The Must-See Churches In Rome

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Rome is packed with beautiful churches, whose purpose goes way beyond that of being places of worship. Churches in Rome are a fantastic example of architecture and art, and inside you will be able to spot mosaics, paintings and frescoes, sculptures and much more.

Most of the churches in town are free to visit – which is prefect if you are planning a budget trip. Some are best visited on guided tours, for the art inside can be overwhelming otherwise.

In this post, I sum up a description of Rome’s most beautiful churches – some are very popular and you will have heard about them; others are lesser known and some are even quite new, but equally worth visiting.

Remember that you need to be dressed modestly to get inside churches throughout Italy. Wear a long skirt or pants, and cover your shoulders and chest.

24 Beautiful Churches In Rome

St. Peter’s Basilica

Actually part of the Vatican State, St. Peter’s Basilica is usually visited by tourists in Rome so I thought I’d mention it in this post. The most famous church in Christendom and an incredible example of Renaissance and Baroque art, the church includes masterpieces by artists such as Bernini (author of the famous canopy), Michelangelo (you can see his Pietà statue inside); Vignola, who designed the famous cupola.

The original church was built in 326 upon orders of Emperor Constantine, but in 1452 Pope Nicholas V ordered the construction of a new church on top of it – which was only completed in the 18th century.

The church is located in Piazza San Pietro. Visiting the church is free. If you wish to visit the Dome, there is an €8 fee for climbing the stairs or a €10 fee for the elevator.

To make the most of the church, you may want to consider joining a guided tour such as this one or this one. Both tours include skip-the-line admission. For tours that include the Dome climb click here.

Make sure to read my post A Guide To Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica.

churches in Rome

St John in the Lateran

Located in the Esquilino neighborhood, San Giovanni in Laterano is Rome’s cathedral, the seat of the Pope in the city of Rome and the oldest basilica in town. Not much remains of the original church, which was destroyed by earthquakes and fires in the past.

It now mostly appears like a large Baroque church packed with frescoes (the most important one is Giotto’s), mosaics, sculptures and columns.

Inside, you will be able to see the 1367 Gothic tabernacle and the baptistery built upon wishes of Emperor Constantine in AD 315. Make sure not to miss the Scala Sancta – the 28 steps that Jesus climbed on his way to trial in Jerusalem. Outside of the church you can see the Lateran Obelisk, the largest standing Egyptian obelisk in the world.

The church is located in Piazza di Porta San Giovanni. Visiting the church is free. For a guided tour of St John in the Lateran, click here.

Make sure to also read my post A Guide To St. John In The Lateran.

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica

This seemingly Baroque church is one of the most important and earliest Christian basilicas in Rome. Santa Maria Maggiore was built in 435 AD over Cybele goddess temples upon orders of Pope Liberius. Legend says that the Virgin Mary, to which the church is dedicated, appeared before the Pope to ask that a church was built in her honor.

Inside the church you’ll spot gorgeous mosaics on the triumphal arch above the main altar as well as on the nave walls. Murals depict scenes from the Old Testament.

The church is located in Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore.

Make sure to also read my post A Guide To Visiting Santa Maria Maggiore.

Santa Costanza

Church of Santa Costanza

This beautiful church dates back to the 4th century, when it was built as a mausoleum for the daughter of Emperor Constantine, who died in 354 AD. The tombs of Constantia and her sister Helena were originally placed center of the church, but they have been moved to the Vatican Museums.

Inside the church you can spot well-preserved mosaics, impressive columns, and other impressive details.

The church is located in Via Nomentana.

famous buildings in Rome

Church of God the Merciful Father (Chiesa Parrocchiale di Dio Padre Misericordioso)

Not all the churches in Rome date back centuries! Known as the Church of the Jubilee, this church was built to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus; designed by American architect Richard Meier.

The construction, entirely in Postmodernist style, was completed in 2003. The church is entirely made of smooth white concrete, glass, titanium and some of the walls look like sails!

The church is located in Piazza Largo Terzo Millennio, in the district of Tor Tre Teste.

Fontana del Pantheon

The Pantheon (Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs)

The Pantheon wasn’t always a church. Built in 126 AD to be a temple, it was consecrated as a church in 609 AD by Pope Boniface IV, when it became the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs.

