During our precious vacation in Florence we decided to spend most of our time eating lots of delicious food, drinking wine with all meals of the day, and visiting the beautiful churches that make up Florence’s skyline.
With 70 churches that populate Florence, not including the immediate suburbs, it can be overwhelming deciding which ones you want to make a priority during your magical stay.
You could be walking on a small side street in San Lorenzo or on one of the bustling fashion streets near Piazza della Repubblica, without even noticing you’ve passed a few. Some blend into the Florentine scenery, while others stand tall and tower over massive piazzas.
Obviously, the Duomo is going to be high on anyone’s list, I hope, but make sure to venture into some other churches too. You’ll be pleased to stumble upon stunning courtyards, endless art history, and truly unique architecture in each.
Here is a comprehensive list of all the ones we visited with a short review.
Basilica San Miniato al Monte
Monday-Sunday: 8AM-1PM & 3:30PM-7PM
If you’re interested in hearing the famous Gregorian chants by the Monks of San Miniato, visit the Basilica on Sundays and Holidays from 10am-5:30pm. Or during the weekdays from 5:30PM in the summer and 6:30PM in the winter.
Perched on the hill right behind Piazzale Michelangelo, lies San Miniato al Monte. A truly unique church that I never ended up visiting during my semester studying in Florence. Whether you’re on top of the Duomo, walking along the Arno River, or enjoying a Spritz at one of the many rooftop bars, San Miniato can always be seen stoically watching over Florence.
With elegant stairs leading up to the basilica, a grand cemetery sounding the exterior, and killer panoramic views of Florence, San Miniato easily became my second favorite church. (Behind the Duomo.) Inside you’ll find a two level church with extremely dim lighting and a less crowded more relaxed vibe.
Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore
Monday-Sunday: 10AM-4:45PM (Closed on the first Tuesday of every month.)
Admission: FREE (Entry via the right-hand door in the west front (Cathedral façade).
To access all of what the Duomo has to offer, purchased a “Il Grande Museo del Duomo ticket,” that includes entrance to the Cathedral, Dome, Baptistry, Bell Tower, Crypt (Santa Reparata), and Museum. More info here.
*Mass in English is held on Saturday’s at 5pm. Enter through the doors on the bell tower side of the Duomo.
No matter how many pictures you see of the famous Duomo, nothing can compare to standing in front of the massive masterpiece. You most likely will stare in awe and question how, just how, this was ever built and stayed this beautiful.
The exterior facade is stunning with intricate sculpture detail, and peach and mint green marble pilling high. The inside is a bit under-whelming actually, compared to other churches you might visit in Florence. The walls are completely exposed, with only a few paintings scattered about. However, if you look up you’ll be surprised to find the Dome descriptively painted.
Basilica di San Lorenzo
Monday-Saturday: 10AM-5PM, (Sunday-1:30 PM-5:30 PM between March and October)
Admission: 4.50 € (Additional 6 € for entrance into Cappelle Medici, Museum, and Crypt.)
More info on the Cappelle Medici and ticket prices, here.
Built by the Medicis to complete with Brunelleschi’s Duomo, San Lorenzo is the second red dome you will see in Florence. It’s not big at all comparatively, and often times goes unnoticed. If you wish to learn even more about the Medicis, it’s definitely worth a visit. Walking into the the Cappelle, everything is coated in gold leaf and is where some of the Medici tombs are. It may not be high on your list, but if you are walking by and the line isn’t ridiculous, pay it a quick visit.
(The courtyard of San Lorenzo is open to the public and free! Standing in front of the church, enter in the little doorway to the left and be pleasantly surprised.)
Basilica di Santo Spirito
Monday-Friday: 9:30AM-12:30PM, Saturday 4-5:30PM & Sunday 11:30AM-12:30PM.
Located in Oltrarno, on the other side of the river, Santo Spirito is a more local spot. To me, the outside of the church almost looks somewhat Western, it is completely different than anything else you might see in Florence. It is known for housing one of Michelangelo’s first sculptures, a wooden carving of Christ, that was recently discovered.
Basilica di Santa Croce
Monday-Saturday: 9:30AM – 5:30PM, Sunday & Holy Days 2:00PM – 5:30PM
Admission: 6 € (Free guided tours in English and Italian available upon entrance.) Extended ticket information and hour details can be found, here.
There is an incredible amount of history within Santa Croce. It holds the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and honors a number of Italian entrepreneurs, scientists, and artists. It’s always changing, with additions of new tombs and monuments within it’s walls. The floors of the church itself are made up of hundreds of tombs, and the walls and windows are ornately decorated.
I would definitely suggest taking advantage of the free tours that are offered. It can be quite overwhelming entering Santa Croce, and then being bombarded by your own curiosity and not being able to find the answers.
Basilica Santa Maria Novella
Monday-Thursday: 9AM-5:30PM, Friday 11AM-5:30PM, Saturdays 9AM-5PM, Sundays & Religious Holidays 1-5PM.
Admission: 5 € (More info on tickets and hours, here.)
Santa Maria Novella is by far the church that surprised me the most. It’s also another one that I never visited while studying. I nicknamed it the “Zebra Church”, because the inside and outside have black and white marble strip patterns. (After seeing so many churches, it’s good to find a way to remember all the unique details.)
The content within the church is endless. Your ticket allows access within the church, the courtyard, the huge museum, and more. When you finally think you have seen everything, turn the corner to discover another room filled with history. It may not be the best kept up of all the churches in Florence, but the fact that it is one of the oldest and most rich with history, is pretty amazing. I absolutely recommend to put this one high on your list.