• Leslie

Amazing Virtual Museums in Italy To Visit and Enjoy Online For Free

Updated: Jun 3


Pine Cone Fountain, a landmark of the Vatican Museums


Here's my wanderlusty guide to the best museums in Italy to visit and enjoy online for free when you're stuck at home or on a staycation.


Bella Italia! Italy is one of the most popular countries on earth -- with a rich ancient and Renaissance culture, museums galore, and some of the world's most iconic landmarks. Not to mention the delectable pasta and gelato.


If you can't explore Italy in person, you can now do it online. Italy has some of the world's best online collections. From ancient Roman ruins to the Vatican Museums, here's the best virtual tours of Italian museums that you can enjoy from the comfort of your couch or computer.



the famous double spiral staircase at the Vatican, designed by Giuseppe Momo


Best Online Museums in Italy, Best Virtual Italian Museums


1. The Vatican Museums, Vatican City


I recently visited the Vatican Museums twice during a trip to Rome. The Vatican Museums are the public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican City complex. The works in the Vatican are invaluable crowning glories of Western art. They tell stories of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the history of the Catholic Church, and the birth of the Renaissance.


You can take an online virtual tour of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, the Pio Clementino Museum, and the Raphael Rooms. You can also tour Vatican City on Google Arts & Culture.


I've also written a lengthy piece on 18 of the the Vatican's must see masterpieces. And a piece on Michelangelo's Last Judgment, which is on the Sistine Chapel altar wall.



The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, 1485-86 -- star of Florence's Uffizi Gallery


2. Uffizi Gallery, Florence


The Uffizi Gallery has one of the world's best collections of Renaissance art, collected by the powerful Medici family. Art lovers are rushing to the new Uffizi Gallery Facebook page. Launched a few weeks ago, the page already has over 50,000 followers.


One popular video is a virtual welcome to the collection from the museum's director Eike Schmidt. Another shows off a room adorned with works by Michelangelo and Raphael.


The Uffizi houses priceless treasures. Along its marble corridors, you can admire Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, Laocoön and his Sons, Piero della Francesca's unflattering portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, and Raphael's Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals. In 2018, the Uffizi unveiled a permanent home, Room 35, for its two da Vinci heavyweights -- Adoration of the Magi and Annunciation.


Install the Google Arts & Culture App to explore the entire collection. The Uffizi's own HyperVision tours are also excellent, analyzing masterpieces or focusing on a particular theme. If you want to take a deep dive into the catalog, the Uffizi also has a digital archive.



chunks of the Colossus of Constantine in the courtyard of the Capitoline Museums


3. The Capitoline Museums, Rome


The Capitoline Museums are Rome's oldest museum complex, sitting atop a beautiful square, the Piazza dei Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill. The museums give you a unique look at Rome's ancient imperial history. If you're a history or archaeology buff, this is a must see site in Rome.


The Capitoline Museums boast an enormous array of ancient Roman, medieval, and Renaissance art -- statuary, paintings, and relics. The most famous pieces are the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, Dying Gaul, Medusa, Capitoline Venus, Spinario, and Bust of Commodus.


If you want to take a gander at ancient Greco-Roman sculpture, the Capitoline Museums have a virtual tour of the museum's floor plans and collections. I've also written a full guide to the Capitoline Museums.



Raphael, Self Portrait, 1506


4. Raffaello Exhibit, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome


2020 marked the 500 year anniversary of Renaissance master Raphael's death. In honor of the great artist, Rome planned a landmark exhibition. 200 paintings had been gathered from all over Italy, from the Vatican Museums, and on loan from major museums worldwide.


Titled RAFFAELLO, the exhibition was planned to run from March 5th to June 2nd. But it was closed after several days. Fortunately a free virtual tour is now available. It's narrated in Italian. But you can still admire the beauty of the art works.



