Ultimate Guide to the Best Museums in Rome Italy
Here's my comprehensive guide to the best museums in Rome, the Eternal City, which I find eternally fascinating.
My guide explores the mainstream must see museums. But, because I love to hunt for treasure, I've also included some of Rome's secret hidden gems and off the beaten path small museums.
Rome is truly blessed with a veritable plethora of amazing fine art museums. You could spend years exploring them all in proper fashion. Even better, if you can't travel to Italy in person, you can now take virtual tours of many Roman museums right from home. I show you how to travel vicariously below.
Guide to Art in Rome: 20 Best Museums in Rome Italy
1. The Borghese Gallery | Galleria Borghese
Ah, this might be my favorite museum in Rome. The Borghese Gallery houses one of the world’s most jaw dropping art collections in a chic and luxurious garden villa.
In the 17th century, Cardinal Scipione Borghese meticulously assembled the densely packed collection. It's rich in ancient Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art. It boasts major works by art superstars -- Bernini, Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, Rubens, and Canova.
In particular, the cardinal commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini -- the Baroque "master of marble" -- to create a series of sculptures that would become the pièce de résistance of his gilded sanctuary. Bernini carved intensely charged bodies of mythological gods and heroes from massive slabs of marble. The most famous Borghese pieces are David, Apollo and Daphne, and The Rape of Persephone.
Be sure to linger in the Caravaggio Room, where you'll find six of his paintings. After you're done admiring the art, take a stroll in the Borghese gardens. This vast and verdant area is Rome's equivalent to Central Park.
For the full scoop, here's my complete guide to visiting the Borghese Gallery, with tips for securing tickets. You can take a virtual tour of the Borghese Gallery on Google Street View here. You can explore Bernini sculptures on Google Arts & Culture here.
Address: Piazzale del Museo Borghese
Hours: Open daily 8:30 am to 7:30 pm, except closed on Monday.
Entry fee: 20 €. The 1.5 hour audio guide is 5 euros. I advise getting it, if you're not on a guided tour. Under 18 free.
Pro tip: It's essential to purchase tickets and make a timed entry reservation online in advance. You are limited to a maximum of 2 hours in the gallery, which won't seem like enough. You'll have to check everything except for very small handbags.
2. Capitoline Museums | Musei Capitoline
The Capitoline Museums sit atop a beautiful square, the Piazza dei Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill. In the 16th century, Michelangelo re-designed the square, transforming it from pagan to papal. In the center is a grand statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback (the original is inside).
The Capitoline Museums are Rome's oldest museum. The museum gives you a unique up close 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's stash of ancient art and artifacts is unparalleled, albeit somewhat disorganized. It's housed in two buildings, the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo. They're connected by an underground passageway, called the Underground Galleria Lapidaria, lined with evocative funereal steles.
Inside, you'll find some of the world's most famous ancient sculptures -- Spinario, Bust of Commodus, Capitoline She Wolf, Medusa, and Dying Gaul.
Here's my complete guide to the Capitoline Museums. If you want to take look at the collection online, the Capitoline Museums have a virtual tour of the museum's floor plans and collections. And you can explore the museum on Google Arts & Culture.
Address: Piazza del Campidoglio 1. The entrance and ticket office are in the building on your right after you climb the stairs.
Entry fee: € 15. The audio guide (which is worth it) is 6 euros. You'll need to leave your passport or license as security.
Hours: Daily 9:30 am to 7:30 pm
Pro tip: If you have anything more than a small purse, you'll be required to check it. The cost is € 1, so have coins. Pick up a map when you enter. This museum is confusing. It's easy to get lost and miss important pieces.
3. Doria Pamphilj Gallery | Galleria Doria Pamphilj
The Doria Pamphilj Gallery is simply a joy to visit, a heady blend of yesteryear art and magnificent architecture. It's a hidden gem in Rome, 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). It all started with Camillo Pamphilj, who gave up his cardinalship to marry his true love, Olympia Aldobrandini. Their heirs still live in the palace.
The Doria Pamphilj boasts over 650 works spanning the 15th to the 18th century, including pieces by Velazquez, Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio, Titian, Carracci, and Bruegel.
The best works are stashed in the Aldobrandini Gallery and the Aldobrandini Hall. The gallery's emblematic painting is Diego Velazquez's Portrait of Innocent X, which has a dedicated room. And the museum has a glittering Hall of Mirrors, reminiscent of Versaille.
