Churches in Rome hold significant importance in both the architectural and cultural landscape of the city. It’s rumored that there are about 900 churches in Rome, so it’s unlikely you will see all of them. That’s why we’ve created a list of the 20 most beautiful Rome churches you have to visit. We’ve captured the unique features and historical significance of each church, creating a compelling itinerary for travelers interested in art, architecture, history, or spirituality.
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20 Most Beautiful Churches in Rome
Architecturally, churches in Rome represent a rich tapestry of styles ranging from Early Christian and Medieval, through to the Renaissance, Baroque, and even Modernist periods. These styles are often layered within a single building, reflecting the city’s long, complex history and its continuous adaptation and renewal.
Rome’s churches are often distinguished by their remarkable artistic embellishments, including frescoes, sculptures, mosaics, and stonework. They house works from eminent artists like Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Bernini, making these religious edifices also repositories of significant cultural heritage.
Culturally, Rome’s churches have long served as vital communal centers. They are not only pilgrimage sites, attracting millions of visitors each year, but also venues for music, social gatherings, and important life events like baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Even if you are disinterested in religious aspects, these places are still worth visiting.
Most of the churches in Rome have dress codes. Please, don’t wear flip-flops or skimpy outfits. Be sure to cover your knees and shoulders.
The role of the churches also extends to the city’s identity and sense of place. The domes, towers, and facades of churches often dominate Rome’s skyline, contributing significantly to its aesthetic appeal and its nickname, “The Eternal City.”
Let’s take a more detailed look at our list of the best churches in Rome.
1. St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica Papale di San Pietro)
No list of churches in Rome would start without a shoutout to St. Peter’s Basilica, the most famous church in the world. Located in the heart of the Vatican City, St. Peter’s is known for its breathtaking beauty, profound historical significance, and religious importance.
Completed over a span of 120 years from 1506 to 1626, St. Peter’s Basilica stands as a glorious testament to Renaissance architecture, with contributions from the likes of Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The basilica was constructed over the historical site of the Circus of Nero, where St. Peter, one of Jesus Christ’s apostles and the first Pope of the Catholic Church was believed to have been martyred.
As you step into the interior of the church, an overwhelming feeling of reverence and awe sets in (I was rendered speechless on my first visit). With an area of 15,160 m², St. Peter’s Basilica is by far the largest church in the world (the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in the Ivory Coast has a greater exterior area but the church proper is smaller than St. Peter’s).
The highlights of the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica are –
Nave and Central Aisle: The central aisle, leading from the entrance to the altar, is incredibly grand. From the gilded stucco decorations on the ceiling to the stunning mosaics and the inlaid marble floors, every detail contributes to the opulence of the interior.
Papal Altar and Baldacchino: Directly beneath the dome, you will find the papal altar, designed by Bernini. Hovering over the altar is Bernini’s Baldacchino, a massive bronze canopy that stands 29 meters tall. The Baldacchino’s twisted columns and gilded, ornate decoration make it a true masterpiece.
The Pietà: Michelangelo carved this statue in 1499 at the age of only 24. This stunning marble sculpture depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. It has been protected by glass since 1972, when a man screaming “I am Jesus Christ!” attacked it with a hammer, damaging the Virgin’s nose and arm.
Monuments and Tombs: The basilica is home to many papal tombs, including those of Pope John Paul II and Pope Alexander VII. The latter’s tomb is especially notable for its design by Bernini, featuring a skeleton lifting a draped cloth – an example of Baroque drama and symbolism.
Statue of St. Peter: This ancient bronze statue depicts St. Peter sitting on a throne, holding the keys of heaven. It is traditional for visitors to touch or kiss the foot of the statue, which has been worn smooth over centuries of this practice.
The Holy Door: The basilica has several large doors, but the Holy Door, or “Porta Sancta”, is bricked up on the inside and only opened for Jubilee Years (every 25 years) when the Pope ceremoniously strikes the brick wall with a hammer.
For some breathtaking views of Rome, go up to the roof of the dome. From the roof, you can admire the arms of Bernini’s elegant key-shaped colonnade encircling St. Peter’s Square.
St. Peter’s Basilica is a must-see because of its spiritual significance, historical richness, and the chance to witness some of the finest works of Renaissance art and architecture. While photographs can give you a glimpse of the basilica’s beauty, the full grandeur of its interior is best appreciated in person.
Practical Information for Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is open daily from 07:00-19:10 (April-September), and 07:00-18:30 (October-March). The dome of St. Peter’s is open daily from 07:30-18:00 (April-September), and 07:30-17:00 (October-March).
Cost: Free entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. You will need to buy a ticket to access the viewpoint at the top of the dome of St. Peter’s. A ticket costs 8 EUR to walk up all 551 steps or 10 EUR to take the elevator up to the terrace, from where you will still need to climb 320 steps.
As with many of the top Rome attractions, if you get up super early you can beat the rush. If you arrive at St Peter’s very early in the morning, the queues, if there are any at all, will be small. Consequently, the basilica will be less crowded and you’ll get more out of your visit.
However, there are a few ways to skip the line at St. Peter’s Basilica as it can be very exhausting to wait in lines for hours on end. These are:
- Click here to book an early morning tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel
Tips for Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica
1. Dress Code: St. Peter’s Basilica has a strict dress code for both men and women: no shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no bare shoulders. Avoid wearing clothing with writing or pictures that could risk giving offense. You will not be let in if you don’t come dressed appropriately.
