Visiting Rome’s Best Museums: The Definitive Guide
You’re planning a trip to Rome and you’re looking for the best museums to visit?
Look no further!
Rome, the Eternal City, boasts a wealth of historical and cultural treasures that can be discovered in its many museums. From ancient Roman artifacts to Renaissance masterpieces or even modern art, there is for sure a Roman museum that will suit your tastes.
To help you out, I have made a list of the 20 best museums in Rome (and that include a few secret ones, known only by locals!).
Of course, I will give you all my best tips for visiting these museums and making the most of your time in the Italian capital.
And at the end of the article, you will also find my selection of the best hotels in Rome for a memorable stay.
So, what are the top museums in Rome?
Let’s find out!
- Visiting Rome’s Best Museums: The Definitive Guide
- 1. Vatican Museums
- 2. Castel Sant’Angelo
- 3. Capitoline Museums
- 4. Galleria Borghese
- 5. National Roman Museum
- 6. Centrale Montemartini
- 7. Rome Museum of Illusions
- 8. MACRO — Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome
- 9. La Galleria Spada
- 10. MAXXI – National Museum of 21st Century Arts
- 11. Doria Pamphilj Gallery
- 12. Mattatoio Testaccio
- 13. National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia
- 14. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna
- 15. Police Cars Museum
- 16. Museum-House of Hendrik Andersen
- Open air museums in Rome: The Colosseum and lesser known places to visit
- You’re traveling in Italy? These articles will help you!
1. Vatican Museums
You simply can’t visit Rome without exploring the Vatican Museums!
They house an incredible collection of art and historical artifacts from various periods.
The highlight of the Vatican Museums is undoubtedly the famous Sistine Chapel, featuring Michelangelo’s painting of the ceiling and the famous Last Judgment wall fescoe.
Other notable sections of the museum include the Pinacoteca (painting gallery), the Raphael Rooms, and the Gallery of Maps.
Be prepared for long lines and crowds, as the Vatican Museums are one of Rome’s most popular attractions.
To save a lot of time, you really need to book your tickets in advance. You’re here to visit Rome, not to wait for hours to buy your museum entrance ticket, right? 😅
To book your tickets to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine chapel, you just have to click here.
And if you prefer to take a guided visit, it’s there!
2. Castel Sant’Angelo
Originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian, Castel Sant’Angelo has served various purposes throughout Rome’s history, including a fortress, a papal residence, and even a prison.
Today, it’s a museum that offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s past.
As you explore the castle’s various levels, you’ll discover the castle rooms, frescoes, and art collections. Be sure to visit the panoramic terrace, as it offers stunning views of Rome and the Vatican.
Castel Sant’Angelo is connected to the Vatican City by the famous Passetto di Borgo, a secret escape passage used by popes during invasions.
To visit the castle, you need to buy your skip the line tickets in advance here:
3. Capitoline Museums
The Capitoline Museums are a collection of art and archaeological museums located on Rome’s Capitoline Hill.
As the world’s oldest public museum complex, it offers a unique perspective on Rome’s rich history and culture.
The museums house a vast array of Roman statues, inscriptions, and artifacts, including the famous bronze statue of the she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.
Other highlights include the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius and the Dying Gaul.
While visiting the Capitoline museum, you shouldn’t miss the Tabularium, which offers stunning views of the Roman Forum below.
You need to book your tickets to the Capitoline Museums by clicking on the button below:
If you also plan to visit the Centrale Montemartini museum (I am talking about it a bit below), you can save money by purchasing a combined ticket (click here).
4. Galleria Borghese
The Galleria Borghese is a must-visit for art lovers, housing a superb collection of sculptures, paintings, and other works of art from the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
In this museum, you will find masterpieces by artists such as Bernini, Caravaggio, and Titian. Some of the most famous works include Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne” and “The Rape of Proserpina,” as well as Caravaggio’s “David with the Head of Goliath.”
Located in the beautiful Villa Borghese park, the museum requires advance booking due to limited daily admissions. Make sure to reserve your time slot beforehand to guarantee your visit.
Tickets needs to be booked here:
5. National Roman Museum
The National Roman Museum is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Roman history and art.
