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As one of the most culturally-rich and artistically-dense cities in the world, Rome has treasures waiting around every corner. From the Vatican Museums and hundreds of churches to galleries and contemporary art collections, there’s enough to keep an art aficionado busy for a lifetime. The Eternal City also incorporates its art into stunning venues where you can enjoy a drink or dine. Read our guide on how to soak in Rome’s amazing artistic heritage from morning to night.
Start your morning off with a cappuccino and pastry at Caffè Canova-Tadolini on the elegant Via del Babuino. This café and restaurant was neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova’s atelier until 1818 when he bequeathed it to Adamo Tadolini, his favorite pupil. The space was converted into a restaurant in 1967 and still houses enormous sculptures, busts, and paintings within its numerous rooms – you can explore the rooms upstairs in the morning before the lunch rush begins so make the most of the opportunity and go early.
After breakfast, walk up to Piazza del Popolo and stop by the 15th-century Santa Maria del Popolo Basilica to see masterpieces by Caravaggio, Raphael and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The Cerasi Chapel in the back of the church has two paintings by Caravaggio, Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion on the Way to Damascus, with Annibale Caracci’s Assumption of the Virgin in the center between them. Raphael’s Creation of the World – a mosaic composition – can be seen within the dome of the Chigi Chapel, along with Bernini’s sculpture of Daniel and the Lion.
From Piazza del Popolo you can climb the stairs to reach Villa Borghese and the Pincio terrace, with a beautiful vista onto the city. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the landscaped garden while you make your way to Galleria Borghese, one of Rome’s most important art galleries. Galleria Borghese contains Bernini’s best known sculptures, including The Rape of Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne and the statue of David and his slingshot. Canova’s Portrait of Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix is one of the most iconic pieces in the museum and there are a number of renowned paintings as well by Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael. You must book your tickets online in advance to reserve a time for your visit.
Enjoy lunch inside Villa Borghese at Casina Valadier, one of Rome’s most exclusive locations: you can dine on the outside terrace while soaking in gorgeous views of the city from above. Designed by the Roman architect and urban planner Giuseppe Valadier between 1816 and 1837, it is built in the neoclassical style with influences from Pompeii which you can notice in frescoes painted in its portico. The menu changes seasonally and offers a variety of mouthwatering dishes such as fusilli with pistacchio pesto, eggplant and smoked buffalo mozzarella, fried calamari with tartar sauce and roasted octopus with raspberry and almond gazpacho.
Head back down into the city and walk along the busy Via del Corso to reach Galleria Doria Pamphili, another gem full of artistic masterpieces in the city. Although the museum is right in the center of Rome, it is usually fairly empty, allowing you to truly admire the works and atmosphere of the opulent 18th-century apartments belonging to the Doria Pamphili family. Although it has hundreds of worthy paintings by masters such as Rubens and Titian, along with furniture and a number of tapestries, the real masterpiece is the Gallery of Mirrors which resembles a miniature version of Versailles.
Although ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque art rein supreme in the capital, Rome also has its share of contemporary art galleries, many of them clustered around Campo de’ Fiori. Pay a visit to Dorothy Circus Art Gallery, a unique red and black space dedicated to American Pop Surrealism, or Galleria Lorcan O’Neill and Montoro12 for rotating exhibitions by contemporary international artists.
For dinner, walk over to Prati and dine within the beautiful frescoed rooms of La Veranda, a restaurant inside the 15th-century Hotel Columbus. Paolo Sorrentino filmed some scenes of his Academy-Award winning film, La Grande Bellezza, within the space and its easy to see why: it has cross-vaulted ceilings with lunettes and frescoes by Pinturicchio, as well as mood lighting and large windows that open onto an inner courtyard. It’s a truly elegant space and a dining experience that will linger long after your trip to the Eternal City.
Few visitors know that the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapels have extraordinary nighttime visits on Friday evenings during the months of April to October. Experience the magic of one of the world’s most famous museums without the crowds and with a special after-hours atmosphere. Some of the most beautiful spaces you’ll see include the Gallery of the Candelabra, Gallery of the Tapestries, Gallery of the Geographical Maps, Raphael’s Rooms and of course, the Sistine Chapel. Tickets must be booked online in advance.