2. St. Peter’s Dome: Keep in mind that the climb through the double shell of the dome of St. Peter’s to the top is a fairly claustrophobic one. Plus, as there is one stairway for going up and a different one for coming down, you can’t change your mind halfway and turn back.
You should skip the ascent to the dome if you’re either in ill health, uneasy with confined spaces, or acrophobic.
3. Papal Audience: Unless you want to witness a papal audience with the Pope, avoid going to St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday mornings. The Papal Audience is held almost every Wednesday at 10:00 or 10:30 in St. Peter’s Square (in winter, it’s sometimes held indoors at Paul VI Audience Hall, which is to the left of St. Peter’s Basilica).
Whenever the Pope appears in the square, the basilica closes and the crowds are substantial.
2. Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore)
The Basilica of Saint Mary Major is one of the most important and stunningly beautiful churches in Rome. It is one of Rome’s four major papal basilicas in Rome and the one I like the most.
According to legend, in August of AD 352, following a vision of the Virgin Mary, Pope Liberius found a patch of newly fallen snow on the summit of Esquiline Hill. To commemorate the miracle he built the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore there in her honor. It was subsequently renovated and improved upon by many popes over the centuries, although it still retains its paleo-Christian structures.
The basilica’s façade, designed by Ferdinando Fuga, is a marvel of the 18th-century Baroque style. Made of gleaming white marble, it features a symmetrical design with Corinthian columns and pilasters and is topped by a balustrade adorned with statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and various saints.
Under the terms of the Lateran Treaty signed in 1929 between the Holy See and Italy, the four major papal basilicas enjoy immunity from Italian law, are exempt from Italian taxes, and are guaranteed free access and transit for official religious activities. They, along with other properties owned by the Holy See throughout Italy, are granted certain privileges that are similar to those enjoyed by foreign embassies. So, while they are physically situated within Italy, from a jurisdictional point of view, they function much like independent entities.
The bell tower of Santa Maria Maggiore, rising to a height of 75 meters, is the tallest in Rome. Constructed in the 14th century, it is a prime example of medieval architecture, with its arched windows and decorative detailing.
The church’s façade gives no indication of the building’s true antiquity, but step inside and its venerable origins become evident. Santa Maria Maggiore houses a wealth of artistic and architectural treasures within its walls. The highlights of its interior are –
Coffered Ceiling: One of the standout features of the basilica is its magnificent coffered ceiling, which is said to be gilded with gold from the New World, brought back by Christopher Columbus, and given to the Spanish monarchy. The ceiling is an artwork itself, featuring intricate carvings and splendid gold-leaf decoration.
Nave and Mosaics: The nave is adorned with a series of beautiful mosaics from the 5th century, depicting various biblical scenes from the Old Testament. These mosaics have been wonderfully preserved and provide an insightful look into early Christian art.
Baldacchino and High Altar: The High Altar is the only altar in the basilica and is dedicated exclusively to the Pope. Above it, the stunning baldacchino is a marvel of Baroque architecture, featuring spiral columns and ornate decoration.
The Pauline and Sistine Chapels: These chapels reflect the architectural styles of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The Sistine Chapel, housing the tomb of Pope Sixtus V, is characterized by Late Renaissance elements, while the Pauline Chapel, built to house the icon of Salus Populi Romani, is a prime example of the Baroque style with its lavish ornamentation.
Flooring: The floor of the basilica is a beautiful example of Cosmatesque work, a style of geometric decorative inlay stonework typical of the medieval period in Italy. I love how the design incorporates various colored stones, creating an intricate, mosaic-like effect.
Monument to Pope Clement IX: This funerary monument created by Carlo Rainaldi and completed by several prominent sculptors, including Bernini, is one of the most ornate inside the basilica and exemplifies the richness of Baroque art.
Practical Information for Visiting Santa Maria Maggiore
Santa Maria Maggiore is open daily from 07:00-18:45. You can check mass times here.
Admission to the basilica is free and tickets aren’t required to enter the basilica. Donations aren’t necessary but welcome.
For a more immersive and insightful experience at Santa Maria Maggiore, consider booking a guided tour.
3. The Pantheon
Ahh, the Pantheon! It is possibly my favorite of all the great Rome attractions and I immediately get tears in my eyes when I talk about it.
Though originally built as a temple for all the gods of Rome during the reign of Emperor Hadrian around 125 AD, it was converted into a Christian church in the 7th century AD and is officially known as the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs.
What’s special about the Pantheon is its architectural innovation and enduring influence. It features a traditional Roman temple façade consisting of a portico with three rows of Corinthian columns (eight in the front row and two sets of four behind on either side).
Behind the portico, a huge cylindrical structure, or rotunda, forms the main body of the Pantheon. The rotunda’s height and diameter are identical at 43.3 meters (142 feet), presenting a perfect sphere, embodying the Romans’ understanding of the heavens as a spherical space.
The Pantheon’s most distinctive feature is the monumental dome, the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world even after 2000 years! The dome’s central opening or oculus, with a diameter of 9 meters (30 feet), is the sole source of natural light in the building and creates a celestial effect inside the Pantheon.
Its design incorporates progressively lighter materials as it ascends, with heavy travertine stone at the base, brick in the middle, and porous pumice stone near the oculus, helping to reduce the dome’s weight while maintaining stability.
The interior walls of the Pantheon are marked by seven large recesses or niches, framed by grand marble columns, which were originally home to statues of deities and other decorative elements.