Apart from the art, every inch of the walls and ceilings are decorated with beautiful frescos, tapestries, and chandeliers. A true art lover will be utterly delighted by this museum experience. It's so rare to enjoy art in its original historic setting, a yesteryear type experience. And there's no crowds. You can admire the art in peace and quiet without being jostled by crowds and selfie sticks.
Address: Via del Corso 305
Hours: 9:00 am to 7:00 pm (last entry at 6pm). Most museums in Rome are closed on Mondays. The Doria Pamphilj isn't, something to keep in mind.
Entry fee: 12 €, free audio guide
Pro tips: There's not much seating in the gallery and no elevator. You can tour some residential rooms in the palace for an extra fee.
4. Castle Sant'Angelo | Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo
Castle Sant' Angelo is also known as Hadrian's Mausoleum. Hadrian built it on the banks of the Tiber River in 139. He also erected the Bridge of Angels, which connected central Rome to his mausoleum. The bridge is now lined with 10 angels, designed by Bernini and commissioned by Pope Clement IX. 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.
It's a unique museum with a mix of art and artifacts. You'll find sumptuous papal apartments decorated with frescos by Pinturicchio, medieval firearms, paintings, and sculpture, and military memorabilia.
In 1536, a marble and bronze statue of Archangel Micheal was perched on top. There are gorgeous 360 views of Rome and St. Peter's Basilica from the Terrace of the Angel. The museum also has a bar/coffee shop with splendid views.
Address: Sant' Angelo Bridge
Hours: Daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, closed Mondays
Entry fee: € 14. You can skip the line with the Roma Pass.
5. Villa Farnesina
Designed by artist-architect Baldasarre Perruzi, 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.
Between 1506-11, the wealthy banker Agostino Chigi from Siena built Villa Farnesina, then titled Villa Chigi. Chigi wanted a show-offy party pad to entertain Roman VIPs. He created a beautiful space, a Roman pleasure garden, that was bright, airy, and infused with Renaissance beauty.
The villa is decorated with racy mythological frescos by Renaissance painters Raphael, Peruzzi, and Sebastian del Piombo. Check out the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche, the Hall of Galatea, and the Room of the Perspectives.
The highlight is the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche, painted by Raphael and his workshop. The beautiful and animated frescos will take your breath away. Cavorting gods and goddesses cover every inch of the walls. The theme is "love conquers all." In the next room, the Hall of Galatea, you'll find Raphael's famous Triumph of Galatea.
Address: Via della Lungara 230 in the Trastevere neighborhood
Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:00 am to 2:00 pm, the second Sunday of the month from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Entry fee: € 10
6. Villa Medici | Accademia di Francia a Roma
Built in 1540, the Villa Medici is an opulent Renaissance palace, a stone's throw from the Spanish Steps. It's a Mannerist style villa with a garden next to the larger Borghese gardens. Founded by Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, the villa is now property of the French State.
The villa houses paintings, sculptures, and period rooms that you can only visit via a 90 minute guided tour. It also offers a stunning skycap view over Rome from its perch on Pinchon Hill.
Address: Viale della Trinita dei Monti 1a
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 am to 7:00 pm
Entry fee: € 12
7. Palazzo Barberini | Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica
Palazzo Barberini is an underrated museum in Rome. But it's definitely an art lover's art gallery. Recent restorations give it an unapologetically grand wow factor. The museum holds some of Europe's classic paintings by the great masters.
The Barberini Palace is 12,000 square meters and has 187 rooms. It has beautiful staircases by Borromini and Bernini. It's home to one of Raphael's most famous paintings, La Fornarina. It's a painting of the "baker's daughter," whom Raphael had fallen in love with while fresco painting in the Villa Farnesina.
Other master works include Caravaggio's Narcissus and Judith and Holofernes, Holbein's Henry VIII, and the ceiling fresco by Pietro da Cortona.
Though the painting is not very well preserved, I fell for Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi and her beautiful Self Portrait. I had just listened to an Art Curious podcast about her famous painting Judith Beheading Holofernes, which is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. She survived a rape by her tutor. After a move to Florence, she flourished and was the first woman admitted to the Accademia.
