Virtual Rome: The Best Virtual Tours of Rome Italy
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Bella Roma! Here's my guide to the best virtual tours of Rome Italy. You can explore the beautiful and historic city from the comfort of your home.
Are you sitting on your couch or at your computer, not moving an inch, and wanderlusting about traveling to Rome? I hope I'm not the only one.
Rome is ever inspiring and just flat out divine, especially when you tour Rome virtually without the crowds. The Eternal City has 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. There's literally a cultural treasure around every corner.
If you can't explore Rome in person, you can engage in some DIY travel to Rome online. I mean, look below, we're about to land in Rome! Let's take some excellent virtual tours of Rome's fabulous must see sites -- museums, landmarks, ancient ruins, churches, underground crypts, and palaces.
Best Virtual Museum Tours in Rome
1. Virtual Vatican Museums
The Vatican houses the glories of the ancient world. It has one of the world's greatest art collections, displayed in a lavishly decorated palace with rooms painted by the likes of Michelangelo and Raphael. Some of the most famous art works on the planet are there.
You can take an online virtual tour of Vatican hotspots, including the Sistine Chapel, the Pio Clementino Museum, and the Raphael Rooms. Here's the virtual tour of the Pinacoteca, the Vatican's principal painting gallery. You can also explore the Vatican Museums on Google Arts & Culture.
If you want to take a deep dive, here's my complete guide to touring and understanding the must see masterpieces at the Vatican Museums. If you want to know why "underpants" were added to Michelangelo's The Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel, read on here.
2. Villa Farnesina, Secret Raphaels
Another beautiful place to admire Raphael frescos 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.
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.
3. Museo Napoleonico
Housed in the ground floor of 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, go to the photo gallery, click on a specific photo, and get a wealth of information.
4. The Altar of Peace
The Roman Senate commissioned the Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, in 13 BC. It was built to honor soon-to-be emperor Augustus, who had just pacified and defeated the barbarians in Spain and Gaul. 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 Smartshistory's virtual tour here or on Google Art & Culture.
5. Castle Sant'Angelo, the Museo Nazionale di Castel
Built on the banks of the Tiber River in 139 by Emperor Hadrian, Castle Sant' Angelo is also known as Hadrian's Mausoleum. To connect his grand mausoleum to central Rome, Hadrian also erected the Bridge of Angels. The bridge is now lined with 10 angels, designed by the Baroque "master of marble" Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The cylindrical castle was once richly decorated. Originally, it was faced with travertine marble, pilasters, and bronze. By the 5th century, the mausoleum was converted into a military fortress and renamed. 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 in castle Sant' Angelo. 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 or check out this BBC documentary on the famous Roman monument.
6. 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, check out the Capitoline Museums' virtual tour or tour Google Arts & Culture. I've also written a full guide to the Capitoline Museums highlighting all the must see masterpieces in the collection.
The Best Virtual Tours of Roman Ruins and Landmarks
1. Trajan's Market
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.
Now, you can take an amazing virtual tour of the well preserved Trajan's Market from your couch.
2. The Pantheon
Without a doubt, the Pantheon is the best preserved building from ancient Rome.
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.
3. Baths of Caracalla, Terme di Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla are one of Rome's best preserved ancient sites, sometimes called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Emperor Septimus Severus launched construction in 206 AD. His son, Caracalla, finished it 10 years later, after killing his brothers to seize sole power.
The baths could accommodate 1600 people. The original brick walls are still standing, a towering shell. They were once covered in stucco and marble. But that was long ago carried off by looters. The sculptures and mosaics from the Baths of Caracalla, like the famous Belvedere Torso, are now in museums.
Every summer since 2014, the Baths of Caracalla are the backdrop for open air opera performances. You can read about it and see shots virtually on Google Arts & Culture. You can also take a 4D tour of the Baths of Caracalla on Rome's Coop Culture website.
4. Colosseum, the Symbol of Rome
Formally named the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum has stood in Rome for almost 2,000 years. It's the most instantly recognizable monument from the classical world. Despite the ravages of time, the Colosseum is an incredibly well-preserved piece of Rome’s fascinating history.
Emperor Vespasian began constructing the Colosseum in 72 AD. It was finished by his son Titus in 80 AD. Domitian subsequently added the hypogeum, or basement.