The niches now contain chapels and tombs of Italian kings and prominent Italian artists. Look out for the tomb of Raphael, the famous Italian painter. The flooring consists of a mix of colored marbles in geometric patterns, reflecting the design of the dome above.
Practical Information for Visiting the Pantheon
The Pantheon is open daily from 09:00-19:00 (last entry at 18:45). The Pantheon is closed on the 1st of January, the 15th of August, and the 25th of December.
The entrance to the Pantheon costs 5 EUR. The entrance ticket can be purchased online through the Musei Italiani website. You’ll have to register first before purchasing your ticket.
Alternatively, you can also buy your Pantheon ticket directly at the ticket counter in front of the monument, using cash or card.
Additionally, you can book a Pantheon guided tour to ensure you won’t miss any highlights and understand their historical context.
Finally, expect to encounter lines stretching across Piazza della Rotonda every day. However, there is no question that the Pantheon is worth the wait as it offers a unique opportunity to step back in time and marvel at the ingenuity of ancient Roman architects.
4. Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano)
Known as the “mother church” of the Roman Catholic faith, the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, or San Giovanni in Laterano is the oldest and most important of the four major basilicas in Rome. It is the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope, making it the highest-ranking Catholic church.
For centuries, San Giovanni in Laterano was the principal pontifical church, and the adjacent Palazzo Laterano was the pope’s official residence. Until 1870 all popes were crowned in the church. However, when the papacy returned from Avignon at the end of the 14th century, the Lateran palaces were in ruins and uninhabitable, and the pope moved across town to the fortified Vatican, where he has remained ever since.
The basilica is dedicated to both Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. It was originally built under the reign of Constantine the Great in the 4th century and has since weathered fires, earthquakes, and invasions, undergoing several restorations and reconstructions.
The church’s impressive façade, completed by Alessandro Galilei in the 18th century, features a monumental entrance flanked by 15 colossal statues (the 12 apostles plus Christ, John the Baptist, and John the Evangelist) that are visible for miles around. The bronze doors at the entrance are notable, as they were originally from the Roman Senate House, the Curia Julia.
The church’s cavernous interior owes much of its present look to Francesco Borromini, the Baroque genius who styled it in the mid-17th century. Along the expansive nave, large niches contain stunning statues of the 12 apostles, each one a masterpiece in itself. The walls and ceiling are elaborately decorated with frescoes, reliefs, gilding, and stucco work.
At the end of the nave, an elaborate Gothic baldachin stands over the papal altar, which is used exclusively by the Pope. The altar holds a small wooden table that is traditionally believed to have been used by Saint Peter to celebrate the first Christian mass. Behind the altar, the grand apse is decorated with an exquisite mosaic depicting Christ and the saints.
The basilica’s 13th-century cloister is renowned for its beauty and tranquillity. I love how its intricately carved double columns in a variety of patterns and designs are set around a central garden. The cloister also contains a number of ancient and medieval works of art.
Across the street from the basilica are the Holy Stairs (Scala Sancta), a set of 28 marble steps believed to be the ones Jesus climbed during his trial before Pontius Pilate. The stairs are an important pilgrimage site, with many pilgrims climbing them on their knees in devotion.
The separate octagonal Lateran Baptistery, adjacent to the basilica, is one of the oldest in Christianity. It features a stunning ceiling mosaic, marble columns, and the marble font at the center is believed to be the one in which Constantine was baptized.
Despite being less known than St. Peter’s Basilica, the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran is a must-see Rome attraction, offering a wealth of art, history, and spirituality.
Practical Information for Visiting the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran
The various parts of the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran keep different opening hours. The basilica is open daily from 07:00-18:30; the sacristy is open daily from 08:00-12:00/16:00-18:00; the cloister is open daily from 09:00-18:00; the Lateran Baptistery is open daily from 07:00-12:30/16:00-19:00; the Basilica Museum is open daily from 10:00-17:30.
Additionally, the Holy Stairs are open from 06:00-12:00/15:00-18:30 (Monday-Saturday) and from 07:00-12:00/15:00- 18:30 (Sunday and holidays). The Scala Sanctorum is open from 09:00-13:00/15:00-17:00 (Monday-Saturday) and from 15:00- 17:00 (Sunday and holidays).
Admission to the basilica is free and tickets aren’t required to enter the basilica. Entry to the Lateran Baptistery is also free but the entrance to the cloister and museum costs 5 EUR.
You can visit the Holy Stairs for free entrance to the Sancta Sanctorum costs 4 EUR and must be booked in advance. Keep in mind that the Holy Stairs can only be climbed on your knees. However, you can cheat and use a side staircase to walk up.
- Click here to buy your entrance ticket to the Archbasilica of St. John in Lateran and the Scala Sanctorum
5. Basilica of Saint Clement (Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano)
The Basilica of Saint Clement or Basilica of San Clemente is one of the most unique churches in Rome. This cream-colored 12th-century basilica is a remarkable architectural treasure that offers a unique historical journey through Rome’s layers of time.
The Basilica of San Clemente is one of my favorite Rome churches. What makes the basilica truly special is that its three-tiered structure is, in fact, a conglomeration of three places of worship from three starkly different eras.
The 12th-century basilica sits atop a 4th-century church, which in turn was built over a 2nd-century pagan temple and a 1st-century Roman house. The basilica is dedicated to Pope Clement I, a 1st-century martyr, and is administered by the Irish Province of the Dominicans.
