10 of the best churches in Rome you cannot miss

by marta

11 beautiful churches in Rome you cannot miss. Famous, important and unique churches in Rome to seek out on your first visit to Rome or dive deeper into the city’s history. Updated December 2021.

They say Rome has over 900 churches, so adding them all to your Rome itinerary would be a bit of a challenge!

While that would make a good documentary for art lovers, a more practical and realistic approach to visiting Rome churches is to start from a shortlist of the most meaningful and beautiful ones.

This is what this is list is about. Out of the many beautiful churches in Rome, I selected 10 that I believe deserve special attention.

I have chosen these best churches in Rome because they are either famous, meaningful, unique, exceptionally beautiful, or all of the above. I hope you enjoy it!

facade Santa Maria Maggiore church

The best churches in Rome: top 10 for first time visitors

St Peter’s Basilica

A list of the most beautiful churches in Rome can only start with St Peter’s Basilica, a masterpiece by the hand of many of the most influential architects and artists in the history of Italy.

St Peter’s Basilica is in Vatican City, an independent state within the city boundaries of Rome. However, you don’t need a passport to enter Vatican City and you can visit the basilica like any other church in town.

The basilica as we see it today is a masterpiece of Renaissance and Baroque artistry however, its fountains lie on the remains of the tomb of St Peter, which dates back to the I century AD.

Apse of St Peter basilica at the Vatican
Inside of Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City, Rome

Every inch of the basilica is worth seeing.

Outside, the piece that steals the show is usually the dome, the biggest in Rome and Michelangelo’s work.

Inside, the basilica has masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s Pieta’, the altar baldaquin by Bernini, an incredible statue of St Peter dating from the Middle Ages and an almost uncountable number of statues and graves carved by the hands of several artists during the course of the centuries.

The basilica is the biggest Catholic Church in the world and, on the floor of the main nave, you see marks with the sides of many other large churches in the world – fun fact if you are visiting Vatican City with kids!

You can read here >> all about St Peter’s Basilica and tips for visiting

Address: Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City

What to see nearby: Vatican City including Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, Castel Sant’Angelo, Vatican Gardens

The Pantheon, Church of Santa Maria dei Martiri

The Pantheon is a church like no other for appearance and history.

The building dates to the I century BC and was in origin a pagan temple to ‘all Gods’ (from Greek pan=all, theos=Gods) and became a Christian Church in the VII century AD by Pope Bonifacio IV.

The outside of the Pantheon, ancient Roman temple and now of the best Rome churches to visit
The outside of the Pantheon, ancient Roman temple and now of the best Rome churches to visit

Many things make the Pantheon unique and worth seeing.

The first thing that usually captures visitor’s imagination is the fact that the Pantheon has a round shape, not unique in Rome but not standard either.

The second thing is that the Pantheon has a round hole on its roof, the oculus: this is there by design and has sparked uncountable conversations and legends about is presence and use!

Attentive visitors will also notice that the columns outside are exceptionally large, something that makes the Pantheon stand our from many other buildings in the city. Finally, the Pantheon is the resting place of Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael), whose grave attracts here many.

The Pantheon is easy to add to your Rome itinerary even if you just have one day in Rome.

You can learn here >>> all about the Pantheon and tips for visiting.

Address: Piazza della Rotonda, 00186 Rome

What to see nearby: Piazza di Pietra, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza Venezia, Rome’s cobbled streets

Santa Maria Maggiore – Rome’s cathedral

Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the biggest and most important churches in Rome. One of the 4 city’s basilicas, Santa Maria Maggiore is the only basilica to have maintained its Paleochristian shape and its birth is enveloped in legend.

facade Santa Maria Maggiore church
The facade of Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, Rome

According to ancient document, the church was born by wish of Mary herself, who marked the location of her future church with a shower of snow in August!

The church is stunning and worth a visit. Outside, worth noticing are its beautiful mosaics and tower bell while inside, you cannot miss the mosaics in the church apse, the comateschi decorations of its pavement and the many side chapels.

The church preserves masterpiece by Della Porta, Gerolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta, Arnolfo di Cambio and it is also home Bernini’s family tomb.

Find here >>> my complete guide to visiting the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.

Address: P.za di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

What to see nearby: Santa Prassede, Monti neighborhood

Santa Prassede – one of the best churches in Rome for mosaic lovers

Santa Prassede is a beautiful, ancient church in Rome famous for incredible mosaics unique in the city.

Detail of mosaics in the church of Santa Prassede, Rome

The church is in the Monti District, on top of the Esquiline hill, one of the seven historical hills of Rome, and it lies close to Santa Maria Maggiore. However, to could not be more different!

While Santa Maria Maggiore is large and moumental, Santa Prassede has an intimate atposphere, made even more magical by the stunning mosaics that decorate its apse and the side chapel of St Zeno, a unique example of Bizantine style mosaics in Rome and home to a reliquary from the Passion of Jesus.

The church is one of the best places to see mosaics in Rome and it is one of the most beautiful churches in Rome. I believe it is the most beautiful of all!

Address: Via di Santa Prassede, 9/a, 00184 Rome

What to see nearby: Santa Maria Maggiore, Monti District, church of Santa Pudenziana

San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains)

San Pietro in Vincoli is a stunning church on the Oppian Hill, near the Colosseum, with something special: a famous statue of Moses by Michelangelo and the reliquary of the chains from the martyrdom of St Peter.

