Amazing Virtual Museums in Italy To Visit and Enjoy Online For Free
Updated: Apr 21
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.