At street level, you have the 12th-century basilica (Basilica Superiore), showcasing magnificent Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. The apse’s gold mosaic depicts Christ’s cross as the Tree of Life, a profound symbol of renewal. The crucified Christ is depicted in jewel-like blues, reds, and greens.
Beneath this lies the 4th-century basilica (Basilica Inferiore), which serves as a powerful testament to Rome’s early Christian era. Still intact are some vibrant 11th-century frescoes depicting stories from the life of St. Clement.
The labyrinthine third level contains a dank 2nd-century temple dedicated to Mithras (god of the sun), alongside several rooms of an aristocratic Roman house. In the temple is a statue of Mithras slaying the Bull and the seats upon which the worshippers sat during their ceremonies.
The experience of descending through the layers of the Basilica of San Clemente is akin to a time travel adventure, making it an unforgettable must-visit site in the Eternal City.
Practical Information for Visiting the Basilica of San Clemente
The Basilica of San Clemente is open Monday-Sunday. The opening hours are Monday-Saturday from 10:00–12:30/15:00-17:30 and Sunday & holidays from 12:00-17:30 (November-May); Monday-Saturday from 09:00–12:30/14:00-18:00 and Sunday & holidays from 12:00-18:00 (November-May). The last entry is always 30 minutes before closing time.
Tickets to the Basilica of San Clemente cost 10 EUR and must be booked online in advance.
For a more immersive and insightful experience of the Basilica of San Clemente and the excavations, consider booking a guided tour.
6. Santa Maria del Popolo (Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo)
Located in the Piazza del Popolo, Santa Maria del Popolo is one of Rome’s earliest and richest Renaissance churches, with lavish chapels decorated by artists including Caravaggio, Bernini, Raphael, and Pinturicchio.
The church was established in 1099 to exorcise the ghost of Nero, who was supposedly buried here and whose malevolent spirit was thought to haunt the area. later completely It was later reconstructed in the 15th century and has remained a popular place of worship among Romans since.
Santa Maria del Popolo’s exterior is relatively austere, belying the treasures held within. Its interior is adorned with a beautiful coffered ceiling embellished with gold, and a towering apse mosaic depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, imbuing the church with a sense of grandeur and reverence.
Don’t miss the oldest stained-glass windows in Rome in Santa Maria del Popolo’s apse.
This church often goes unnoticed but what makes Santa Maria del Popolo so special is its collection of Renaissance and Baroque artworks by some of the most renowned artists of the time. Two of the basilica’s chapels, the Chigi Chapel and the Cerasi Chapel, contain works of extraordinary artistic significance.
The Chigi Chapel was designed by Raphael and features his mosaic, “The Creation of the World.” The chapel also houses two statues by Bernini, “Daniel in the Lions’ Den” and “Habakkuk and the Angel.”
The Cerasi Chapel is the dazzling highlight of Santa Maria del Popolo. This chapel is particularly notable for containing two of Caravaggio’s most celebrated paintings, The Conversion of St. Paul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter.
These paintings showcase Caravaggio’s signature deliberate realism and the use of tenebrism, the dramatic illumination of figures out of deep shadow, a technique that revolutionized Baroque painting. If you’re an art lover and Caravaggio fan like me, you don’t want to miss the Cerasi Chapel.
Practical Information for Visiting Santa Maria del Popolo
Santa Maria del Popolo is open from 08:30-9:45/10:30-12:15/16:00-18:00 (Monday-Saturday) and from 16:30-18:00 (Sunday). Free entrance.
7. Basilica of Saint Mary of Minerva (Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva)
The Basilica of Saint Mary of Minerva or simply Santa Maria sopra Minerva is Rome’s only Gothic church, and worth a visit just on that basis. However, the church, which was built in the late-13th century on the ruins of a temple to Minerva (the Roman goddess of wisdom), is also one of the best art-treasure churches in Rome, crammed with an awe-inspiring collection of medieval and Renaissance tombs.
Before entering, take a moment to check out the whimsical obelisk by Bernini of a baby elephant on the piazza out front.
Upon entering the basilica, you’re met with a striking contrast. The Gothic exterior gives way to an interior that reflects the influence of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The star-spangled blue ceiling with gilded decorations is a striking architectural feature, creating a heavenly ambiance.
One of the highlights of the church is Michelangelo’s “Cristo della Minerva”, also known as the “Risen Christ”. This marble sculpture is one of the masterpieces of the High Renaissance. Its dynamic posture and intense expressivity create a profound image of divine humanity.
In 1632, Galileo Galilei, the renowned Italian astronomer, was tried in the convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva for saying the earth moved around the sun. He was eventually forced to recant his heliocentric views, condemned as “vehemently suspect of heresy,” and placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life.
The basilica also houses the tomb of the famous painter Fra Angelico, the Dominican friar and painter, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II, and the tomb of Catherine of Siena, the patron saint of Italy, making it an important pilgrimage site.
Practical Information for Visiting Santa Maria sopra Minerva
Santa Maria sopra Minerva is open daily from 11:00-13:00 & 15:00-19:00. Free entrance.
8. Church of St. Louis of the French (Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi)
The Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi, or Church of St. Louis of the French, is a strikingly beautiful church located in the heart of Rome, near Piazza Navona. Constructed between 1518 and 1589, it serves as the national church of France in Rome and is dedicated to St. Louis IX, the only French king to be canonized in the Catholic Church.
The façade, designed by Giacomo della Porta, is a striking example of the late Renaissance style, characterized by balanced proportions and classically inspired details. Above the main entrance is a dedicatory inscription, and above that is a beautiful bas-relief of the Annunciation. Flanking the façade are two bell towers, further enhancing its grandeur.
