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An Art Lover’s Guide to Rome

The Eternal City is an art lover’s paradise, offering everything from ancient mosaics to contemporary graffiti.

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Hi, I'm Rebecca!

Rebecca’s first visit to Italy was a coup de foudre and her affection for Il Bel Paese has only grown over almost 30 years of living here, during which time she has mastered the art of navigating the sampietrini cobblestones in heels but has yet to come away from a plate of bucatini all’amatriciana with an unsullied blouse. She covers Italy travel, culture, and cuisine for a number of print and online publications.

Home to some of the world’s most famous masterpieces, plus a cutting-edge street art scene, Rome is a paradise for art lovers. Admire works by Renaissance stars from Michelangelo to Raphael, dine in Canova’s former studio, check out contemporary pieces from around the globe, and stroll authentic neighborhoods far from the crowds to take in open-air murals and stencils. Here are the best places to see art in Rome.

1. Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

St. Peter's Baldachin, Vatican, Rome
Yes, be sure to visit the Sistine Chapel, but don't miss Bernini's St. Peter's Baldachin.Photo Credit: Alex Washburn / Viator

A treasure trove of blockbusters from ancient Rome through the Renaissance.

Among the most famous collections on the planet, the Vatican Museums hold spectacular works of Italian Renaissance art, plus in situ stunners like the frescoes in the Raphael Rooms and Sistine Chapel. Though the bulk of the collection focuses on Italian painting art and sculpture, the museum complex is also home to ancient Egyptian, Etruscan, and Roman artworks. Because of its vast size and scope, the museums are best visited with a guide so you can cover the headliners in a few hours.

2. MAXXI

MAXXI museum rome
If you couldn't tell by the architecture, this is a museum dedicated to contemporary art.Photo Credit: Silvia Longhi / Viator

Envelope-pushing contemporary art in Rome.

Check out works by international and Italian contemporary artists within the confines of one of Rome’s few 21st-century landmark buildings at MAXXI, the city’s premier contemporary art museum. Set in a gallery space designed by the award-winning architect Zaha Hadid, this collection is a vital part of the Rome art scene with its permanent collection and rotating temporary international and Italian art exhibitions; the building itself is often a highlight of Rome architecture tours.

3. National Gallery of Ancient Art

gallery in National Gallery of Ancient Art, rome
The art here isn't actually ancient. It dates back to between the 13th and 17th centuries.Photo Credit: marcobrivio.photography / Shutterstock

Marvel at the masters with a fraction of the Vatican Museum crowds.

Despite its name, this prestigious gallery does not hold ancient Roman art but instead one of Europe’s most important collections of art dating between the 13th and 17th centuries. Wander the sumptuous halls of Palazzo Barberini and Galleria Corsini—the museum’s two historic locations—to admire works by Caravaggio, Raphael, and other A-listers in relative peace at this often overlooked treasure trove.

4. Street art

Street Art on public staircase, rome
You might associate Rome with traditional art and architecture, but there's a thriving street art scene here, too.Photo Credit: marcovarro / Shutterstock

Vibrant public art in Rome decorating the city’s buzzy neighborhoods.

Step away from the iconic monuments and explore outlying Rome art districts with street art in Rome tour focusing on residential neighborhoods like Ostiense and Pigneto. Take in works by established and emerging artists in Rome that decorate building facades, storefronts, and road signs and delve into the political and social commentary that inspires many of these pieces for a new perspective on modern Italy and its capital city.

5. Borghese Gallery

Borghese Gallery, rome
Dive into Roman art history at this museum.Photo Credit: Eustacio Humphrey / Viator

A small collection that packs a big punch.

Set in the lush Villa Borghese gardens, the Borghese Gallery is one of the top art galleries in Rome. Its compact group of paintings and sculptures offers an overview of Rome’s art history, beginning with Roman sculpture art dating from ancient times through Bernini’s famed baroque statues in the main “Salone” hall. Many Borghese Gallery tours include a stroll through the surrounding Villa Borghese, a 17th-century private garden that is now one of Rome’s largest public parks.

6. Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini

fountain of a man reclining at Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini, rome
Here, it's all about the 19th-century sculptor Antonio Canova.Photo Credit: YKD / Shutterstock

Dine in an atelier-turned-restaurant.

Once the workshop of the 18th-century Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova, the Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini today houses a restaurant where diners can enjoy a meal or snack surrounded by original statues and plaster casts by the artist and his students. Break up your day of sightseeing with a quick espresso or leisurely meal in the art-stuffed dining room here, one of the most unique things to do in Rome for art lovers.

7. Capitoline Museums

Capitoline Museums at dusk, rome
This museum has been open for nearly three centuries.Photo Credit: Taras Vyshnya / Shutterstock

Visit the first public art museum in the world.

Opened to the public in 1734, the massive Capitoline Museums fill three Renaissance palaces on the Capitoline Hill and are an important stop on Rome art tours. The museums were established by Pope Sixtus IV in the 15th century, and house spectacular ancient and Renaissance works. The most important Rome art events are often held here, including temporary art exhibitions and retrospectives, but most guided tours focus on highlights like the “Capitoline Wolf” (a bronze depiction of Romulus and Remus suckling a she-wolf) and masterpieces by Caravaggio, Titian, and Guercino.

8. Casa Balla

art studio in Casa Balla, rome
This former private residence is now a museum.Photo Credit: SpanishStepsApt / Tripadvisor

Step into the Futurist home of Giacomo Balla.

Futurist artist Giacomo Balla transformed his family’s apartment into a three-dimensional showcase over three decades in the early 20th century; today this former private residence has been opened to small group tours offered by the MAXXI Museum. Get a taste of modern art in Rome in this early immersive masterpiece that includes painted walls and ceilings, custom furniture and decorations, and even bespoke tableware alongside original paintings and sketches.

9. San Luigi dei Francesi

San Luigi dei Francesi, rome
This chapel is filled with Caravaggio masterpieces.Photo Credit: j_rueda / Shutterstock

Caravaggio masterpieces tucked inside a chapel near Piazza Navona.

Rome is home to hundreds of art-filled chapels, so no art lover’s visit is complete without a stop inside at least one to savor its treasures. Just steps away from one of the busiest squares in the city, the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi quietly houses three of the city’s most stunning Caravaggio paintings: The Calling of Saint Matthew (Vocazione di San Matteo), The Inspiration of Saint Matthew (San Matteo e Angelo), and Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (Martirio di San Matteo). Commissioned by the Medici family, these are among the few Caravaggio paintings that can still be admired in their original location.

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