5. If you only see two churches…
The Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
Wow. Just wow. Budget travel in Rome just went golden.
The ceiling and all decorations inside this magnificent church are real gold – not gold-plated. The precious metal was gifted to the Vatican by Spain from the New World.
Just the amount of gold alone would make this place impressive. But it also has other incredible features, like part of the manger. The Vatican calls the wood “The Holy Crib”. It’s in a crystal urn at the main altar.
Just off to the side of the main altar is the grave of Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The church also features Bernini’s famous “hidden” spiral staircase with no center support – the first of its kind. (You can only see this with a guide because it connects the church to apartments in use.)
The first “Sistine Chapel” is in this church.
And here’s a really cool fact.
The Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is where Pope Francis goes to pray. Our tour guide said he’s gone there many, many times. The Pope prays at the iconic image of Mother Mary.
We took a short tour of the second floor front balcony, the papal room, and we also saw Bernini’s famous staircase. It cost five euros, or about $6.25, and lasted 30 minutes.
Entrance to the church was free, but keep in mind there might be a long line because you have to pass through a security point with a metal detector to enter this beautiful place.
There are so many other wonderful churches – you can’t go wrong with just walking into any one you pass on your Roman explorations.
Go to the top of the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica
For $10 you can climb 551 steps to the top of the basilica that will give you a view over St. Peter’s Square, and also of the Vatican Museums.
The views from the top are so worth it!
We spent close to an hour up there. For another two bucks, you can ride the elevator more than half way up.
On the way to the roof, you can stop by an indoor, upper level railing to view the basilica from high up. The mosaics in this area are impressive.
Extra tip: Note the shadow blocks some of St. Peter’s Square in my photo. We were there in the late afternoon, so you may want to go earlier.