Of the 900 or so churches you could visit in Rome, I have made a selection of my favorites, in descending order. I don't know if you can figure out which one is in my top one, but maybe you haven't taken into account which ones you want to visit during the rest in your Rome travel itinerary and there's still time to change that. Without further ado, here's a list of the best churches in Rome.
1. The Pantheon
This building, built around 118 A.D., was originally a temple dedicated to the Roman gods. The coexistence of pagan customs and the religion inherited from Hellenistic culture with the growing Catholic cult led the first Christians in the 7th century to transform the Pantheon in Rome into the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs, also known as Santa Maria Rotonda.
The Pantheon is the best preserved building of Ancient Rome, and architecturally it is a marvel. The building was built with the idea of uniting the human being with the divinity and the emperor, and hence the proportions and structure of the Pantheon: a circular room that forms a perfect sphere with the dome, whose zenith opens an oculus that serves as the Sun.
In the current basilica of Santa Maria and the Martyrs are housed the tombs of prominent monarchs of Italy, as well as the tomb of the artist Raphael, on which the daylight rotates throughout the day, also illuminating a lavish decoration of sculptures, mosaics and frescoes.
Many city tours of Rome pass through the Pantheon and then continue the itinerary to other major monuments in the city, an experience I highly recommend if you want to get to know the Eternal City in depth.
- Admission: Access to the Pantheon is free.
- Hours: Monday to Saturday, from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm. Sundays from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
- How to get there: It is best to walk from the metro stop Barberini (line A) or from Piazza Navona.
2. Santa Maria in Aracoeli
This small basilica, which I discovered almost by chance on my last trip to Rome, is a jewel located at the top of the Capitoline Hill, at the top of a staircase next to Piazza del Campidoglio where the Capitoline Museums are located.
The brick exterior of Santa Maria in Aracoeli makes this church go completely unnoticed and can lead to the misunderstanding that it is not worth entering, but the surprise comes when you walk through the door and find yourself in front of the opulent treasure hidden there.
The church is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with three impressive naves illuminated by an infinite row of chandeliers that project dazzling colored reflections throughout the interior.
On the altar is the most important piece of art in the church, a carving of the Infant Jesus that according to legend is carved from the wood of an olive tree from the garden of Gethsemane, where, according to the New Testament, Jesus prayed for the last time before being crucified.
Useful information about the Pantheon
- Admission: The entrance is free.
- Hours: Open to the public from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm and from 3:00 pm to 6:30 pm, every day of the week.
- How to get there: The easiest way is to walk from Piazza Venezia or from the Campidoglio.
3. Santa Maria dell'Anima
Santa Maria dell'Anima is a German parish church, founded as a place of welcome for pilgrims from the Germanic country and whose interior will leave you open-mouthed.
The church takes its inspiration from the temples of northern Europe, with a Gothic style that extends through its eight chapels and its impressive altar that, when it is illuminated, you can't help but look at and wonder if it is really the work of a human hand.
During the Napoleonic occupation of Rome in the 18th century, Santa Maria dell'Anima was sacked and used as a stable, but the temple still maintains some important works of art such as the funerary monument of Pope Adrian VI, an altarpiece by Giulio Romano depicting the Holy Family and a Roman sarcophagus in the inner cloister.
A great excuse to visit it, moreover, is that it is located in one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. So I'm sure you'll pass by it, so go ahead and go inside!
Useful information about the Capitoline Museums
- Admission: Free.
- Hours: 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm every day of the week except Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday mornings.
- How to get there: The Zanardelli bus stop, served by bus lines 70, 81, 87, 492, 628, C3, N6, N7 and N25, is very close to the church. You can also walk from Piazza Navona, which is just a short walk from Santa Maria dell'Anima.
4. Santa Maria in Trastevere
Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome. The church is featured in most Rome guidebooks for the impressive 12th and 13th century Byzantine mosaics that decorate the interior apse and exterior facade. The interior images show six moments in the life of the Virgin Mary, and the façade features an unusual scene of Mary on the throne with the infant Jesus and accompanied by ten women.
But for me, what is really impressive is the history of this place: according to legend, in the year 38 B.C., on the very site where this temple now stands, a stream of oil gushed from the earth and this was interpreted as an announcement of the coming of Christ. This spring was given the name of Fons Olei, and is now the presbytery of this church which was the first official place of Christian worship in Rome.