The building remains one of the most beautiful in Rome. From the Renaissance onwards, it became the burial place for important Italians such as painter Raphael; composer Arcangelo Corelli; and King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II.

The Pantheon is located in Piazza della Rotonda. Contrary to what some sites suggest, it is free to visit (the idea of implementing a small admission fee never pushed through) but you may want to get an audioguide for guidance. You can get it here.

Basilica di San Clemente

Basilica di San Clemente

Despite being one of the most unique churches in Rome, this still remains one of the lesser visited ones. The 12th century basilica was built on top of the 4th century one; which in turn was built on top of a 1st century Pagan site. The church was used by Christians when being Christian was still outlawed in Rome.

Excavations have proved there is even an older level of the church, which was apparently destroyed during the 64 AD fire caused by Nero.

The church is located in Via San Giovanni in Laterano. You can visit it for free but if you want to explore the underground there is a fee to pay. To make the most of this and other churches in Rome you may want to join a guided tour. You can book it here or here.

Santa Maria del Popolo

Santa Maria del Popolo

According to legend, this church, found in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, was built in 1099 upon wishes of local residents who were convinced the ghost of Nero was haunting the area.

The church – which belongs to the order of the Augustinians – was enlarged by Bramante in 1505 and later on by Rome’s favorite artist Bernini. Go inside and you’ll find seven chapels containing some incredible example of Renaissance art, with works of the ever-present Bernini, Caravaggio and Raphael.

The Basilica is located in Piazza del Popolo 12, near Porta Pinciana.

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere

This church is located in Trastevere, on the other side of the Tiber river compared to the historic center of Rome. This is thought to be the first place where Christians in Rome could profess their religion: its construction started as early as 221, and was only completed in 340.

In the 5th and 8th century the church was restored, but the most important restoration was that of 1140-1143, when the church was literally rebuilt on its own foundations upon wishes of Pope Innocent II, who removed the tomb of the Antipope Anacletus II, his former rival, to replace it with what would be his own burial place. That’s also when the bell tower, in Romanesque style, was added.

The most important pieces inside the church are the 13th century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini – Life of the Virgin, which was completed in 1291. The 22 granite columns that separate the main nave from the isle were taken from the Baths of Caracalla.

The church is located in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.

You should also read my post A Guide To The Basilica Di Santa Maria In Trastevere, Rome.

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

This 5th century (though some suggest it was built in the 9th century!) church is devoted to Roman martyr Saint Cecilia, who died at age 14. According to legend, the church was built over the remains of the house of the saint.

In fact, excavations under the Chapel of the Relics found the presence of a baptistery which is to be associated with the church, as well as the remains of a Roman house dating back to the early Empire period.

The most notable piece inside the church is a 13th century fresco of the Last Judgement that Pietro Cavallini (a forerunner of Giotto) painted between 1289 and 1293 in the choir of the nuns. Take notice of the sculpture of Saint Cecilia by Moderno – he modeled it on her body which was exhumed in the 16th century.

The church is located in Piazza Santa Cecilia in Trastevere 22; it is free to visit. The frescoes can be seen for a small fee.

You should also read my post A Guide To Visiting Santa Cecilia In Trastevere, Rome.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

One of the very few Gothic churches in Rome, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva was built over a temple – in this case the temple of Minerva – and is located in the historical center of Rome, close to the Pantheon. Construction of the church started in 1280 and took almost two full centuries to complete – it was only finished in 1453.

A much beloved Dominican church in town, among the most notable pieces inside there are the Chapel of the Annunciation of St. Thomas, which was was frescoed by Filippo Lippi in 1489; the 1521 statue of the Risen Christ by Michelangelo which is located in front of the altar; and the relics of St. Catherine of Siena, which are located in the high altar.

The church is located in Piazza della Minerva.

Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

One of the seven pilgrimage churches of Rome and one of the oldest basilicas in town, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem dates back to the early 4th century, when it was built to house a number of relics that St. Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother, brought back from Jerusalem.

The church was almost completely reconstructed in the 18th century and not much has been preserved of the original structure.

On exhibit in reliquaries in a chapel that was built in 1030 specifically to display them, you can see the thorns from the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus on his cross; pieces of the True Cross; fragments coming from the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem and more.

