Guide to the Most Breathtaking Museums You Can’t Miss in Rome!

Updated on:  
February 9, 2022
Reading Time:  
Robin Vochelet
Robin Vochelet
Contributor us on Linkedin
What better way to learn Rome's rich history than by visiting one (or more) of their spectacular museums? Check out our top list of recommended breathtaking museums you'll have to visit.

If you know me even just a little bit, you know that Rome is my favorite city in the world, no jokes. Starting when I was 12, my mom would take me to Rome every fall and spring break to visit her friends who live there, naturally, I became friends with their children and the cycle continued to this day — at least virtually so long as the pandemic remains a health concern. To me, Rome is an incredible city because you find everything that makes life worth living: excellent food, aesthetic scenery, numerous shops, and of course, a rich culture.

For anyone visiting Rome, culture and history are two things you shouldn’t miss out on, and this is why I put together this list of my favorite museums to do while exploring the Italian capital. Before you start reading this guide, make sure to also check out our posts about Rome’s hippest neighborhoods — a must for when you travel there — as well as other activities we recommend you try out in the city. Don’t forget to also look at our list of the best walking tours in Rome, mainly because these tours are likely to include a few stops at museums listed here, a chance for you to do two birds, one stone!

Keep reading to find out just exactly what are the best, most breathtaking museums in Rome!

Borghese museum garden
Photo credit: Rossella Bianchi/Unsplash

Villa Borghese and its museum, the Galleria Borghese

Because I know most of you are expecting this museum, I am opening the guide with the world-renowned Galleria Borghese. Housed in the equally popular Villa Borghese, this art gallery is one of Rome’s largest museums, and largely considered one of the best museums in the world. The Galleria Borghese provides you with an overview of Italy’s most renowned artists and artistic movements, with a focus on Italian art from the 15th to the 18th century.

You will therefore have the opportunity to admire the work of Raphael, Botticelli, Tiziano, and Il Caravaggio among many others. Both the ground and first floors also host exhibitions on Rome’s heyday as the capital of the Roman empire, with a focus on the antiquity with its mosaics and sculptures.

Owing to its high popularity, visits must be booked ahead of time on the museum’s website, and only visitors with pre-paid admission tickets are allowed in. Both the villa and the gallery also happen to be located in a large park that is home to the Rome biopark, allowing you to enjoy a nice afternoon stroll either after your visit.

Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 8:30 am-7:30 pm; closed on Mondays

Nearest public transit: Piazza di Spagna (metro station, line A), several bus stops

Price: €20 for adults, €9 for EU citizens aged 18-25

national roman museum
Photo credit: National Roman Museum

National Roman Museum

Another one of Rome’s largest and most popular museums, the National Roman Museum is located in four different buildings: the Baths of Diocletian, the Palazzo Altemps, the Crypta Balbi, and the Palazzo Massimo, each with its own exhibitions and core aesthetic. The latter, however, is the most notable of the four buildings, with the largest archaeological and classical art collections in the world, a utopia for anyone interested in the art and culture of Roman Antiquity. Built in the early 1880s, the palace itself is a fascinating work of art, having previously served as a villa for the Roman aristocracy and later used as a Jesuit college until 1981.

Spanning four floors, the ground and first floors host famous Greek and Roman sculptures, as well as ancient sarcophagi. On the second floor, you will have the chance to admire authentic frescoes and mosaics preserved from the 2nd to 4th century AD. The Palazzo is conveniently located in the immediate vicinity of the Baths of Diocletian, Rome’s oldest bath complex erected in 298 AD, and accounting for another quarter of the National Roman Museum network. Although only a small part of the baths allow visitors nowadays in an attempt to help preserve the site, it remains a recommended spot for anyone visiting the Palazzo Massimo.

If you wish to venture into the other branches of the National Roman Museum, the Palazzo Altemps offers an impressive collection of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian sculptures and works of art once owned by the Roman nobility of the 16th century, including the Galatian Suicide and the Grande Ludovisi sarcophagus. Originally a gigantic Roman theatre, the Crypta Balbi now hosts a small museum that provides exhibitions on how Romans used to live between the 5th and 10th centuries, an excellent addition on your travel list if you are looking to relive history.

Just in case the previous paragraph wasn’t enough to convince you to explore this fascinating four-branch museum: an entry ticket into one of these four branches automatically grants you entry in the remaining three branches!

Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9:00 am-7:30 pm; closed on Mondays

Nearest public transit: Palazzo Massimo: Repubblica or Termini, metro station line A

Baths of Diocletian: Termini, metro station line A or B

Palazzo Altemps: buses C3, 30, 70, 81, 87, 116, 130, 186, 492, and 628

Crypta Balbi: buses H, 30, 40, 46, 62, 63, 64, 70, 87, 119, 130, 186, 190, 271, 492, 571, 630, 780, 810, and 916

Price: €13 for adults, €2 for EU citizens aged 18-25 (only 1 ticket is needed to access all 4 branches)

lupa Capitolina in Capitoline museum
Photo credit: ThoughtCo

Capitoline Museums

Created by several donations from Pope Sixtus IV in 1471, the Capitoline Museums are the oldest museums in the world, which in itself should be enough to spark an interest in visiting them. The Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo both make up the Capitoline, offering some of Rome’s most renowned and prestigious works of art.

The former opened its doors to the public in the early 1730s, showcasing the paintings, sculptures, and busts of some of the most popular Italian artists, including Il Caravaggio, Rubens, and Tiziano. Fragments of several colossal statues are preserved in this museum, including the massive equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, exhibited in a giant glass hall. More familiar perhaps is the Lupa Capitolina, the statue of the mother wolf from whom infants Romus and Remulus, founding brothers of Rome, are drinking milk.

The latter museum — Palazzo Nuovo — focuses more on Roman and Greek sculptures, in addition to boasting an impressive collection of mosaics, some of which are replicas with the original artwork stored in underground caves to help preserve them. Among the original works of art on display in the Palazza Nuovo is the Capitoline Venus, one of the world’s oldest intact marble sculptures, dated back to 100-150 AD. The hall of Philosophers is another popular section of the museum, featuring the busts of prominent Roman and Greek philosophers from Plutarch to Aristotle, with some busts having previously been owned by 17th and 18th-century Roman aristocrats.

Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9:30 am-7:30 pm; closed on Mondays

Nearest public transit: buses 64, 87, and 119 (Piazza Venezia)

Price: €15 for adults, €13 for EU citizens aged 18-25 (only 1 ticket is needed to enter both museums)

national gallery of modern art rome
Photo credit: Britannica

National Gallery of Modern Art

Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, and Vincent Van Gogh are undoubtedly names that you are familiar with. In addition to being world-class artists whose works are considered timeless and representative of their era, all three artists (and much more) happen to have their work showcased in the permanent exhibition of the National Gallery of Modern Art. Though a less popular artistic attraction in Rome, the National Gallery is a must in my opinion.

Housed in the Palace of Fine Arts, an architectural masterpiece that foreshadows the amazing works of art on display inside, the National Gallery is located across the Villa Borghese in the biopark, a golden occasion to stroll around the park and perhaps even hit two birds with one stone by visiting both museums — although feasible in one day, make sure to carefully plan ahead and start your day early to give yourself time to explore as much as possible in both museums. 

The gallery is divided into two floors, with the ground floor hosting the museum’s permanent exhibition. The top floor showcases an exhibition centered on 20th-century art, structured as a journey through the era with an emphasis on Futurism, Cubism, Dadaism, and many other art movements. And for anyone seeking to bring a piece of Rome back home, make sure to check the museum’s gift shop for merchandise featuring some of the gallery’s renowned masterpieces.

Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 8:30 am-7:30 pm; closed on Mondays

Nearest public transit: Flaminio, metro station line A; buses 88, 95, 490, and 495

Price: €10 for adults, €2 for EU citizens aged 18-25

vatican museum hallway
Photo credit: Corey Buckley/Unsplash

Vatican Museums

Although not technically considered Rome — don’t try and argue with locals that Vatican City is in Rome — the walled fortress of the Holy See is easily accessible from the heart of the Rome city center. Although Vatican City is an extremely tiny state, the Vatican Museums consistently rank as the most visited museum in the world, containing some of the Roman world’s oldest artifacts amassed by the papacy throughout centuries.

The path to the museum itself provides an ethereal experience as you get to walk through the Sistine Chapel, allowing you to admire the world-famous ceiling and altar wall decorated by Michelangelo, and the Stanze designed by Raphael. Although entrance to the Sistine Chapel is highly restricted in order to help preserve the fragile ceiling painting, I can’t recommend it enough for anyone willing to venture into the Vatican Museums.

In addition to the Chapel, the Vatican Museums also host the world’s largest collection of sculptures, mainly within the Museum Pio-Clementino, with its miniature replica of the Pantheon housing a vast collection of Greek and Roman busts. The Pinacoteca Vaticana boasts an impressive collection of paintings and other works of art that are considered central to the Holy See and the Vatican Museums. 

