With its beautiful grassy expanses and Renaissance basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence’s Piazza di Santa Maria Novella is beloved by Florentines and visitors alike. The centrally located square, lined with historic townhouses, restaurants, and cafés, has been a popular gathering place for 800 years.
Piazza di Santa Maria Novella was built in the late 13th century and quickly became a center of Florentine life. Over the centuries, a number of festivals and tournaments were held here, and the two large obelisks sitting atop four bronze turtles by Giambologna that still decorate the square’s center were erected in the 1500s as marks for chariot races. One of Florence’s most beautiful churches, Santa Maria Novella, dominates this busy square, which is also home to the former Hospital of San Paolo, famous for its loggia decorated with majolica reliefs by Andrea della Robbia.
Many private or small-group Florence walking tours and tours by Segway or electric bike include a stop in Piazza di Santa Maria Novella along with visits to highlights like the Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, the Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell'Accademia), Piazzale Michelangelo, the Florence Duomo, and Santa Croce (Basilica di Santa Croce). Another unique way to experience the piazza is by joining a street-food tour that stops at the cafés and gelato shops around the square.
Things to Know Before You Go
- With its large open spaces, gelato shops, and public benches, Piazza di Santa Maria Novella is a convenient stop for kids.
- Santa Maria Novella also has a pretty cloister and historic pharmacy selling herbal teas, perfumes, and soaps just off the square.
- Most cultural and food tours of the historic center of Florence and Piazza di Santa Maria Novella are on foot, so choose comfortable shoes and bring a sun hat.
- This public square is pedestrian only and perfectly flat, so easy to access with a wheelchair or stroller.
How to Get There
Piazza di Santa Maria Novella is in the historic center of Florence, just across the street from the city’s main train station that shares its name.
When to Get There
The square is particularly lovely at night, when Florentines gather for an evening stroll with their gelato against the backdrop of the illuminated church facade.
The Santa Maria Novella Church
In addition to its magnificent 15th-century facade designed by Leon Battista Alberti, this Renaissance monument is home to artistic masterpieces by Masaccio, Filippino Lippi, Brunelleschi, and Giotto in addition to Domenico Ghirlandaio’s beautiful Tornabuoni Chapel.