Once inside, the church reveals an impressive three-aisled layout and the ornate decoration within is predominantly Baroque in style. One of the most notable features is the intricate coffered ceiling with its delicate gold detailing. The blue field with golden stars, a tribute to the French origins of the church, is a unique feature.
However, it is three Caravaggio masterpieces in the Contarelli Chapel that have brought the Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi fame. Painted between 1599 and 1600, all three are dedicated to St. Matthew and were Caravaggio’s first great religious works and ones that cemented his reputation as a master artist.
The artworks in question are the celebrated The Calling of St. Matthew on the left, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew in the center, and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew on the right. The paintings showcase Caravaggio’s mastery of chiaroscuro, a technique involving the contrast of light and shadow to achieve a sense of three-dimensional volume.
The Calling of St. Matthew is in my opinion the greatest of all of Caravaggio’s artworks. The painting captures the pivotal moment of Matthew’s life when he is called to apostleship. The surprise and disbelief on Matthew’s face and the nonchalant attitudes of his companions create a dynamic narrative that draws the viewer into the story.
If you’re on the lookout for Caravaggio’s artworks in Rome, the Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi is simply a must-visit.
Practical Information for Visiting the Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi
The Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi is open from 09:30–12:45 & 14:30–18:30 (Monday–Friday); 09:30–12:15 & 14:30–18:45 (Saturday); and 11:30–12:45 & 14:30–18:45 (Sunday). The church is closed on the morning of every first Wednesday of the month.
Admission to the church is free and tickets aren’t required to enter the church.
9. Santa Maria in Aracoeli (Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Cœli al Campidoglio)
The church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli crowns the highest point on Capitoline Hill. It is built on the site of the ancient temple of Juno Moneta which also housed the Roman mint.
According to legend, it was here that the Tiburtine Sibyl predicted to Emperor Augustus the coming of Christ. The emperor supposedly responded by erecting an altar, the Ara Coeli (Altar of Heaven).
This was eventually replaced by a Benedictine monastery and then a church, which passed in the 13th to the Franciscans, who restored and enlarged it in Romanesque-Gothic style. The church’s exterior is relatively simple, reflecting the Romanesque architectural style, and its facade is adorned with a Romanesque bell tower – one of the oldest in Rome.
One of the first things visitors notice about Santa Maria in Aracoeli is its intimidating staircase known as “the stairway of the Aracoeli.” It was constructed in 1348 after Rome was struck by the devastating Black Death (bubonic plague) and comprises 124 steep steps.
Popular belief has it that all those who climb the steps of Santa Maria in Aracoeli on their knees will win the Italian national lottery.
In true Roman fashion, the church interior is a historical hodgepodge—classical columns and large marble fragments from pagan buildings, a striking 13th-century Cosmatesque floor as well as a richly gilded Renaissance ceiling. Don’t miss the Bufalini Chapel, a masterpiece by Pinturicchio, who frescoed it with scenes illustrating the life and death of St. Bernardino of Siena.
Perhaps the most famous feature of Santa Maria in Aracoeli is the wooden statue known as the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli. Carved from olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane and painted by a Franciscan friar in the 15th century, the statue was renowned for its miraculous healing powers. Although the original was stolen in 1994, a replica now holds its place.
Practical Information for Visiting Santa Maria in Aracoeli
Santa Maria in Aracoeli is open daily from 09:00-18:30 (May-September) & 09:30-17:30 (October-April). Free entrance.
10. Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura)
The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is one of the four major basilicas in Rome and one of the city’s most revered Christian sites. It gets its name from its location outside the Aurelian Walls, the defensive walls that surrounded ancient Rome.
This monumental basilica is the burial place of Saint Paul the Apostle, making it a significant pilgrimage destination. Built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, it was once the most glorious church in Rome, but it was sacked by Saracens and then in 1823, the basilica was largely destroyed by a fire in 1823.
It was reconstructed following the original design, retaining the architectural grandeur that distinguishes this church. The exterior of the basilica features a large courtyard or atrium leading to the façade, which is adorned with a statue of Saint Paul and a beautiful mosaic depicting the Apocalypse of John.
St. Paul’s size is second only to St. Peter’s Basilica and it’s impossible not to be awed by the space of the building inside and the natural light that filters through the large clerestory windows. The central nave and four aisles, divided by a forest of 80 monolithic columns of Montorfano granite, lead to the triumphal arch and the grand apse.
One of the unique features of the basilica is the chronological series of 266 medallion portraits of each pope from Saint Peter to the present pontiff, extending around the higher walls of the nave. This is the only collection of its kind in the world.
The seven pilgrimage churches of Rome are a traditional and popular pilgrimage itinerary for the devout, and refer to the following basilicas – St. Peter’s Basilica, Basilica of Saint Mary Major, Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Basilica of St Lawrence Outside the Walls, Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, and the Basilica of Saint Sebastian Outside the Walls.
The basilica’s focal point is its stunning apse mosaic. The original 5th-century mosaic, restored over time, depicts Christ flanked by St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Andrew, and St. Luke. The figures are set against a golden background, creating a radiant effect.
The tomb of St. Paul is visible beneath the papal altar through a marble grating.
Furthermore, the cloister, a masterpiece of the 13th century, is a serene and charming space characterized by intricate Cosmatesque detailing, lush vegetation, and artful columns.
Practical Information for Visiting the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is open daily from 07:00-18:30. The cloister is open daily from 09:00-17:30. The entrance to the basilica is free while the entrance to the cloister costs 4 EUR.