The church is located in Piazza di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

San Pietro in Vincoli

San Pietro in Vincoli

Vincoli roughly translates as chains, and in this case the name refers to the most important relic you can see in the church – the very chains that St. Peter worn in the Mamertine Prison of Jerusalem.

Also known as the Basilica Eudoxiana, this is one of Rome’s oldest churches, whose construction started in 431. The church you see nowadays is very different from what the church used to be, as with time it has undergone several alterations and restorations.

Inside the church, in the south transept, you can see the statue of Moses, one of Michelangelo’s finest works and part of the tomb of Pope Julius II. Michelangelo also sculpted the statue of Rachel and Leah, the two wives of Jacob.

The church is located in Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli.

For more information, head over to my post A Guide To Visiting San Pietro In Vincoli Rome Guide.

Churches in Rome

Santa Maria in Cosmedin

You may have heard of this church as it is located in Piazza Bocca della Verità, famous for the Mouth of Truth where tourists line every day to place their hand in the mouth. The church is one of the best preserved medieval churches in Rome. Its construction started in 772 but it took centuries to complete the church – it was only finished in 1124.

The most notable pieces are the seven-story bell tower and the two-story covered porch. The interior of the church is a triumph of marble work by the Roman Cosmati family, frescoes, columns that were at times taken from other sites.

Make sure to spot the beautiful Baroque Fountain of the Two Tritons just outside, in the square in front of the church.

The church is located in Piazza Bocca della Verità.

Make sure to read my post A Guide To Visiting The Mouth Of Truth.

San Lorenzo Fuori Le Mura

San Lorenzo Fuori Le Mura

A shrine of the tomb of Saint Lawrence, martyred in 258, this is one of the seven pilgrimage churches of Rome and an early Christian basilica. The church was severely damaged in 1943, during an air raid carried out by American planes during World War II.

Restorations started almost immediately and continued until 1948, but unfortunately the frescoes on the facade could not be saved.

The most notable pieces inside are the mosaic on the arch, which shows Jesus Christ surrounded by saints; the marble pulpits, the bishop’s throne and the tomb of Cardinal Fieschi.

The church is located in Piazzale del Verano.

San Paolo Fuori le Mura

San Paolo Fuori Le Mura

The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of the lesser visited churches in Rome. A beloved church for locals, not many outside the country actually realize this is one of the oldest basilicas ever built!

In fact, the church was built upon wishes of Roman Emperor Constantine I over what was recognized to be the burial place of Saint Paul. The basilica was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324. Subsequent works started in 386 upon wishes of Emperor Theodosius, and finished in 402 when Pope Innocent I once again consecrated the church.

On 15 July 1823 the church went almost entirely destroyed in a fire after having survived for intact for more than 1435 years. Pope Leo XII issued the Ad Plurimas encyclical in 1825 with the objective of raising donations for its reconstruction. Although the new church was meant to be identical to the previous one, it isn’t – but it remains a beautiful place to visit.

The church is located in Piazzale San Paolo.

You should also red my post A Guide To Visiting The Basilica Papale Di San Paolo Fuori Le Mura, Rome.

Santa Sabina

Basilica di Santa Sabina

Santa Sabina Basilica is located on the Aventine Hill and is one of the best preserved early-Christian churches in Rome. It dates back to 425-432, when it was built by Peter of Illyria on the tomb of Saint Sabina.

Its most notable piece is the mosaic on the wall above the entrance, depicting two female figures: it’s one of the oldest mosaics found in Rome. The central wooden carved door is the original one – dating from 432. The 28 remaining panels show scenes from both the Old and the New Testament.

The church saw some renovation works in 824. Next to it you’ll find a Dominican Monastery where even St. Thomas Aquinas was a monk. This was turned into a chapel by Rome’s most notorious Renaissance artist, Bernini.

The church is located in Piazza Pietro d’Illiria.

sant'andrea al quirinale
Photo by essevu @shutterstock

Sant’Andrea Al Quirinale

This beautiful Baroque church in Rome’s Quirinal Hill is often overlooked by tourists. I suspect it’s because they have no idea that it’s one of Bernini’s best works of art (he thought so himself!), lavishly decorated as he would always do.

The church – which incorporated 16th century Sant’Andrea a Montecavallo church- was commissioned by former Cardinal Camillo Francesco Maria Pamphili, with the approval of Pope Alexander VII, to Bernini in 1658 and completed in 1661 – though the interior was only completed in 1670.

