Capitoline Museums – Set around the stately Piazza Campidoglio, designed to drawings by Michelangelo, the Capitoline Museums are the oldest public collection in the world, started in 1471 with a group of ancient bronzes. Perhaps the main attraction, at least since it was moved inside in the mid-90’s, is the bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, a copy of which now sits outside in the piazza.
Castel Sant’Angelo – Looming menacingly above the Tiber, this former mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian was turned into a stronghold for the Popes in the Middle Ages. Today it houses a museum with a small permanent collection and exhibition halls that change a few times throughout the year. It’s a personal favorite for nighttime openings when you can enjoy a cocktail while watching the sun set behind the dome of St. Peter’s.
Galleria Borghese – Often considered the finest small collection in the world, the gallery holds some of Bernini’s finest early statues, as well as paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian, just to name a few. The building itself is a work of art, designed for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, as a party villa on the outskirts of the city.
Palazzo Barberini – Known as the National Gallery of Antique Art, the palace was worked on by the three great masters of the Baroque era in Rome – Carlo Maderno, Gianlorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini. The grand salon, on the main floor, was decorated by Pietro da Cortona with one of the most breathtaking frescoes in the city. The intimate rooms of the palace make the perfect setting to take in other works, such as Raphael’s “La Fornarina” (rumored to be his mistress) and Caravaggio’s particularly gruesome “Judith beheading Holofernes”.
Vatican Museums – The premier collection of ancient sculpture in the world and home to the greatest works of the masters of the Early and High Renaissance. Don’t miss the Raphael Rooms, once private Papal apartments, just before heading to the Sistine Chapel. It’s well worth paying the extra 4€ and reserving your tickets online so you can skip the line. If you go in the afternoon, around 2 or 3pm, the crowds are considerably less than the morning.