11. Saint Peter in Chains (Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli)
San Pietro in Vincoli, or Saint Peter in Chains, is one of the lesser-known yet highly significant churches in Rome. Located on the Oppian Hill near the Colosseum, it is a minor basilica renowned for housing important religious and artistic treasures.
The basilica was first built in the 5th century to house a sacred relic, the chains (“vincoli”) that bound Saint Peter while he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. According to the legend, when Pope Leo I compared these chains with those used to bind Peter in the Mamertine Prison in Rome, the two chains miraculously fused together.
Today, these chains can be seen in a gold and glass reliquary beneath the main altar.
The church has a relatively modest exterior that belies the remarkable works of art inside. The interior is divided into a nave and two aisles with 20 columns of varying styles, adding to the eclectic charm of the place.
The Statue of Moses, carved by Michelangelo in the early 16th century for the unfinished tomb of Pope Julius II, is what has really put Saint Peter in Chains on the map. Nearly 2.5 meters (8 feet) in height, the monumental statue is one of the world’s most famous sculptures.
Moses is depicted with a tremendous beard, huge muscular arms, and satyr horns. His piercing expression is so lifelike that you can almost sense him about to speak!
The horns on Michelangelo’s Moses’ head should be rays of light emanating from Moses’ face, but the Old Testament text was mistranslated.
Practical Information for Visiting San Pietro in Vincoli
San Pietro in Vincoli is open daily from 08:00-12:30 and 15:00-18:00 (until 19:00 from April-September). Free entrance.
12. Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere (Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere)
The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of Rome’s most beloved churches. According to legend, the church was founded by Pope Callixtus I in the 3rd century when Christianity was still a minority cult, and it’s said to be the first church in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The current structure, largely dating from the 12th century, reflects the neighborhood’s medieval character with its intricate mosaics and opulent gold detailing. The church’s facade is adorned with a glorious 13th-century mosaic depicting the Madonna seated in majesty, nursing the Christ Child, surrounded by ten women holding lamps.
Upon entering the basilica, you’ll be immediately captivated by the 22 gigantic Ionic columns believed to have been taken from the ruins of ancient Roman buildings. Also noteworthy are the Cavallini frescoes in the Altemps Chapel and the 19th-century copy of a Cosmatesque pavement of spirals and circles.
Santa Maria in Trastevere is most famous for its golden mosaics, which are truly mesmerizing, depicting biblical scenes with an extraordinary richness of color and detail. The most striking of these are the apse mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin and Pietro Cavallini’s six panels of the Life of the Virgin, which covers the semicircular apse below.
The Byzantine-inspired Coronation of the Virgin mosaic is characterized by an ethereal golden background, emphasizing the divinity of the scene. The figures are surrounded by a procession of saints, who are shown against a lush, green landscape that conveys a sense of paradise.
Try to check out the glittering mosaics on Santa Maria in Trastevere’s façade at night as well when they are brilliantly illuminated.
Practical Information for Visiting Santa Maria in Trastevere
Santa Maria in Trastevere is open from 07:30-20:30 (Monday-Thursday & Saturday-Sunday) and from 08:00-20:30 (Friday). Free entrance. You can check mass timings here.
13. Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (Chiesa di Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola)
The Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, or Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola is Rome’s largest Jesuit church. The church was built in the Baroque style between 1626 and 1650, and it is dedicated to Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order.
The church’s façade, designed by the architect Pietro da Cortona, is an impressive sight with its statues, volutes, and columns all contributing to its sense of grandeur. The façade also features a dedicatory inscription to Ignatius of Loyola and the coat of arms of Pope Gregory XV, who canonized Ignatius and approved the construction of the church.
However, it is the interior of the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio that makes it one of the most fascinating and visually stunning churches in Rome. The nave is richly decorated with marble, stucco, and gilded ornamentation.
One of the most alluring features is the fresco on the nave’s ceiling, painted by Andrea Pozzo. This trompe-l’oeil masterpiece depicts the “Triumph of St. Ignatius,” creating an illusion of a dome, though the ceiling is actually flat. The painting gives the viewer the impression of looking up into a heavenly vision of the saint being welcomed into paradise.
Practical Information for Visiting the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola
The Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola is open from 09:00-20:00 (Monday-Thursday) and 09:00-23:30 (Sunday and holidays). Free entrance.
14. Basilica of Saint Praxedes (Basilica di Santa Prassede all’Esquillino)
Saint Praxedes, or Santa Prassede in Italian, is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Rome. This minor basilica is dedicated to the sister saints Praxedes and Pudentiana, daughters of Saint Pudens, a Roman senator who was an early Christian convert.
The small, inconspicuous church was commissioned by Pope Paschal I in the 9th century and is renowned for its vivid Byzantine mosaics from this period. Outside of Ravenna, Rome has some of the most stunning mosaics in Italy and this church has one of the most striking examples.
One of the key highlights of Santa Prassede is the San Zeno Chapel. This private chapel, commissioned by Pope Paschal I as a memorial for his mother, is completely covered in sparkling mosaics depicting various religious scenes. Notably, you’ll see scenes from the life of Saint Zeno, Christ amidst the Apostles, and angelic figures.
Another significant mosaic is the large one that graces the apse of the church. The central figure in this composition is Christ, depicted as a young, Roman emperor-like figure, seated on a gem-studded throne against a backdrop of pure gold. Flanking him are Saints Praxedes and Pudentiana, Paul, Peter, Zeno, and Pope Paschal I, who is holding a model of the church.
