Must-See Florence Churches

History, art, architecture, cathedrals and a bunch of saints

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Florence churches are  among the city’s must-see sights. If centuries-old places of worship containing some of the most celebrated art in the world and architecture that is no less amazing now than when it was painstakingly pieced together in medieval times is your thing, then you’ve come to the right place. Though these structures contain some of the most important art in the world, I’ve elected to list them separately from the Florence art crawl. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Begin at the Duomo – you can’t miss it!

No matter where you start your day in Florence, finding the central Duomo, one of Italy’s defining sites, should be a snap. This is both an engineering marvel and a breathtaking view of the city (access to the roof observation deck is separate from the main entrance and an additional fee). Once you’ve absorbed that colossus, check out the neighboring, 11th-century Romanesque Baptistry and its ornate, gilded bronze doors. If you decide to indulge in all three activities, this visit alone could fill a half day, easily.

Just a few blocks north of the Duomo is Basilica di San Lorenzo, the opulent, final resting place of the Medici family.

Head west to the oldest basilica in Florence

Several minutes walk west, near the train station is Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. The first great basilica in Florence, Santa Maria Novella was mostly completed by 1360, though work on the church’s interior and exterior ornamentation continued until the 15th century. The interior is an impressive 100 meters (328 feet) long.

Just a few blocks south of Santa Maria Novella is Chiesa di Ognissanti, a 13th century Franciscan church. Work includes Ghirlandaio’s St Jerome portrait and his incredible Last Supper as well as work by Botticelli.

Two long blocks east is Chiesa della Santa Trinita, a 14th century Gothic church with frescoes from that era. Just steps farther to the east is Chiesa dei Santissimi Apostoli, a well-preserved 11th century church.

A detour across the Arno

Cross the Ponte Vecchio, take a few minutes to scrutinize the Medici’s Corridoio Vasariano, keeping walking south and you’ll walk right into Chiesa di Santa Felicita where one can get a glimpse of the interior of the Corridoio Vasariano.

Cross the river again and on the east side of the historic center is Basilica di Santa Croce. Built in the 13th and 14 centuries, this is the largest Franciscan church in the world, containing 16 chapels, and is the final resting place of many famous Florentines, including Michelangelo and Galileo Galilei.

If you’re not feeling ambitious enough for the above circuitous tour, much closer to the Duomo, just a few blocks south, is Chiesa di Orsanmichele. A grain market transformed into a church in the 14th century, the exterior now features an incredible array of statues of the patron saints of the city’s guilds. These are replicas, naturally. The originals are in the museum above the church and other museums throughout the city.

Brunelleschi’s unfinished business

Keeping walking south, a few short blocks over the river is Basilica di Santo Spirito. One of Brunelleschi’s last projects (1428), though he didn’t live to see it completed. His planned façade was never built and is still unusually featureless today. Various additions were snapped in later years, including a bell tower (1503) designed by Baccio d’Agnolo. The massive church has 38 art-festooned side chapels.

A few blocks west of Santo Spirito is Basilica di Santa Maria del Carmine, a 13th century church with outstanding Renaissance frescoes by Masaccio, Masolino da Panicale and Filippino Lippi which miraculously survived an 18th century fire.

Marooned on its own a bit north of the historic center, is Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata. This relatively uncrowded option was designed by Michelozzo, with frescoes by Perugino, Jacopo Pontormo and Andrea del Sarto.

A fine Romanesque church with a view to finish

Finally, we have Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte. This ancient church, begun in 1013, is one of the finest Romanesque structures in Tuscany. Alas, it’s a long walk east the center along the south side of the river, and up a hill. Up high on the marble façade is a mosaic of Christ between the Virgin and St Minias completed in 1260. Inside are works by Spinello Aretino, Agnolo Gaddi and terracotta adornments by Luca della Robbia. A bonus is the panoramic views of Florence on Piazzale Michelangelo.

Other Florence Itineraries

Best Florence Shopping and Markets…shop till you drop.
Best Gelato in Florence…take this ultimate getateria tour. You deserve it.
Florence Art Museum Crawl…start with the Ufizzi and it only gets better.
Florence South of the Arno River…after the Pitti Palace
Must-See Museums of Florence…prepare to be spoiled for the rest of your life.

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