Papal basilicas and catacombs

Papal basilicas & catacombs in a half day

On this somewhat unusual tour, you will see three papal basilicas and the catacombs. You walk a good 2 ½ miles from the Basilica St. Paul to the catacombs and take public transport for the other stations.


St. Paul, St. John and Santa Maria Maggiore close at 6:30 pm, the catacombs close at 5 pm. These opening times define the time frame for the tour.

In terms of time, it might look something like this: you start at 1 pm with a visit to the Basilica of St. Paul. At 1:30 pm, you’ll walk to the catacombs, arriving at around 2:30. After an hour’s visit, head to the bus stop of line 218 on Via Ardeatina and arrive at the Basilica of St. John at around 4:30.

For the visit of the Basilica, the Holy Stairs and the Baptistery you have one hour and then at 5:30 take the bus 714 direction Termini to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. If you want to make it more comfortable, postpone the visit of the catacombs or the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to another day.

The path is the same as the seven churches pilgrimage.

On the tour you will see three of the four papal basilicas in Rome: St. Paul, St. John and Santa Maria Maggiore. St. Peter’s Basilica is not part of this tour. For St. Peter’s Basilica, read Vatican City in 3 hours.


Unfortunately, there are no hop on hop off buses to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, but it is well connected to public transport. There are bus connections and the metro B station San Paolo.

From the Vatican, take bus 23 either from the Piazza Risorgimento stop – between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Ottaviano metro station – or on the banks of the Tiber to the right of Via della Conciliazione at the Santo Spirito hospital. At the Colosseum or the Testaccio, take metro line B.

The Basilica of St. Paul

Papal basilicas & catacombs St. Paul outside the walls of nave
Basilica of St. Paul nave

As in many places outside the city walls, an ancient cemetery is located here and the Apostle Paul is said to be buried here. The tomb was immediately the target of worship and in the 3rd century, the first basilica was built.

The current basilica is relatively young. It dates back to 1825, when a fire in 1823 destroyed almost everything. Architecturally, it joins the design of the first basilicas. Here you can imagine what the first St Peter’s Basilica built by Emperor Constantine looked like.

Today, St. Paul outside the walls is the second largest Basilica after St. Peter’s. Because it is not so crowded, a visit is very pleasant. There is a security checkpoint such as at St. Peter’s, but there’s hardly any waiting time.

All Popes are pictured in the Basilica. At the end of the basilica on the right, there is a small cloister, for which entrance fees have to be paid. Next to the basilica there is a branch of the Children’s Hospital Bambin Gesù. During the construction period excavations were secured, which could be dated to the Middle Ages. For the visit of the excavations admission is to be paid.

At the exit of the basilica is a cafeteria and a souvenir shop. You can buy there postage stamps of the Vatican Post and there is a mail box to send letters and postcards.

The pilgrimage

At the basilica begins the “Via delle sette chiese”, a piece of the traditional Seven Churches Pilgrimage. It is about 3 miles on foot to the catacombs on Via Appia Antica. If you like it more comfortable, take the metro to Circo Massimo and from there bus 118 to the catacombs. On Sunday, the line 118 goes very rarely.

If you want to go directly to St. John, take bus 792, which has the stop at the back of the basilica. Another possibility to get to St. John is to take the metro to Termini and change there to line A to San Giovanni. Very nice is to take the metro to the Piramide stop and then tram number 3. Tram 3 will take you on a nice stretch past the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum.

Papal basilicas & catacombs City map Rome papal basilicas pilgrimage
City map Rome papal basilicas pilgrimage

See the map on Google maps>
Green = pilgrimage route, yellow bus = 118 light blue = bus 218 dark blue = bus 714

We have marked the course of the seven churches pilgrimage on the map. If you come out of the Basilica of St. Paul, you have to go to the right and through the park and see on the other side of the road the acute-angled fatigue of a rising road. It’s called Via delle Sette Chiese. The majority of this road is traffic-calmed. The road leads directly to the catacombs.

There are two good ice cream parlors along the way, Gelato Baciato at the first roundabout on the right, the second, La Botega, after the church San Filippo Neri with a park in front of it.

The catacombs

After crossing the ten-lane Via Cristoforo Colombo, it is not far to the Domitilla catacombs. They are closed on Tuesday. Then come the Catacombs of Calixtus. They are closed on Wednesday. Finally, the catacombs of St. Sebastian come, they are closed on Sundays.

In ancient Rome, the cities of the dead were outside the city along the consular roads. As the soil was scarce, the cities of the dead went down and the catacombs begun. Allow around an hour for a guided tour of the catacombs. Guided tours in different languages ​​start regularly. Learn more about the catacombs


The Basilica of St. John

From the catacombs take bus 218. Its terminus is directly in front of the Basilica of St. John. The nearest bus stop near the catacombs is on Via Ardeatina. If you are at the catacombs of St. Sebastian or Calixtus, you can walk through the area of ​​the Calixtus catacombs to the Quo Vadis stop, but the way is considerably longer.

Papal basilicas & catacombs St. John apse
Basilica of St. John apse

The basilica is called San Giovanni in Laterano or Lateran Basilica. It is the oldest seat of the popes in Rome. The first basilica was built in the 4th century and is, unlike St. Peter and St. Paul, within the city walls.

As for all papal basilicas in Rome, admission to St. John is free. You have to go through a security check at the entrance, as at St. Peter’s, but there are rarely any waiting times. For the basilica, an audio guide is included, which is also included in the Omnia card. As in all sacred places in Rome is to observe the dress code, shoulders and knees must be covered.

Papal basilicas & catacombs The Holy stairs
The Holy stairs

St. John has undergone a lot of changes over the centuries. This is also recognizable on the façades. Thus, the façade of the present main entrance dates from the 18th century, while the northern façade at the square with the obelisk opposite the Via Merulana dates back to the Middle Ages. To the right is the octagonal baptistery from the 3rd century, possibly the oldest baptistery in Christendom.

Opposite the basilica, by the way, is the sacred staircase, the Scala Santa, on which Jesus was said to have been led to Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. The staircase was transferred to Rome in the 4th century. The Scala Santa is something for early birds. It opens at 6 am and is open until 6:30 pm with an hour for lunch. You slip the 28 steps kneeling and praying upwards. To the right of the sacred staircase is a second staircase, where you can walk up and down normally.

Santa Maria Maggiore

Papal basilicas & catacombs Santa Maria Maggiore views from via Panisperna
View of Santa Maria Maggiore from via Panisperna

In front of the baptistery of St. John is the stop of the bus line 714. In the direction of Termini, the bus stops at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

There is the usual security check and waiting times can be a bit longer here.

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore dates back to the 4th century and it is said that the Madonna herself appeared to Pope Liberius and recommended the place for the construction of the church. The basilica has undergone many changes over the centuries.

Particularly impressive is the view of the Basilica from Via Panisperna, which begins in the Quartier Monti above the Museum of the Trajan’s Markets. By the way, in this street are some restaurants where you can eat quite well.

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is very well connected. It has a hop on hop off bus stop. The Via Cavour, which runs in front of the Basilica, rises in one direction to the nearby Termini station. In the other direction Via Cavour cuts through the picturesque Monti district and leads to Via dei Fori Imperiali.

Other proposals

Combine our suggestions to put together your program in Rome. Any suggestion is good for half a day or more.

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