Rome is a sort of open-air museum: with its over 2,500 years of history, the city boasts an historic and artistic heritage of inestimable value, unique in the world. In every corner of the city center you can find artistic treasures: fountains, churches and monuments.
When it comes to the Eternal city, we have many images on our mind, famous all over the world: the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Sant’Angelo Castle, Navona Square, the Spanish steps and much more. But Rome is also home to many museums, private galleries and villas containing precious works of art, from modern art to contemporary art and futuristic buildings. The Vatican Museums are for sure a mandatory stop for everyone travelling to Rome (and we have many tours with tickets included!), but they are certainly not the only art galleries worthen a visit in Rome!
After a visit to the Colosseum, a guided tour tof the Vatican Museums and perhaps a tour of the main squares of Rome, art lovers will find for sure many interesting museums in Rome!
We put here a list of the museums that should be on a bucket list for a complete trip to Rome (and also a good option for spending time during rainy or cold days!).
1. Borghese Gallery
Borghese Gallery is located in the heart of the beautiful park of Villa Borghese: it was built by the architect Flaminio Ponzio and is now one of the most important museums of the city, as it hosts one of the best collections in terms of art, sculpture and paintings.
The collection is particularly rich in ancient Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art, with major works by famous Italian sculptors and painters, such as Titian and Caravaggio.
Among the main artworks, there are masterpieces of Bernini, such as the Apollo and Daphne, located in the ground floor. Caravaggio lovers will find there the famous painting“Boy with a basket of fruit” and the “Young sick Bacchus” (a supposed self portrait of the artist), along with other works. (If you are passionate about Caravaggio, have a look at our private tour on the footsteps of Caravaggio in Rome).
The most famous artwork exhibited at the Borghese Gallery is probably the “Paolina Bonaparte” sculpture by Antonio Canova, representing the princess Bonaparte as the guise of the goddess Venus victorious.
To discover what to visit in the Borghese Gallery, check our article about the Top 5 art works to admire in the Borghese Gallery.
Please remind that the Gallery has strict rules about the entry: there are only 2-hour time allotment for each visit and it is good for reducing the crowd at the minimum. Only 360 people are allowed to visit the gallery, so the visit is very quiet but it also means you must reserve in advance, or you risk being turned away due to no availability!
Our suggestion, to avoid line and to enjoy at best the paintings and their history, is to book our small group tour of the Borghese Gallery, with tickets included. If you prefere a more exclusive experience, ItalyXP also provides a private tour of the Borghese Gallery, with a private guide at disposal.
If you think that Rome means only ancient history and glorious ruins of the past, then you do not know MAXXI Museum! Contemporary and modern art raised in Rome in recent years, also thanks to the ambitious project of MAXXI museum.
Located in the Flaminio district, not far from Piazza del Popolo, “MAXXI” stands for “Museo Nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo” (National Museum of XXI century arts) and it is Italy's first national public museum of contemporary arts. The Museum was designed by the architect Zaha Hadid, considered to be one of the most influential and visionary architects of our time. The Museum opened the doors to visitors in 2010 and it has become one of the main centers of contemporary art in Europe.
The building itself is an artwork: the exhibition area covers a space of around 30000 meters and there is no direct route through the museum, since it was designed to represent the fluidity and chaos of modern life. The purpose of the project was to create not only a building where works of arts are displayed, but also a place where to hold study, researches and experimentations.
There is a large square at the entrance and accessing the atrium, the main elements of the project are evident: concrete curved walls, suspended black staircases, open ceiling catching natural light.
The Museum hosts temporary and permanent exhibitions of photography, fashion, art, architecture, design, cinema, theater and dance.
Maxxi Museum also contains an auditorium, a bar/restaurant and a library specializing in art and architecture and galleries where exhibitions and special performances are held.
The cost of the ticket is 11€ per person. If you do not have enough time in Rome to visit the Museum, we suggest at least to pass in front of it, to see it from the outside: it can be a stop of our Private sightseeing tour by car in Rome.
3. Capitoline Museums
After a dive into contemporary art, let’s go back to the roots of Rome. The best way to know everything of ancient Rome from its foundation is a visit to the Capitoline Museums. First of all, they are located in one of the focal point of the center of Rome: on the Capitoline hill, in the trapezoidal Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo, which hosts the city hall of Rome.
This is really a must-visit in Rome: we suggest our small group tour of the Capitoline Museums with tickets included, on which an expert guide will lead you to discover all the secrets of Roman history kept in the Museums.
