With over 900 churches in Rome, it can be hard to pick out the ones you need to visit. One of the things I love about Rome is that no matter what church you wander into, you’ll most likely come across some sort of masterpiece. This, however, makes it hard to pick which churches in Rome are worth entering. Luckily, I saw plenty of beautiful churches on my travels in Rome and know the ones you need to see. In this post, you’ll find what I think are 15 of the most beautiful churches in Rome, each one worth a visit, and many of them almost empty. Scroll to the bottom for a map of where these must-visit churches are located in Rome.
*Keep in mind that you will need to dress conservatively, especially if you visit churches in the summer! No tanktops, hats, etc.
*Be respectful of worshippers whilst there. Quiet voices, no flash photography!
Probably the most famous church on this list, the Pantheon is a former Roman temple (not to be confused with the Parthenon, which is in Greece) that was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Agustus (27 BC – 14 AD) and dedicated by Hadrian around 126 AD. It officially became a Christian church in the 7th century. It’s probably most famous for its domed ceiling that has an oculus (partially shown in the picture above). I attended part of a midnight Christmas Eve mass here and it was magical. You must visit!
Piazza della Rotunda, 00186 Roma
St. John Lateran’s Archbasilica
This basilica is the official seat of the bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. Because it is the cathedral of the bishop of Rome, it ranks above all other churches in the Catholic Church, including St. Peter’s Basilica. Crazy, right? It’s the oldest church in the West and was founded around 312, dedicated in 324 and has [obviously] been refurbished several times.
The High Altar supposedly contains the heads of Sts. Peter and Paul and part of St. Peter’s communion table. French President Emmanuel Macron is ex officio the “first and only honorary canon” of the archbasilica, a title that the heads of state of France have possessed since King Henry IV.
Piazza de S. Giovanni in Laterano, 4, Roma
Santi Quattro Coronati
Santi Quattro Coronati, dating back to the 4th or 5th century, means four crowned martyrs and is dedicated to four Roman soldiers who refused to sacrifice to a pagan god (there is still some confusion about this). It is one of those churches that doesn’t look like a church from the outside and a place we would have never found had it not been for our guide. On the road leading up to the church, the possibly real, possibly legendary, female pope gave birth on her way to be crowned at St. John in Lateran. I only took one picture inside, as people were praying and I didn’t want to be rude, but it was beautiful!
While you’re there, head to the attached cloisters, the entrance to which is locked and only opened from the outside by Augustinian nuns (I might add that once a nun enters this convent she will not leave for anything until she dies). The walls are covered with old Christian graffiti and parts of sarcophagi and the courtyard was picturesque, even in the middle of winter.
Via dei Santi Quattro, 20, 00184 Roma
Chapel of St. Sylvester
Also hidden behind a locked door requiring the ringing of a bell, the Chapel of St. Sylvester is connected to Santi Quattro Coronati. Our tour guide described it as the early Vatican and I can see why. It’s tiny but the artwork is immaculate. It’s definitely a special place. The Chapel was constructed in 1246 and the frescoes, depicting events from Constantine’s life, are also from this date. And they’re in such amazing condition.
Basilica San Clemente al Laterano
This church dates back 2000 years in time. Yes, you read that right. The basilica we see today was built in the 1100s and rebuilt in the 1800s but excavations under the church have revealed the church from the 400s one level below and then below that the remains of first century buildings, comprised of an apartment (where there was a Mithraic temple) and a mansion (where St. Clement supposedly lived and Christians worshiped). Going underground was literally a step back in time. I believe it was about 8 euros per person, and worth every cent. Unfortunately, pictures weren’t allowed underground so I don’t have anything to show you. But trust me, this church is worth the trip.
Via Labicana, 95, 00184 Roma
Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
This is a church built in the frigidarium of the Baths of Diocletian, which was one of the most impressive structures in Ancient Rome. You can see some of the ruins in the photo above. The tepidarium is included in the present transept of the church. Basically combining some of my favorite things: churches and Roman ruins! The church was designed by Michelangelo (his last architectural work, finished when he was 86) and dedicated to Christian martyrs. It was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be and it had some really cool stuff inside. Plus, the ruins on the lot were a plus as well!
The church boasts a meridian that was ordered by Pope Innocent II and added in 1702. It traces the precise time of the sun’s zenith and the polar star’s movements. The sun’s rays shine through a hole in the south wall onto the floor, striking the line of copper plated brass at exactly 12 noon. There are pictures of the zodiac all along this line. It was stunning! You must visit this church.
Piazza della Repubblica, Roma
San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains)
Built on older foundations in the 400s to house the chains you see above, St. Peter in Chains has undergone several renovations to make it the grand basilica it is today. This church houses Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of Moses, part of the tomb of Pope Julius II (whom Michelangelo was not a fan). It also houses the relic of the chains that bounded St. Peter while he was imprisoned in Jerusalem.
Piazza de San Pietro in Vincoli, 4/a, 00184 Roma
Chiesa del Gesu
This church is the mother church of the Jesuits. It was built in the 16th century and its interior is one of the foremost examples of Baroque art and uses tromp l’oeil (tricks the eye into thinking 2D images are 3D). Its facade is the “first truly baroque facade” and has served as a model for a lot of Jesuit churches throughout the world.
Via degli Astalli, 16, 00186 Roma
Church of Sant’Ignazio di Loyola (Saint Ignatius of Loyola)
Eponymously dedicated to the founder of the Jesuits, it was built in the Baroque style between 1626 and 1650. It also has a false dome, which was too hard to photograph.
Via dei Caravita, 8a, 00186 Roma
Basilica Santa Maria sopra Minerva
This church is one of the major churches of the Dominicans. Sopra (or supra, in Latin) Minerva points out that it was built directly over the ruins of a temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis (wrongly thought to be a temple for Minerva). It is the only example of a Gothic church in Rome! It also houses Michelangelo’s Christ the Redeemer statue. Construction began in the late 1200s and was finally completed in 1453.
Piazza della Minerva, 42, 00186 Roma
Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
The Church of St. Augustine was one of the first Roman churches built during the Renaissance. The facade took travertine from the Colosseum. There is a famous painting by Caravaggio inside as well as a famous painting of the Prophet Isaiah by Raphael.
Piazza di Sant’Agostino, Roma
Santa Maria Ai Monti
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this church was commissioned and consecrated in the late 1500s after the discovery of a painting of Mary discovered in nearby church ruins. I just loved the artwork inside.
Via della Madonna dei Monti, 41, 00184 Roma
Santa Maria in Aquiro
This is an ancient church that was restored in the 8th century by Pope Gregory III, meaning that it existed some time before then. It was restored again in 1588. It’s a rather quaint church (as quaint as a church can be in Rome) but well worth the visit, as it houses some beautiful art.
Via del Guglia, 69/B, Roma
Parrocchia San Camillo de Lellis
This quiet church was built in 1910 in a Neo-Gothic style. It was really nice entering at a time when the sun was shining in the stained glass windows and reflecting onto the stone walls!
Via Sallustiana, 24, 00187 Roma
Church of Jesus and Mary (Gesu e Maria)
This church was built in the early 1600s and has a beautiful baroque interior.
Via del Corso, 45, 00186 Roma
What’s your favourite church in Rome?
Looking for more on Rome? Check out this post.