The church of Santa Maria in Trastevere contains one of the most interesting chapels of all the churches in the Eternal City, the Avila Chapel, with an impressive dome in which there are four sculpted angels and whose illumination produces a unique effect of contrast on the sculptures.
The church is a popular meeting point for tours of the Trastevere neighborhood, a great way to get to know this neighborhood and its charming nooks and crannies in depth. Since the church closes late, my advice is to visit Trastevere at night or go for dinner at one of the restaurants in the neighborhood. This place will make you fall in love at sunset.
Useful information about Santa Maria in Trastevere
- Admission: The entrance to Santa Maria in Trastevere is free.
- Hours: Every day of the week from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm.
- How to get there: To get there directly, bus lines 23, 280 and 780 have a stop very close. You can also walk from Campo de' Fiori or Palazzo Spada.
5. St. Peter's Basilica
The most important church of Christian worship worldwide, one of the architectural wonders of the West, and sometimes the only reason millions of tourists need to travel to Rome.
Logically, I could not end this list without naming St. Peter's Basilica, a must-see on any visit to Rome, even though it is technically located in Vatican City and not in the Eternal City. The main church of Christianity, designed by the famous artist Michelangelo and built over the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle, houses tombs of Popes, a sacristy and a Treasury, turned into a museum that you can visit.
On your visit, either on your own or on a guided tour of St. Peter's Basilica, be sure not to miss **Michelangelo'**s Pieta, located in the first chapel on the right as you enter the basilica, peruse the impressive Baldacchino over the high altar, look up and lose yourself in the dome and its beautiful frescoes, and marvel at the spectacle of baroque art in the tomb of Alexander VII.
- Entrance: Entrance to St. Peter's Basilica is free, but you can buy a skip-the-line ticket or book a tour to avoid waiting, especially at the busiest times. To go up to the dome you need a ticket, which costs 10 € if you use the elevator and 8 € if you choose to climb the stairs. The entrance to the Treasury Museum costs 6 €.
- Hours: The basilica is open from October 1 to March 31 from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm and from April 1 to September 30 from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. The dome is open to the public from October 1 to March 30 from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm and from April 1 to September 30 from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm.
- How to get there: To get to St. Peter's Basilica directly it is best to take metro line A to Ottaviano station. Streetcar 19 has a stop nearby in Piazza del Risorgimento and buses 40 and 64 (Termini stop) and bus 23 (Transpontina/Conciliazione stop) will drop you off a short walk from the basilica.
6. St. Clement's Basilica
Besides being one of the most beautiful churches in Rome, the Basilica of San Clemente is also a witness of the beginnings of Christianity in Rome until the Middle Ages.
Entering this temple dedicated to Pope Clement I is not only exciting from a spiritual point of view, but also from an archaeological point of view, since going through the different levels on which the building is built you can make a fascinating journey back in time centuries ago by going down the stairs.
Excavations carried out in the 19th century revealed the existence of a much older church that serves as the foundation of the current church and underneath it, an ancient mithraeum and some amazing structures from the 1st century that underlie the whole structure. You will literally be left in awe!
As for the style of the church, inside it is very beautiful. It retains that air of medieval Rome and has a rich decoration where the cosmatesque pavement, the beautiful mosaic of the apse and the frescoes in the chapel of Santa Catalina stand out.
Useful information about the Basilica
- Admission: Admission to the Basilica is free, but visiting the excavations has a cost of 10 euros, with free admission for children under 16 years.
- Hours: Monday to Friday the schedule is from 9:45 to 12:30 in the mornings and from 15:00 to 17:30 in the afternoons. On Saturdays, the morning hours remain the same (9:45 am to 12:30 pm) and the afternoon hours are from 3:00 pm to 5:45 pm. On Sundays it is open uninterrupted from 12:00 to 17:30.
- How to get there: It is located in Via Labicana, 95. By subway you can reach it on line B, station Colosseo.
7. Church of Santa Maria della Concezione
Unlike other churches in Rome, the interior decoration of the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione is not so impressive and is characterized by its modest dimensions. However, it is a place much visited by tourists because of the peculiar crypt of the temple, the so-called Crypt of the Capuchins.
A surprising place whose small chapels are decorated with the bones of thousands of Capuchin brothers who died between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries to remember the ephemeral nature of human life and the immortality of souls.
