get From Rome To Florence
- The Best Things To Do In Florence
- The Perfect 3 Days In Florence Itinerary
- How To Get Boboli Gardens Tickets
- How To Get Tickets To Pitti Palace
- How To Get Tickets To The Uffizi Gallery
- How To Get Galleria Dell’Accademia Tickets
- How To Get Palazzo Vecchio Tickets
- A Guide To Visiting Giotto’s Bell Tower
- How To Make The Most Of One Day In Florence
- How To Make The Most Of Florence At Night
- 13 Best Day Trips From Florence
- A Wonderful Florence To Pisa Day Trip
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- The Perfect Day Trip From Florence To Cinque Terre