Museums are more than just reliquaries of ancient artifacts. They are places of inspiration that enrich the cultures in which they reside and all the visitors who pass through their doors. Though the primary role of most museums is to engage and educate, the truly excellent ones do it in such a way that the visitors are having too much fun, and are too interested in the exhibits around them, to notice.
At Cabeau, we believe that great travel adventures are like museums in that they can open minds and hearts and change people forever. Our aim at Cabeau is to make travel better, so take a look at our list of the best museums in the world, bring along some of our comfy travel products, and let your soul be touched by all that humanity has to offer.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
To explore over 5,000 years of art from around the world, you are going to need to plan (and wear comfy shoes!). Fortunately, you can visit this museum as many times as you want, even if you are on a strict budget, with its wallet-friendly pay-as-you-can policy. Some of the highlights include:
- cultural artifacts
- 1st-floor ancient Egypt collection (do not miss the Temple of Dendur) was relocated in its entirety from Egypt in 1978
- European masterworks from 13th-20th centuries
- 15 rooms of Islamic art and artifacts
- The American Wing features masterpieces from US history
- Special brochures and maps for kids; children love the artifact-rich Egyptian, African and Oceanic galleries, as well as the medieval armor and weaponry
- If you’re there in April-October, be sure to check out the gorgeous roof garden and its always-changing sculpture installations
- Free smartphone app and self-guided tours in 10 languages
- A fantastic museum store where you can find jewelry, sculpture, apparel, exhibition catalogues, wall art, and stationery
Musée D’Orsay, Paris
While not as well known as the Louvre, the Musée D’Orsay is impressive in its own right and deserving of a spot on our list of the best museums in the world, especially the building in which it’s housed. The structure, an old train station, is stunning with its giant clock face on the 5th floor with an amazing view of La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre and its massive paned windows which let in so much natural light that electricity is not needed in the main hall. With its rich collection of impressionist art, the main focus of this museum is Western art from 1848-1914.
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art, Cape Town, South Africa
This must-see museum has only had its doors open for three months! Yet it’s well deserving of being included in the best museums in the world for its design alone. Housed in 42 108-foot high originally-windowless concrete grain silos on the waterfront, this impressive structure was repurposed as some of the highest quality exhibition space in the world. Other impressive characteristics include:
- It’s the world’s largest museum of contemporary (21st centuries) African art – cutting-edge art from Africa and the diaspora (from Angola to Zimbabwe and across the oceans to the UK, US and France)
- Over 100 galleries spread over 9 floors, a rooftop sculpture garden, state-of-the art conservation area, restaurant, bar and reading rooms
- Centres for Art Education, Curatorial Excellence, Performative Practice, Photography, the Moving Image and the Costume Institute
- Lots of special events and temporary exhibitions
- Free admission for those under 18
Museo Nacional Del Prado, Madrid
Representative of Spain’s tumultuous past, with the most comprehensive collection of Spanish paintings in the world, the Museo Nacional is the crown jewel of the Paseo Del Arte (Art Walk) in Madrid. With more than 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures, you will want to make a couple visits to this overwhelming institution. Make time to check out:
- Sophisticated works of art from all across Europe
- The western wing built in 1785 was the neoclassical Palacio de Villanueva before Napoleon used it as cavalry barracks, then King Fernando VII’s wife, Isabella of Braganza, pushed him to turn it into a museum in 1814 and it opened to the public five years later
- The many famous works by Goya and Velázquez
- Its outstanding collection of Flemish art
- The modern eastern wing which opened in 2007 is dedicated to temporary exhibitions, home to restoration workshops, an excellent bookshop and cafe, and 2nd-floor cloisters which were originally built in 1672 with local granite
When people think of the best museum in the world, the Louvre is usually at the top of the list. And for good reason. It’s a four-floor palace showcasing 35,000 works of art from Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece to masterpieces from the west such as da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rembrandt. When you visit, you will be doing a LOT of walking, so wear very comfortable shoes and our Bamboo Compression Socks™ to keep your legs happy and healthy!