The Museums, set in 2 different buildings, were established by Pope Clement XII in 1734, making them the first museums in the world open to the public.
The first building, Palazzo dei Conservatori, hosts an incredible collection of ancient Roman bronze and marble statues: the most famous one is probably “Lupa Capitolina”, the symbol of the city of Rome, depicting Romulus and Remus, the ancient founders of Rome, suckling a she-wolf.
Worth to mention are also the Colossus of Constantine statue, a giant pointed finger and the original 160 AD bronze statue of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback.
The second Palace, “Palazzo Nuovo” is smaller but not less amazing: it contains mostly classical sculpture, including a large lounging statue of a water god called “Marforio”, the Discobolus statue, and large statues of the Roman gods Minerva and Mars.
The Museums offer also a true gem: an underway passage that leads from Palazzo dei Conservatori to the Palazzo Nuovo, opening up to one of the best views of the Roman Forum!
If you are interested in discovering more of ancient Romean Empire, we suggest our private tour of the centre of Rome on the footsteps of Emperor Julius Caesar.
4. Ara Pacis
The Ara Pacis Museum is probably not on the bucket list of every traveler to Rome but it is definitely worth a visit! We suggest you to not miss the chance to walk into an actual altar built over 2000 years ago!
It is located right in the city center, on the Lungotevere, very close to Via del Corso, the main shopping street of Rome (you can have a walk here with our fantastic peronal shopper) and to the Mausoleum of Augustus and it is kept in a very peculiar glass and stone structure, so that the monument is always naturally lighted.
The full name is Ara Pacis Augustae, since it was commissioned by Emperor Augustus to celebrate his victories at Gaul and Spain and the establishment of peace in the Roman Empire. That is why the Altar is devoted to the Goddess of Peace. The marble structure is a masterpiece of Roman Sculpture and in particular, of portraiture. Senators, officials and the Imperial family are depicted on monument in an animated procession.
The structure has a central altar set on a podium surrounded by high walls composed of large rectangular blocks. There are two entrances, one on the east and the other on the west (back) side. Inside the Ara Pacis was the actual altar table, decorated with sculptures of winged lions.
Since 2 years, the Museum launched a really evocative project called “L’Ara com’era” – the Ara as it was: visitors have the chance to have a tour in augmented reality, thanks to special technology devices: by looking at the blocks, it is possible to see animated characters or to hear the sounds of voices from the past (also from the Imperial Family), explaining the history and secrets of the Ara.
The ground floor of the Museums hosts often important temporary exhibitions of art and photography by past and contemporary artists from all over the world.
5. National Gallery of Contemporary and Modern Art
The National Gallery of Contemporary and Modern Art , commonly known as GNAM, is located at the top of Borghese Park, in the North of Rome: it opened its doors in 1883, dedicated originally to establishing a collection of Italian Art to represent the newly united Italy. In 2017 it has been restored and the exhibition strategy has been redesigned.
The Gallery has a more old-fashioned feel to its appearance and structure: it is an imposing building with a long stairway block and a majestic façade with columns at the entrance. At the same time, the Gallery always presents a stunning variety of art, with a mix of modern photographs, contemporary paintings, and neoclassical sculptures, hosting temporary and permanent exhibitions.
The ground floor is dedicated to the nineteenth century, where visitors can find works by Paul Cezanne, Antonio Canova, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh.
The top floor, on the other hand, is devoted to twentieth century art, including Futurist, Cubist, Dadaist and abstract art movements.
Highlights are the Hercules and Lichas group by Antonio Canova, the battle scenes painted by Giovanni Fattori as well as Klimt's famed painting "The Three Ages of Woman".
After a tour of the Gallery, you can have a great tour of the Villa Borghese Park with picnic!
5 +1. Centrale Montemartini
A supplement to the previous list is really a hidden gem that many tourists miss (and probably many romans, too!). Centrale Montemartini will probably be one of the most peculiar museums you will ever see.
It is located in the typical area of Garbatella, in the south of Rome and you will not find there very famous artworks. But the composition and display of the sculptures represents themselves a masterpiece: in fact, “Centrale Montemartini” is an old public electrical power plant, where marble statues from the Capitoline Collection are set against the backdrop of preserve turbines, diesel engines and steam boilers.
The result is an intriguing scene, where the pure white marble sculpture stands against an unusual palette of melancholy colors, conveying an unusual sense beauty.
An union of art and industry that cannot be missed! Since the museum is located outside the city center, you can book a private transfer with driver that will take you directly there from your accommodation.