Fantastic Museums in Rome You Shouldn’t Miss

Most famous for being a giant open-air museum, sometimes in Rome, it rains. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Baths of Caracalla, Fori Imperiali boulevard are all irresistible attractions, but if you travel to Rome during Fall, chances are you might find some showers here and there. Apart from ducking into a cozy coffee shop, a relaxed bistro, or a traditional restaurant, one of the best things you can do in Rome on a rainy day is to visit a museum.

Even though all the sites that you visit in Rome, be it archaeological parks, churches or palaces, can be considered museums, this article wants to be an exhaustive guide to Rome’s exhibitions, whether they are permanent or venues for temporary art and history shows.

Capitoline Museums

The main museum in Rome, the Capitoline Museums are entirely devoted to the city, its foundation and its history, including before its birth, so the Etruscan civilization. Founded in 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated ancient bronze statues to the people of Rome, among which was the statue of she-wolf linked to the myth of Roman foundation, the Capitoline Museums are probably the world’s oldest public galleries. Anyone looking into Roman history and foundation, this is probably the museum to start with.

Museo Nazionale Romano in Diocletian Baths

Museo Nazionale Romano is a Roman museum organized in different venues. One of these is in Diocletian’s Baths near Stazione Termini. While they are all interesting and worth a visit, this one in particular displays probably the largest exhibition of classic Roman relics. Terracotta jars, amphorae, tools for daily use, pieces of mosaics and decorations, parts of pagan temples devoted to the Persian god Mithra, and more, history buffs can never have enough of wandering the halls and corridors of this huge museum, including the same ruins of the actual Baths of Diocletian.

Image: Museo Nazionale Romano in Diocletian Baths

Vatican Museums

Even though officially in the state of the Vatican, let’s include the mighty Vatican Museums among Rome’s top attractions, shall we? Seven centuries of history of the Vatican, and art commissioned by or donated to the Popes, in one of Rome’s largest museums you will see some of the most famous masterpieces including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the beautiful frescoes in Raphael’s Rooms, the Gallery of the Maps and also the areas that usually attracts fewer visitors such as the Mobility Museum, a rich exhibition of the vehicles used by the popes throughout the centuries from finely decorated carriages to modern cars. Booking is now mandatory via the official website, a skip-the-line entrance, or with a Vatican private tour.

Image: Vatican Museums in Rome

Museo di Roma – Palazzo Braschi

Located between Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Piazza Navona, in the very heart of Renaissance Rome, Palazzo Braschi is the last palace a pope (Pius VI) commissioned as a residence for his own family, specifically, his nephew Luigi Braschi Onesti. After an obstreperous few centuries of history, the palace has been acquired by Rome municipality and turned into the Museum of Rome. Across its three floors, you can see a themed itinerary of paintings representing Rome’s history and society, while the first floor is devoted to temporary exhibitions.

Centrale Montemartini

A separate branch of the central Capitoline Museums, Centrale Montemartini is one of my favorite permanent exhibitions in Rome. It’s one of the highlights of the Ostiense district and a fantastic addition to a fascinating tour to discover Rome’s industrial past. Set in the city’s former main power plant, the museum puts side by side the machines used to create electricity such as turbines and giant engines, and classic Roman and Greek statues, paintings, sarcophagi, and even pieces of the mosaic floor of Julius Caesar’s villa, the Horti Sallustiani, some of ancient Rome’s most magnificent gardens of which nothing remained to us except a small ruin not far from Termini train station.

Image: Centrale Montemartini museum

Trajan Markets

Opened to the public in 2007, I had been wanting to visit the Trajan Markets for a long time before I actually did. But finally, I am so glad I did and I won’t stop recommending it every time I can. With the entrance unassumingly located in Via delle Quattro Fontane, right next to the Trajan Column just up Piazza Venezia and before Via Nazionale begins, its large glass door does hide a pretty fascinating museum in central Rome. Relics, objects, decorations, and the history of the imperial fora illustrated in written panels as well as explained with the aid of multimedia installations whirl visitors straight back to a few thousand years when kings and emperors such as Julius Caesar, Augustus, Nerva and Trajan built their forum. We can see the findings as well as the reconstruction of how splendid and majestic they were, apt to celebrate the greatness of their king. Along with the Markets and the museum of the imperial fora, the ticket gives you access to Trajan’s Forum, too.

