Following the seven churches pilgrimage you can visit the papal basilicas and the catacombs.
Our suggestion to visit the papal basilicas and the catacombs in one afternoon is challenging. We will describe the way and you can choose the pieces that you like best.
The path corresponds to the Seven churches pilgrimage. For the section between the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls and the catacombs we recommend the pilgrimage itinery – it’s about 2 1/2 miles – while you can take public transport for the rest of the way.
The four papal basilicas in Rome are St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John and Santa Maria Maggiore. St. Peter’s Basilica is not part of our tour. For the visit of St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums we suggest to spend a half day in the morning.
St. Paul, St. John and Santa Maria Maggiore close at 6:30, the catacombs close at 5pm. These opening times define the timeframe for the tour.
Papal basilicas in the afternoon · how to get to St. Paul
If you’ve been to the Vatican this morning, you can simply take the Bus 23 from either the Piazza Risorgimento stop – between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Ottaviano metro station – or at the Tiber bank on the right from the Via della Conciliazione at Santo Spirito Hospital.
From the Coliseum or Testaccio, take the metro line B.
As in many places in outside the city walls there is an ancient cemetery 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.
Today, St. Paul outside the walls is the second largest basilica after St. Peter’s. Since it’s is not so busy, a visit is very pleasant. You have to go through a security check like at St. Peter’s, but there are hardly any waiting times.
In the basilica, images of all popes are reproduced. 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 entrance is to be paid. Next to the excavations is a gift shop and a bar. Here you can also buy stamps and sent postcards and letters with the Vatican Post.
After leaving the basilica, we propose you a 2 1/2 miles walk to the catacombs on Via Appia Antica. Alternatively you can take the metro to Circo Massimo and from there take bus 118 to the catacombs. If you want to continue straight to St. John, take the metro B to the Circo Massimo and from there the tramline 3 to St. John. Of course you can also go with the metro to Termini and change there to line A to San Giovanni, but you see nothing of the surroundings.
Green = Pilgrimage route, Yellow = Bus 118, Light Blue = Bus 218, Dark Blue = Bus 714
The route of the seven churches pilgrimage you can see in the map. When you come out of the Basilica of St. Paul you have to turn right and go through the park and see across the street the acute-angled junction of a rising road. It’s called Via delle Sette Chiese. The bigger part of this road is traffic-calmed. The road leads you directly to the catacombs.
There are two good ice cream parlors along the way, one after a roundabout on the right, the second after a church with a park in front of it.
After crossing the ten-lane Via Cristoforo Colombo, it is not far to the catacombs of Domitilla. They are closed on Tuesday. Then come the catacombs of Calixtus. They are closed on Wednesday. Finally come the catacombs of St. Sebastian, they are closed on Sunday.
From the catacombs you 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. From the catacombs of St. Sebastian and the Catacombs of Calixtus, you can also walk through the area of the Catacombs to the Quo Vadis stop.
The basilica is called San Giovanni in Laterano or Lateran Basilica. It’s 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.
The entrance to St. John is free of cost as for all the papal basilicas in Rome. You’ll have to go through a security check at the entrance, just like at St. Peter’s, but there are rarely any waiting times. For the basilica, an audio guide is available, which is included in the Omnia Card. As in all sacred places in Rome, the dress code must be observed, shoulders and knees must be covered.
It’s also recognizable on the facades, that the basilica has undergone changes over the centuries. Thus, the facade of the present main entrance dates from the 18th century, while the northern facade on 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 are the holy stairs, the Scala Santa , on which Jesus in Jerusalem should have been led to Pontius Pilate. The staircase was transferred to Rome in the 4th century. The Scala Santa is something for early birds. It opens at 6 and is open until 6:30pm with an hour break for lunch. You slip the 28 steps upwards kneeling and praying.
In front of the baptistry of St. Johann is the stop of the bus line 714, which brings you to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
There, too, there is the usual security check and waiting times can be longer here.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore also dates back to the 4th century and it’s 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, there are also some restaurants in this street where you can eat quite well.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore has very good transport links. Here is a stop of the hop on hop off buses. 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.