Rome is full of attractions, many places to see and artworks everywhere, churches, squares, fountains, ruins, most of the times in a few days tour. Museums are rich of statues, paintings, frescoes, archeological objects that can be extremely interesting: they contain everything from ancient sculptures to modern art, so there is something for everyone to enjoy. However you have to schedule several hours to visit each one of them. Choose wisely which one you really interested in, basing on which type of art you like most; check opening days and hours (many museums are close on Mondays), and verify if booking is compulsory.
From July 1st there is free admission for all State-run monuments, museums and archeological sites, on the first Sunday of every month.
1 – Vatican Museums
Vatican Museums contain masterpieces of painting, sculpture and monumental works of art collected by the Popes through the centuries, from stunning classical statues such as the Laocoon, to Pinturicchio’s delightful Borgia Room frescoes, from magnificent decorations by Raphael to an Egyptian museum complete with mummies. The big draw is and remains the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece: you have to see it at least once in your lifetime. The Museums are extremely big and so full of art it is impossible to see everything in one single day: choose in advance the sections you are more interested in, or choose one of the four color-coded itineraries (that range from 1.5 hours to more than 5 hours). All itineraries end in the Sistine Chapel, that is the very last sala of the Museums, and attracts up to twenty thousand people every day.
- Vatican Museums are open from Monday to Saturday. The Ticket Office is open from 9 am to 4 pm. The Museums close at 6 pm.
- The last Sunday of every month there is free entrance from 9 am to 12.30 pm. Official website.
2 – Galleria Borghese
The original sculptures and paintings in the Borghese Gallery date back to Cardinal Scipione’s collection (Paolo V’s nephew), in the early 17th century, in his roman Villa surrounded by a beautiful park. Cardinal Scipion was drawn to any work of Ancient, Renaissance and contemporary art which might re-evoke a new golden age. The Gallery is known for its fine collection of classical sculptures, that includes Bernini’s sublime Apollo and Daphne, Pluto and Proserpina (photo source rai.it), and his David, and Canova’s depiction of a reclining Pauline Bonaparte. Paintings include ones by Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, Correggio, and other master Renaissance painters. Note that ticket reservation is needed (even on free Sundays), and visits run on designated timeslots of two hours each. You should be at the gallery to pick up your ticket 30 minutes before your entry time.
- Opening hours: from Tuesday to Sunday, from 8.30 am to 7.30 pm (last entrance at 5 pm). Booking online.
- You can access Galleria Borghese with Roma Pass card and it is free the first Sunday of the month (booking is still mandatory).
3 – Capitoline Museums
The Capitoline Museums are a group of art and archeological museums in Piazza del Campidoglio. The historic seats of the museums are Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo, facing on the Piazza. The history of the museums can be traced to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a collection of important ancient bronzes to the people of Rome and located them on Capitoline Hill. Since then, the museums’ collection has grown to include as many archeological finds from Rome and its environs. The Museums house displays of ancient coins, jewels, pottery, sarcophagi, epigraphs, a stunning collection of statues of athletes, gods and emperors ranging from the days of the Roman Empire to the Baroque period, and a picture gallery (pinacoteca), with works of Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Titian, and Rubens among others. Some of the most remarkable pieces are fragments and a bust from a colossal statue of Constantine; a gigantic equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (the one in the piazza outside is a copy); and an ancient bronze sculpture of twins Romulus and Remus suckling a She Wolf, symbol of Rome; Bernini’s statue of Pope Urban VIII; the statue of Discobolus.
- Opening hours: from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am to 8 pm. Last admission 1 hour before closing time.
- The Capitoline Museums are covered by the Roma Pass card.