The Colosseum hosted the popular gladiator games. They were a form of ancient theater re-creating far flung lands, mythological themes, and epic battles of man vs beast for the masses.
You can tour the Colosseum on Google Arts & Culture, where there are over 200 photos. You can take a virtual walking tour of the Colosseum on its official website. Or take a 360 virtual tour on Air Pano.
5. The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is a rectangular valley running from Arch of Titus to the Capitoline Hill. The main road is the Via Sacre. The forum was the beating heart of Rome, the seat of power, and its central showpiece.
Once, the Roman Forum was a grandiose district consisting of white temples, grand basilicas, and vibrant public spaces. The Forum was the scene of political upheavals, funerals, and triumphant parades. Before the Colosseum was built, it even hosted gladiatorial battles.
You can take a virtual tour of the forum on Google Arts & Culture, with almost 300 different items to eyeball. You can also take a 360 tour on 360 Cities or a virtual walking tour with Pro Walks.
The Best Virtual Tours of Underground Rome
Rome's is often compared to a lasagne, with layers and layers of history, and buildings built right on top of others. Rome's underground is rich with crypts, catacombs, and elaborate buried palaces.
The catacombs were used by early Christians as burial sites. A catacomb is a network of underground tunnels used to bury the dead. The catacombs were considered "negative architecture" and were built in areas comprised of volcanic tufa, which was easy to dig through.
After Constantine legalized Christianity, the catacombs became areas of pilgrimage. In the Romantic Period, ruin lusting became a popular spectator sport and tourists flooded into the catacombs on their "grand tours" of Europe.
1. Mithraeum of Santa Prisca
If you want to head underground to discover one of Rome's hidden gems, you can tour the Mitreo of Santa Prisca. A miter, or mithraeum, is a place of cult worship consecrated to the God Mithra. There's one lying underneath the Church of Santa Priscia.
The crypt was discovered in 1934 and excavated in the 1950s. The walls are decorated with frescos depicting the initiation procedures of the cult of Mithras. They also have text descriptions. There's a statue of the god Saturn lying down.
You can only visit 2 days a month on a guided tour. But you can inspect it via this virtual tour.
2. Catacombs of Priscilla
Dating back almost 2,000 years the Catacombs of Priscilla are a series of catacombs built by early Christians. Known as "Queen of the Catacombs" since antiquity, the catacombs houses the bones of early popes and many Christian martyrs. It's considered one of Rome's most interesting underground sites, hidden away under Villa Ada Park.
After five years of conservation and restoration, the Priscilla Catacombs opened to the public in 2018. Lasers were used to clean the religious frescoes on the walls.
A new function on Google Maps allows users to take a limited tour of the vast complex. You can inspect the interiors with a 360 view. You can also see the frescos on this Smarthistory video.
3. Capuchin Crypt
If you want a spooky experience, head to the Capuchin Crypt. You literally come face to face with the dead. Located near the Piazza Barberini, the crypt is beneath the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Dating back to 1645, this crypt a holds the bones and mummified remains of around 4000 monks. The five tiny rooms are given evocative names -- the Crypt of Skulls, the Crypt of Pelvises, the Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones. Some of the bones are set into rather macabre (maybe outright gross) patterns.
You can tour the Capuchin Crypt and learn about it on this excellent YouTube video.
4. Domus Aurea, Nero's Golden Palace
Built by the notorious Emperor Nero, Domus Aurea was once the grandest building on earth. Domus Aurea was a sprawling property covered up to 300 acres. The facade and walls were adorned with frescos, gold leaf, glass mosaics, pearls, and marble. In natural light, it had a golden hue.
At the end of the 15th century, the Domus Aurea was discovered by accident when a young man fell into a crevice. To his surprise, he found himself surrounded by paintings. At first, the palace ruins were thought to be caves or grottos. Artists like Michelangelo and Raphael flocked to see the ancient frescos, called "grotesques."
Thanks to YouTube, you can take a virtual tour of the ruins of Domus Aurea, still an excavation in progress, and see how it would've looked looked almost 2,000 years ago in ancient Rome. Here's my own guide to visiting Domus Aurea.
5. Domus Transitoria, Nero's First Palace
Before there was Domus Aurea, there was Domus Transitoria. Nero's first palace was built between 60 and 64 BC. The palace had a short life. It was destroyed in the great fire of Rome in 64 BC.