Address: Via delle Quattro Fontane 13
Hours: Tues to Sun 8:30 am to 7:00 pm
Entry fee: € 11.50
8. Galleria Corsinsi | Corsini Gallery
Located just opposite Villa Farnesina, Galleria Corsini is part of Rome’s Arte Antica collections, along with Galleria Borghese and Palazzo Barberini.
The museum is housed in an impressive late-Baroque palace built by the wealthy and prominent Corsini family. The gallery has an impressive collection of Italian art from early Renaissance to the late 18th century. It boasts works by Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, Van Dyke, Rubens, and Reni. The famous Caravaggio piece is John the Baptist (1604).
The highlight of the museum may be the Biblioteca Corsini, a gorgeous library embellished with columns, trompe l’oeil painted busts, and elaborate ceiling frescoes.
Address: Via della Lungara 10
Hours: Monday & Wednesday through Saturday from 2:00 pm to 7:30 pm, Sunday from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm, closed Tuesday.
Entry fee: € 5
9. Museo Keats-Shelley | Keats-Shelley Memorial House
Nestled at the foot of the Spanish Steps, the Keats-Shelley Memorial House will appeal to literary pilgrims. It's dedicated to its two namesake Romantic poets from England. The museum is the apartment where John Keats died at age 25 of tuberculosis.
Keats' furniture is long gone. But the museum preserves Keats original fireplace and ceiling decorated with floral motifs. There are also many letters and artifacts from the period. And a working library for scholars of the poets.
Address: Piazza Di Spagna 26
Hours: Open Monday to Friday 9:00 am to 1:00 pm & 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Saturday 11:00 am to 2:00 pm & 3:00pm to 5:00 pm on Saturday.
Entry fee: € 3.50
10. Galleria Sciarra
Located just a few steps away from the iconic Trevi Fountain and the fashionable Via del Corso is a largely unknown architectural beauty, the Galleria Sciarra. It's not a museum per se. But its beautiful courtyard is a living museum, transporting visitors back to the height of the Art Nouveau movement.
The wealthy Sciarra family commissioned the opulent courtyard in the late 19th century. Every inch of the arcade walls are adorned with colorful murals painted by Giuseppe Cellini. The theme is the "glorification of women."
The glass and iron ceiling lets sunlight spill into the courtyard, illuminating the details in the frescoes. When the sun goes down, lights turn on to bathe the courtyard in a warm yellow glow.
Address: Via Marco Minghetti, behind the Teatro Quirino
Hours: Open to the public Monday through Friday during normal business hours
11. Vatican Museums | Musei Vaticani
The Vatican Museums are the public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican City complex. They're housed in former wings of the Vatican Palace. Much of the work was collected by Pope Julius II, the imperious "warrior" pope who left a staggering legacy.
A museum path takes you through the long corridors and wings of the Vatican Museums. Most of the fine art, as opposed to decorative art, is in the Vatican Pinacoteca (the painting gallery), the Pio-Clementino Museum (the sculpture gallery), the Gallery of the Candelabra (more sculpture), the Raphael Rooms, the Borgia Apartments, and the Sistine Chapel.
But you'll also be dazzled by the corridors themselves. Along the way, you'll pass the gorgeous tapestries designed by Raphael's workshop and the awe-inspiring Map Gallery. The Map Gallery has a crusted gold ceiling and holds what were the Vatican's official maps.
At the end of your long march, you'll arrive at the Sistine Chapel, the highlight of any Vatican visit. In 1508, Pope Julius II summoned Michelangelo from Florence to paint the ceiling of his private chapel.
Michelangelo spent 4 years toiling away on the 9 ceiling panels, which depict scenes from Genesis and seem to open up the chapel to heaven. In 1533, he went back to paint The Last Judgment on the altar wall. After his death, "underpants" or draperies were added to the fresco during the Counter Reformation.
For more information, here's my comprehensive guide to the must see masterpieces in the Vatican Museums. 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 virtually tour Vatican City on Google Arts & Culture.
Address: 00120 Vatican City
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
Entry fee: € 16. On the last Sunday of each month the Museums can be visited free of admission charge from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. But it will likely be packed.
Pro tips: Buy your ticket online and just suck up the extra € fee. Or book a small group tour with skip the line access. If you don't splurge for skip the line access, you could wait hours in line to get inside.