Main altar san pietro in Vincoli church Rome
Main altar in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

The church is beautiful and significant. The reliquary of the chains is in front of the main altar and is connected to a miracle.

Ancient documents report that St Peter’s chains were made of two parts, which followed different fates. The moment the two parts were put beside each other again, they fused miraculously and returned hole. This is what it is said we see now in the church.

The Moses by Michelangelo is beside the altar and it is part of the large burial monument to Pope Julius II. The statue is considered one of the most important and most beautiful the Master ever made and it is famous for depicting Moses right after he got the Tables and with peculiar little horns on his head.

You can read here >>> all about Michelangelo’s Moses and San Pietro in Vincoli church, including legends and tips for visiting.

Address:  Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli, 4/a, 00184 Rome

What to see nearby: Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, Monti neighborhood, Piazza Venezia

San Luigi dei Francesi – one of the best churches in Rome for Caravaggio lovers

The church of San Luigi dei Francesi is a beautiful church in Rome City Center famous for being home to a stunning Caravaggio: the cycle of St Matthew’s in the Contarelli Chapel.

Painting by Caravaggio in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, Italy
Painting by Caravaggio in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, Italy

The cycle is made of three paintings that occupy the three sides of one of the chapels on the left perimeter of the church and it is what draws most visitors to this church however, there is more than Caravaggio that makes this church worth a visit.

The church dates to the XVI century and it is a jewel of Baroque architecture. It was built as a church for the French community in Rome (hence the name) and its creator was Domenico Fontana who build it on an original project by Giacomo della Porta.

Worth seeing inside are the already mentioned Caravaggio but also masterpieces by Domenichino and Guido Reni.

Address: Piazza di S. Luigi de’ Francesi, 00186 Rome

What to see nearby: Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, Rome’s famous cobbled streets

Basilica di San Clemente

Basilica di San Clemente is unique as it develops over three layers, each dating back to a different historical time.

San Clemente church Rome inside
Mosaic on the apse of San Clemente church in Rome / Depositphotos

The bottom layer dates to Republican Roman times and seems to have been a Roman home and a temple to the Mithra, dating from the I century BC.

The second layer reveals a PaleoChristian basilica from the IV century and the current top level is a basilica that dates from the XI century AD and that is home to some of the most beautiful mosaics in Rome.

It is not unusual to come across buildings built on top of more ancient ones in Rome.

As Christianity took hold, christian and then Catholic Churches rose on top of ancient temples, reusing and transforming ancient spaces to suit the needs of the new creed.

This practice is one of the several reasons why there are are many underground sites in Rome.

However, no other place shows this stratification as well as San Clemente.

Because of the uniqueness of the church and how beautiful it is, this is one of the churches in Rome I most dearly recommend you visit.

Address: Via Labicana, 95, 00184 Rome

What to see nearby: Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, Circus Maximum, St Peter in Chains (see above)

Basilica of Santa Costanza

Santa Costanza is a small church outside Rome City Center, part of an archeological complex built by will of Costanza, the daughter of Emperor Constantine the Great.

The church dates back to the IV century AD and has a peculiar round shape that is rare in the city and bears witness to the antiquity of the building.

The altar is located in the center of the church and light steams in from the top windows, creating an atmospheric suffused light that reveals the ancient mosaics on the church walls.

Santa Costanza is only occasionally open to the public and it is a sought-after church for weddings especially. It is however worth the effort of planning a visit as it is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful churches in Rome.

Address: Via Nomentana 349, 00198 Rome

What to see nearby: St Agnese church (part of the same complex), Coppede’ district is a 20 mins walk from here.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

The church os Santa Maria Sopra Minerva overlooks pretty Piazza della Minerva, famous for a statue by Bernini, and it is worth visiting because of its beautiful blue vaulted ceiling and the presence of important tombs and works of art.

Statue of the Virgin inside the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome, Italy
Statue of the Virgin inside the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome, Italy

Not to be missed here are the Resurrected Christ by Michelangelo, a burial monument by Bernini, and the side chapels, adorned by work by Giacomo Della Porta, Carlo Maderno and Girolamo Rainaldi.

The church is often missed by visitors who are drawn to the Pantheon, just in front. However, the incredible ceiling that looks like a night sky and Michelangelo’s Christ in particular make this church truly unforgettable.

Address: Piazza della Minerva 42, 00186 Rome

What to see nearby: Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Largo di Torre Argentina, Trevi Fountain, Capitoline Hill

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere is a beautiful church dating from the XII century mostly known for its incredible mosaics.

Mosaic in Rome Santa Maria in Trastevere
Mosaics on the apse of the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

As you enter the church, your eyes are drawn towards the altar and the golden apse behind it, dominated by images of Christ and Mary and entirely made of small mosaics tiles.

The mosaic is eye-grabbing for its large use of golden tyles and has a distinct Byzantine aesthetic to it, which is not commong in Rome.

However, art lovers will notice that the real gem here is the mosaic immediately below it. These lower mosaics date from the end of the XIII century and depict scenes from the life of the Virgin.

The artist of these mosaics is Pietro Cavallini and what makes them special is the fact that he mixed influences from Byzantine art with more modern influences, for the time, such as perspective and a hint to the third dimention of his figures.

These elements bear witness to work made at a time of aesthetic and pictorial changes that make these mosaics unique.

Address: Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, 00153 Rome

What to see nearby: Trastevere neighborhood, Rome botanical gardens, Santa Cecilia church, Tiberina Island

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