Italy is home to almost 4,000 museums bursting with world-class artworks from ancient mosaics and sculptures to contemporary multi-media installations. With limited vacation time and so many other A-list attractions to cover, deciding which museums to visit in Italy can be a challenge. Of all the options out there, which museums should make the cut and be included in your itinerary and which ones can be skipped…at least this time around?
Here are a couple of helpful tips and guidelines to help you choose the museums you should visit on a first (and return) trip to Italy:
One option is to focus on covering Italy’s most popular museums. Start by looking at the list of most-visited museums in Italy, since it’s a safe bet that those museums contain some of the most famous art and artifacts in Italy. The museums on those lists are definitely winners, but most travelers to Italy will need to narrow down the options even more within the best of the best. Unless you’re planning on spending months in Italy, it’s simply not possible to cover even the dozens of top museums. But more on paring down your list below!
If you’ve visited Italy multiple times and have already hit on the country’s top museums—or if you are simply averse to the crowds that fill headliners like the Vatican Museums and Uffizi Galleries all year round—concentrate instead on the lesser-known collections scattered across the country. You can enjoy masterpieces by Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, and other greats with a fraction of the crowds in the hidden museums of Rome, Florence, and Venice or in silent churches and municipal galleries in Italy’s hilltowns and smaller historic cities.
Whether you’re checking off your museum bucket list or discovering Italy’s artistic treasures in off-the-tourist-track collections, you will eventually have to come up with your list of must-see museums to visit in Italy that make the final cut. The first thing you should consider is your personal interests. Do you love Renaissance paintings and sculptures or are you fascinated by ancient Roman frescoes and mosaics? Would you like to see medieval religious art in a small church museum or delve into something niche like fashion or wine history? Do you love the history of science or are you captivated by exploring noble palazzi-turned-museums that offer a glimpse into the gilded lives of Italy’s aristocratic class? There’s something for everyone, from natural history and archeaology to cinema or sports cars in Italy.
Take into account:
If the Colosseum and Forum are on your morning Rome itinerary, you may only have an hour of “museum energy” left in you that day, so the Vatican museums may not be ideal to schedule for the afternoon. Instead, balance the day with an afternoon of shopping or exploring Rome’s piazzas, fountains, and gelaterias and visit the Vatican museums on another day when you’re refreshed.
Similarly, the day you land in Italy after a trans-Atlantic flight is likely not ideal for a museum visit, since adjusting to the time change is best done with natural light, fresh air, and physical movement. Similarly, it may be difficult to focus if you’re tired, so it’s probably not ideal to plan a museum visit bright and early on your first morning in Italy, when your body thinks it’s 1:00 a.m., for example.
In addition, keep in mind how long you personally can concentrate in a museum even on your best day. Last time you went to a big museum, how long did it take before you got tired? Most people start to fade after 2-3 hours inside a museum and have a hard time absorbing new information. If you really want to cover one of Italy’s biggest museums, you can take a break for lunch or a coffee before continuing or save the rest of the museum for another visit once you start getting tired.
You’ve decided which museum(s) to visit in Italy and you’ve allocated the right amount of time in your itinerary to see them. But don’t feel like you must see and appreciate every work of art inside—doing a little research to prioritize the highlights to focus on in each specific museum will make your museum visit more enjoyable.
Plotting out an overview itinerary inside each museum is particularly necessary if you’re traveling with kids or if you’ve just taken an art history course and you don’t miss pieces of art you’ve studied. Don’t miss works of art on your hit list because you get tuckered out after the first dozen or so rooms inside the museum!
If you don’t have time to research and plan your path through the museum, do a guided tour instead, either with a group, a private guide, or by renting an audio tour (pretty widely available, usually in several languages). This is a great way to ensure that you cover the top works in a museum in just a few hours.
Italy’s museums often have quirky opening times (many museums are closed on Mondays, but the Vatican Museums are closed on Sundays, for example). Do a quick internet search to double check that the museums you plan on visiting are open on the days you prefer. Also be sure to book tickets far in advance for Italy’s star collections like the Vatican Museums, Uffizi Gallery, and Accademia. Tickets sell out (especially in high season) and there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to purchase tickets directly at the museum on the day you want to visit (the Borghese Gallery ONLY sells tickets in advance online, for example)
"We had a wonderful trip! We did so many amazing things and experienced many wonderful places yet never felt like..."
"We thank you so much for all you gave us, guided us to, arranged for, and detailed for us. Not..."
"We are in love with Venice and the Dolomites. The ski adventure was amazing and beyond anything we could have..."
"Absolutely everything that you planned went off without a hitch. Every tour, every restaurant, every train and activity came through..."
"Thank you again from all three of us for your help in planning such a delightful trip. I know that..."
"Madeline carefully planned a fabulous, personalized 19 day itinerary (Lake Garda, Dolomites, N/S Tuscany, Rome) that enabled us to be..."
Join our mailing list to get the free Driving In Italy eBook
Check out the Travel Expert Network where you’ll find Certified Travel Experts™ like us ready to plan custom bucket trips for you all over the world!
Visit the Travel Expert Network →
Subscribe to our newsletter.