- You must plan before you go; it would take nine months to see everything
- In the 12th century, the Palais du Louvre was a medieval fortress and it was rebuilt during the Renaissance as the royal residence then turned into a museum in 1793
- It’s raison d’être is to present Western art from Middle Ages to 1848, as well as from ancient civilizations that formed the West’s foundations
- The sheer size is overwhelming, but offers a wide array of innovative, entertaining, self-guided thematic trails from 1 ½ to 3 hours, as well as several for kids
- It also has self-paced multimedia guides and inexpensive guided tours
- Its most famous piece is Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – but the Louvre also has Rembrandt’s greatest nude Bathsheba at Her Bath, the apartments of Napoleon III, Da Vinci’s Virgin and Child with St. Anne, the Venus de Milo, and the Winged Bulls from Mesopotamia (c 700BC)
State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia
Housed in five buildings, including the Winter Palace, this stately museum contains over 2.7 million exhibits–some of the world’s greatest works of art–and offers a exhaustive history of Western European art. Started by Catherine the Great from her personal collection, Nicholas I added many pieces and opened it to the public in 1852. In 1948 two well-known Moscow industrialists, Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, added their impressive post-impressionist and impressionist painting.
When you go, be sure to visit the vaults in the Hermitage Storage Facility and the Imperial Porcelain factory in the south of the city (included in the ticket price). You can also find a wide array of temporary exhibits throughout the year, such as the current one, “In the Land of Dilmum Where the Sun Rises…”, highlighting archaeological treasures from the Bahrain National Museum 3rd-1st millennia BC (Dec. 6, 2017 – March 11, 2018).
Acropolis Museum, Athens
Also relatively new, having only opened in 2007, the Acropolis Museum has quickly risen to the top of the list of the best museums in the world, and is a must-see museum no matter how far you have to travel to get here!
- The permanent collection covers Archaic and Roman periods, but the emphasis is on the Acropolis of the 5th century BC
- The innovative architecture of the museum reveals layers of history as you travel up its interior slopes
- The crowning glory is the top-floor Parthenon Gallery, the 160m-long frieze positioned at eye level for the best viewing – the missing pieces (which Lord Elgin hacked off in 1801 and sold to the British Museum) are replicated in stark white which offers a nice contrast to the golden-hued originals next to them
- On Friday nights, come enjoy Jazz at the museum restaurant
- Take the kids to see the Acropolis in Legos
- Enjoy gallery talks – “A walk through the museum with an archaeologist”
- Check out the special temporary exhibits such as the “Treasures from the Shanghai Museum” (until Apr. 30, 2018)
- Archaeologist-Hosts can accompany visitors on their personal journey through the ancient and modern worlds
- Archaic Acropolis Gallery visitors can look at and handle materials, tools, experiments and imitations of ancient works of art
- The museum is great for children – EU-resident kids are free and every Saturday morning in the reading lounge parents and kids can browse through children’s books about ancient Greece with an Archaeologist-Host
- During excavation for the new museum, an ancient Athenian neighborhood was discovered on the spot of construction, so it was artfully incorporated into the design – now visitors walk over a plexiglass floor and can look down on the neighborhood from above
British Museum, London
The largest museum in England is free to everyone and has a truly impressive collection of Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman, European and Middle Eastern art and artifacts. Its most famous piece, however, is probably the Rosetta Stone, which was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Also impressive is the architecture: the Great Court has at its center the Reading room with its blue-and-gold papier mâché dome and is where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital. Mahatma Gandhi was also a member. You can enjoy free 45-minute lunchtime gallery talks, or take one of the 15 different 30- to 40-minute guided tours of specific galleries.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
A hometown favorite, the National Gallery in D.C. is easily one of the best museums in the world with its vast collection spanning the Middles Ages to the present and its stunning National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden opened in 1999. And with free admission, free audio tours, free films and lectures, and lots of activities and programs for kids, it’s a fantastic museum for families or art connoisseurs alike. Some other features include:
- The east building designed by IM Pei which houses modern art works by Picasso, Matisse and Pollock
- The museum was originally given to the people of the US by Andrew W. Mellon, a financier and art collector from Pittsburgh who became secretary of the treasury in 1921, but he did not want his name on the museum so that other philanthropists would also step up to donate impressive collections
- The galleries are decorated according to pieces on display (for ex., the Italian Renaissance galleries have Italian travertine wainscot and hand-finished plaster walls)
- The six-acre sculpture garden has a circular reflecting pool and a fountain which becomes an ice-skating rink in winter
Visit A Museum Today
Museums are great community spaces to gather and explore. We hope our list of the best museums in the world has inspired you to plan a trip to one, or all, of them, and many more (there are so many excellent museums in the world, more than we could write about here!!).