This fascinating museum is actually composed of four separate sites, each housing unique and stunning collections:
- Thermal Baths of Diocleziano
- Crypta Balbi
- Palazzo Massimo
- Palazzo Altemps
Let’s take a closer look at each of these sites:
Thermal Baths of Diocleziano
The Thermal Baths of Diocleziano are the largest and most well-preserved ancient Roman public baths.
These impressive ruins showcase the architectural prowess of the Roman Empire and offer a glimpse into the daily life of ancient Romans.
Here, you can explore the frigidarium, tepidarium, and caldarium – the cold, warm, and hot rooms of the baths.
Located in the historic center of Rome, the Crypta Balbi offers a unique journey through time.
The site was originally a theater built by Lucius Cornelius Balbus in 13 BC, and over the centuries, it has been repurposed as a residential area, workshop, and eventually, a museum.
The Crypta Balbi displays archaeological finds from the site, illustrating the fascinating evolution of Rome from antiquity to the Middle Ages.
Housed in a beautifully restored 19th-century palace, the Palazzo Massimo is home to a vast collection of ancient Roman art, including sculptures, frescoes, and mosaics.
Some of the museum’s highlights include the Boxer at Rest, a bronze statue of a seated boxer, and the stunning frescoes from the Villa of Livia, which depict a lush garden scene.
Located near Piazza Navona, the Palazzo Altemps is a Renaissance-era palace that houses a collection of ancient Roman sculptures.
As you explore the museum, you’ll discover beautiful works of art, including the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus and the statue of Mars.
The palace itself is a masterpiece, with its frescoed rooms and ornate decorations.
Tickets for the Palazzo Altemps need to be booked here:
6. Centrale Montemartini
The Centrale Montemartini is a unique museum in Rome that combines ancient Roman art with industrial architecture.
Housed in a former power plant, this museum showcases a stunning collection of ancient sculptures and artifacts, all displayed against the backdrop of the building’s original machinery.
You’ll be amazed by the contrast between the classical art and the industrial setting.
7. Rome Museum of Illusions
If you’re looking for a fun experience, you should really visit the Rome Museum of Illusions.
This interactive museum is perfect for visitors of all ages and offers a unique way to explore the world of optical illusions, perception, and human senses.
With over 70 exhibits, you can dive into a world of mind-bending illusions, holograms, and interactive installations that challenge your perception of reality.
8. MACRO — Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome
If you’re a fan of contemporary art, you should definitely visit the MACRO – Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome.
This museum is dedicated to showcasing the works of local and international artists from the 1960s to the present day.
With a dynamic program of temporary exhibitions and events, you’ll find a wide variety of art forms, including paintings, sculptures, photography, and multimedia works.
9. La Galleria Spada
Located in a charming 16th-century palace, La Galleria Spada is home to an beautiful collection of Renaissance and Baroque art.
As you explore the museum, you can admire the works of renowned artists such as Titian, Caravaggio, and Guido Reni.
I also really loved the stunning frescoes and ornate decorations of the palace’s rooms further enhance the experience.
10. MAXXI – National Museum of 21st Century Arts
For a change of pace from Rome’s ancient and classical art, visit the MAXXI – National Museum of 21st Century Arts.
Designed by acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid, the museum’s striking modern building is a work of art in itself.
MAXXI focuses on contemporary art and architecture, featuring a diverse range of exhibitions and installations by Italian and international artists.
With its cutting-edge design and innovative exhibits, the museum offers a fresh perspective on Rome’s vibrant art scene.
11. Doria Pamphilj Gallery
The Doria Pamphilj Gallery is an art lover’s dream, housing an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative art within a stunning 17th-century palace, the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
The collection was amassed by the Doria Pamphilj family, one of Rome’s most influential aristocratic families.
The gallery features works by renowned artists such as Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, and Velázquez. One of the most famous paintings in the collection is Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X, considered one of the greatest portraits in art history.
While exploring the gallery, take a moment to appreciate the beautiful architecture and lavish decor of the palace itself.
To visit the Doria Pamphilj gallery, you need to book your tickets here:
12. Mattatoio Testaccio
The Mattatoio Testaccio, also known as Ex-Mattatoio or the former slaughterhouse, is a unique cultural space located in the Testaccio district.
