Basilica St John Lateran

How to visit St John Lateran Basilica and the Cloister ?

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A mere 4 kilometres drive from the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Basilica lies the Basilica of St John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni) and its stunning Cloister. Completed in 324AD the Basilica is teeming with history and the oldest in Europe, with its stunning architecture alone making it well worth a visit for anyone coming to Rome.

The Saint John Lateran Basilica is the official seat of the Pope – not St Peters’ Basilica – so if you fancy bolting on a tour of the Cloister and the Basilica of St John Lateran when visiting the Vatican City then read on to find out more!

What to see at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran?

st john lateran Leo XIII

The Tombs of 6 Popes

Whilst St Peters’ Basilica in the Vatican houses the tombs of dozens of former popes, Saint John Lateran is also the final resting place of 6 popes. Pope Leo XIII was the latest Pope to be entombed here, and the last Pope to be buried away from Saint Peters’ Basilica.

The Basilica of Saint John Lateran used to hold an additional 12 popes’ tombs however these were destroyed by fires, so the remaining tombs are definitely worth a look.

Holy Steps (Scala Sancta)

In a small church just across from the Basilica lie the Holy Steps. Catholic tradition states that the Holy Steps in Rome were brought there by Saint Helena in the fourth century, and are the steps that Jesus climbed at the palace of Pontius Pilate when he was sentenced to death.

The steps are currently under refurbishment, ending in January 2019, and in the meantime visitors are permitted to climb some replica steps (on their knees) up to the top.

Lateran Cloister

The beautiful 13th century Cloister of St John Lateran is one of the best sights here. Vassalletto’s masterpiece, with its twisted marble columns and its ornate sculptures make for a wonderfully peaceful place to explore and take some stunning photographs.

The Saint John Lateran opening hours of the cloister are 9am to 6pm.

st john lateran apostle statue

The statues of the apostles

Located within the gaps deliberately left in the architecture of the Basilica are the elaborate sculptures of the 12 apostles.

Commissioned in the 18th Century they are a real work of art, with incredibly intricate features that make for a stunning display.

How to get to the Basilica of St John Lateran?

Getting to the Basilica is easy when in Rome, with plenty of different options available for all budgets.

Public transport

The public transport system in Rome is pretty good, and there are several options available for those who wish to travel in a cheap and convenient way.

Those who wish to can take the metro from any stop in Rome and disembark at the St Giovanni Station, and there are also plenty of bus options too – lines 16, 81, 85, 87, 186, 650, 810 and 850 all make a stop at the Saint John Lateran and Cloister.

Finally, Tram line number 3 can get you from the Colosseum to the Basilica directly.

st john lateran hop on hop off bus

Hop on Hop off buses

Another great option is to utilize a hop-on-hop-off bus tour company. Currently, one hop-on-hop-off bus company (check on this website) makes a stop near the Basilica.

Certainly, this will be a more expensive way to get to St John Lateran, as you will need to purchase a full route ticket, but for those who intend to navigate their way around Rome’s many and varied attractions anyway, it is a great option.

Hop on Hop off buses will stop at the St John Lateran among other attractions, making a ticket a great way to see the sights.

When is the best time to visit the Basilica of St John Lateran?

st john lateran

The St John Lateran opening hours (you can double check here) are 7.30am until 6pm year round, so there is plenty of opportunity to check out the attractions.

Get there early in the morning if you wish to avoid the crowds.

The best time to visit any attractions in Rome is in the off season, when the crowds are less dense and the heat of the summer sun has abated – November is a quieter month, as is early December before the Christmas pilgrims arrive.

How to skip the line ?

st john lateran security check

The Basilica of St John Lateran is free to enter! So as a result you can’t actually get a skip the line ticket.

However this isn’t as big a deal as it would be within the walls of the actual Vatican – this attraction is well worth a visit but is definitely less well known than the Basilica of St Peter within the Vatican City walls, so the queues are less dense and you will have more time to explore in peace.

Go on a tour to visit the Basilica of St John Lateran and the Cloister

st john lateran audio guide

On entry into the Basilica of St John Lateran you will find an information booth that rents out audio guide books during the St John Lateran opening hours (apart from on Sundays, when the booth is closed).

For 10€ (you can order here online) you can take yourself on a self-guided tour around the attractions, which is a perfect option for those who are not able to afford a full guided tour.

There are also more formal guided tours for sale from all the major tour companies in Rome – these usually take in the Cloister, Basilica and the nearby Holy Steps, as well as the Baptistery.

As there is little signage in the Baptistery itself, a guided tour is a must for those wanting to know all the details about St John Lateran and the Cloister.

Are the Omnia card or Roma Pass worth it to visit the St John Lateran?

st john lateran omnia card

Whilst entry to the Basilica is free (there is usually a small fee payable to enter the Cloister) the Omnia Pass includes a free audio guide on entry, worth €10, so if you do have an Omnia Card then you absolutely must stop by the Basilica.

The Roma Pass doesn’t include this option, but both the Omnia Card and the Roma Pass include travel cards that will get you near to St John Lateran for free, so both are a good option when travelling in Rome.

Other tips for visiting St John Lateran

St John Lateran entrance
  • Bring your camera! The mosaics and columns in the cloister and the interior of the Basilica itself are well worth a few photographs
  • Watch you bag – as with anywhere in Rome we recommend keeping your belongings to a bare minimum, avoiding flashy displays of jewelry and money, and keeping your bag locked and close.
  • Enjoy – the Basilica is a real – and often overlooked – gem. Enjoy the experience here as not everyone takes the time to see it.
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