The Best Museums in Italy: 10 highlights you can’t miss

Italy is renowned for its rich artistic and cultural heritage, unparalleled in the world. Each corner of the country is steeped in incredible stories, and its numerous museums serve as windows into this extraordinary legacy. Each one narrates a unique tale, revealing the artistic and historical wonders that make Italy so unique.

Attempting to rank them is challenging, as each museum shines with its own unique features and treasures. That’s why the following list of best museums in Italy is purely based on personal preference. It features a mix of the usual suspects (excluding places like Pompeii or the Colosseum, which are archaeological sites) and some lesser-known gems to enrich your travel itineraries.

the best museums in italy

Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Let’s start with a heavyweight – the Uffizi Gallery! Home to Botticelli’s ethereal ‘Primavera’ and countless masterpieces, the Uffizi remains one of my top museum pick in Italy to this day. It’s a place where you can immerse yourself in the works of art history’s rock stars like Botticelli, Leonardo, Giotto, and Michelangelo, all in a single day.

Originally built in the 1500s, thanks to the Medici family (huge art enthusiasts, by the way), the Uffizi were originally meant for boring paperwork and court stuff. But their true calling was to become the home of some of the most beautiful paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages to modern times, with a special focus on the artistic achievement during the Renaissance.

One of my favorite pieces is Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. She was the first woman to be admitted to Florence’s illustrious Academy of the Arts of Drawing and her story is truly inspiring.

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Florence, Italy historic architecture at dawn.

Accademia Gallery, Florence

Let’s remain in Florence for another great museum, the Accademia Gallery, where you can see the colossal figure that Michelangelo sculpted from a single block of Carrara marble – the David. Two artists before him had attempted and failed to bring this marble to life, but it was Michelangelo who transformed it into a breathtaking 5-meter-tall David, celebrated for its anatomical perfection. 

Contrary to popular belief, the David is not the sole treasure of the Accademia Gallery. The museum also exhibits the artist’s fascinating unfinished statues and the preparatory model of Giambologna’s ‘The Rape of the Sabine Women,’ celebrated for its dynamic spiral structure. Additionally, it features an array of prestigious paintings by illustrious artists like Giotto, Paolo Uccello, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Filippino Lippi. 

A personal favorite of mine is a meticulously detailed panel from a wedding chest, crafted by Masaccio’s brother (the “Cassone Adimari”), which portrays a Florentine wedding procession so vividly, it nearly mirrors a photograph.

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Museum of the Treasury of San Gennaro, Naples 

The Museum of the Treasury of San Gennaro is a special destination, essential to understand a key aspect of Neapolitan culture: the deep devotion to the city’s patron saint. It houses a remarkable collection of silverware and jewelry, considered one of the world’s most precious, gifted over centuries by monarchs, Popes, and notable figures in honor of the Saint.

These pieces are not just economically valuable but also artistically significant, crafted by renowned artisans from the famous Neapolitan goldsmith school. Just to give you an idea, between the 1600s and 1800s the Neapolitan goldsmith workshops produced about 70% of Europe’s silver works!

Highlights at the museum include the gilded silver mitre, embellished with 3692 rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, and the necklace of San Gennaro, featuring large gold links with sapphire and emerald stones and enriched with jewels donated through the years, including a precious cross gifted by Napoleon’s brother. The saint’s treasure also includes contributions from ordinary citizens, like a pair of pearl earrings donated by a woman who survived the 1884 cholera epidemic.

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Egyptian Museum, Turin

And now let’s embark on an Indiana Jones-style adventure at the Egyptian Museum in Turin’s historic center, renowned as the world’s oldest museum dedicated exclusively to the art and culture of ancient Egypt. Its beginnings can be traced to a single bronze slab inscribed with hieroglyphics, acquired by Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy in 1626. Over centuries, the Savoy’s collection expanded, establishing the museum as the second most significant Egyptian repository globally, surpassed only by Cairo’s collection.

The museum boasts a collection of remarkable artifacts, including the Mummy of Gebelein, a symbol of ancient Egyptian embalming expertise, and the Book of the Dead of Iuefankh, an extensive 19-meter-long papyrus scroll, which served as a guide for the deceased through the afterlife, in accordance with ancient Egyptian funerary traditions.

Don’t miss the Gallery of Kings, a mesmerizing, a dimly lit space designed by Oscar-winning Dante Ferretti featuring magnificent statues of sphinxes, deities, and pharaohs, including the famous Tutankhamun and Ramses II. 

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Egyptian museum

Vatican Museums, Rome 

No list of best museums in Italy is complete without mentioning the Vatican Museums. Started by Pope Julius II in the 1500s, these museums have one of the world’s biggest art collections. We’re talking about 8 kilometers of hallways filled with an incredible 70,000 artworks collected by different Popes over time (yep, Popes, too, really like art!).

The big star is the Sistine Chapel, boasting over 1000 square meters of jaw-dropping frescoes. But other incredible highlights include the Tapestry Gallery, the Gallery of Maps with its beautiful 16th-century maps of Italian regions, and Raphael’s stunning frescoes in Pope Julius II’s private apartments.

