As curious travelers and lovers of learning, it’s an understatement to say that we appreciate a good museum. From the Met to the Vatican Museums, we are in awe of these lauded institutions that draw knowledge seekers from every corner of the globe. Here, we’ve compiled a list of the best and most visited museums in the world, but know that these aren’t necessarily in any particular order. All of these grand cultural houses are equally deserving of an adventure through their information-laded walls.
The Louvre will likely be on any listicle involving the best museums in the world. Purposefully deceiving in its grandeur, the glass pyramid outside does not fully showcase the vast, world-renowned collections underground. People from all over the world gather in this huge institution to feast their eyes upon over 38,000 pieces, including statues, reliefs, prints, diamonds, and so much more. At 782,910 square feet, this magnificent museum has enough objects and exhibits in its halls for you to make multiple visits.
Right after the Louvre, the State Hermitage Museum is the second largest museum in the world. It comprises five beautifully adorned interconnected buildings, spanning over 719,480 square feet. Human history is carefully preserved in its over three million artifacts spanning from the Stone Age to the present. Famous paintings to see here include masterpieces by Ruben, Rembrandt, and da Vinci, which are all housed in the main part of the museum in the Winter Palace.
If you’re interested in learning more about the amazing objects at the State Hermitage Museum, you can see them online with our expert Vadim Malinovsky, and in-person on our State Hermitage Museum Tour.
No “best museum” list is complete without the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Met certainly needs the 633,100 square feet of space it occupies to house its two million objects. It’s the largest museum in the United States and the fourth largest in the world and is most known for its ancient Egyptian artifacts, famous American art pieces from the likes of Pollock and Rothko, and European classics as well.
The first national public museum in the world, the British Museum was established in 1753 and houses over eight million artifacts from two million years of human history and culture. From Stonehenge to the ancient civilizations of China, discover untold stories of people that have lived long before us. At 277,00 square feet, there’s much to delve into here at the history-rich British Museum. Be sure to visit the highly popular Egyptian gallery where you’ll get a chance to see the Rosetta Stone.
We’d be remiss not to mention the other huge museums in the UK — the Tate Modern, the National Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Get to know the others with us virtually or in the museum itself:
The Musée d’Orsay is known for its massive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. Its many prestigious works include those of Manet, Morisot, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Ingres, Cassatt, Gauguin, and so many more. European art history thrives in this busy museum that hosts around three million visitors every year. What’s more, the building itself mirrors the marvelous paintings inside in its artistic curation. Musée d’Orsay was built in the former Orsay railway station for the Universal Exhibition of 1900.
Art lovers everywhere appreciate the Art Institute of Chicago’s famed masterpieces, spanning over centuries and centuries. The Musée d’Orsay isn’t the only place you can find world-renowned impressionist pieces — find Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Claude Monet’s A Child’s Bath, and other acclaimed paintings here. Other works of note include Grant Wood’s American Gothic, the Art Institute's wonderful collection of Japanese art, and a highlight on Chicago artists.
For an in-depth look at the Art Institute of Chicago, come join us on our in-person tour.
And while we’re in the U.S., it’s worth mentioning the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art located in Washington, D.C. where you’ll run into familiar masterpieces and discover new favorites too. Explore today:
First founded by Pope Julius II in 1506, the Vatican Museums exhibit collections that the papacy and Catholic Church have accumulated for centuries. Aside from Michaelangelo’s breathtaking biblical scenes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, other artistic highlights include Renaissance paintings and sculptures, a collection of modern religious art, and a unique series of portraits of the pope through the ages.
The sheer history contained within the Vatican Museums can be difficult to digest. Dive into what you need to know with an expert online in our Vatican City seminar, or get to know the museum inside and out in person on our walking tour.
Also on the list of the most visited museums, and one of the largest museums in Spain, the historic Prado Museum was first established in 1785 in order to house the Natural History Cabinet under the orders of Charles III. Soon after, King Ferdinand VII transformed the space into the Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures. The royal history of the beautiful building will come as no surprise as you admire the grandiose rooms. The many famous Spanish artists that you’ll find in the Prado include Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, El Greco, and more.
Be sure to check out Goya’s extraordinary Black Paintings housed in the lower part of the museum as well.
Join us on an in-depth museum tour of the Prado in Madrid!
The Rijksmuseum was established in 1800 as the Nationale Kunstgalerij. After Louis Bonaparte took the throne, the museum moved to Amsterdam where it continues to garner the attention of art fans and tourists from all over the world who want to stare in awe at its collection of over one million. Find Vermeer, Rembrandt, and one of the museum’s first and most renowned pieces, The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn.
See more Dutch history and art in action in Context’s seminars and in-person tours in Amsterdam:
Van Gogh Museum:
Any art history aficionado will have to visit the Uffizi Gallery at one point in their life. Renaissance draws like Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Caravaggio’s Medusa, and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunciation make this museum in the birthplace of art itself enticing indeed.
Experience the museum’s celebrated works of art online or in-person with Context:
If the Uffizi doesn’t satisfy your Renaissance appetite, we have plenty of other options for you in Rome. The Borghese Gallery contains some of the best sculptures and paintings throughout history. Bernini’s marble David, Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath, and Raphael’s Young Woman with a Unicorn are just some of the great masterpieces you can find here.
Learn more about the collections at the Borghese with Context:
The American Museum of Natural History in New York celebrates its 150 year anniversary, serving the scientific community and beyond with its state-of-the-art exhibits, interactive displays, and incredible collections. This one is especially great to bring the kids to. Children and adults alike will love gazing up at huge prehistoric animals and learning about the wealth of biodiversity that exists on this planet. The museum also has an impressive space section equipped with a planetarium that is worth a visit.
You’re in luck! We’ve got an in-person tour of the American Museum of Natural History that is specifically tailored for kids to enjoy. Our experts come with engaging activities to amaze the whole family with the museum’s treasures.
The well-traveled, curiosity-hungry adventurer stops for a jaunt at a museum, or even flies, boats, trains to gaze upon the masterpieces, sculptures, exhibits that history has made immortal. We love a good museum and all the relics and ancient objects that it stores, so we’ve made it even easier for you to access them. Whether online or in-person, we’ve got the museum excursion for you.
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Weekly stories to bring context to your world and to your inbox