12. MAXXI, the National Museum of Art of the 20th Century
Opened in 2010, this museum is billed as Rome's first museum dedicated to "contemporary creativity." It's house in a concrete and steel building designed by starchitect Zaha Hadid. Like the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain, the museum may be more famous for its architecture than its art.
But if you want to see more modern works, this is your place. It's one of the few spots in Rome where you can see cutting edge work. There's no permanent collection. The museum hosts temporary exhibitions, performances, and workshops. You have to check the museum website to see what's featured at any given time.
Address: Via Guido Reni 4a
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, Saturday until 10:00 pm
Entry fee: € 12
13. Museum of the Altar of Peace | Ara Pacis Museum
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.
Address: Lungotevere in Augusta Corner of Via Tomacelli
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
Entry fee: 10.50 €
14. Villa Giulia | National Etruscan Museum
The Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giuli, housed in the Villa Giulia, is true Rome hidden gem. It's just a short stroll from the Borghese Gallery, so you can combine the two museums. The villa was built by Julius III as a pleasure pad escape. Several architects were involved, with Michelangelo lending design advice.
If you have a passion for ancient Rome or the Etruscans, who lived around 600 B.C., this museum is for you. The collection is the greatest of its type in the world. Highlights include exquisite pieces of gold jewelry, the sarcophagus of the spouses (identical to the one in the Louvre), and the Pyrgi Tablets. There's a reconstructed Etruscan temple in the villa gardens.
Address: Via di Villa Giulia 9
Hours: Daily 8:30 am to 7:30 pm
Entry fee: € 8
15. The Palazzo Altemps
The 15th century Palazzo Altemps is a quiet oasis. It's definitely worth a visit if you admire sculpture. The core of the collection is superb sculptures from the Ludovisi collection, compiled by Ludovico Ludovisi, a nephew of Pope Gregory XV. The palace also has some lovey frescoed rooms, particularly the Sala delle Prospettive Dipinte.
The Palazzo Altempts isn't a cluttered museum either. You're given ample berth to view the sculptures. The major must see works include Apollo the Lyrist, the Ludovisi Athena, the Ludovisi Throne, the Grande Ludovisi Sarcophagus, the Ludovisi Ares, and Gallic Soldier and his Wife Committing Suicide.
The last piece was discovered along with the Dying Gaul masterpiece that's in the Capitoline Museums. The sculptures were found during construction of the Villa Ludovisi, which was built on land that once belonged to Julius Caesar.
You can take a virtual tour of the Palazzo Altemps here.
Address: Largo di Villa Peretti 2
Hours: 9:00 am to 6:45 pm, closed Mondays
Entry fee: € 10, combo ticket 12 euros, audio guide 5 euros
Pro tip: The Palazzo Altemps is one of four museums that together make up the Museo Nazionale Romano, or national Museum of Rome. (They were separated in the 1990s.) A combined ticket to all four, 15 €, is is valid for three days and gives you admission to the the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, the Terme di Diocleziano, and the Crypta Balbi.
16. Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Massimo
Palazzo Massimo is a wonderful hidden gem museum in Rome. It's one of Rome's newer museum spaces. The museum is next to Rome's unlovely Termini station in the north. But don't let that put you off.
Once inside, you're in a magnificently restored building bursting with a wealth of fine sculptures, mosaics, and frescos. Three galleries on the ground floor are dedicated to busts and statuary from the last years of the Roman Republic. You can see the beautiful, and incredibly detailed, statue of the Emperor Augustus.
The other two stand out sculptures are the Sleeping Hermaphrodite and the Discus Thrower, two of the better copies made from Greek originals.
But my favorite part of this little museum is in Room II on the second floor. That rooms houses the exquisite garden frescos that were removed from the House of Livia on Palatine Hill. Livia was the wife of Emperor Augustus. Other rooms contain frescos taken from the Villa Farnesina.
You can take a virtual tour of the museum on YouTube here.
Address: Largo di Villa Peretti 2
Hours: Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm & 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm,
Saturday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm.
Entry Fee: € 10
17. Museo Napoleonico | Napoleon Museum
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 museum is also on Google Arts & Culture.
Address: Piazza di Ponte Umberto 1
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Entry fee: € 4
18. 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.
Address: Piazza del Quirinale, 00187 Roma
Hours: Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Book at least 5 days prior to the tour.
Entry fee: The short tour (1.5 hours) is free with a mandatory booking charge of € 1.50. The longer tour (2.5 hours) is € 10.