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The 12 Most Beautiful Churches & Cathedrals in Italy

These are the 12 most beautiful churches in Italy, well churches and cathedrals really.  I bet there are a few on this list that you've never heard of before. 

The list is in no particular order. There is no way I could possibly order such beautiful churches and cathedrals.

Dozens more churches and cathedrals in Italy came very close to making this list, but, any list is subjective. Even within our family we couldn't agree, my husband was rather upset that a couple of his favorites weren't included.

Santa Maria della SaluteSanta Maria della Salute

Our first 4 churches/cathedrals are in Venice...


  1. San Stae in Venice is our first port of call. This is far smaller that some of the huge, magnificent cathedrals featured on the list and yet it is delightful. Set on the Grand Canal, San Stae is a gracious escape from the chaos of a summer's day in Venice. Step inside to the cool, quiet interior and a sense of peace seems to descend upon you.
  2. Santa Maria della Salute, a church for our times. In 1630 the people of Venice were suffering under a terrible plague. Hundreds were dying. The city came together. Made a vow to God that they would build a beautiful church dedicated to Our Lady of Deliverance or Salute (meaning health in Italian). Shortly afterwards the plague was no more and the city remembered their vow and constructed one of the most awesome churches ever built.
  3. St Marks Basilica is the most famous of all the churches and cathedrals in Venice. Unfortunately, unlike most of the beautiful churches and cathedrals of Venice, this one is VERY well known and always crowded. It is spectacularly beautiful; however,  I find the spiritual connection I feel in those many silent and often deserted churches and cathedrals to be missing. It is hard to contemplate the mysteries of Christ, life or anything else in the push and shove: the loud voices and the feeling of being rushed overwhelms all else.
  4. Church of the Scalzi, very similar to San Stae. Sadly, many of the most wonderful frescoes were destroyed by an Austrian bombardment during the Great War.

5) Assisi, Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

Basilica of Saint Francis of AssisiBasilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

One of my personal favorites. Getting more and more crowded with each passing year; however, there is still something extremely moving about this basilica. Little wonder this is a place of pilgrimage for so many Christians. Even if you are not Christian I still recommend you visit.

6) Ravenna, Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe

One of the oldest basilicas in Italy, consecrated in 549 and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is not because of its age or because of its UNESCO "rating" that it makes our list. No, it is here because of the simplicity and elegance of the cathedral, the way it seems so very different to any other in Italy.  Very moving and truly lovely.

7) Cathedral of Noto, Sicily

Not as old as some on this list and with a difficult history consisting of earthquake damage and the collapse of the dome in 1996. It took a further decade before it was opened again. 

8) The Pantheon in Rome

The Pantheon, RomeThe Pantheon

The oldest of all the churches and cathedrals in Italy that we feature here. The dome still astounds architects and the size wows visitors.

How could they construct such a wonder nearly 2000 years ago? 

The history is fascinating and well worth the time to read. I really recommend that you drop by Wikipedia and lose yourself in a fascinating tale of the Pantheon through the centuries.

9) St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

St Peter's at nightSt Peter's at night

Not really in Italy, the Vatican is actually a separate country; however, it is in the heart of Rome so is included in our list. How could it not be?

If I had to choose a number one , from all of the churches and cathedrals we feature here, then this would be it. 

This is the greatest of all Christian churches anywhere on earth. 

10) Florence Cathedral

Florence Cathedral at SunsetFlorence Cathedral at Sunset

Once known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Perhaps the very symbol of Florence and one of Italy's top tourist attractions. From the moment you first glimpse the cathedral, to the moment you step through the door... all of it is breathtaking . Overwhelming in a wonderful way.

11) Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral by Pawel LitwinskiMilan Cathedral by Pawel Litwinski

The symbol of Milan and is the city's top tourist attraction. The second biggest cathedral in Europe - only St Peter's Cathedral is bigger - the construction took an incredible 600 years to complete.

Inside and out the cathedral is impressive but, there is another way of seeing the cathedral, one which I highly recommend and that is a trip to the roof. Here are the details.

12) The Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padova

St Anthony, PadovaSt Anthony, Padova

It is so strange to me that such a wonderful sight attracts so few tourists. In fact, Padova itself is an undiscovered gem of a city which we've written about before. You can discover why we love the city so much here.

The cathedral itself is an eclectic mix of styles and was built in the late 13th century to commemorate Saint Anthony, patron saint of the lost, sick and dying. Attend a mass in this vast and holy space and you cannot help but be moved.

When in Padova you simply must not miss the Scrovegni Chapel, experts say that this ceiling, painted by Giotto, is arguably the most beautiful painted ceiling on earth. Up there with the Sistine Chapel. 


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