Image: Trajan Markets and Forum in Rome

Palazzo Barberini Galleria Corsini

Situated in Via delle Quattro Fontane near Piazza Barberini and Via Veneto, the grand Baroque building of Palazzo Barberini, former residence of the powerful Roman clan, hosts the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica together with Galleria Corsini, aristocratic palace in Trastevere that is currently closed due to ongoing renovation. Steeped in history and boasting immortal masterpieces by Italian and international artists, admire at the rich Caravaggio collection as well as Bernini’s and Borromini’s opposed staircases and Raphael’s La Fornarina painting.

Image: Pietro da Cortona fresco in Palazzo Barberini in Rome

Galleria Borghese

Tucked away inside the gorgeous Villa Borghese park, Galleria Borghese is the former residence of the powerful Borghese family. The villa where the gallery is housed was built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V and since the very beginning of the construction, the owner aimed at giving his home the look of a museum. The cardinal, in fact, was a true art collector, and he amassed a huge wealth of masterpieces you can view by strolling around the decorated halls and corridors. Some of the artists on display include Canaletto, Bernini, Perugino, Titian, Raphael, and Canova among others. You can either purchase the ticket online on the official website, a skip-the-line entrance, or a guided tour inclusive of the private gardens.

ETRU Museo Nazionale Etrusco

The National Etruscan Museum is housed in two beautiful villas, the Renaissance Villa Giulia and, since 2012, Villa Poniatowski, Roman home of Stanislao Poniatowski, the nephew of Poland’s last king, renovated by Italian architect Giuseppe Valadier. In what is now the world’s most important museum devoted to the pre-Roman Etruscan civilization, you will find some of the most important relics and masterpieces belonging to the ancient culture for a total of 6000 objects displayed over 50 rooms and accompanied by explanations easy to understand and kid-friendly illustrations. For groups of more than 10 people, booking is mandatory.

Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea

The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art lies right next to Villa Borghese Park, you can see it from Ferdowsi Square. This is Italy’s most exhaustive collection of Italiana and international art dating between the 19th and 21st centuries comprising of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations. Counting masterpieces from different modern art movements such as Neoclassicism, Impressionism, Futurism, and Surrealism as well as the local 20th-century trend known as Scuola Romana, on display you will see around 20.000 art pieces. Along with the permanent exhibitions, there are often temporary ones.

Vittoriano Complex and Risorgimento Museum

The large Vittoriano Complex dominating the view of Piazza Venezia is one of Rome’s most famous and photographed monuments. Built between 1885 and 1911 in honor of the first king of newly unified Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, it’s also known as the Altar of the Fatherland and since 1923 it hosts the remains of the Unknown Soldier. The Vittoriano houses the permanent museum of the Italian Risorgimento and sometimes temporary exhibitions.

Image: Vittoriano complex and museum in Rome

Palazzo Altemps

Dating back to the 16th-century and former residence of Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps, today Palazzo Altemps is the venue included in the umbrella of Museo Nazionale Romano devoted to the history of art collecting. Even though a more modern palace so it can’t really be listed as an archeaological site, the several collections of ancient art make it a feast for history buffs. From Roman sculptures and bas-reliefs to ancient frescoes to Egyptian relics, Palazzo Altemps is a must for archaeology fans.

Palazzo Massimo

Also Palazzo Massimo, located near Termini station, is a venue of the Museo Nazionale Romano. Spread out across four floors, you can see some of the main art masterpieces from the Roman civilization, so sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, different types of portraits, sarcophagi, bas-reliefs and more sourced and dug out from Rome and the surrounding areas. This is a fantastic way to travel to time and see how ancient Romans liked to decorate their residences using bright colors, frescoes and statues, both marble and bronze.

Galleria d’Arte Moderna

Rome’s Gallery of Modern Art is set in Via Francesco Crispi near Via Veneto in a former cloister of the Discalced Carmelites. The museum shows a rich collection of local modern art, also thanks to the sponsoring of art production since 1900 by the Roman municipality to promote Rome’s new art expressions and rank also with the collaboration with several local cultural associations. Some of the artists you can view here are Carrà, de Chirico, Scipione, Cavalli, Carlandi, Sartorio, Severini and more from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ara Pacis Museum

Located near the Augustus Mausoleum, one of the best archaeological sites in Rome, the Ara Pacis Museum is the peace altar built in the first century BC and inaugurated in 9 BC following Augustus feats beyond the Alps, in France (Gaul) and Spain. The Ara Pacis is always the venue for great exhibitions so on display visitors can view photos and images related to the most different topics, from ancient Roman history to 1960s Italian movies.