Like Domus Aurea, Domus Transitoria was a massive and lavishly decorated palace, connecting the Palatine Hill and Esquiline Hill. It was dubbed the Transit House. According to Seutonius, Domus Transitoria was characterized by all the pomp, gold, and luxury one typically associates with grandiose Neronian architecture.
You enter and descend a staircase to inspect the site underground. Virtual reality headsets bring the dank place to life, allowing visitors to see the palace in its former glory. As with Domus Aurea, YouTube takes you underground on a virtual tour to see the ruins and gives you a glimpse of what the palace looked like in ancient Rome.
6. Basilica of San Clemente
The Basilica di San Clemente is an 11th century church, built atop a 4th century church. Inside, you'll see a beautifully painted ceiling and original gold mosaics in the apse. But the real treasures lie beneath, making the basilica one of Rome's best underground archaeological sites.
Underground, you'll find layers of Christian history -- early Christian wall paintings, a 3rd century pagan temple, a 1st century home, a secret Christian Mithraic worship site, and the Cloaca Maxima, the sewer system of ancient Rome.
Here's an excellent YouTube video taking you through the site and a handy 360 virtual tour.
7. The Colosseum's Hypogeum
In 2018, the Colosseum in Rome revealed its underworld. The hypogeum, or basement, of the Colosseum was opened to the public for the first time ever. You can only visit it via a private guided tour.
The hypogeum was the staging area for the gory gladiatorial games. It was an elaborate network of tunnels, cages, and holding rooms beneath the arena floor. As gladiators battled lions and tigers on the bloodied sand arena, the next victims waited in the bowels below.
Here's my complete guide to visiting the hypogeum. You can explore the Colosseum on Google Arts & Culture or on YouTube.
Virtual Tours of Churches in Rome
1. St. Peter's Basilica
Located in Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica is the most famous church in Christendom. It's set in the beautiful St. Peter's Square, which was designed by Bernini and intended to symbolize a mother's embrace.
Inside, St. Peter's Basilica is massive -- a riotous mixture of marble, gold, stucco, mosaics, sculptures, and stone. The main canopy altar is a lavish Baroque affair designed by Bernini. It's basically a theater for religious spectacles. The most beautiful sculpture in the basilica is Michelangelo's Pieta.
You can check out the Vatican's virtual tour of St. Peter's, take in 360 views, and listen to National Geographic's audio tour. Smarthistory has a great video about the Pieta.
2. Church of Santa Maria del Popolo
Santa Maria del Popolo is a beautiful blend of Baroque and Renaissance architecture. It's famous for its top notch art by Caravaggio and Bernini. The paintings you can't miss inside include Caravaggio's Conversion of St. Paul, Caravaggio's Crucifixtion of St. Peter, Sebastian del Piombo's The Virgin Mary's Birth, and Caracci's Assumption of Mary.
Santa Maria del Popolo is also famous for the Chigi Chapel. The Chigi Chapel was commissioned by the wealthy banker Augustino Chigi, who built Villa Farnesina. He had Raphael design the chapel, which was inspired by the Pantheon. The chapel also has two sculptures by Bernini.
You can tour the site and listen to videos about the Caravaggio masterpieces on the official website. Here's a fantastic video giving you a full virtual tour.
3. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is Rome's prettiest and best preserved church. Personally, I liked it better than St. Peters' Basilica. It's much older, dating to the 5th century A.D. Inside, it's light and airy without any medieval heaviness.
Most importantly, the basilica has absolutely breathtaking mosaics in the triumphal arch and nave. They're among the world's best preserved mosaics from early Christian Rome. Santa Maria Maggiore is also home to Bernini's tomb.
Here's the Vatican's virtual tour of the basilica (it's technically Vatican property). And here's Tourist Tube's 360 virtual tour.
4. Santa Maria in Trastevere
Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of Rome's oldest churches, built circa 350 AD. It was Rome’s first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In the 12th century, Pope Innocent II, a native of Trastevere, rebuilt the church. Like Santa Maria Maggiore, it boasts impressive mosaics from the 12th and 13th centuries.
Two rows of 22 large columns lead up to the nave. The apse in the main altar is covered in gilded mosaics. There's also a 13th century mosaic floor with elaborate interlacing patterns.
Here's a 360 tour of the lovely church and a lengthy YouTube video.