If you have never visited Rome, your eyes will light up by the overwhelming beauty of the cities churches. The city that birthed the modern Christianity we know today, holds a total of close to 900 churches. That being said, it is impossible to visit every single church with only one short visit to Rome. As you flood the streets of Rome, with churches on every corner, you will be amazed at the sizes, structures, and beauty of each building as they all hold their own story and interesting facts. Surely you will be astounded by the frescoes, sculptures and paintings each church presents.
Because it is impossible to visit every church, these are the top four churches I personally recommend you must see when you make your visit to Rome. The reason these churches made our top list, is not only because they hold some of the most beautiful unique artwork in Rome, but also because they all vary with important history. I’ve recently visited these churches and have provided specific tips and history for each attraction below, including maps showing where they are located in the city.
- Saint Peter’s Basilica
- Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
- Saint John Lateran
1.) Saint Peter’s Basilica As one of the most well known churches throughout the entire world, the Basilica Papale di San Pietro (its actual name) is located in Vatican City and is said to be the greatest Renaissance church in the world. This basilica, home to the pope is located in the Piazza San Pietro where you can find the work of some of the greatest artisits of the 16th century completly leaving you lost for words!
“Basilica” is used to describe the type of structure the church was built which holds superiority due to its architecture and historical significance. A basilica has a long rectangular hall (called a nave) that stretches directly to the aspe (or alter). In this specific church, the aspe sits directly over Saint Peter’s tomb, the first Bishop of Rome. If you so happen to be visiting the Vatican City on a Wednesday, you may be able to catch the Pope as he comes out of his home and visits the audiences in the Piazza outside of the basilica.
*Travel Guide Tip! Whichever day you do decide to go, I recommend getting there as early as possible (7am-8am) as the line for this beautiful site can get very extensive! When we recently got the chance to visit, our group arrived at 8am and waited close to three hours to get in…every single minute was worth it!
2.) Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore The largest church dedicated to Mary hits our list as a “must see” due to the beautiful marble art it holds. This church was founded and financed by Pope Liberius after the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in his dream, and the story says, told him to build a church in her highest respects.
As your eyes glaze over the marble covered ceiling and walls you can also witness the tallest bell tower of the 16th century of Rome at 75 meters tall!
*Travel Guide Tip! When you get to the Santa Maria Maggiore you will also end up directly next to the Colosseum, which is also one of my favorite sites that I highly recommend visiting.
3.) Pantheon The Pantheon is one of the greatest preserved Roman buildings on planet earth, making this a site that is a must see! Although it might feel like the entire building is flooded with tourists due to how crowded it always is, it will all make sense once you walk through the columns and into the temple. The building was originally not built as a Catholic church, but as The Temple of the Roman Gods. It was offered to the Catholic church about 600 years ago, which explains why extensive measures are taken to perserve this gracious gift.
*Travel Guide Tip! If you visit during Christmas, no matter what your holiday traditions may be, it would be a mistake to not visit what is said the be the most beautiful place to celebrate Christmas Eve Mass.
4.) Saint John Lateran Lastly, Saint John Lateran, or in Italian the Basilica di Saint Giovanni makes the top four must see churches in Rome. Visiting the oldest doors in Rome for the day is a tour that will truly amaze you. It’s simply the history behind this basilica that will make the travel to the southeast part of town completely worth it. As the oldest basilica, Saint John Lateran is considered the father of all other basilicas in Rome.
At first, it was built to be the palace for Constantine. After reconstruction it was then modeled to serve as the first church for the pope. Since the Romans built a new church for the home of the pope, which we now know as Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Saint John Lateran now serves as Rome’s official cathedral.
*Travel Guide Tip! Since this basilica is located furthest from the other three churches on our list, I would plan to view this church as either your first or last site on journey. This church is in the south eastern part of Rome and is located far from other sites. I suggests planning your entire days route on a map, in order to view the most amount that Rome has to offer.
Tips For Exploring Rome’s Churches:
With a recent visit to Rome, I had the privilege to experience and learn about each of these churches and more! When you first walk into town your overwhelmed by the beauty and structure of each attraction. If you truly are trying to make the most of your trip and take in every second of it, then follow these *Travel Guide Tips that will help make your visit to the city more relaxing and prepared.
- Wake up early and get into the city. There’s a lot of churches to see!! Lines may get long and the streets may be be crowded so in order to see all the churches listed above plus more, it may be a good idea to arrive in town early with a full day ahead of you (the earlier you get there the shorter the lines)
- Take an overload of pictures! Yeah you’ll look like a tourist, but you are!…go crazy and keep these as memories. The art work and statues inside and out of the churches are breathtaking
- Buy tickets to the Vatican ahead of time to avoid the line and get right in. If you do not want to purchase tickets and don’t mind waiting in line, a good time to get there might be around 7:00am-8:00am…just be prepared for a long wait.
- No shoulders or knees! This one is very important if you wish to see the churches listed above. Every culture is different and you need to remember you entering into what this religion considers the house of their god. Some churches sometimes might even turn you away if your shoulders or knees are not covered…Its a respect thing!
- Map it out. When you head into town try and map out where you want to go and the best route to take for it. Its a big city with a bunch of streets. The more out where to go the easier it will be to see the churches in an organized and efficient manner.
- Buy a Roma pass. Roma passes allow you to ride all of the trains and buses that take your through the entire city for your visit to the churches. This will make traveling more quickly and easier…and will save the pain in your feet every night!