Chiostro del Bramante

As the name reads, this is a cloister, a fantastic example of Renaissance architecture by the hands of Donato Bramante, part of Santa Maria della Pace church and from where you can also see the famous Sibille fresco by Raphael. Located right behind Piazza Navona and close to Coromandel cafe serving fantastic daily breakfast and brunch, Chiostro del Bramante always organize very interesting and unconventional temporary exhibitions (May ’21 to January ’22 is “All About Bansky”), perfectly combining modern art, lesser-known historical angles and mind-blowing architecture.

Museo delle Civiltà

Museo delle Civiltà, standing for Civilizations Museums, is located in Rome’s EUR southern district and organized in the Palace of Sciences (Palazzo delle Scienze). Consisting of several sections, each of them tackling a topic connected to traditions and societies, not only Italian but from all over the world including one for oriental art and one for non-European prehistory and ethnography.

In the same Palazzo delle Scienze is also hosted the Middle Age museum to explore and understand the complex period of time transitioning from the ancient world to modernity, and in the nearby Palazzo delle Tradizioni Popolari, a section devoted to folk arts and traditions.

MAXXI

The National Museum of the XXI Century Arts is located in Flaminio. Designed by late Anglo-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, this futuristic museum puts on display contemporary artists of every style, be it painters, architects and sculptures, as well as photographers. Through a diverse set of activities ranging from exhibitions, multimedia projections, workshops, shows and conferences, MAXXI museum aims at being the reference point and a laboratory for contemporary creativity and cultural experiments.

MACRO

Located in the residential Salario Nomentano neighbourhood and set in one of the local relics of Rome’s industrial archaeology, the former Birra Peroni brewery, MACRO is also a museum that focuses on contemporary arts and talents. Renovated and revamped by French architect Odile Decq, the museum exhibits a wide range of art expressions, from paintings to music to illustrations to prints on fabric.

Museo di Roma in Trastevere

Often overlooked when visiting Trastevere, a museum devoted to the Roman traditions and daily life couldn’t be in a better place than the neighborhood where more than anywhere else you can breathe and experience the vibe of popular culture and society. Here you will really have the chance to explore the daily life of working-class Rome as opposed to the luxury of the noble families we can see in the palaces scattered around the city center.

Palazzo delle Esposizioni

This is a very large museum in Rome organizing always new temporary exhibitions. Located in Via Nazionale, between Piazza Venezia and Termini train station, it’s built on a Neo-classic style and hosts several events, exhibitions, shows, and workshops, including educational projects for kids. The topics are different and touch a variety of subjects ranging from history to beauty to music to art and science.

Image: Palazzo delle Esposizioni museum in Rome

Palazzo Merulana

This museum is situated in the multi-cultural Esquilino neighborhood not far from Stazione Termini and Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica. It mainly displays the work of the local art movement known as Scuola Romana and the Italian 20th century showing sculptures, paintings and temporary exhibitions as well as food events.

Keats-Shelley House

Boasting a truly privileged location, this building in 26 Piazza di Spagna is where English Romantic poet John Keats died at the young age of 25. Along with Keats, also Shelley lived here during his time in Rome and their home shows their personal belongings as well as books as objects linked to their work. Nearby is Babington’s Tea Rooms and while you can enjoy a typical English tea experience right there, sometimes, they organize it on the terrace of Keats-Shelley House with a beautiful view over the Spanish Steps.

Musei di Villa Torlonia

Villa Torlonia is a Rome park but inside, you can visit a few historical buildings that have been turned into museums. The Roman residence of the Italian duce Benito Mussolini, you can enjoy the park for a stroll in the green or visit its many buildings such as the Casino Nobile, where Mussolini’s family lived, Casina delle Civette, called the House of the Owls for its owl-themed decorations where you can see the drawings and sketches used to make the current decorative patterns, and Casino dei Principi.

Image: Casino Nobile in Villa Torlonia

Explora Children Museum

This is definitely one of the best museums in Rome you should take your children. A fantastic spot to add to your bucket list if you are traveling to Rome with a toddler, it’s located near Flaminio metro station, so in the very city center, easy to reach and perfect to include in your sightseeing. Divided into different sections depending on the children’s age, each area features activities and experiences your little ones are likely to enjoy and engage with. Our baby loved it, we took him there once but we are planning a second time now that he’s a toddler.

Image: In Rome with a toddler at Explora children museum

Museum of the Lost Souls

That’s right, that’s also a museum. Located inside the Gothic-style Sacro Cuore del Suffragio church in Lungotevere Prati behind Piazza Cavour, it’s precisely devoted to what its title says. After a devastating fire that damaged much of the church, witnesses reported seeing handprints on pillars and clothes and even the image of a suffering face. The museum is the result of studies of proof of the afterlife and the communication between the dead and the alive beings.

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