Navigate your way through Rome’s rich cultural heritage by visiting one of its many museums and art galleries. Naturally, the Eternal City has plenty of places to learn all about its colourful history and take in some magnificent art; here’s a guide talking about the best museums in Rome.
Here are some of the top museums to visit in Rome:
- Galleria Borghese
- Centrale Montemartini
- Keats-Shelley Memorial House
- Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo
- Crypta Balbi
- The Capitoline
- The Leonardo Da Vinci Museum
Art lovers buckle up, because you’re in for a real treat with this one. Galleria Borghese is world-famous for its unrivalled collections of Renaissance and Baroque artwork, some of its main pieces handpicked by Italian collector Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633). This gallery is home to some of the greatest works of art in the city, we loved seeing the spectacular ‘Daphne and Apollo’ by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Other highlights of the Galleria Borghese include ‘David with the Head of Goliath’ by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, ‘The Deposition’ by Raphael, and ‘Paolina Borghese as Venus Victrix’ by Antonio Canova.
Located in the quirky neighbourhood of Ostiense, Centrale Montemartini is an extraordinary space for a museum. This museum space used to be a public power plant and has its routes in the working-class Rome of times past. It was originally going to be a temporary solution to house an exhibition titled ‘The Machines and the Gods’, created to combine classical art and industrial structures.
Nowadays, the space houses a permanent collection of ancient Roman statues and sculptures, against a backdrop of machinery from the industrial age. The combination of two very different parts of Rome’s eclectic history makes for a unique and interesting space that just can’t be missed.
Keats-Shelley Memorial House
Located at the foot of the magnificent Spanish Steps, the Keats-Shelley Memorial House is a museum that’s dedicated to two of the most famous British romantic poets – John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Both poets fell in love with the Eternal City, and 26 Piazza di Spagna is famous across the globe for being the place where John Keats passed away from Tuberculosis, aged just 25.
Visit the house and you’ll be treated to a delightful array of treasures and trinkets, all connected to the two poets. But that’s not all, there’s also a stunning library with over 8,000 volumes of romantic literature, which we absolutely fell in love with, as well as a collection of handwritten letters, diaries, and manuscripts.
Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo
Known locally as ‘Hadrian’s Tomb’, Castel Sant'Angelo is just a short walk from Vatican City, so it’s a great place to stop by after visiting the pope! This museum is actually a fort and is located on the banks of the River Tiber, with construction beginning under Emperor Hadrian, in the year 135. It was finished in the year 139 and has overlooked the streets of the Eternal City ever since.
Nowadays, Castel Sant'Angelo is a museum that’s split into five floors – each one filled with fascinating artefacts. Tread the same steps as some of Italy’s most notorious historical figures at the Chamber of Ashes, where many high-profile criminals were incarcerated. Venture to the higher floors and explore the rooms that used to be a Papal residence, as well as ancient weapons and murals from the Renaissance period.
Fact: did you know that there’s an 800-metre corridor that connects Castel Sant'Angelo to Vatican City? It was constructed in 1277 so that the pope could escape at any time if he was in danger.
Embark on a journey through Rome’s fascinating past with a trip to the Crypta Balbi. Constructed between 19 and 13 BC, the Crypta Balbi was originally a theatre and apartment block, and people would venture down into the crypt during intervals. Over the millennia, it was forgotten, but in 1991 after being excavated for 20 years, the remains were once again opened to the public.
Enter the building on the ground floor and you’ll be treated to some of the treasures that were found during the excavation. Venture to the upper floor to discover a range of objects from the Roman Middle Ages, before heading back down to the basement to see the archaeological remains and dark, winding passageways of the ancient theatre.
Visiting the Capitoline
No trip to the Eternal City is complete without visiting the Capitoline. The Capitoline actually consists of two museums, made up by two beautiful buildings and located at the top of the Capitoline Hill. Before we go into what you’ll find here, let’s talk history: in 1471, Pope Sixtus IV bequeathed a small collection of bronze statues to the citizens of his beloved Rome. They were put on display to the general public, and so the Capitoline was born.
Fast forward six centuries and the Capitoline museums are the most famous in all of Rome, renowned across the globe for their eclectic collections of sculptures, paintings, busts of historical figures, and other magnificent pieces of artwork.
Thinking of visiting the Capitoline museums? Start by entering the Palazzo dei Conservatory and you’ll find yourself in front of the Colossus of Constantine. Well, what’s left of him at least. Venture into frescoe-trimmed first rooms before experiencing the impressive Hall of Tapestries. Oh, and you’ll see some of the original bronze statues gifted by Pope Sixtus IV here, too. Perhaps the most famous pieces you’ll see here is the She Wolf, a symbol of Rome, and Lo Spinario.
Now, take the underground tunnel (well, it’s more of an underground gallery), and you’ll soon arrive at the Tabularium. We recommend making sure your camera is charged for this as the views are so incredible you’ll want to see them again and again. The Tabularium opens out onto the Roman Forum, where onlookers are treated to unforgettable views of the ancient city below.
Next, it’s the newer building, the Palazzo Nuovo. This is where you’ll find some of the most beautifully sculpted marble statues in the world. Stroll into the courtyard and you’ll see a huge reclining statue of the River God Marforio in all his glory. Climb the stairs and you’ll discover a corridor of exquisite statues, before making your way into the Great Hall (where you’ll find – yes you guessed it – more incredible marble statues).
The museum saves one of the best pieces until last, and your visit will be concluded by the magnificent Dying Gaul – a 2,000-year-old world masterpiece and one of the most emotive sculptures of all time.
Visiting the Leonardo da Vinci Museum
Located just a few minutes’ walk from the Spanish Steps, in the underground vaults of Basilica Santa Maria del Popolo, the Museo Leonardo Da Vinci is dedicated to the life and times of the famous artist, engineer and scientist.
The museum was originally supposed to be a temporary exhibition but has now become one of the most popular ways for tourists to spend an afternoon in the Eternal City, and for good reason. Situated under one of the most important churches of the 15th century, visitors can marvel at the building’s main attraction – two of Caravaggio’s most incredible canvases (The Crucifixion of St Peter and The Conversion of St Paul) – before heading down to the museum below.
The museum itself features a collection of more than 60 inventions, which have been modelled against Leonardo’s sketches and machines.
So now you know all about the most renowned museums in Rome, but how do you get to them? Well, the good news is that, due to their central locations, the best way to get around to all of the museums on this list is to use the metro. The Rome metro’s three lines run across the city diagonally and stops at all the main attractions, including some of the museums.
If you're travelling into Rome from elsewhere, the city is well-connected by train from lots of major cities around Italy, thanks to frequent high-speed Trenitalia and Italo services. Popular routes include Florence to Rome (1h 18m), Milan to Rome (3h 10m), Naples to Rome (1h 08m) and Venice to Rome (3h 15m). You can find out more about rail travel around this beautiful country in our guides to trains in Italy.