This church was built at the request of Pope Urban VIII in honor of his brother Antonio Barberini, who belonged to the Capuchin Order and whose tomb is in front of the main altar of the church.
Most visitors come to the church of Santa Maria della Concezione to contemplate exclusively this chapel, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Gothic church of Sedlec in the Czech Republic.
Alex's Traveler Tip
The Crypt of the Capuchins in the church of Santa María de la Concepción is a very impressive place. That is why it may not be an appropriate visit for very sensitive people.
- Admission: Entrance to the church is free. The visit to the museum and the crypt has a cost of 6 euros.
- Hours: Closed on Tuesdays. The rest of the days, including weekends, it is open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.
- How to get there: It is located in Via Vittorio Veneto, 27 and can be reached by metro, line A, station Barberini.
8. Santa Maria in Cosmedin
Another of the churches in Rome that should be on your route through the temples of the city is Santa Maria in Cosmedin, famous because inside it is the Mouth of Truth and the glass reliquary that preserves the relics of St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers.
Two powerful reasons to visit this Romanesque temple of the sixth century A.D. whether you are a religious person or not. And is that compared to other churches in the city, this temple has little decoration but still retains very interesting ornaments such as floor mosaics, the baldachin and the choir or the bishop's throne.
Something paradoxical since the name of the church comes from the Greek word "kosmidion" which means beautiful and alludes to the abundant decoration that some Greek monks gave it around the seventh century AD.
- Admission: free access
- Hours: open from Monday to Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
- How to get there: located in Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18. It can be reached by metro, line B, Circo Massimo station.
9. Church of the Gesù
The Church of the Gesù is located in a very central area of Rome, near Piazza Venezia and the Monument to King Victor Emmanuel II. You can take advantage of the visit to the viewpoint of the "Vittoriano" (one of the best views of Rome) to approach this temple, the first of the Society of Jesus that was built in Rome and that originally embodied perfectly the values of the Council of Trent with which it was built.
However, it soon began to change its decoration for a more sumptuous baroque style whose model soon spread to other parts of the world.
Some of the most striking parts of this church are its single nave plan and its facade (a revolution at the time) but especially the beautiful frescoes on the vault that leave you speechless as soon as you enter.
- Admission: The entrance to the church of Gesù or church of Jesus is free of charge.
- Hours: Every day from 7:00 am to 12:00 noon and in the afternoon from 4:00 pm to 7:30 pm.
- How to get there: Located in Via degli Astalli, 16. It can be reached by subway, line B, station Colosseo.
10. Church of Santa Maria del Popolo
If you have the opportunity to stroll through Piazza del Popolo, one of the most popular squares in Rome, I recommend you to visit the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, a very special temple from the decorative point of view because some of the most famous artists of the time, such as Caravaggio, Raphael, Pinturicchio and Bernini, intervened in the chapels.
The church of Santa Maria del Popolo presents, therefore, a great ornamental richness worth seeing. Not so much on the ceiling, as is the case with other Roman temples, but on the walls of the building.
In addition, as an anecdote, the origin of this church has a very striking story and is that the Romans thought that in the place where Nero was buried had grown a tree that was haunted because it attracted many crows.
To put an end to the rumors, Pope Paschal II ordered to uproot the tree and build there a Romanesque chapel that eventually became the current temple. Curious, isn't it?
Useful information for visiting a church in Rome
- Admission: Admission is free
- Hours: Monday to Thursday from 7:15 am to 12:30 pm and from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Friday and Saturday open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. uninterrupted. Closed on Sundays.
- How to get there: Located in Piazza del Popolo. Accessible by subway, line A, station Famino.
Tips for visiting a church in Rome
Churches in Rome are sacred places where Catholic worship is celebrated, so they enforce a strict dress code that requires shoulders and knees to be covered regardless of gender. Since summers in Rome are very hot, my advice is to wear a large scarf or shawl to cover your shoulders and knees or wear very light long pants. You should also remove any hats and caps when entering.
Admission to the vast majority of Rome's churches is free. You will find many ways to leave a donation, although in no case are you put under any obligation to do so.
Especially in the case of St. Peter's Basilica, I advise you to buy a combined ticket for the basilica and the dome of St. Peter's or hire a guided tour, as it will save you the tremendous queues at the entrance.