Florence Sights: 5 Most Beautiful Churches
Florence is a city that boasts some of the most amazing and beautiful architectural structures in Italy, and the churches in Florence are no exception. I’ve been living within the city for almost six months now, and I am always amazed to walk into one of these havens, especially in the recent scorching weather we have been having—it’s much cooler inside! The interiors are cavernous, decorated with the hands of masters from different periods of Gothic and Renaissance art unlike anywhere else you will find.
Here are some of my favorite churches within Florence. All of these places are worth the time and the admission fees (don’t worry—there are a few free ones, as well) if you have a few days within the city and you want to discover why Florence has the reputation for being one of the finest cities in the world for architecture, painting, and sculpture.
1. The Duomo or Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower)
After the statue of David, perhaps no work represents Florence more than this structure. Designed by Brunelleschi, it is an architectural marvel. Florentines want to make sure that surrounding cities knew who had the most influence, and the construction of the dome was a major way to mark this. Even today, it’s the largest brick dome in the world. It’s a late Gothic church, which you can see when you take a stroll to the front, or the façade. When you go inside, you will find that it looks pretty bare—there aren’t a lot of works of art, but the interior of the dome itself is definitely worth a look. If you are up for making a day of it, you might want to consider looking into a full ticket, which allows you to climb the dome, enter the baptistery, and see the museum. Well worth the price of 20 Euro
2. Santa Maria Novella
About a ten-minute walk away, Santa Maria Novella was built for the Dominican Order, and is actually considered one of the first truly great basilicas of Florence. It’s right by the train station, so if you are coming from another part of Italy, all you have to do is cross the street and you can be surrounded by great frescoes and delicate, colorful stained glass windows. It was built in the 14th century, but most of the decorations you will see inside are later additions like most the churches in Italy. The courtyard in front of Santa Maria Novella once hosted chariot races where the infamous Medici family would come to watch. The entrance fee is around 6 Euro, but you will get to see works by Michelangelo and Masaccio—two artists everyone visiting Florence should see.
3. Santa Croce
Speaking of Michelangelo, Santa Croce is probably the second most famous church in Florence. He is buried there, along with Galileo and Machiavelli—the author of The Prince. One of the first things you will hear about when you are a visitor at Santa Croce are the results of the 1966 flood of the Arno, which caused massive damage to the basilica. Only recently has it been deemed “restored,” though many of the works inside will never be the same. Even so, it’s still an incredibly beautiful structure designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. The remaining frescoes are gorgeous, and it’s worth it to wander by the tomb of arguably the most famous Renaissance artist, Michelangelo. Also, you will want to make sure to check out the 16 chapels; it’s the perfect thing to do on a rainy day. It costs 6 Euro to get in like at Santa Maria Novella—well worth the price
4. Santo Spirito
If you are thinking about taking a jaunt over the river, Santo Spirito is definitely worth the stop. Also started by Brunelleschi, the façade was never finished, so when you view the church, you are seeing it as it has been for hundreds of years. The frescoes of Santo Spirito are probably the main reason to go, but it’s also the perfect place to sit out on the steps and read a great book in the sun. After you have enjoyed the beautiful work by Lippi in the interior, grabbing a pizza from Gusta Pizza (a personal favorite place to go) can be a great end to a tour inside. The piazza of Santo Spirito is also a fun location in the evenings if you are looking to have a fun night out. It’s free to enter, but it’s a good idea to keep in mind that it is only open after 4 p.m. on select days.
5. San Miniato al Monte
After the plain façade of Santo Spirito, San Miniato al Monte is a nice contrast. While you are visiting Piazzale Michelangelo, you might want to continue up the hill to the church. Widely considered one of the most beautiful spiritual places in Florence, it’s still home to the Olivetan monks who are famous for their herbal teas and honey. The best time to go there is during mass, where you can still hear the chants of the monks and sit out on the steps. The exterior view is one of the best you will see in the area, and you’ll be glad that you took some time and sweat to get up there! It’s also free to enter and the façade is unlike any you are planning to see around other parts of the city.
Visiting the churches in Italy is a part of experiencing a culture that has been ingrained in the Italian people for hundreds of years. Grabbing a gelato or a bottle of wine and spending an afternoon watching people passing by can be one of the best ways to enjoy your trip to Florence.
Florence Sights: 5 Most Beautiful Churches