UNESCO claims that there are nearly 95,000 museums in the world dedicated to everything from art and culture to torture devices. There’s no way you can visit them all in a lifetime, but it’s more than possible to only visit the absolute best ones.
Our guide on the best museums in the world includes the most important and most visited museums from countries all over the planet. The focus here is on history and art museums, so I’m sorry to disappoint you were hoping for something weird and freaky.
Musée d’Orsay was voted as the best museum in the entire world, so it’s only appropriate that it’s first on our list. The Parisian museum sits on the left bank of the Seine, in the former Gare d’Orsay. It holds mostly French art from 1848-1914, including the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist pieces anywhere in the world. The fact that this museum gets rated as the top museum in the world with a collection that spans only some six decades speaks a lot about the importance of artwork it holds and how famous it is.
Artworks in this museum include paintings from Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Degas and many other world famous French artists. This is one of the largest art museums in the world, and yet it doesn’t get even half the visitors the Louvre does! Other exhibits in Musée d’Orsay include famous sculptures, photographs, decorative arts and works of architecture.
MoMA is a modern art museum in Midtown Manhattan, but its influence reaches far across that island. It is considered to be one of the most important and influential art museums in the world, due to its role in the collection and development of modern art.
The art collection in MoMA includes paintings, photographs, sculptures, illustrated books, film, works of architecture and even electronic media. The Manhattan museum holds some of the most famous works of art ever like the Campbell’s Soup Cans by Warhol, Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, Monet’s Water Lilies, Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and so on. And mind you, those are just some famous pieces among hundreds of thousands of works of art in this museum.
There is also another Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, it’s one of California’s best museums!
The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world, as well as the most iconic monument in Paris. It’s best known for the glass pyramid exterior, but also for the fact that it’s been the home of the Mona Lisa for more than two centuries.
But Mona Lisa is just one of the tens of thousands of works of art in the Louvre. Other prominent works of art in the Parisian museum include Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana, Venus of Milo statue, Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave and thousands of others.
The Louvre is the most visited museum in the world with more than 9 million visitors annually. But what many of them don’t know is that it’s physically not possible to explore the entire museum in just one visit! For one, you will queue for at least a couple of hours just to get inside, and from there it would take you 100 days to see everything, even if you only dedicated 30 seconds to each work of art!
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is more widely known as just The Met, and it’s world famous for The Met Gala – a charity event that pairs the world’s biggest celebrities with the most famous fashion designers.
The Met is also the largest art museum in the States and the fourth most visited art museum in the world, counting nearly 6.5 million visitors in 2019. It boasts a vast permanent collection featuring works of art from ancient Egypt and classical antiquity, as well as a huge collection of modern and American art. There’s also quite a lot of art from Asian, Byzantine and Islamic cultures, as well unique weapons and armor from all over the world.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has three buildings in different parts of New York – on Fifth Avenue, on Madison Avenue and one on the eastern edge of Central Park.
The Prado Museum is the most important Spanish museum. It’s located in Madrid and it’s a must-visit if you’re ever in this beautiful city. This museum has one of the finest collections of European art in the world, including works from Goya, Rubens, El Greco, Bosch and Velázquez. And those are just the headliners – Prado’s collection includes more than 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures and about 13,000 drawings and prints.
Prado Museum holds the best collection of Spanish art anywhere, so it makes sense that it’s also the most important museum in all of Spain. But the most famous Spanish works of art are unfortunately not in the Prado Museum – works of Picasso and Dali are instead in the Queen Sofia National Museum Art Center, which is entirely dedicated to 20th century art.
The Dali Theatre and Museum is dedicated to Salvador Dali and it boasts the largest collection of his works in the world. It is located in Dali’s hometown of Figueres, and the famous artist himself worked on the building design. On top of all that, Salvador Dali is buried in a crypt underneath this museum.
Apart from some of Dali’s most famous works, this museum also features a collection of jewelry he designed, as well as some anamorphic art and optical illusions created by the artist. The gallery on the second floor is entirely devoted to the works of Antoni Pitxot, as per Salvador Dali’s request. Pitxot was his close personal friend and went on to become the director of this museum after Dali’s death.
The National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC is one of the museums administered by the Smithsonian Institution, and it’s among the most popular museums in the States with over 6 million visitors annually. This museum has a collection of more than 145 million different specimens of plants, fossils, minerals, human remains, cultural artifacts, etc., which is in fact the largest national history collection in the world.
