Italy is one of the most popular countries in the world for vacationers, rich in history and crammed with sites of natural beauty. The country’s long and diverse history has been preserved in fascinating archeological sites, from Greek temples in Sicily, to Etruscan necropoli and ancient Roman ruins. In Italy you also find some of the world’s oldest churches, and architectural masterpieces like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Florence Cathedral.

Unsurprisingly it’s home to some of the world’s most famous museums and art collections too. So here’s our top picks for the best museum in Italy to visit on your next visit to the bel paese.

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Best museums in Italy, the Ultimate Guide

1. Vatican Museums, Rome

Pope Julius II started the Vatican museum complex in 1506, when he purchased the ancient Greek statue Laocoön and His Sons. Today the complex includes the Sistine Chapel, Pius-Clementine Museum, the Museums of Classical Antiquities as well as 23 others. The Collection of Contemporary Art boasts works by Dali, Burri, Chagall, van Gogh, and Matisse. 

Of course, the Sistine Chapel is the most famous, thanks to Michelangelo’s awe-inspiring frescoes in the 1500s. Another highlight are the Raphael Rooms that were part of the apartment of Pope Julius II, redecorated at the beginning of the 16th century.

=> Before you head off to the Vatican Museums, drop off your luggage and extra bags at a nearby Rome luggage storage locker for safekeeping. 

best museums in italy
Sistine Chapel, Vastican Museums, Rome – Image by Waldo Miguez from Pixabay

2. Guggenheim Collection, Venice

The Guggenheim art museum in Venice on the Grand Canal is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Venice and one of the best museums in Italy. Located in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni – that was once the home of Peggy Guggenheim – it’s now a huge collection of stunning artworks, artefacts and furniture.

The collection includes works of abstract expressionism, surrealism, and cubism to name but a few. Sad Young Man on a Train by Duchamp, Birth of Liquid Desires from Dali, Picasso’s The Poet and The Moon Woman by Pollock are a few of the most famous pieces.

3. Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Established in 1581, the Uffizi Gallery is another unmissable stop for any art fan. Located next to Piazza della Signoria in the historic center of Florence, it’s considered to be one of Italy’s most important museums and is one of the most visited. Most of the works are Italian Renaissance

The Uffizi started its life as the Medici family’s private art collections. Some of the most important artworks at the Uffizi include The Holy Family by Michelangelo, The Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi by da Vinci, Botticelli’s “Venus” and Madonna of the Goldfinch by Raphael. 

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Uffizi Gallery, Florence – Image by dalibro from Pixabay

4. National Archeological Museum, Naples

Built in 1585, the building that today hosts the National Archaeological Museum in Naples was originally a barracks for the cavalry. It’s one of the world’s most important museums for ancient Roman art and artefacts. The highlights are from the Farnese Collection, which includes the famous ‘Farnese Marbles’, ancient sculptures such as Hercules, Atlas, and Aphrodite Kallipygos.

Other important works of art are Roman bronzes from the Villa of the Papyri including Thespis, Drunken Satyr, and Seated Hermes. The extensive Mosaic Collection includes the Alexander Mosaic from 100 BC and others recovered from Pompeii. The Egyptian Collection features 2,500 items including the Old Kingdom from 2700-2200 BC.

5. Egyptian Museum, Turin

The Museo Egizio in Turin features a vast number of Egyptian antiquities. Boasting over 30,000 artefacts, it is the largest collection after the Egyptian Museum of Cairo. If you’re a fan of the Egyptians, this is definitely one of the top museums in Italy to visit.

The first nucleus of the museum are the collections brought back from Egypt by botanist Vitaliano Donati. In 1753 he traveled to Egypt and came back with more than 300 items recovered from Coptos and Karnak. Another 5,268 pieces (statues, mummies, papyri) were acquired by King Charles Felix in 1824. Some important items include the Sarcophagus of Ibi, Statue of Seti, Papyrus, and the Sphinx

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Egyptian Museum, Turin – photo: Wikipedia by Gianni Careddu

6. Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi

Saint Francis was born in Assisi – in central Italy – and the splendid Basilica of Saint Francis, dedicated to him, is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The building began in 1228 and comprises two churches known as Lower and Upper Church. It’s decorated with a stunning series of frescoes done by late Medieval artists like Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini.

The architecture is a synthesis of Gothic and Romanesque, and in the interior the frescoes are the main decorative motifs, the main way to convey the Church’s message. Saint Francis is buried in the crypt, making this church one of Italy’s most important places for religious pilgrimage.

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Basilica of Saint Francis, Assisi – photo: Wikipedia by Starlight

7. Leonardo’s Last Supper, Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

One of the most well-known and revered paintings in the world, The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci was completed in the 1490s. It represents the last supper of Jesus with his 12 Apostles, specifically the moment when he announces that he’s been betrayed. This mural painting can be viewed in the refectory of the Church of Holy Mary of Grace where it was originally painted. 

A curious fact about the technique used => Leonardo painted mostly with oils but when he did this painting, he did so on a wall sealed with mastic, pitch, and gesso. Then, he added an undercoat of white lead to make the tempera and oil colours brighter.

The south wall of the refectory shows the fresco ‘Crucifixion’ by Donato da Montorfano (1495).

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leonardo da vinci events 2019
‘Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci – photo Wikipedia

8. National Gallery of Umbria, one of the Best Museums in Italy

One of Italy’s leading art collections is found on the upper floors of the Palazzo dei Priori in Perugia. The large collection takes up two full floors of this beautiful Gothic building. This includes 40 rooms for the permanent collections and a space for temporary exhibits.

The works are presented in chronological order, starting with Medieval and Renaissance sculptures and paintings from masters such as Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Fra Angelico, Benozzo Gozzoli, Piero della Francesca. The first floor boasts items from the 13th through the 15th centuries and the second floor has works from the 16th century to the 1800s. 

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While you are in Italy, try some of the local foods. Italian food is not all about spaghetti and pizza. Every region has its own specialities. Fiorentina steak, polenta, osso buco (veal shank), risotti, a variety of fish dishes, cheese and truffles, to mention a few. One last reccomendation. don’t miss the wine. Italy is the world’s leading wine producer.

Title photo: pixabay by rainhard2