Museum of the Altar of Peace in Rome


5. Ara Pacis Museum, Rome


The Roman Senate commissioned the Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, in 13 BC. The altar was built to honor soon-to-be emperor Augustus, who had just pacified and defeated the barbarians. His victory marked the beginning of the Pax Romana, a 200 year golden age where arts and architecture flourished.


The altar was once part of a large complex. It was moved to its current location in 1938. The Ara Pacis Museum opened in 2006 and is dedicated to this single monument.


The museum is housed in a modern pavilion designed by American architect Richard Meier. You can skip the rather outrageous entry fee and admire the ornate altar on the museum’s virtual tour here. Or visit the museum virtually on Google Arts & Culture.



the ruins of Trajan's Market in Rome


6. Trajan's Market, Rome


Trajan's Market is a large complex of ruins that was part of Trajan's Forum. This forum was the largest and most advanced of the six imperial forums in Rome, as befitting Rome's most popular and powerful emperor dubbed the "best leader."


Trajan's Market was built in the 2nd century AD by Trajan's favorite architect, Apollodorus of Damascus. It's affectionately called the world's "first shopping mall." Trajan's Market was a dense complex. It was once 6 stories high with 150 shops and offices, set into the side of Quirinal Hill.


The structure is remarkable. It shows that Romans didn't just build with columns and pediments. Powered by concrete, this urban structure was light filled, with windows and atriums.


Now, you can take an amazing virtual tour of Trajan's Market from your couch.



courtyard of the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan


7. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan


The Pinacoteca di Brera is housed inside the beautiful late 17th century Palazzo Brera near the Duomo. The museum has a magnificent collection of Italian art, especially religious-themed works. It's one of the best museums you've never heard of.


The Pinacoteca di Brera boasts works from the 14th to 20th centuries, including pieces by artists such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Guercino, Bellini, and Titian. The museum's must see masterpieces are Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus, Francesco Hayez's The Kiss, Andrea Mantegna's Lamentation of Christ, and Guercino's Dead Christ.


The gallery has created an online catalog of over 600 art works. You can admire the art online and read relevant historical details in Italian or English. The collection can be searched by date and artist. Visit it here.



the Pantheon and the Fountain of the Pantheon in Rome

8. The Pantheon, Rome


Without a doubt, the Pantheon is the best preserved building from ancient Rome. You'd don't have to wrinkle your brow or struggle to conceptualize anything, as with many ruins. It's all before you.

Built in 120 AD by Emperor Hadrian, the Pantheon was a temple dedicated to all of the gods. Hadrian reimagined it as an oversized Greek temple -- with 40 foot tall Corinthian granite columns from Egypt, a pediment, and portico. It was considered a masterpiece of engineering and mathematical precision.


The Pantheon's most emblematic feature is its perfect unsupported spherical dome. At the time, it was a major architectural breakthrough. The dome became the model for Michelangelo's dome for St. Peter's Basilica and Brunelleschi's dome for Florence Cathedral.


You can take a 360 tour of the Pantheon here. And here's a fantastic video from Smarthistory with shots of the Pantheon and an explanation of its importance.



the ruins of Pompeii


9. The Ruins of Pompeii, Pompeii


Pompeii is Rome's most famous archaeological site, a living museum. In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the city in 60 feet of ash. The city was entombed for many centuries. Beginning in 1748, archaeologists began painstakingly excavating the ruins.


Today, Google allows you to step back into this ancient world locked in time. Using Google Street view, you can tour Pompeii in 3D from the comfort of your own home. To begin a tour of the ancient Roman city, click here. Drag your mouse or tilt your phone to get a good look around.



the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte in Naples


10. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples


Located in the Capodimonte Palace, the Capodimonte Museum houses a collection of fine and decorative arts mostly from Naples. The core of its collection was compiled by the powerful Farnese and Bourbon families.


The Capodimonte Museum features works by Caravaggio, Masaccio, Titian, Raphael, El Greco, Bruegel, and Sebastiano del Piombo (who also decorated the Villa Farnesina in Rome). The museum's most famous painting is probably The Gypsy Madonna by Correggio. You can visit the museum's online collection here.


