It wouldn’t come as surprise then that Rome is the home to a lot of some of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries. Last minute city breakers usually just have a few days to visit sights and museums, so singling out the very best, though hard in a city like Rome, is imperative.
So, which are the very best of the best? Here are five that definitely make the list:
The National Museum of Rome
One of Italy’s premier museums, and a truly world-class establishment, the National Museum of Rome is easily our first choice. Largely dedicated to Rome’s ancient history, the centuries when the Roman Empire dominated the world, the National Museum also gives visitors the chance to marvel artefacts from other periods too, in a strenuous effort to depict the transition between the ancient world and the Rome of today.
Incredibly lifelike Roman statues and vibrantly beautiful ancient mosaics make up the most prominent displays, alongside a wealth of other artefacts such as coins and Rome’s renowned frescoes (wall paintings). It is one of those museums you can visit time and time again if you are a regular visitor to the city, and still see something new every time.
The National Roman Museum is actually comprised of four different sites:
Terme Di Ddiocleziano (the Baths Of Diocletian)
The Baths of Diocletian, by far the most impressive of all imperial baths, lie at the northeast edge of the Piazza della Republica, Viale Enrico de Nicola, 79. Artefacts of unique beauty and historic value are housed in its numerous chambers, including
- Cloister of Michelangelo, where a 16th-century garden and outdoor displays of altars and funerary sculpture and inscriptions;
- a section devoted to Epigraphic material;
- the Octagonal Aula;
- a section devoted to sculptures found on baths sites.
Crypta Balbi (the Theatre of Balbus)
The Theatre of Balbus (Via delle Botteghe Oscure, 31) is an ancient structure in the Campus Martius, constructed around 13 BC. The Crypta Balbi hosts artefacts that depict the development of the Roman society and urban landscape from antiquity to modern times. Among its most prominent artefacts are
- the Gorga and Betti collections,
- the collection of Victor Emmanuel III of Savoy,
- certain artefacts from the Roman Forum.
Palazzo Massimo (The Supreme Palace)
The “Palazzo Massimo alle Terme” (Piazza del Cinquecento, 67) is another prominent part of the National Roman Museum and is widely considered one of the world’s most wonderful ancient art collections, including:
- several important tokens of late Roman Republic and the early imperial period ast, like the
Aphrodite of Menophantos;
Sleeping Hermaphroditus and the
frescoes and mosaics, including some of the villa of Livia, wife of Augustus;
a rich numismatic collection, which is actually the largest in Italy.
Palazzo Altemps (The Palace of Altemps)
The Palace of Altemps (Piazza Sant’Apollinare, 46) stands out as one of the most interesting examples of the Renaissance architecture in Rome. Nowadays it is one of the four sites comprising the National Roman Museum, housing sculptures from Renaissance collections such as
- the Boncompagni – Ludovisi collection,
- the Mattei collection, including the Ludovisi Throne and the Suicide of a Gaul,
- the Egyptian Collection.
Opening Hours – Tickets
For information regarding visiting hours, holiday offers and ticket prices, the best thing to do is visit the Museum’s official site. Usually all four departments of the National Museum of Rome are open from 9.00 am to 7.45 pm from Tuesday to Sunday, and are always closed on January 1st, May 1st and December 25th.
You can buy one ticket for approximately 14.00 Euros and have the chance to visit all 4 sites within 3 days.
Another world-class and must-see museum in Rome is the famous Borghese Gallery. Whether this or the National Museum is Rome’s biggest attraction depends on nothing more than whether you prefer art museums, such as this one, or historical artefacts like those of the National. It houses a truly incredible collection of artworks dating between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, including paintings, sculptures and reliefs. Many recognised masterpieces are on display, including both famous names and artists who are not so well known outside of specialist circles but who are certainly no less talented.
The Galleria Borghese includes twenty rooms across two floors. The first houses classical antiquity exhibits, including a celebrated mosaic of gladiators, as well as classical and neo-classical sculpture, of which the Venus Victrix is the most wll known. Other famous exhibits include works of the famous sculptor G. L. Bernini, such as:
- Aeneas, Anchises & Ascanius;
- The Rape of Proserpine;
- Apollo and Daphne
- and David.
The collection of painting is comprised of world – class works, such as
- Saint Jerome writing, by Caravaggio;
- The Deposition by Raphael;
- The Boy with a Basket of Fruit by Caravaggio;
- The scourging by Titian and the
- Madonna and Child by Bellini.
Opening Hours – Tickets
The Borghese Gallery, located in one of Rome’s most charming districts, is so popular that ticket reservations are required for all visitors, so you are strongly advised to book entry in advance to avoid disappointment and check opening hours and possible discounts in the gallery’s official site.
The Borghese Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and ticket prices are a bit high – usually around 19.00 Euros per person, but you can always look out for special offers or discounts.
The Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums is considered one of the biggest Museum complexes in the world, as well as one of the most visited ones and they include the famous
- Cappella Sistina, with the celebrated frescos that adorn its interior, especially its ceiling and The Last Judgment crafted by Michelangelo.
