10 Best Museums in Rome That Aren’t the Vatican
Rome is a city rich in history and culture. Although you can argue that Rome itself is an open-air museum, it is also home to some of the world’s most famous treasures. While most tourists flock to the Vatican, there are also many fantastic museums in Rome that can offer a quieter and more intimate experience.
Rome is known for its architecture, art and history. Whether you’re interested in classical sculptures, Roman artifacts, Renaissance paintings or the painting of Italian masters, there’s sure to be a museum that will capture your imagination. I try to visit at least one museum on every visit. Here are some of my favourites.
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Museums in Rome
My list of museums in Rome focuses on those that are not outdoor excavation areas. While sites like the Pantheon and the Colosseum can be considered museums, I think of them as monuments more than stand-alone museums and have excluded them from this list.
Capitoline Museums / Musei Capitolini
If you’re looking for a museum that’s not too busy and offers a bit of everything then this one is for you. The Capitaline Museums are located in two stunning buildings in the Piazza del Campidoglio, on top of Capitoline Hill. Both buildings are linked by the Galleria Lapidaria, an underground tunnel under Piazza del Campidoglio, that overlooks the Roman Forum.
Here you’ll find the city’s finest collection of Greek and Roman sculptures, the enormous bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback, the famous sculpture of Romulus and Remus suckling a she-wolf, Etruscan artifacts and masterpieces by Titian, Rubens and Caravaggio.
Learn more about visiting the Capitoline Museums
The Borghese Gallery is one of Rome’s most famous museums, and for a good reason. This gallery houses an impressive collection of Italian and European art, including works by Raphael, Caravaggio and Rubens. The collection was started by Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V), who was an avid art collector and Bernini’s first sponsor.
The Villa Borghese is located in a park of the same name, the third-largest in Rome. The gardens surrounding it are also impressive and make it the perfect place to spend an afternoon exploring both the museum and the grounds.
Galleria Doria Pamphilj
The Doria Pamphilj Gallery is another must-see destination and one of the few private museums in Rome. This gallery is home to an incredible collection of Italian and European art, furniture and sculptures collected by different family members over the centuries. You can admire more than 500 paintings, including works by Caravaggio, Velázquez and Titian, as well as sculptures by Bernini.
The family still lives on-premises. While you can’t visit that part of the building, the galleries themselves offer a lot of priceless art. The rooms and paintings themselves have changed little over time, which is quite remarkable.
National Roman Museum/Museo Nazionale Romano
The National Museum of Rome is one of the largest museums in Rome, with an incredible collection of Roman art and artifacts. The museum’s collections are spread across four different palazzos. If you have time to visit them all, you can take advantage of the combined admission ticket to all four.
Palazzo Altemps is a gorgeous 15th-century building built by the Riario family. A century later, it was later refurbished under the orders of Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps. It officially opened as part of the National Museum of Rome in 1997.
With stunning staircases and other intricate features, the building is worthy of admiration for any architecture lover. Many rooms feature frescoes on walls and ceilings, wood beams and intricately tiled floors. Here you’ll find Greek and Roman sculptures, Egyptian art and other notable works.
This beautiful Renaissance-style palace is home to some of the best archaeological and classical art collections in the world, displayed across four floors. Here you’ll find treasures from the Greek and Roman world found during the excavation that began in 1870. Marvel at the numerous sculptures, mosaics, sarcophagi and reliefs, and portraits of famous figures from the past.
Baths of Diocletian
The Baths of Diocletian were once the most extensive public baths in Rome and are now a museum. This museum is dedicated to the history of the baths and contains many artifacts that were found here during the excavation. The Baths of Diocletian are located inside the Thermae Diocletian, a large complex of ruins worth exploring.
The Crypta Balbi is a museum located inside the ruins of an ancient Roman theatre. This museum contains a collection of artifacts found during the excavation of the theatre and a reconstruction of what it would have looked like in its heyday. The Crypta Balbi is worth visiting for history buffs and anyone interested in ancient Roman architecture.
The National Etruscan Museum/Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia
The National Etruscan Museum is located in the Villa Giulia, a beautiful Renaissance villa built originally for Pope Julius III between 1550 and 1555. Here you’ll find a collection of Etruscan art and artifacts, as well as a library with over 100,000 volumes. The National Etruscan Museum is the perfect place to learn about the history and culture of the Etruscans.
The Villa Farnesina is one of Rome’s most majestic Renaissance buildings, named after its previous owner Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. The museum contains a collection of artworks by Raphael and other Renaissance artists like Sebastiano del Piombo and Peruzzi.
Like many other museums in Rome, the building itself is worthy of admiration. The villa Farnesina is an important example of the luxury and opulence that characterized Italian society during the Renaissance and is definitely worth visiting for anyone interested in Renaissance art.
National Gallery of Modern Art/ Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna
The National Gallery of Modern Art is one of Rome’s most important museums. This museum contains a collection of over 5,000 paintings and sculptures dating from the neoclassical period to the abstract works from the 1960s, including art from the Futurist, Cubist, Dadaist and abstract art movements.
The National Gallery of Modern Art is the perfect place to see the development of Italian and European art from the 18th century to the present day. Here you’ll also find works by Paul Cezanne, Antonio Canova, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh.
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica
The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica is Located in the Palazzo Barberini, a beautiful 17th-century palace featuring a masterpiece fresco by Pietro da Cortona. The museum contains a collection of art from the 13th to 18th centuries. Here you’ll find works by artists like Andrea del Sarto, Tintoretto, El Greco, Tiziano, Bernini, Nicolas Poussin and Pietro da Cortona.
Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo is located inside the Castel Sant’Angelo. It was built as a mausoleum of the Roman emperor Hadrian some 1,900 years ago. It was fortified and converted into a castle and home to the popes during the Middle Ages.
The museum contains a collection of art and artifacts from the time of the Roman Empire, Renaissance paintings and rare pieces of medieval weaponry. Castel Sant’Angelo is worth a visit for anyone interested in ancient history and is one of my favourite museums in Rome to visit after dark.
Located in the exquisite mid-16th century palazzo of the same name, Galleria Spada is home to paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. Make sure to check out Francesco Borromini’s famous masterpiece of a forced perspective collonade. The palazzo’s architecture, including its renowned facade and courtyard, is also worthy of admiration.
Final thoughts on museums in Rome
As you can see, many museums in Rome are not located inside the Vatican walls. In fact, many of them are housed in stunning villas that are equally as impressive. If you’re looking for something different to explore during your next trip, check out some of these fantastic museums in Rome and see for yourself.