Of the 900 or so churches you could visit in Rome, I have made a selection of my favourites, in descending order. I don't know if you can figure out which one is in my top one, but you may not have considered which ones you want to visit during the rest of 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 AD, was originally a temple dedicated to the ensemble of Roman gods. The coexistence of pagan customs and religion inherited from Hellenistic culture with the growing Catholic cult led the early Christians in the 7th century to transform the Pantheon in Rome into the Basilica of Saint Mary and the Martyrs, also known as Santa Maria Rotonda.
The Pantheon is the best preserved building in 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, hence the proportions and structure of the Pantheon: a circular room that forms a perfect sphere with the dome, at the zenith of which an oculus opens up to serve as the sun.
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: Admission to the Pantheon is free.
- Opening 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 Barberini metro stop (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 flight of steps next to Piazza del Campidoglio where the Capitoline Museums are located.
The church is a blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with three impressive naves lit by an endless row of chandeliers that cast dazzling coloured reflections throughout the interior.
On the altar is the church's most important piece of art, a carving of the Infant Jesus which 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.
- Admission: Admission 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 to get there is on foot 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 Germany and whose interior will leave you open-mouthed.
During the Napoleonic occupation of Rome in the 18th century, the Gothic Santa Maria dell'Anima was sacked and used as a stable, but the church still has 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 definitely walk past it, probably on one of the guided tours, so go for it!
- Admission: Free.
- Hours: 9am-1pm and 2-5pm 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 stone's throw 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 guidebooks to Rome because of the impressive Byzantine mosaics from the 12th and 13th centuries that decorate the interior apse and the exterior façade. The interior images depict 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, the really impressive thing is the history of this place: according to legend, in the year 38 BC, on the very spot where this temple now stands, a stream of oil gushed out of the ground and this was interpreted as an announcement of the coming of Christ. This spring was given the name Fons Olei, and is now the presbytery of this church which was the first official place of Christian worship in Rome.
The church is a popular meeting point for tours of the Trastevere neighbourhood, a great way to get to know this neighbourhood and its charming corners 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 neighbourhood. You will fall in love with this place at sunset.
- Admission: Entrance to Santa Maria in Trastevere is free.
- Opening hours: Every day of the week from 7.30am to 9pm.
- How to get there: To get there directly, bus lines 23, 280 and 780 stop nearby. You can also walk from Campo de' Fiori or Palazzo Spada.
5. St. Peter's Basilica
The most important church of Christian worship in the whole world, one of the architectural wonders of the West, and sometimes the only reason millions of tourists need to travel to Rome.
Of course, I couldn't end this list without mentioning St. Peter's Basilica, a must-see on any visit to Rome, even though it is technically located in Vatican City rather than the Eternal City. The main church of Christianity, designed by the celebrated artist Michelangelo and built over the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle, houses tombs of Popes, a sacristy and a Treasury, which has been converted 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 above the high altar, look up and lose yourself in the dome and its beautiful frescoes, and marvel at the baroque art spectacle of the tomb of Alexander VII.
- Admission: Admission to St. Peter's Basilica is free, but you can purchase a skip-the-line ticket or book a tour to avoid waiting in line.
- Opening hours: The basilica is open from 1 October to 31 March from 7am to 6pm and from 1 April to 30 September from 7am to 7pm
- How to get there: To get to St Peter's Basilica directly it is best to take the metro line A to Ottaviano station. Tram 19 has a stop nearby at 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. Basilica of San Clemente
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, as you can take a fascinating journey through the different levels on which the building is built, 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 present 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!
- Admission: Admission to the Basilica is free, but visiting the excavations costs 10 euros, with free entry for children under 16.
- Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 9.45am to 12.30pm in the mornings and from 3pm to 5.30pm in the afternoons. On Saturdays the morning opening hours remain the same (9:45 to 12:30) and the afternoon opening hours are from 15:00 to 17:45. On Sundays it is open non-stop from 12:00 to 17:30.
- How to get there: It is located at Via Labicana, 95. By metro you can get there on line B, Coliseo station.
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 characterised 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 friars who died between the 16th and 19th centuries to remind us of the ephemeral nature of human life and the immortality of souls.
Most visitors come to the church of Santa Maria della Concezione to see only this chapel, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Gothic church of Sedlec in the Czech Republic.
- Admission: Admission to the church is free. A visit to the museum and crypt costs 6 euros
- Opening times: Closed on Tuesdays. All other days, including weekends, it is open non-stop from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
- How to get there: It is located at Calle Vittorio Veneto, 27 and can be reached by metro, line A, Barberini station.
Alex's Traveler Tip
The Crypt of the Capuchins in the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione is a very impressive place. For this reason it may not be a suitable visit for very sensitive people.
8. Santa Maria in Cosmedin
Another of Rome's churches that should be on your route through the city's temples is Santa Maria in Cosmedin, famous because inside it is the Mouth of Truth and the glass reliquary containing the relics of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of lovers.
Two powerful reasons to visit this 6th century AD Romanesque temple, whether you are a religious person or not. Compared to other churches in the city, this temple has hardly any decoration, although it still conserves very interesting decorations such as the mosaics on the floor, the baldachin and the choir or the bishop's throne.
- Admission: free
- Opening hours: open Mon-Sun 9.30am-6pm
- How to get there: located in Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18. You can get there 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, close to Piazza Venezia and the Monument to King Victor Emmanuel II. You can take advantage of your visit to the "Vittoriano" viewpoint (one of the best views of Rome) to go to this church, the first of the Society of Jesus to be built in Rome, which initially perfectly embodied the values of the Council of Trent with which it was built.
However, its decoration was soon changed to a more sumptuous baroque style, the model of which soon spread to other parts of the world.
Some of the most striking features of this church are its single-nave plan and its façade (a revolution at the time), but especially the beautiful frescoes on the vault that leave you speechless as soon as you enter.
Useful information about the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo
- Admission: The entrance to the Church of the Gesù or Church of Jesus is free
- Opening 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. You can get there by metro, 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 visit the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, a very special church from a decorative point of view, as some of the most famous artists of the time, such as Caravaggio, Raphael, Pinturicchio and Bernini, worked on the chapels.
The church of Santa Maria del Popolo is therefore richly ornamental and 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 history: the Romans thought that a tree had grown on the place where Nero was buried that was bewitched because it attracted many crows.
To put an end to the rumours, Pope Paschal II ordered the tree to be uprooted and a Romanesque chapel to be built there, which eventually became the present church. Curious, isn't it?
Useful information about the church
- Admission: Free entrance
- Opening hours: Monday to Thursday from 7.15am to 12.30pm and from 4pm to 7pm. Friday and Saturday open uninterrupted from 7:30 am to 7:00 pm. Closed on Sundays.
- How to get there: Located in Piazza del Popolo. Accessible by metro, line A, Famino station.
Tips for visiting a church in Rome
Churches in Rome are sacred places where Catholic worship is celebrated, so they apply a strict dress code that requires shoulders and knees to be covered regardless of gender. As 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 trousers. 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 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 from the long queues at the entrance.