Borghese Gallery
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The 12 best museums in Rome

From cellars of skeletons to modern art and vintage police cars, here are Rome's must-see museums right now


Obviously, Rome’s history is pretty fascinating. The place was founded in 27 B.C., after all, so a fair bit has happened right where you’re standing. And that means is that checking out Rome’s best ever museums is a bit of a right of passage. ‘When in Rome,’ as they say. 

And you don’t have to be a total history buff to enjoy what’s on offer here. Check out the four national museums, feast your eyes on some Caravaggio, go for something more quirky (hello, Police Car Museum) or wait until Sunday for a crawl, when a number of top museums are free. Whatever your game plan, here are the best museums in Rome.

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Emma Gordon is a writer based in Rome. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines

Top museums in Rome

1. Terme Diocleziano

What is it? These ancient baths were built in 306 AD after eight years of construction, and cover 13 hectares between the Viminal and Quirinal Hills. At one point, around 3,000 would visit the baths at once, but they were abandoned towards the end of the Roman Empire. 

Why go? Come for the incredible, sometimes haunting, tombs, sculptures and funerary on display all year round, or check out which temporary exhibitions are running when you’re planning to visit. 

2. Capitoline Museums

What is it? Traced back to 1471, these are the world’s oldest museums, and certainly has the biggest collection of artefacts in Rome. Here you’ll find works from Caravaggio and Titian, and almost all of the exhibits come from Rome itself. 

Why go? Check out Capitoline’s beautiful bronze Capitoline Wolf (nursing Romulus and Remus), the ‘Dying Gaul’, and Cupid and Psyche (the latter two are found in the Palazzo Nuovo). The newer, glass hall is also spectacular. 



What is it? The late, great Zaha Hadid won a competition in 1998, enabling her to build this innovative, urban building. Those familiar with her work will recognise her signature curves on MAXXI, a rather fitting national centre for contemporary art and architecture. 

Why go? Temporary exhibitions here have included a collaboration with MoMA New York, a digital museum project and an anthropological take on the paradoxes of modernist culture. Offering guided tours, a café and a bookshop, there is something to suit everyone’s taste whenever you visit.

4. Galleria Borghese

What is it? The Borghese family’s beautiful, private art collection stands at the heart of their eponymous gardens. With more than 20 rooms to enjoy, this is such a gem that, in high season, Borghese tickets must be booked months in advance. 

Why go? Rent a bike or Segway and take a tour around the park before spending the afternoon gazing at the stunning artworks and sculptures on display. Get lost among the Bernini statues, and marvel at Caravaggio’s bold chiaroscuro technique.


5. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna

What is it? Also known as GNAM (‘yum’ in Italian), the National Gallery of Modern Art is situated in the Palace of Fine Arts, celebrating artists from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as housing a contemporary collection. 

Why go? To tick the big names off your list, from Modigliani to Man Ray and Degas to Duchamp. With over 75 rooms and 1100 artworks to peruse, you’ll want to stop at their Caffè delle Belle Arti for a coffee or an aperitif afterwards.

6. Mattatoio Testaccio

What is it? In this ex-slaughterhouse (mattatoio) in trendy Testaccio, you can find everything from an organic market to a bicycle repair shop – and a contemporary art gallery. All manner of cool things are on offer for the students and hipsters who gravitate here. 

Why go? The contemporary museum here hosts installations and events, such as interactive street art exhibitions and the popular ‘Outdoor Street Festival’.


7. Scuderie del Quirinale

What is it? Picasso, Matisse, Frida Kahlo and Hiroshige are just some of the popular exhibitions that have been on show at the former stables of the Quirinale Palace (once the official residence of the King of Italy). 

Why go? Transformed into a gallery space in 1999, the sweeping staircases and large rooms in Scuderie del Quirinale’s 1500-square-metre space are a welcome backdrop for such important, iconic works of art. Buy tickets in advance, or expect to wait in line during peak hours.

8. Capuchin Crypt

What is it? A spooky crypt near Piazza Barberini, where walls are adorned with the bones of over 3,700 Capuchin monks. So macabre that women were once banned from entering, the Vatican claims that the Crypt was intended to remind us of our own mortality.

Why go? Unlike anything else you’ll see in Rome, the pelvis room (with its pelvis chandelier) is a particular favourite. Don’t miss the finger clock. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and probably not for children either!


9. Centrale Montemartini

What is it? Rome’s first public electrical power plant provides a stark backdrop for ancient Greek and Roman marble statues. The juxtaposition of industrial pipes, turbines and engines, and the dreamy, God-like figures have to be seen to be believed. It’s an extraordinary sight.

Why go? Silent, haunting and breathtakingly beautiful, this unique space in the Ostiense neighbourhood invites you to reflect on the passage of time and progress. If you only have time to visit just one museum in Rome, Montemartini should be it.

10. Museum-House of Hendrik Andersen

What is it? A veritable shrine to the Norwegian-born artist. Andersen’s neoclassical villa was opened as a museum in 1999, allowing visitors an up-close and personal insight into the life and works of the master. 

Why go? The Hendrik Andersen is crammed with his sculptures, paintings, tools and even outfits. Take a walk through the house he lived in between 1925 and his death in 1940, where highlights include architectural plans for a ‘World City’ and intimate letters between the artist and writer Henry James.

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