10 Underrated Museums in Rome
I often say that Rome is like an open-air museum, but it goes without saying that the Eternal City is full of incredible museums with four walls too. First-time visitors to Rome typically focus on heavy-hitters like the Vatican Museums and Galleria Borghese, which are absolutely worth seeing, but in addition to those, there are many underrated museums in Rome where you can gaze upon awe-inspiring art and architecture without the crowds. Many of them are hidden in plain sight in the centro storico and they’re often small enough to visit in an hour or less. Plus, they’re usually less expensive than the more famous museums—sometimes tickets cost just a few euros.
Like my lists of the best places to eat in Rome and the best bars in Rome, this list is subjective. There are still lots of museums I have yet to visit. That said, these are ten museums I think are well worth your time. And after visiting Rome’s more crowded attractions, spending some time at these blissfully crowd-free museums will feel like a breath of fresh air. Every time I go to one of these, I leave feeling inspired.
Despite its location just behind Piazza Navona, this museum never seems to be crowded. Built in the 15th century and purchased by Cardinal Altemps in 1568, it’s now part of the Museo Nazionale Romano, which comprises five museums scattered around the city. The sculptures and reliefs on display come from the collections of powerful aristocratic families—Altemps, Boncompagni Ludovisi, Del Drago, and Mattei—but my favorite part of the museum is the loggia painted in the 16th century with frescoes inspired by the ones found in ancient Roman villas.
Another seat of the Museo Nazionale Romano, this museum is housed in a palace near Termini Station, an area that many tourists try to avoid unless they have to catch a train. One of the larger museums on this list, it’s spread over several floors and contains an impressive collection of ancient Greek and Roman art. There are incredible mosaics, marble and bronze sculptures–but my favorite thing to see is the beautiful room of frescoes painted with birds, trees, and pomegranates from the Villa of Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus Caesar.
Tickets for this museum and the aforementioned Palazzo Altemps cost just €8 each, or you can get a combined ticket for all the museums that form the Museo Nazionale Romano for €12 (valid for one week), which is worth it even if you just visit these two.
Housed in a decommissioned power plant in Ostiense, this museum juxtaposes ancient Roman sculptures with industrial relics to brilliant effect. The pieces on view are spillovers from the collections of the Musei Capitolini. There’s an enormous mosaic depicting a hunting scene and a room containing the train carriage of Pope Pius IX, but the most impressive sight is the engine room, where sculptures of men and women in togas are placed in front of massive engines from the 1930s, giving new meaning to the phrase “gods and machines.” Tickets cost €10.