Practical Information for Visiting the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola
Santa Prassede is open from 10:00-12.00/16.00-18.00 (Monday–Saturday) and from 10:00-11.00/16.00-18.00 (Sunday). Free entrance.
15. Church of the Gesù (Chiesa del Gesù)
Chiesa del Gesù, officially known as the Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in Argentina, is one of the most important churches in Rome for its historical, artistic, and architectural significance. It was built between 1568 and 1584 and is renowned as the mother church of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), a Roman Catholic order.
One of the reasons why the Church of the Gesù is significant is that it’s considered the first fully Baroque church. Its design, particularly the façade, greatly influenced the development of Baroque architecture in the rest of Europe and the Americas.
Il Gesù’s façade features three portals flanked by four colossal Corinthian columns, which support a large triangular pediment that holds the IHS monogram, the symbol of the Jesuit order. The upper section has a large central window and a smaller one on each side, with statues of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier, two key figures in the Jesuit order.
The interior of the church is a splendid, highly ornate spectacle of the Counter-Reformation and the Roman Baroque style. The central nave is bordered by side chapels, and its ceiling is adorned with a remarkable trompe-l’oeil fresco by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, representing the ‘Triumph of the Name of Jesus,’ which seems to open to a luminous sky, filled with floating figures.
The Chiesa del Gesù houses the tomb of its founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, located in the exquisite Chapel of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Practical Information for Visiting the Church of the Gesù
The Church of the Gesù is open from 07:30-12:30/16:00-19:30 (Monday-Saturday) and 07:45-13:00/16:00-20:00 (Sunday). Free entrance. You can check mass timings here.
16. Saint Mary of Victory (Santa Maria della Vittoria)
Santa Maria della Vittoria is a small yet remarkably significant church that is home to one of the finest masterpieces of High Baroque art.
This church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, has a relatively understated yet elegant exterior, featuring a two-tier design, twin bell towers, and statues of Saints Peter, Paul, and Andrew.
Its lavishly ornamented candlelit interior is a testament to the grandeur of the Baroque period, boasting a fresco-adorned barrel-vaulted ceiling, marble elements, and gold stucco details. The single-nave design is interspersed with a series of interconnected chapels, each more beautiful than the last.
However, the jewel in the crown of Santa Maria della Vittoria is housed within the Cornaro Chapel – Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s inimitable The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.
The dramatic marble sculpture depicts a moment from the life of Saint Teresa of Ávila, a 16th-century Spanish mystic who experienced spiritual visions. Bernini records an episode from her autobiography, where she describes an angel piercing her heart with a golden arrow, causing her both immense pain and divine ecstasy.
You’ll either be thrilled or blush at the apparently physical nature of Saint Teresa’s rapture. In the sculpture, Teresa is seen reclining on a cloud, caught in a moment of profound religious ecstasy.
She is clothed in flowing robes, suggesting a sense of movement, and her face is turned upwards with her eyes nearly closed, which portrays a deep spiritual rapture. The figures of Teresa and the angel are placed within a niche, which is theatrically set with a hidden window and illuminated by rays of divine light materialized in bronze.
Practical Information for Visiting Santa Maria della Vittoria
Santa Maria della Vittoria is open from 09:00–12:00/15:30–18:00 (Monday–Saturday) and from 15:30–18:00 (Sunday). Free entrance.
17. Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin (Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin)
Santa Maria in Cosmedin is a veritable gem among Rome’s myriad churches, replete with history, myth, and architectural beauty.
It dates back to the 6th century when Pope Gregory the Great commissioned a church for the Greek community who had fled from the Byzantine East due to the iconoclast controversy. In the 8th century, the church was expanded, using marble and other materials repurposed from Roman temples and public buildings.
Santa Maria in Cosmedin’s elegant bell tower, built in the 12th century, is the tallest medieval belfry in Rome. Its simple, tiered design reflects the Romanesque architecture popular in Italy during this period.
The church has a magical, almost exotic interior and the first thing that strikes you is the Cosmatesque floor. The Byzantine frescoes and the baldachin over the high altar, which is made of different types of marble, are also a sight to behold.
Sadly, the interior of Santa Maria in Cosmedin plays second fiddle to the so-called “Mouth of Truth” (“Bocca della Verità”) in the portico of the church. This ancient Roman marble disk, believed to be a drain cover or a part of a fountain, has a large face carved into it.
As Gregory Peck showed Audrey Hepburn in the classic 1953 film Roman Holiday, the mouth would snap shut over the hand of those who told lies.
During medieval times, the Mouth of Truth was particularly popular with husbands and wives anxious to test the faithfulness of their spouses. It is now one of the biggest tour-bus sights in Rome and attracts hordes of tourists keen to test their honesty.
Practical Information for Visiting Santa Maria in Cosmedin
Santa Maria in Cosmedin is open daily from 09:30-18:00 (April-October) and from 09:30-17:00 (November-March), with final admission ten minutes before closure. Free entrance.
N.B. On arrival, if you find yourself confronted by a long queue, it’s only the tourists visiting the Mouth of Truth. You can bypass the queue, and go straight into the church.
18. Santo Stefano Rotondo (Basilica di Santo Stefano al Monte Celio)
Located on the Celian Hill, Santo Stefano Rotondo is one of the most unique and intriguing churches in Rome. This church stands out due to its distinctive circular plan with four chapels in the shape of a cross.