Now, the artistic gems of the Capodimonte Museum can also be admired via Google Art & Culture. The platform gathers over 500 works of art, themed stories, and virtual tours of the museum masterpieces.



Castle Sant' Angelo in Rome, also known as Hadrian's Mausoleum


11. Castle Sant' Angelo, the Museo Nazionale di Castel

Sant'Angelo, Rome


Built on the banks of the Tiber River in 139 by Emperor Hadrian, Castle Sant' Angelo is also known as Hadrian's Mausoleum. Hadrian also erected the Bridge of Angels, which connected his grand mausoleum to central Rome. The bridge is now lined with 10 angels, designed by Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Each statue holds an object of Christ's passion.


The cylindrical castle was richly decorated. Originally, it was faced with travertine marble, pilasters, and bronze. By the 5th century, the mausoleum was converted into a miltary fortress. It was renamed Castle Sant' Angelo in the 5th century. Legend holds that the Archangel Michael appeared above the castle, sheathed his sword, and magically put an end to the plague.


In the 15th century, the notorious Borgia pope, Alessandro VI, installed sumptuous papal apartments. They're decorated with frescos by Pinturicchio, who also decorated the Borgia Rooms in the Vatican Museums.


You can take a virtual 360 tour of the Castle Sant' Angelo here.



a room in the Peggy Guggenheim museum displaying Picasso's Poet on a Beach and an Alexander Calder mobile


12. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice


The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is a must see site in Venice for art lovers. It's the city's best museum and the single greatest museum of 20th century art in Italy. Upon visiting, as Guggenheim intended, you’re greeted at the door by an erect penis. It’s a sculpture by Marino Marini -- a man astride his horse, excited by the pure joy of living in Venice.


Housed in Guggenheim's former palazzo, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection was opened in 1980 and is now a shrine. The quality of the paintings is staggering, a tribute to Guggenheim's acquisition strategy during the golden age of modern art.


Guggenheim’s collection includes works from the major movements of Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism, and Abstract Expressionism. There's an entire room dedicated to her beloved Jackson Pollack. You can see works by Picasso, de Chirico, Kandinsky, Miro, Klee, Ernst, Magritte, de Kooning, Dali, and Calder.


Highlights of the collection can be viewed online here. Here's my guide to Peggy Guggenheim and her magnificent museum.



Michelangelo, David, 1504


13. Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence


After the Uffizi, Florence’s other star gallery is the Accademia. The Accademia is home to some of Michelangelo's most famous works -- David and the Slaves. The Slaves were originally intended for the Tomb of Pope Julius II. But Michelangelo was never able to finish the project. In contrast to David, the Slaves struggle to emerge from the marble


Although the Accademia doesn't offer as much virtually as the Uffizi, its site still contains information, beautiful photos of its most important pieces, and some story videos.





14. Museo Napoleonico, Rome


Housed in the Palazzo Primoli, this Roman museum is dedicated to the period of Napoleon and his connection to Italy. Located just north of the Piazza Navona, the museum contains the collections of Count Giuseppe Primoli. He was the great grandson of Joseph and Lucien Bonaparte.


Primoli's aim was to present the imperial family from his own private point of view. The museum is still arranged as he envisioned it. You'll find painting, artifacts, sculptures, Napoleon's outfits, books, memorabilia, etc. If you're a history buff, this museum is for you.


The Museo Napoleonico has an excellent multimedia virtual tour. You can take a 360 tour of the collection. Or you can go to the photo gallery, click on a specific photo, and get a wealth of information.



the Villa Farnesina in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood, one of Rome's most underrated museums


15. Villa Farnesina, Rome


Another beautiful place to admire the works of Raphael is at the Villa Farnesina. Designed by artist-architect Baldasarre Perruzi, the 16th century Villa Farnesina is a magnificent off the beaten path museum, located in Rome's lovely Trastevere neighborhood. It's home to torrid love stories and secret Raphael paintings.


