Nowhere is the development of Florence’s rich, detailed architecture more visible than in its stunning array of historic churches, cathedrals and basilicas. A Florence walking tour is the perfect way to see the city’s fascinating history written out in the bricks and mortar of these beautiful buildings.
As the home of the Renaissance movement, many of the world’s greatest artists were commissioned to paint frescoes and panels in the city’s churches, making them a crucial stop on any Florence walking tour.
Here’s my selection of some of the most important churches to see in the city.
The Basilica of San Lorenzo
The Basilica of San Lorenzo was one of the earliest churches to be founded in Florence. Although it’s difficult to say when it was first built, we do know that it was rebuilt in the Romanesque style in 1060. Like many churches in the city, it was then remodelled in the 15th Century to give it a more ‘modern’ appearance, fitting with the new Renaissance age.
This church was a favourite with the powerful Medici family who commissioned the leading artists of the time, including Michelangelo, Donatello, Filippo Lippi and Verrocchio to decorate it. Your guide will give you time to admire the tombs of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Giuliano de Medici, both of which were designed by Michelangelo.
Basilica of Santa Croce
Make sure that your Florence walking tour includes a visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce. Not only is it a wonderful example of Italian Gothic architecture with some impressive Renaissance frescoes inside, it is actually the final resting place of some of the city’s most notable residents. The tombs of the artists Michelangelo and Donatello, of the scientist Galileo Galilei, of the composer Rossini and of the political strategist Machiavelli are all to be found here.
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
A Florence walking tour should certainly stop off to admire the art works in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. It was here, in this 13th-Century church, that the young Michelangelo drew inspiration for his own work as he watched the masters of his day paint their frescoes.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Known to most as the Duomo this is, without doubt, Florence’s most famous church and certainly its best example of Italian Gothic architecture. There is so much to look at here it could fill a tour by itself. The walls and ceilings are adorned with works by Michelangelo, Donatello, Tolentino and Castagno amongst others (while many of the most famous works have now been moved to the Museum Opera del Duomo there’s still plenty to see).
Brunelleschi’s dome is itself a masterpiece of Renaissance architectural design. See if you can spot the small hole at the summit of the dome which was used, rather like a sundial, to cast shadows on the cathedral floor for astronomical calculations.
Church of Santa Maria del Carmine
A final stop on your Florence walking tour should be the beautiful church of Santa Maria del Carmine. Set in the sophisticated and elegant district of Oltrarno the 13th-Century church features a chapel decorated with the most beautiful biblical frescoes by artists including Masaccio and Filippino Lippi.
A walking tour is a great way to really connect with a place and at ArtViva we believe it gives you the time to take in all that you’re seeing, making it the perfect way to explore this fascinating city.
Rose Magers is an Australian-born Italophile and the founder of ArtViva. With an international reputation for excellence and creativity, ArtViva are at the forefront of escorted day tours in Italy. Rose has indulged her own passion for history and the arts by designing an innovative range of exceptional small group Florence walking tour experiences, from guided visits to view the masterpieces of the great art galleries to unforgettable Italian cookery classes.