Whether you're on your own pilgrimage or merely interested in art and architecture, we take you through some of Italy's most famous cathedrals, splendid churches and breathtaking basilicas you must visit on your trip. Let's dive into some of the most important holy sites Italy has to offer.
St Mark's Basilica - Venice
Along with the Doge's Palace, St Mark's Basilica is one of Venice's must-see attractions and one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. Located in the center of the city in the Piazza San Marco and known as the "Church of Gold", this cathedral has splendid decorations that have been continually updated since the original construction in 1093. No reservations are required for holy masses, though you may want to check the Basilica's website in advance. Dress appropriately—most churches in Italy won't accept shorts or bare shoulders. The most famous piece of art in the church is the Triumphal Quadriga, a sculpture of four bronze horses that functions as the Basilica's symbol. With a storied history—including being looted by Napoleon—these sculptures date back to Roman times. Designed as part of the facade the horses sat for centuries on the loggia above the porch, but have since been moved inside for preservation purposes.
This seat of an Archbishop, currently the 3rd largest in the world, took over 600 years to complete. A massive Gothic design in white marble, this famous cathedral is truly a sight to behold. There's a dedicated entrance if you're entering as a worshipper, though we recommend reviewing the timetable of services before your visit. The cathedral offers many options for regular tours for visitors. Climb the epic staircase for views of Milan, or, if you don't feel like taking the 250 steps, there is also an elevator. The architecture and rooftop views steal the show, so don't miss going to the top.
Less famous outside of Italy, Assisi is known within Italy as one of the icons of Italian Catholicism. It's also a popular spot for Italians to celebrate Christmas, so if you're in Italy to celebrate the holidays, add it to your itinerary! The city honors San Francesco, aka Saint Francis, who historically is thought to have invented 'presepe', nativity scenes in public. Not surprisingly, you'll find some incredible nativity scenes in Assisi's main square for the holidays.
Adjacent to the infamous Leaning Tower, Pisa Cathedral, a classic example of Romanesque architecture, was built in 1118. Constructed with the wealth of the very cosmopolitan for the time Pisan merchants, the building contains Islamic, classical, and Byzantine elements. The cathedral has undergone major restorations over many periods, so it contains a wide variety of architectural styles. Famous in its own right, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually the cathedral's bell tower. You'll enjoy the bronze doors and finely worked marble alternating in black and white.
Santa Maria del Fiore - Florence
Known as 'Il Duomo', this famous cathedral is unmissable. The cathedral's epic octagonal dome designed by Brunelleschi, was one of the greatest feats of architecture of the Renaissance period and still serves as the symbol of Florence. At the time, the dome's size was considered impossible to build, but Brunelleschi was able to make it a success. Now it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Towering over the skyline of Florence, you'll spot the marble pink and green panels on the outside from afar. Liturgical services happen daily, while the confessional is also publicly available.
Vatican City - Rome
Technically not part of Italy, the Vatican is its own city-state (i.e. country) within Rome. The immense size of the place of worship can not be underestimated. The Vatican contains many churches, monuments, and museums, visiting all of which could take days. Michelangelo's Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) is a must-visit, but there are a ton of things to do and see. We'd recommend doing a bit of research and planning so that you can make sure you catch the things you'd like to see. Not only is attending services at the Vatican possible, you may also be lucky enough to visit on a Papal audience day. Definitely, something not to miss!