The Best Museums in Rome

Though Rome is, basically, a massive open-air museum, the city does have some smaller scale (though no less impressive) self-contained museums. From the exquisite treasures at the Vatican Museums to the Caravaggio paintings at Galleria Borghese and the contemporary treasures at MAXXI, your eyes are in for a treat.

Highlights
Viale Vaticano, 00165 Roma RM
There is a staggering amount of artwork on display here. It is said that if you stood at each piece for just one minute, it would take you four years to see everything. Created by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, the museums have expanded over the past 500 years to their current size of more than 12 acres! Highlights include the Borgia Apartments, the Raphael Rooms, the Gallery of Maps, and of course, the sublime Sistine Chapel.
Piazzale Napoleone I, 00197 Roma RM, Italy
Encompassing early 200 acres of rolling parkland, Villa Borghese is Rome’s verdant heart and everyone’s favorite place for an afternoon walk. The vast gardens are criss-crossed with picturesque paths, where visitors can meander past ancient statues and fountains, sit by a lake or caffè, and take in a film at one of two cinemas. For culture vultures, there is a Shakespearean Globe Theatre with a robust summer schedule, a historic puppet theater, and several world-renowned museums including Galleria Borghese with its enviable collection of Bernini sculptures and Caravaggio paintings. Younger kids enjoy playgrounds, electric train rides, and a kids museum, while children of all ages can get active with skate, bike, and paddleboat rentals.
Via Guido Reni, 4a, 00196 Roma RM, Italy
Maxxi, Rome’s first major contemporary art museum, cost €150 million and took renowned architect Zaha Hadid 10 years to complete. The result—a vast, bold space with exhibits on architecture and art—proves that modern Rome can produce masterpieces, too. This appeared in the May/June 2011 issue.
Largo di Villa Peretti, 2, 00185 Roma RM, Italy
If one single space encapsulates the Roman Empire, it would be Palazzo Massimo, Rome’s multilevel museum housing one of Italy’s richest collections of antiquities. The entire history of Rome, from the rise of the Republic to its imperial transition to its fall, is told through sculpture, mosaic, frescoes (watercolor paintings), and coins. Get to know generations of emperors by checking out their marble busts, then hang out in the 1st-century Villa of Livia dining room of Caesar Augustus’s wife. Note: Palazzo Massimo is part of the National Museum circuit, which means ticket holders can also access three more national museums (Terme di Diocleziano, Palazzo Altemps, and the Crypta Balbi) over a three-day period.
Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy
For 120 years, Italy’s national gallery of modern and contemporary art, La Galleria Nazionale, maintained a relatively low profile in its gorgeous neoclassical palace on the edge of Villa Borghese—but no longer. The 2016 renovations reintroduced the collection, which covers 5,000-plus Italian works from the late 1700s to yesterday. Blockbuster Italian and international artists represented include Canova, Clemente, Modigliani, Beecroft, Penone, Calder, Kandinsky, Duchamp, Pollock, and Twombly.
Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy
In 2010, street artist Davide Diavù rebooted Rome’s sleepy Quadraro neighborhood by launching MURo, an outdoor urban art museum where artists from around the world come to adorn large structures with even larger murals. The result is a vibrant arts district covered in neon works by geniuses like Alice Pasquini, Camilla Falsini, Gary Baseman, Jim Avignon, and Diavù himself. Take the English walking tour to learn about the works’ (often political) hidden meanings.
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