This vast complex of industrial buildings was once Rome’s main slaughterhouse, but it has been transformed into a vibrant hub for contemporary art, music, theater, and food.
The Mattatoio Testaccio is home to several art institutions, including the MACRO Testaccio (Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome) and the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma (Rome’s Fine Arts Academy).
The exhibitions and events held here often focus on experimental and cutting-edge artistic practices, offering a fresh perspective on Rome’s cultural scene.
In addition to the art spaces, the Mattatoio Testaccio also hosts a variety of workshops, concerts, performances, and food events throughout the year, making it a lively destination for locals and visitors alike.
Don’t forget to explore the surrounding Testaccio neighborhood, known for its vibrant nightlife, delicious food, and authentic Roman atmosphere.
13. National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia
The National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia is dedicated to showcasing the art, culture, and history of the ancient Etruscan civilization that preceded Rome.
Located in a beautiful 16th-century villa, the museum houses an extensive collection of Etruscan artifacts, including pottery, sculptures, and jewelry.
When you visit the museum, you shouldn’t miss the Sarcophagus of the Spouses, an impressive terracotta sculpture that represents a couple lying on a couch, or the Pyrgi Tablets, which contain some of the earliest examples of Etruscan and Phoenician writing.
A visit to the National Etruscan Museum offers a fascinating insight into the lives and culture of the Etruscans, who played a significant role in shaping the history of Italy.
14. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna
The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (National Gallery of Modern Art) is the perfect destination for art enthusiasts interested in Italian and European art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Located in the Villa Borghese park, this museum boasts a vast collection of over 20,000 works.
During your visit, you will see works from international artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Klimt, and Pollock, as well as prominent Italian artists like Modigliani, Balla, and De Chirico.
The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna really offers a comprehensive overview of modern art movements, including Futurism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism.
In addition to the impressive permanent collection, the museum frequently hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural events, making each visit a unique experience.
15. Police Cars Museum
For something a bit different, consider visiting the Police Cars Museum in Rome.
This quirky museum showcases an interesting collection of historic Italian police cars, motorcycles, and uniforms. It’s a fun and educational experience for both children and adults, offering a glimpse into the history of law enforcement in Italy.
There is even a Lamborghini Gallardo turned into a Police car!
16. Museum-House of Hendrik Andersen
The Museum-House of Hendrik Andersen is a hidden gem in Rome that art and history enthusiasts will love.
This museum is dedicated to the life and works of the Norwegian-American sculptor Hendrik Christian Andersen, who lived and worked in Rome during the early 20th century.
You can explore his former home and studio, admiring his sculptures, drawings, and see his personal belongings.
Open air museums in Rome: The Colosseum and lesser known places to visit
17. The Colosseum
Although technically not a museum, the Colosseum is an essential stop of your Rome itinerary.
This emblematic monument was the largest amphitheater in the Roman world: it could accommodate up to 50,000 spectators, who came to watch the Roman games and gladiatorial combats.
It’s less known, but the Colosseum also hosted theatrical performances or reconstructions of famous battles.
Today, despite a few missing pieces, the Colosseum is still standing and as impressive as ever!
You can visit the first and second floors, the arena and the underground tunnels, where the animals were kept.
All tickets to the Colosseum also includes access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
18. Ostia Antica
Just a short distance from Rome, Ostia Antica is an impressive archaeological site often referred to as an open-air museum.
This ancient Roman port city was once a thriving commercial center, but over time it was abandoned and eventually buried under layers of silt from the Tiber River.
Today, visitors can stroll through the well-preserved ruins and get a glimpse of daily life in ancient Rome.
The site features numerous buildings, including apartment complexes, baths, shops, temples, and even a theater. Many of the buildings still contain intricate mosaics and frescoes, providing a vivid picture of the city’s past.
While not located within Rome itself, Ostia Antica is easily accessible by public transportation, making it a perfect day trip for history lovers and those looking for a break from the city’s hustle and bustle.
19. Capuchin Crypt
The Capuchin Crypt is a lesser-known but very interesting site in Rome, located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini.