Here’s a fun fact: the Sistine Chapel is Michelangelo’s crowning achievement, even though he wasn’t keen on painting it at first, favoring sculpting instead. Nevertheless, he accepted the challenge and crafted an iconic masterpiece. His approach was revolutionary, transforming the conventional image of God to a Zeus-like figure with a white beard, setting a new standard for depicting the divine.

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Famous Saint Peter's Square in Vatican and aerial view of the city, Rome, Italy.

Strada Nuova Museums, Genoa

The Strada Nuova Museums represent Genoa’s premier monumental and exhibition complex focusing on ancient art. This museum route connects three palace-museums along Via Garibaldi, the new street (hence the name “strada nuova”) established as a residential area for the city’s aristocracy in the 16th century when Geova was a maritime superpower. The three palaces – Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Doria-Tursi – were once part of the Rolli system, a catalog of the city’s most prestigious buildings that were used to accommodate distinguished visitors in 16th-century Genoa – a unique model of public hospitality that became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. 

Inside these palaces, you’ll find opulent salons adorned with frescoes and masterpieces by renowned artists such as Caravaggio, Guercino, Rubens, and Van Dyck. The interiors also feature period furnishings and secret gardens, offering a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of Genoa’s past aristocracy. A highlight not to be missed is the Miradore atop Palazzo Rosso, providing spectacular city views. 

Each year, during the Rolli Days, additional sites pertaining to the Rolli lists, usually closed to the public, are opened. Keep an eye on the official website for these special events.

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The Doge’s Palace, Venice

Speaking of maritime superpowers, it’s impossible not to mention Venice, whose historical and cultural sites rightfully deserves a distinguished spot among the best museums in Italy. Selecting just one site was pretty challenging, but ultimately, I have chosen the Doge’s Palace, the symbol of the power and splendor of the Serenissima.

Constructed in the 9th century, the Ducal Palace initially served as the residence of the doge (Venice’s chief magistrate) and the administrative epicenter of the Venetian Republic. This imposing Gothic building has seen numerous expansions and refurbishments throughout its history. It’s halls are a celebration of Venice’s glorious past, boasting invaluable masterpieces by the likes of Titian, Tiepolo, Veronese, and Tintoretto.

Visiting the Doge’s Palace also offers the unique opportunity to traverse the iconic Bridge of Sighs, which leads to the ancient prisons. These cells once confined many notable figures, including the famous Casanova, renowned for his audacious escape.

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doge's palace

National Museum of Science and Technology, Milan

For curious minds and science buffs, Milan’s National Museum of Science and Technology is a great destination to explore the marvels of human scientific and technological achievements And even if you’re not a science geek, trust me, the museum’s collection will mesmerise you – think rare trains, submarines, space stations, and much more!

Established in 1953 within a 16th-century monastery, it stands as Italy’s largest museum dedicated to science and technology and ranks among the world’s most important ones. It’s appropriately named after the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci, and, as a nod to his genius, features a dedicated section showcasing his revolutionary inventions. And here’s a fun fact: it’s the proud home to the only lunar fragment in Italy!

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Portrait of a happy mom with her young kids visiting together a science museum. Concept of children's education and entertainment

Palazzo Te, Mantua 

The palace of the Gonzaga family in Mantua houses one of the most incredible works I have ever seen: the “Fresco of the Giants” by Giulio Romano, a student of Raphael, which is considered a pivotal piece of Italian artistic heritage.

Trust me, this isn’t just another fresco in a historical palace. Here, Giulio Romano masterfully employs perspective illusionism to break free from the room’s physical limits, plunging us straight into the heart of an epic scene. The fresco depicts an episode straight out of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where Jupiter punishes the giants for their bold attempt to overthrow the gods and seize control of Olympus.

Imagine walking into the room and finding yourself in the midst of tumbling mountains, crumbling palaces, and giants crushed by stones and columns. It’s like stepping into a 3D movie, with every detail jumping out at you. A sensation perfectly described by Vasari when he wrote that “whoever enters that room, cannot help but fear that everything will collapse on them.”

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National Museum of Cinema, Turin

Another top museum in Italy, and a personal favorite of mine, is the National Museum of Cinema in Turin. Unique in Italy and among the world’s most significant due to its rich collection, it offers a comprehensive journey through the history of cinema, spanning from the early days of shadow theater to the cutting-edge special effects of modern times.

The idea for a museum dedicated to cinema came to Maria Adriana Prolo, a famous cinema historian, in 1941. Today, the museum houses an impressive array of rare photographs, vintage posters, advertising materials, filmmaking equipment, iconic costumes, and original set pieces like the original Darth Vader helmet and the menacing shark head from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.” 

The National Museum of Cinema is located in the Mole Antonelliana, the symbol of of Turin, where you can can ascend to a panoramic terrace via a transparent crystal elevator.

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Turin panoramic view; winter clear day; Italy, Europe
The Best Museums in Italy: 10 highlights you can’t miss

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