What are the best museums in Rome?

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Erica Firpo
Photo by Erica Firpo

As every knows, Rome is an open air museum, so a meander around the city will almost always prove to be the very best museum visit one could have.  When the need to go indoors strikes, my list of Rome's best museums includes Galleria Nazionale Arte Moderna (GNAM), the national art gallery that is a literal walk through Italian art history from just before its mid-19th century unification to today. 

The recently renovated Palazzo Barberini has truly beautiful collection of artwork from early Renaissance through early 19th century with pieces by Caravaggio, Raphael and Holbein. If the paintings are overwhelming, look up at the enormous ceiling in the main salon, decorated in frescoes by Pietro da Cortona.

For the ancient, I cherish any visit to Palazzo Massimo, part of the National Museum of Rome ticket which includes entries into three other museums including Cripta Balbi.  Though every floor houses lovely antiquities, I usually head up to the 2nd floor to enjoy the 1st century BC frescoes.  And then I will walk downtown to Cripta Balbi, a multi-layered archeological site/museum which showcases all the layers of Rome's history from Repubblican through late Renaissance.  

It goes without saying that the Vatican Museums are considered the very best of Rome's museums. The collections include ancient, Renaissance, Baroque, Modern and even contemporary art. Some of antiquity's very best sculpture can be found in its Braccio Nuovo, while the architecture and wall decorations are just as delightful as the artwork displayed.  Renaissance's great all contributed brushwork to its hallowed walls included Michelangelo, Fra Angelico, Pinturicchio, Raphael and Botticelli.  If visiting between May and October, the Vatican Museums are open Friday evenings for special visits.

Angela Corrias

Selecting what are the best museums in Rome is almost a paradoxical endeavor, as the city itself is a huge open-air art gallery. Even though places like the Vatican Museums, the Musei Capitolini and the Museo e Galleria Borghese have been welcoming hundreds of visitors daily for years, none of Rome's museums has ever started showing any sign of cooling.

First-timers cannot miss Michelangelo's frescoes painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as one of the highlights of the Vatican Museums, along with the other exhibitions part of the complex, such as the Egyptian Museum, the Etruscan Museum and the Pinacoteca Vaticana.

If you haven't overdosed on papal residences and religious art yet, after the Vatican Museums head to Castel Sant'Angelo, just across Via della Conciliazione, home to the National Museum of Castel Sant'Angelo, showcasing popes' mansions, the remains of Emperor Hadrian's Mausoleum and the fortified castle.

Close to Piazza Venezia, the Musei Capitolini, located on Capitoline Hill, allegedly where the city's first settlement was created, offer a fascinating journey through Roman ancient history and Patricians' home decorations.

If you fancy a stroll in the park while staying in the city center, head to Villa Borghese, Rome's green pride, within which you will find another marvelous art gallery, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GNAM), housing, among the others, masterpieces by artists of the likes of Antonio Canova, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.

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