The exhibitions are separated into different halls, and they include everything from a hall of paleobiology (dinosaurs!) to an insect zoo. There’s also a Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals where you can see the actual Hope Diamond and the Star of Asia sapphire. The dinosaurs hall includes fossilized skeletons and cast models of the extinct species, with an actual Tyrannosaurus rex fossil skeleton!
Anne Frank House is one of the most fascinating museums in the world. It is the actual house where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis during WWII, and you can even see the hiding place she writes about in her diary. The museum opened in 1960 and most of the items in the house were kept just as they were while Anne Frank was there.
The museum is close to Westerkerk in central Amsterdam and it’s a must if you’re even remotely interested in history. You can see the original diary Anne Frank got for her 13th birthday, as well as the photos she put up on the wall. In fact, all throughout the museums, there are still traces of personal items from all the people who hid there during the war.
The War Remnants Museum is the most popular museum in Vietnam with about 500,000 visitors every year. Two-thirds of those are foreigners, which says a lot. The museum features exhibits on the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War, which were of great importance for this region.
This museum consists of multiple themed rooms across several buildings and a walled yard with military equipment. There’s everything from Huey helicopters to Dragonfly attack bombers in the yard, and it’s definitely an interesting sight. Inside the rooms you can see all sorts of relics from the war, ranging from old canteens worn by soldiers to a guillotine. There’s even a display of anti-war artwork, as well as a graphic depiction of alleged conditions in some South Vietnamese prisons.
The British Museum in London is the most popular museum in all of the UK with more than 6 million visitors annually. It is dedicated to art, history, and culture, and it has one of the finest collections of artifacts from all over the world. Back in the day, it was the first ever public national museum to open in the world. And it actually had to be relocated, since its collection got so big that there was simply not enough room in the original building.
There are ten different departments in the museum that have collections on everything from ancient Aztec masks to Roman gladiator helmets. The British Museum features artifacts from all over the world, some of which are actually controversial like the Rosetta Stone of Egypt and Elgin Marbles. This is without a doubt one of the most impressive museums you will ever visit.
The Museum of Illusions is a wonderful and unique place, that is just a little bit famous in Croatia. It started off as a small Zagreb museum, and nowadays it’s a global franchise with branches in New York, Los Angeles, Dubai, Athens, Istanbul, Hamburg, Kuala Lumpur etc.
The exhibits in this museum include optical illusions that can take you anywhere from a minute to an hour to figure out. There are also lots of interactive exhibits that allow you to take uniquely weird photos like you hanging upside down from a ceiling or sticking out from a cooking pan.
None of the different museums throughout the world are identical. Each one features something unique to the culture of that city, so if you’ve already visited MoI in one country, don’t hesitate to go again in a different place.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum documents the bombing of Hiroshima in WWII. The museum is located in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which is entirely dedicated to the victims of the horrific event. It averages about a million visitors per year, and that’s quite a lot for a museum that’s centered around one specific event.
The exhibits in the museum are themed and are meant to be viewed in a certain order. It’s best to start with the Hiroshima History that depicts the state of the city before the bomb, as well as the lives of residents. From there, you can see exactly the scope of the damage from the bomb, with reconstructions of physical damage on people and buildings that were affected by the explosion. There’s also clothing and other personal items from victims of the bomb, as well as an entire exhibit called Dangers of Nuclear Weapons.
The Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore is one of the best and most important museums in the world with a focus on pan-Asian cultures and civilizations. The collection of this museum includes exhibits on the history of China, South Asia, Southeast Asia and West Asia. The many ethnic groups of Singapore can trace their ancestor to this region, hence the museum’s importance.
Notable exhibits include Buddhist art of India, temple art of Vietnam, and a vast collection of Peranakan gold, textiles, theatrical masks and tribal ornaments. Additionally, this museum has a permanent gallery that holds cargo recovered from the Belitung (Tang) shipwreck, and that includes more than 60,000 ceramic artifacts from the Tang dynasty!
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland is located exactly where the concentration camp used to be, which is enough to give you chills. A visit to this museum is bound to be an emotional experience, especially with the type of artifacts found in the museum. Also, it’s going to be a long visit – guided tours take about three hours, due to the sheer size of the grounds.
Much of the original concentration camp is preserved, so you can see rooms where the prisoners slept as well as just mounds of personal belongings of people who where executed here. Perhaps the most emotional sight of them all is the literal mound of shoes from the victims, which does a really good job at illustrating just how many people had the bad fortune of spending the last days of their life in this camp.
If I were to list all the amazing museums in the world, you’d be stuck reading this guide for a few days at least. So, here are the others that just didn’t make the cut, but are without a doubt work your time and attention if you get the opportunity to visit them:
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.