Villa Farnesina is a quiet oasis of in situ art and architecture. The villa is decorated with racy mythological frescos by Renaissance painters Raphael, Peruzzi, and Sebastian del Piombo. If you're a Renaissance art lover, Villa Farnesina should be on your itinerary for Rome.


You can now take a virtual 360 tour of Villa Farnesina. Check out the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche, the Hall of Galatea, and the Room of the Perspectives. I loved the little museum so much that I wrote a complete guide to it.



facade of the The Quirinal Palace in Rome


16. The Quirinal Palace, Rome


The Quirinal Palace, or Palazzo del Quirinale, was built by Gregory XIII in 1574 as a summer residence. Now it's the official home of the Italian President.


You can take a 360 guided tour of the palace with audio commentary Along the way, you'll see the Hall of the Mirrors, the Great Ballroom, the First State Room, and the spectacular Mascarino Staircase. You can even take a tour of the gardens.



the pink and white marble facade of the Doge's Palace in Venice


17. The Doge's Palace, Venice


Set in St. Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace or Palazzo Ducale is the very symbol of Venice. This pink and white marble Gothic-Renaissance building was the official residence of the doges who ruled Venice for more than 1,000 years.


The best way to tour the Doge's Palace, for full insight on this historic building, is on the Secret Itineraries Tour. On that tour, you'll see all the secret and hidden things that most people won't, like the cell of Casanova -- the famous lover who dramatically escaped from the palace prison.



Paolo Veronese, Rape of Europa, 1570 -- in the Doge's Palace

Aside from the gorgeous rooms and staircases, there's some fantastic works of art on display: Veronese's Rape of Europe and The Triumph of Venice, many paintings and ceilings by Tintoretto, and Tiepolo's Neptune Bestowing Gifts upon Venice.


You can tour the Doge's Palace virtually on Google Arts & Culture, take a 360 tour of the exterior, or take a 360 tour of the city of Venice itself.



sculptures in the Aldobrandini Room of the Doria Pamphilj, with a famous Caravaggio painting above


18. Doria Pamphilj, Rome


The Doria Pamphilj is a lovely museum, one of my absolute favorite spots in Rome. It's a hidden gem housed in a lavish 17th century Roman-Rococo palace.


The art collection was meticulously assembled and is still owned by a powerful Italian family, the Doria Pamphilj (pronounced Pom-fee-lee). The museum boasts over 650 works spanning the 15th to the 18th century, including pieces by Bernini, Caravaggio, Velazquez, Titian, Carracci, and Bruegel. Apart from the art, every inch of the walls and ceilings are decorated with beautiful frescos, tapestries, and chandeliers.


You can virtually tour the Doria Pamphilj here.



Bernini, Busts of Costanza, 1636-37



19. National Museum of the Bargello


The Bargello dates from 1255. It was first a prison and then the seat of government in Florence. In 1865, the Bargello opened as a museum by royal decree.


The Bargello houses an amazing collection of Renaissance sculptures. The most important works are in the Michelangelo and Donatello rooms. Those include Michelangelo's first major sculpture, Bacchus, and his Pitti Tondo, Donatello's acclaimed Bronze David and St. George, and Bernini's Bust of Costanza.


The Bargello also houses the Competition Panels. In 1401, Florence held a competition for a set of bronze doors to be made for the Baptistry of the Duomo. Artists submitted bronze samples. Ghiberti and Brunelleschi were the finalists, with Ghiberti winning the competition.


If you need even more Italian art and culture, here are my guides to other famous museums and sites in Italy:


Florence Must See Sites for Art Lovers Bernini's Art in Rome

Caravaggio's Art in Rome

20 Best Museums in Rome

Guide to the Doria Pamphilj

Guide to the Capitoline Museums

Guide to the Palazzo Barberini

Guide to Villa Farnesina

Guide to the Borghese Gallery

Must See Masterpieces at the Vatican


If you'd like to visit Italy's best museums virtually, pin it for later.