This unique attraction is a series of small, dimly lit chapels decorated with the bones of over 4,000 Capuchin friars who died between the 16th and 19th centuries.
While it might seem macabre, the crypt’s unusual displays are intended to serve as a reminder of life’s fleeting nature and the inevitability of death.
The rooms are arranged in various artistic patterns, including chandeliers made of bones and intricate designs on the walls and ceilings.
After exploring the crypt, you can visit the small museum that provides information on the history of the Capuchin Order and the crypt’s creation.
20. Trajan’s Market and The Museum of the Imperial Fora
To end this top 20 best museums of Rome, I suggest you to visit Trajan’s Market and The Museum of the Imperial Fora.
Located in the heart of ancient Rome, this museum showcases the fascinating history of the Imperial Fora, a series of monumental public squares built by Rome’s emperors.
As you explore the museum, you’ll discover a wealth of archaeological objects, as well as the well-preserved ruins of Trajan’s Market, considered as the first shopping mall in history!
Tickets to Trajan’s Market and the Museum of the Imperial Fora needs to be booked here:
Where to stay in Rome
Now that you know everything about the best museums in Rome, let’s talk about another important point: where to stay in Rome?
In Rome, finding accommodation at a good price isn’t that easy. In order to help you out, I have selected for you the best hotels depending on your budget.
One last advice: Book now if you can, there is a lot of demand in Rome, so the best hotels rooms are sold out very quickly!
- Biancaluna: B&B located near Termini Station, 1.5 km from the Colosseum. Modern, comfortable and very clean room from 70€. Strong points: the warm welcome and the advice to visit Rome, the location. An excellent choice for a cheap stay in Rome!
- Hotel Balilla: Located 1.6 km from the Colosseum and close to a metro station. Well-equipped and quiet double room, impeccably clean, from 99€, breakfast at 5€. Strong points: the friendly staff, the comfort of the beds, the location at 10 min walk from the Colosseum. This is our favorite for its excellent value for money!
- Alice Vatican House: Located 450 meters from St. Peter’s Square. Contemporary room with neat decoration from 95 € per night, breakfast included. Strong points: ideal location, terrace overlooking the Vatican, warm welcome. This is the best choice for your stay in Rome under 120 euros!
- MZ Hotel: Located near the Campo di Fiori and not far from the Pantheon. Modern double room from 150€, breakfast at 12€. Strong points: the location near the historical center, the warm welcome, good bedding, new hotel.
- Roma Luxus Hôtel: High end hotel located at only 400 meters from Piazza Venezia. Beautiful double room starting at 200€ per night, breakfast at 20€. Strong points: The room design, the 5 stars service, the superb breakfast, the spa, the amazing staff. It’s the best hotel for a high end stay in Rome!
- NH Collection Roma Fori Imperiali: This 5* hotel located right next to the Roman Forum offers sublime rooms from 580€, breakfast included. Strong points: the exceptional location, the attentive staff, the view, the comfort. This is my recommendation for a luxury stay in Rome!
if you want to save a bit of money, you can find an accommodation around Rome. I recommend you the bungalows of Camping Village Rome, located at only 15 minutes by car from the Vatican city.
The price starts at only 30€ per night! It’s the best “budget” solution if you don’t mind not being in the city center. It’s also a great choice for families, with the swimming pool!
Rome’s best museums: final tips
Now that you’re armed with a list of the best museums in Rome, you’re ready to explore the rich history and culture of this magnificent city.
Remember to plan your visits ahead of time and purchase your tickets online in advance.
Enjoy your journey through Rome’s incredible museums!
Do you have any other favorite museums or hidden gems in Rome? Share your tips and experiences or ask me any question in the comments below.
🚗 Rent a car
🗽 Book entrance tickets and guided visits
🏄 Book your sports activities
🚤 Book your rental boat
🌍 Take a travel insurance
🙎 Book a tour
🚅 Book your train tickets
✈️ Book your flight
Italy travel Guides
- Buy the Lonely Planet Italy guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
- Buy the Rick Steves Italy guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
You’re traveling in Italy? These articles will help you!
Discover all my articles about Italy: All my articles to help you plan your trip to Italy are listed there.
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