Santo Stefano Rotondo was built in the late-5th century AD and consecrated by Pope Simplicius to commemorate Christianity’s first martyr, St. Stephen. It is the oldest circular church in Rome and was inspired by the design of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The interior reveals a fascinating amalgamation of architectural styles and time periods, with elements of its original paleo-Christian design mingling with later medieval and Baroque additions. However, the feature that really stands out like a sore thumb is the series of gruesome frescoes on the walls of the outer ring.
The frescoes depict the martyrdoms of 34 different Catholic saints in vivid, intense detail. They were commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in the late 16th century and largely painted by Niccolò Circignani (also known as Pomarancio).
The vivid depictions range from beheadings and crucifixions to disembowelments and other brutal forms of execution. Despite their macabre subject matter, the frescoes are strikingly beautiful and were designed to inspire faith and moral courage among the faithful during the Counter-Reformation.
Practical Information for Visiting Santo Stefano Rotondo
Santo Stefano Rotondo is open Tuesday-Sunday and is closed on Monday. The opening hours are 10:00–13:00/15:30–18:30 (from the last Sunday of March–the last Saturday in October); 10:00–13:00/14:00–17:00 (from the last Sunday of October–the last Saturday of March). Free entrance.
The church is closed on the 25th of December, the 1st of January, and Easter Sunday.
19. Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere)
Santa Cecilia in Trastevere commemorates St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. One of ancient Rome’s most celebrated early Christian martyrs, she was put to a supernaturally long death by Emperor Diocletian around the year AD 300.
The original church, believed to have been built in the 5th century, underwent substantial renovations over the centuries, the most significant of which were carried out in the 9th century under Pope Paschal I, and again in the Baroque period in the 17th century.
The exterior of Santa Cecilia maintains an austere, somewhat understated appearance, typical of early Christian basilicas. The façade, designed by Ferdinando Fuga in the mid-18th century, is quite restrained and framed by pilasters.
Stepping inside, you’ll immediately notice the influence of the 9th-century renovations. The long nave, supported by ancient marble columns with Ionic capitals, leads to the triumphal arch, richly decorated with mosaics from the 9th century.
The real highlight of the church is the serene, almost lifelike marble sculpture of Saint Cecilia by the Renaissance artist Stefano Maderno. The statue depicts Cecilia’s body as it was purportedly found, incorruptible, during the excavation of her tomb in 1599.
Another notable feature of the church is Pietro Cavallini’s Last Judgment fresco cycle dating from the late-13th century, which is found in the adjacent Benedictine cloistered convent.
Practical Information for Visiting Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is open daily from 10:00-12.30 & 16.00-18:00. The entrance to the church is free while it costs 2.50 EUR to visit the cloistered convent and see the Last Judgement frescoes. No visits during Mass.
20. Church of St. Andrew of the Valley (Sant’Andrea della Valle)
As one of the first significant buildings to usher in the Baroque era in Rome, the minor basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle is an architectural landmark.
The church was built in the 17th century on the site of the former Palazzo Pio. Its elegant façade was designed by Carlo Maderno, the architect who also designed the façade of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The façade is crowned by a balustrade, adorned with statues of saints and angels.
Sant’Andrea della Valle is notable for being the setting of the first act of Giacomo Puccini’s famous opera, Tosca, making it of particular significance to opera fans and music historians.
Sant’Andrea della Valle has the distinction of sporting the second-tallest dome (after St Peter’s) in Rome. The dome is one of the largest frescoed domes in the world and is painted with the splendid Glory of Paradise fresco by Giovanni Lanfranco, featuring a host of angels and saints ascending towards the light.
Upon entering the church, visitors are greeted by an impressive, brightly-lit interior, designed in the Baroque style. The decor is exceptionally opulent, with abundant use of marble, gold, and frescoes, which is typical of Baroque architecture.
Practical Information for Visiting Sant’Andrea della Valle
Sant’Andrea della Valle is open from 10:00-20:00 (Monday-Friday), 12:00-20:00 (Saturday), and 08:30-20:00 (Sunday). Free entrance.
Further Reading For Your Rome Visit
That summarizes our comprehensive list of the most beautiful churches in Rome. We reckon you’ll also find the following resources useful for planning your trip to Rome
Further Reading For Your Rome Visit
→ Discover the 30 Best Things To Do in Rome!
→ Find Out How to Spend One Perfect Day in Rome!
→ Read Our Comprehensive Guide to Public Transport in Rome
→ Check Out the 24 Best Instagram Spots in Rome!
→ Find Out about the 20 Foods You Must Try in Rome!
→ Uncover the 11 Best Gelato Shops in Rome!
→ Discover How to Spend a Wonderful 48 Hours in Rome!
→ Check Out Our Ultimate 3 Days in Rome Itinerary!
→ Discover the 20 Best Historical Sites in Rome!
→ Read Our in-depth guide to Visiting the Roman Forum!
Do you agree with our list? What do you think are some of the most beautiful churches in Rome? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Hello there, fellow globetrotters! I’m Mihir, a passionate travel blogger with an insatiable wanderlust. My journey across the world is fueled by curiosity and a hunger for unique experiences. As a travel writer, photographer, and adventurer, I’ve explored more than 35 countries, aiming to provide readers with a distinctive glimpse of our diverse world. Join me as I blend captivating storytelling with stunning visuals, guiding you through hidden gems and cultural treasures. Besides traveling, my other loves are my beloved cats, architecture, art, craft beer, classic movies, history, and Australian Rules Football (Go Dons!).