There are over 900 churches in Rome, all with their own story and holding some of the most beautiful frescoes, paintings and sculptures. Many of Rome’s churches worth a visit: here is a selection of ten of the most beautiful, interesting and unique ones.
Many churches stay open all day, but some close for a few hours around lunch time. Many of them have free entrance, but some have museums, cloisters, or archaeological areas with a fee. Most allows photos inside, with some restrictions.
Please notice that entering a church you’re expected to be quite and respectful and you have to be dressed properly (no bare knees and shoulders, both for women and men). Strict dress codes are especially adhered to at St. Peter’s. People who monitor visitors in churches have the right to refuse entrance if in their opinion the visitor is dressed inappropriate to enter.
You can enjoy a visit to several Churches of Rome with our Christian tour. Let us know if you like the standard tour or if there are other sites that you prefer: we’ll organize your days in the best way possible.
1 – Saint Peter’s Basilica. Now, this one was quite obvious. Still is truly the one church you can’t miss if you are in Rome. Although it is in Vatican City, so technically not in Rome. It’s so magnificent, extraordinary and spectacular, you have to see it at least once in your lifetime. San Pietro is the current church of the Pope and one of the largest and most important Catholic churches in the world. It is the resting place of many former popes, including John Paul II and Saint Peter, Christendom’s first Pope and the founder of the Catholic Church. Saint Peter’s tomb is directly below the altar of the Basilica. The Dome was designed by Michelangelo, and it’s a dominant feature of the skyline of Rome. Inside the Basilica you can admire Michelangelo’s Pietà and Bernini’s baldacchino, a pavilion-like structure 98 ft tall and claimed to be the largest piece of bronze in the world, which stands beneath the dome and above the altar. The admission is free, from 7 am to 6.30 pm in winter, and to 7 pm in summer. The access to the Dome has a fee (7€ elevator plus 320 steps, 5 € by foot – 551 steps), and is open from 8 am to 5 pm (winter) or to 6 pm (summer). Click here for Saint Peter’s virtual tour.
2 – The Cathedral of Saint John in Lateran. The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is the Cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, it ranks above all other churches in the Catholic Church, including St. Peter’s Basilica. For that reason, it holds the title of Archbasilica. In its interior, the Papal Throne (cathedra in Latin) was placed. The Archbasilica is dedicated to St. John Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, as co-patrons, but the chief patron is Christ the Saviour himself. This is the location of one of the Vatican’s holiest relics: the Scala Santa (Holy Stairs), wooden steps that encase white marble steps, that are, according to Roman Catholic tradition, the staircase leading once to the praetorium of Pilate at Jerusalem, hence sanctified by the footsteps of Jesus Christ during his Passion. The Basilica is open from 7 am to 6.30 pm; the museum from 10 am to 5.30 pm. Virtual Tour.
3 – The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major). Is the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. Among the Patriarchal Basilicas of Rome, St. Mary Major is the only one to have kept its original structure, though it has been enhanced over the course of the years. The mosaics found in Santa Maria Maggiore are not just incredibly beautiful works but also one of the oldest representations of the Virgin Mary in Christian Late Antiquity. Under the high altar of the basilica is the Crypt of the Nativity, or Bethlehem Crypt, with a crystal reliquary that contains wood from the Holy Crib of Jesus Christ. As a papal basilica, Santa Maria Maggiore is often used by the Pope. Most notably, the Pope presides over the annual Feast of the Assumption of Mary, celebrated on 15 August each year at the basilica. The Basilica is open every day from 7.00 am until 6.45 pm. The Museum is open daily from 9.30 am to 6.30 pm. Virtual tour.
4 – The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. Was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over the burial place of Saint Paul. Paul’s tomb is below a marble tombstone in the Basilica’s crypt, at 4.5 ft below the altar. The tombstone bears the Latin inscription PAULO APOSTOLO MART (“to Paul the apostle and martyr”). The Basilica is open every day from 7.00 am to 6.30 pm, free admission. Virtual tour.
5 – The Pantheon. One of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings, was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of ancient Rome. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The building is circular and the dome has a central opening to the sky (oculus), that is the main source of natural light and air. In 609, the Pope Boniface IV converted it into a Christian church and consecrated it to Santa Maria dei Martiri. The building’s consecration as a church saved it from abandonment, destruction, and spoliation. Since the Renaissance the Pantheon has been used as a tomb: among those buried there are two kings of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, and the painter Raphael. The Pantheon is actually in use as a church. Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 8.30 am – 7.30 pm; Sunday 9.00 am – 6.00 pm. Virtual tour.
6 – The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. According to tradition, was consecrated around 325 to house the Passion Relics brought to Rome from the Holy Land by St. Helena of Constantinople, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. At that time, the basilica floor was covered with soil from Jerusalem, thus acquiring the title “in Jerusalem”. Several well-known relics are housed in the Cappella delle Reliquie. They include two thorns of the crown, an incomplete nail, and three wooden pieces of the Holy Cross of Jesus. Opening hours: every day from 7.00 to 12.45 and from 15.30 to 19.30.
7 – The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter’s in Chains). It was first rebuilt on older foundations to house the Relic of the Chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. The Chains are kept in a Reliquary under the main altar in the Basilica. This minor Basilica is best known for being the home of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, part of the tomb of Pope Julius II. Opens every day from 8.00 am to 12.30 pm and 3.00 pm to 6.00 pm (7.00 pm in summer). Visits are not allowed during Masses.
8 – The Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano. This particular Basilica is a three-tiered complex of buildings: the first archeological layer is the present basilica, built in the Middle Ages; beneath the present basilica is a 4th-century basilica, and beneath that you can descend into the world of Rome in the first century where there is still a pagan temple. The excavations ore open from Monday to Saturday, 09.00 am – 12.30 pm and 3.00 pm – 6.00 pm; on Sundays and State Holidays, 12.00 pm – 6.00 pm. Admission to the excavations: € 5,00.
9 – The Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin. Was built in the 8th century over the remains of a Roman Temple and in the centuries has been restored and expanded. The greatest attraction here is the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth), a large marble medalion, thought to be part of a first-century ancient Roman fountain, or perhaps a manhole cover, portraying a pagan god. Starting from the Middle Ages, it was believed that if one told a lie with a hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off. The piece was placed in the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the 17th century. This church is also home to the relics of Saint Valentine. Opening hours: daily 9am-8pm (summer); 9am-5pm (winter).
10 – Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Is the first Roman Church dedicated “to God in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. It is led by the Minor Capuchins, the group of Franciscan friars that live in the adjacent convent. This church is peculiar due to its crypt: located just under the church, it contains the remains of 4,000 friars. Some of the skeletons are intact and draped with Franciscan habits, but for the most part individual bones are used to create elaborate ornamental designs on the crypt walls. The view is beautifully creepy: undoubtedly is not like any other church you will ever visit. The museum (the crypt is part of the museum, and contains also the Caravaggio masterpiece St Francis in Meditation) is open daily from 9 am to 7 pm. Admission fee 6,00€.