Opening hours: Monday-Thursday, 8:30am-7:30pm; Friday-Sunday, 8:30am-10:30pm

Nearest public transit: Ottaviano or Cipro, metro station line A

Price: €17 for adults (higher rates apply for VIP or Premium experiences, more information available on the website)

Palazzo di venezia museum outside view
Photo credit: City of Rome

Palazzo di Venezia

Another underdog in the Roman museum scene tested and approved by yours truly, the Palazzo di Venezia was initially built as a residence for Cardinal Pietro Bardo during the Renaissance. Later on, the palace became the official papal residence and also served as the Embassy of the Republic of Venice until the French conquered Rome in 1797. Since the early 20th century, the palace has become official property of the Italian state and has become a museum devoted to the papacy.

Today, the museum part of the villa mainly consists of former popes’ private collections, with a particular emphasis on that of Pope Paul II. Some of the items showcased include authentic Renaissance tapestries, weapons, armors, and weapons, as well as an impressive collection of terracotta sculptures. The visit wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the special halls that depict the life of some of the villa’s most famous former residents, including Cardinal Bardo and even former fascist supreme leader Benito Mussolini.

Although the museum is much smaller than Rome’s signature art galleries, it remains a noteworthy attraction for anyone seeking hidden gems, or if you want to learn more about the secret life of the biggest Italian historical figures.

Opening hours: Monday-Saturday, 10am-1pm and 2pm-6pm; closed on Sundays

Nearest public transit: buses 40, 63, 70, 75, 81, 87, 95, 160, 170, 204, 628, 630 and 716

Price: €10 for adults, €2 for EU citizens aged 18-25

st paul outside view
Photo credit: SavvyTrip

The many, many, many churches of Rome

While you wouldn’t typically consider churches to be museums, the Italian capital didn’t hear the nickname “city of 1000 churches” for nothing! In fact, you are guaranteed to find a church on nearly every street corner while walking around the city, some of which boast breathtaking art and architecture. Far from me to try and convert you in any way, but rather trying to get you to dare venture into Rome’s underrated churches.

Want my personal recommendations of Rome’s most beautiful churches?

  • Santo Stanislao dei Polacchi, colloquially referred to as the Polish Church, was built to commemorate Saint Stanislaus, a prominent Polish saint who lived and died in Rome. The church is best known for its splendid ceiling fresco depicting the glory of Stanislaus, as well as a wall-long portrait of Jesus.
  • San Luigi dei Francesi, colloquially referred to as the French Church, commemorates Saint Louis, a French Christian missionary. In between the prestigious marbles that cover the church’s walls and floors, you will find fascinating paintings decorated by Il Caravaggio himself.
  • San Pietro in Vincoli, a hidden (literally) gem near the Cavour subway station. While you might struggle to find the entrance to the church owing to the massive ivy that grows on the walls — although this could provide you with stunning Instagram pictures — the church is renowned for its sculpture of Moses. Decorated by Michelangelo, the sculpture’s realism is so troubling you might just see blood run through Moses’ veins.
  • The Basilica San Paulo fuori le mura, located outside the city center of Rome as per its name, is probably my favorite church in the whole world, perhaps owing to it being slightly isolated from the rest of the city. The basilica presents itself as a mini fortress with a cloister and a small monastery bordered by beautiful palm trees. Inside, you will find the medallions depicting every Catholic pope since the beginning of the papacy — rumor has it the last three empty medallions foreshadow the upcoming end of the papacy — as well as the tomb of Saint Paul and the authentic chains he was cuffed in before his death.
  • It goes without saying, you simply cannot visit Rome without going to the Basilica San Pietro, the city’s largest basilica which hosts incredible sculptures and the crypt of several former popes. The basilica always provides a direct entryway into Vatican City, and you might have the chance to sit in on an actual mess officiated by the pope himself. 
saint peters basillica museum
Photo credit: Barry Braum/Unsplash

All roads lead to Rome and its museums

Of course, no travel blog posts could have the presumption to provide an exhaustive list of all the museums to visit while in Rome. There is a reason the city is my all-time favorite, and its rich culture is definitely at the top of the list. While there, I highly encourage you to spontaneously check out smaller museums and visit all the churches that you come across because, in my heart, Rome is all about hidden gems.

If organizing your own Roman holiday seems overwhelming, make sure to check out the Pilot social travel planner, a valuable tool to help you and your loved ones plan the best experience in Italy. If this sounds like something you are interested in, you can sign up to join our early access list now!

If you lack the motivation to find your exact purpose of travel, why not sign up for Flightdeck? It's our weekly dose of travel content, delivered straight into your inbox. Whether you're looking for travel news, entertainment, tips, or more, we've got you covered. Sign up to give it a try now!

Originally published on:  
August 16, 2021

Related Articles