- the Pinacoteca Vaticana, with magnificent woks such as:
Giotto’s Stefaneschi Triptych;
Raphael’s Madonna of Foligno;
Leonardo da Vinci’s St. Jerome in the Wilderness;
Perugino’s Madonna and Child with Saints;
Filippo Lippi’s Marsuppini Coronation;
- and the Museo Pio-Climentino, with excellent tokens of Greek and Roman art, like
the porphyri sarcophagi of Constance and Saint Helen;
the Sala Rotonda, adorned with impressive ancient mosaics on the floors, and ancient statues
lining the perimeter;
the Sleeping Ariadne and the bust of Menander;
the Gallery of the Busts (Galleria dei Busti);
the Cabinet of the Masks;
The Vatican Museums are located not in Rome but in Vatican City, an independent city state that is politically separate from Italy. However, as Vatican City is located within the boundaries of Rome, the only practical distinction for most tourists is the need to bring your passport for crossing the border. The collection of museums includes both historic and modern religious art, artefacts relating to the first few centuries of Christian worship, and a wide variety of sculptures. These represent just a few of the varied collections on offer.
The Vatican Museums are comprised of more than 50 galleries, with the Sistine Chapel being the very last “sala” within the Museum. It is one of the largest museums in the world.
Opening Hours – Tickets
The best place to get all relative information would be, once more, the Museums’ official site. They are open to the public from Monday to Saturday and the Ticket Office is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, while The Museums close at 6 pm.
They are usually closed on Sundays, except the last Sunday of every month, with free entrance from 9 am to 12.30 pm. The Museums closes at 2 pm unless
- it’s Easter Sunday,
- the 29th of June (St. Peter and Paul)
- or the 25th and 26th of December (Christmas and St. Stephen)
You will also find them closed on
- January 1st and 6th;
- February 11th;
- February 22nd;
- March 19th and 28th;
- August 15th;
- November 1st;
- December 8th and 26th.
Bear also in mind that every year the Vatican Museums offer their visitors special Night Openings. Every Friday evening, from 6 May to 28 October – except in August – the monumental door of the Pope’s Museums will open at sunset to reveal over a thousand years of stunning treasures.
Ticket price per person is usually 16,00 Euros (full) and 8,00 (reduced).
Cinecitta is not strictly a museum but one of Europe’s biggest and most prestigious film studios. It is, however, open to the public as what effectively amounts to a fantastic museum of cinema. The epics filmed in these studios since they first opened in the late 1930s include Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, and Casanova, as well as more recent films such as The Passion of the Christ and Gangs of New York. Objects relating to much of this prestigious cinematic history can be seen on tours of the studios.
Opening Hours – Tickets
There are some rather informative and interesting guided tours or simply visit the place by your own. The exhibition is open every day except Tuesday) from 9.30 am to 6.30 pm, but do remember that you can get tickets only until 5.30 pm.
You can purchase your ticket from the 1055 Via Tuscolana Kiosk. The full ticket price for the standard exhibition is around 10.00 Euros and, while the outdoor set visit costs around 20.00 Euros.
This museum is a little off the beaten track, but is well worth seeing. Many of those who do pay it a visit come away wondering whether they have just discovered the real best museum in Rome. A single site contains both an art museum and an archaeological museum, with objects on display from a number of historical periods including Ancient Rome, the Medieval Era and the Renaissance. Objects on display range from the smallest coins to massive statues, and just about everything between.
The Capitoline Museums are actually three buildings surrounding the Piazza del Campidoglio, connected by an underground gallery. These buildings are
- the Palazzo Senatorio, a 12th century building greatly adorned by Michelangelo;
- the Palazzo dei Conservatori, of the 16th century, hosting collections of ancient sculpture, mostly Roman but also Greek and Egyptian,
such as the bronze she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, which has become the emblem of Rome.
- the Palazzo Nuovo, a 17th century construction, housing
the marble statue of the “Dying Gaul”,
the statue of Cupid and Psyche,
the colossal statue restored as Oceanus,
the statue of Capitoline Venus.
- The 16th century Palazzo Caffarelli – Clementino, was also included in the museum complex a century ago.
Opening Hours – Tickets
The museum hosts numerous exhibitions and educational events throughout the whole year, so it would be a wonderful idea to visit the Museum’s official site before scheduling your last minute city break. The Musei Capitolini is located in Piazza del Campidoglio and is open to the public on a daily basis, from 9.30 to 19.30. On holidays you can expect some opening time variations. Remember that they admit visitors at least 1 hour before closing time. As with the previous 4, the Museum is always closed on January 1st, May 1st and December 25th.
You can purchase your ticket from the Piazza del Campidoglio, on the ground floor of the Palazzo dei Conservatori but please remember that during cultural events prices vary. Regular ticket price is around 14,00 Euros for adults, while the Capitolini Card, offering access to both the Musei Capitolini and the Centrale Montemartini and being valid for one week costs 15,00 Euros.
To Sum it up
Rome is an earthly paradise for history enthusiasts and art lovers. Trying to limit your sight options to no more than five seems close to a crime against history and art. Still, we hope this list will prove helpful.