4 – National Roman Museum
The National Roman Museum possesses one of the world’s most important archaeological collections and assortment of Classic art: it preserves statues, sarcophagi, earthenware, frescoes, mosaics, jewelry, coins and relics of Rome, from the Imperial and Republican periods through medieval times. The Museum is located in four different sites, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Palazzo Altemps, Terme di Diocleziano, and Crypta Balbi. The Palazzo Massimo (located close to the Termini Train Station) exhibited splendid Greek originals discovered in Rome such as the Boxer at Rest. You can find masterpieces of statuary: among them the statue of Augustus Pontifex Maximus (High Priest), the Lancellotti Discobolus (Discus Thrower – photo source beniculturali.it), the Maiden of Antium and the Hermaphroditus Asleep. There’s also a rare Roman (rather than Egyptian) mummy from Grottarossa, and the largest numismatic collection in Italy. Palazzo Altemps (located directly north of Piazza Navona) houses important collections of antiquities consisting of Greek and Roman sculptures. Among the most representative examples: the Ludovisi Acrolith and the Ludovisi Throne, the Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife, the Athena restored by Algardi, the Ares restored by Bernini and the Grande Ludovisi Sarcophagus. The Baths of Diocletian (Terme di Diocleziano) are the most imposing thermal complex ever built in Rome. Here you can find the Epigraphic Museum (one of the most important and rich epigraphic collection of the world with a holding of some 10.000 inscriptions) and the Protohistoric Section of the National Roman Museum (collects the archaeological testimonies of the most ancient stages of Latium’s culture, from 11th-10th centuries to the early 6th century BC). The Crypta Balbi is a city-block of the historic centre of Rome where a vast portico, the Crypt of Balbus, rose in ancient times: it was an annexe of the theatre that Cornelius Balbus had erected in 13 BC. Different buildings succeeded one another in the area, over the different historical eras: churches, houses, and a Conservatory (that was also an orphanage). The exhibition comprises materials and objects found during the excavations of the Crypta (ceramics, vitreous objects, coins, objects in metal, bone and ivory, precious stones and tools) enriched with findings from other sites.
- Opening hours: from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am to 07.45 pm. The ticket office closes one hour before closing time.
- The ticket allow you to visit all four sites and is valid for 3 days.
- The National Roman Museum joins the Roma Pass circuit.
5 – Gnam (National Gallery of Modern Art)
If you like most Modern art, and museums less crowded than Vatican’s, maybe to have a little change, this art gallery is for you. Founded in 1883, it is dedicated to Modern and Contemporary art. Its 75 rooms house the largest collection of works by 19th and 20th century Italian artists, starting from Neoclassicism and Romanticism, including Antonio Canova, Giuseppe Ferrari, Giorgio de Chirico, Giovanni Fattori, Amedeo Modigliani, and Lucio Fontana. There are also a few notable works by foreign artists, including Cézanne, Degas, Kandinsky, Kostabi, Monet, Jackson Pollock, Rodin, Van Gogh and Klimt.
- Opening hours: from Tuesday to Sunday, from 8.30 am to 7.30 pm. Last admittance 45 minutes before closing time.
- The GNAM is covered by the Roma Pass card.
- Free on the first Sunday of the month.
6 – MAXXI (National Museum of Art from the 21st century)
The newest Museum of Rome, its Italy’s first national museum dedicated entirely to Contemporary art. The building, impressive itself, was designed by the Anglo-Iraqi star architect Zaha Hadid, and is located on the site of a former military barracks (photo source arte.rai.it). Art permanent collection includes paintings, photography, and multimedia installations from renowned Italian and international contemporary artists: for example Neapolitan painter, Francesco Clemente, and the British sculptor Anish Kapoor. The Museum also contains an architectural archive for significant contributions to architecture from the 20th century to present day. Contemporary art is peculiar and not for everyone: can be very impressive or very disappointing. If you like something far from a traditional experience, it certainly worth the trip.
- Opening hours: from Tuesday to Sunday, from 11 am to 7 pm (to 10 pm on Saturdays). The ticket office closes one hour before closing time.
- MAXXI joins the Roma Pass circuit.
7 – National Gallery of Ancient Art of Barberini Palace
If you are looking for Ancient Art in an elegant palace, without the crowds that usually are in Vatican’s Museums and Borghese Gallery, this Museum is for you. The Gallery of Barberini Palace exhibits works of art from private collections dating from the 12th to the 18th centuries. It houses one of the most important painting collections in Italy, that includes Raphael’s portrait La fornarina, Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes and a Hans Holbein portrait of Henry VIII. Here you can admire the famous staircases by Bernini (helicoidal) and by Borromini, and the great fresco The Triumph of Divine Providence by Pietro da Cortona (photo source).
- Opening hours: from Tuesdays to Sunday from 8.30 am to 7 pm. The ticket office closes one hour before closing time.
- Open until 9 pm on Fridays.
- Free on first Sunday of the month.
One of the best ways to visit museums in Rome, is commit your day organization to an expert guide: you will be able to use well every minute of your time, see a lot more than you can imagine, and listen to amazing explanations of what you are visiting. And you’ll never have to wait in line for tickets!