The Best Italian Museums — The Italics Guide

Unsure where to go next? Let us help by narrowing your list with a selection of must-see museums and historic sites.

A sculpture in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Photo: Clay Banks on Unsplash.

According to the data collected by Istat in 2019, there are over 4,800 museums in Italy. This number includes galleries, archaeological areas, ecomuseums, and monuments. It may not come as much of a surprise, considering the wealth of Italy’s artistic heritage. This is spread throughout the Italian territory: one municipality out of three has at least one museum.

The Ministero della Cultura published a list of the top 30 most visited Italian museums in 2019. Here’s a look at the top ten from their list:

  1. Parco archeologico del Colosseo
  2. Gallerie degli Uffizi
  3. Parco archeologico di Pompei
  4. Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze
  5. Castel Sant’Angelo
  6. Museo Egizio
  7. La Venaria Reale
  8. Reggia di Caserta
  9. Villa Adriana e Villa d’Este
  10. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Have you visited any of these well-known museums and historic sites? Are you unsure about where to go next? Let me help you by narrowing down the list to five must-see spots. I will mention galleries included in the top 30, but I will also suggest places not mentioned in the list that are well worth the visit.

1. Parco Archeologico di Pompei

Saying that there is probably no other place on earth like Pompeii is not an exaggeration. It is an open-air treasure that hasn’t even fully come to light. The tragedy of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD did, in fact, stop time and allows us to step back into the past and walk into life as it was lived by ancient Romans.

With stunning squares, theaters, thermal baths, villas, gardens, brothels — the list of marvels goes on — you will want to take your time to visit the site. The area is indeed quite sizeable, and I would say that half a day is the minimum time you should consider spending there. Either book a tour or take a good guide with you, this will help you to experience a total immersion and feel like you truly are a Pompeian strolling around your town.

Ercolano (Herculaneum), which is not far from Pompeii, is a twin site that you might want to add to your list. If you visit its website, you will also have the chance to see three-dimensional scans of the town before going there.

2. Gallerie degli Uffizi

Florence is full of galleries, churches, and museums to visit — and you should visit as many as possible — but the Uffizi Galleries are not to be missed. With the single ticket for Uffizi you will also have free admission to the National Archeological Museum and the Museum of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. The Uffizi houses a collection of absolute masterpieces by artists such as Raffaello Sanzio, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca, Giotto, Lorenzo Lotto, Tiziano, Leonardo, and many, many more.

La Primavera by Sandro Botticelli at the Uffizi Gallery. Photo: Dim 7 on Unsplash.

The Uffizi have also launched #Uffizikids, so they have designed activities and initiatives suitable for the little ones.

This gallery is also worth a digital tour. The website is well done and it contains a very rich digital archive that you can access to browse the artwork catalogue and the photographic archive. You will also find a collection of videos narrating the Uffizi Galleries and their art collections.

3. Musei Capitolini

Founded in 1471, when Pope Sixtus VI donated a group of bronze statues of great symbolic value to the people of Rome, the Musei Capitolini host a valuable and particular meaningful collection. They are located on the Capitoline Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, and they are home to the Lupa Capitolinaone of the symbols of the city of Rome — and the Equestrian Statue of Marco Aurelio.

If you are unsure whether you should visit this museum or not, you could open its website and start a virtual tour. I suggest that you give it a go, it’s like walking inside the actual buildings.

Ancient sculptures at the Musei Capitolini. Photo: Alessio Damato, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Another reason why you should think about going to the Musei Capitolini is the view of the Roman Forum that you will enjoy from the upper gallery of the Tabularium. Don’t miss out, it’s stunning.

4. Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria

After having visited Pompeii, Florence, and Rome, it is time to go to the very heart of Italy: Perugia. Here you will find the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, located in the very center of the town inside the splendid Palazzo dei Priori, which is one of the most important examples of Gothic architecture in Italy.

The museum is currently being renovated and it will reopen to the public in spring 2022. In addition to other more recent artworks, the permanent exhibition features medieval and Renaissance works by important artists including Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Gentile da Fabriano, Beato Angelico, Piero della Francesca, and Umbrian artists such as Perugino and Pinturicchio.

While you wait for the reopening of the museum, go to the page of the website titled ‘listen’ where you will see some of the artworks in the galleries combined with a musical accompaniment.

5. Galleria Nazionale delle Marche

The last gem I would like to include in the list is the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche. Its collections are displayed in a special building, the Palazzo Ducale a majestic building in the town of Urbino built for Federico da Montefeltro, whose famous portrait by Piero della Francesca that depicts him and his wife Battista Sforza is in the Uffizi Gallery. Did you know that Raffaello Sanzio was born in this town? One of his most famous and enigmatic paintings, Ritratto di gentildonna (La Muta), is kept here.

Inside the palace, you’ll also find an intimate and unique room. The Studiolo del Duca (Small Study of the Duke), a true masterpiece of marquetry.

The exquisite Studiolo del Duca. Photo: Fabrizio Garrisi, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

I hope my words have sparked your interest in these museums and historic sites. If you will visit all these places you will have covered five Italian regions: Campania, Toscana, Lazio, Umbria, and Marche. Which galleries, museums, and archaeological sites would you like to see in the future? Are my proposals already on your list?

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