The church is located in Via del Quirinale.

Santa Prassede

Santa Prassede

This 9th century church is located in Rome Esquilino neighborhood. The church was dedicated to Prassede, daughter of a notable Roman, and was throughout time it has seen several additions and modifications from the original Christian basilica it used to be.

The most notable element is the Chapel of St. Zeno, found in the south aisle and built by Pope Paschal I to house the tomb of his mother Theodora. The mosaics in the chapel are simply marvelous.

The church is located in Via San Martino ai Monti.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Santa Maria in Aracoeli

What makes Santa Maria in Aracoeli one of the must-see churches in Rome is the incredible interior. You will reach the main entrance via a staircase known as the “Stairway to Heaven” which is located right behind the Altar of the Fatherland.

Once inside, admire the naves in Gothic and Romanesque styles, the columns – each one different from the other as they have all been taken from different buildings; the impressive ceiling and the wooden statue of the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli.

The one you’ll see, however, is a copy – as the original statue, which was carved in the 15th century out of wood sourced from an olive tree of the Gethsemane garden, was taken by the French in 1797, then recovered and stolen again in 1994.

The church was originally named as Sancta Maria in Capitolio, for it is located at the top of the Capitoline Hill, but was renamed in the 14th century.

The church is located in Scala dell’Arcicapitolina.

Basilica di Sant'Agostino

Basilica di Sant’Agostino

One of the lesser known churches in Rome, St. Augustine will capture you with the incredible artwork on display.

Go there to see 1604-1606 Caravaggio’s Madonna of the Pilgrims, a painting that at the time attracted lots of criticism for the kneeling pilgrim was shown to have dirty feet and the Madonna was portrayed as less than regal.

Other paintings you can see inside include Raphael’s Isaiah, Jacopo Tatti’s Madonna and Child and Sansovino’s sculpture of St. Anne and the Madonna with Child.

The church is located in Piazza Sant’Agostino.

San Luigi dei Francesi

San Luigi dei Francesi

The Church of St. Louis of the French is located near Piazza Navona, so you can easily pop in during your wanderings around the historic center of town. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to St. Denis the Areopagite and St. Louis IX, king of France.

Giacomo della Porta designed the church which was built by Domenico Fontana between 1518 and 1589. Catherine de’ Medici contributed to the construction effort by donating some of her properties in the area.

The most notable pieces are the façade, where you can spot several statues that are a clear reference to French history and include, among others, Charlemagne, St. Louis, St. Clothilde and St. Jeanne of Valois.

Walk inside and the Contarelli Chapel will amaze you with a cycle of paintings about the life of St. Matthews by Caravaggio, which include The Calling of St Matthew (spot it on the left wall), The Inspiration of Saint Matthew (it’s above the altar), and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (find it on the right wall).

The church is located in Piazza San Luigi dei Francesi.

statues of Rome

Santa Maria della Vittoria

One of the many churches in Rome where Bernini, the city’s favorite artist, had a prominent Rome is Saint Mary of Victory church – Santa Maria della Vittoria in Italia.

Located in Rione Sallustiano, by the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice and mirroring the Church of Santa Susanna, this is where you’ll find one of the most famous statues in Rome – by Bernini of course: the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, which is found in the Cornaro Chapel.

The church was built between 1608 and 1620, initially dedicated to Saint Paul for the Discalced Carmelites and then rededicated to the Virgin Mary.

The church is located in Via XX Settembre.

Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini
СССР, CC BY-SA 2.5 CA, via Wikimedia Commons

Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini

Known as the Church of Bones, Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins church was commissioned in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII, whose brother Antonio was a Capuchin friar.

Designed entirely by Antonio Casoni and built between 1626 and 1631, the church is composed by a small nave and a number of side chapels that contain the bodies of various saints.

The church is mostly famous for its crypt where, upon orders of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars were transferred after they had been exhumed from the friary of Via dei Lucchesi. Bones were placed along the walls, and eventually the crypt started hosting the bodies of other friars as well as of the poorest people in town.

It is estimated that the crypt contains the bodies of around 4000 friars who died between 1500 and 1870.

The church is located in Via Veneto, close to Piazza Barberini; there is a small admission fee to visit. For guided tours of the Capuchin Crypt, click here.

Further Readings

Make sure to read my other posts:

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