In this section we list a short selection of top museums showcasing art, science and archaeological booty. There are many more we enjoy; these are the places worth a special trip to see. Historical museums (old palaces, prisons, towers, preserved towns, etc.) will be listed separately.AFRICA
AUSTRALIA AND OCEANIA
Egyptian Museum – Astonishing in the quality, depth and breadth of Egyptian antiquities from thousands of years BC to the Graeco-Roman era. The solemn mummy room and opulent treasures of King Tut are only a sample of the features of this fabulous collection. http://www.egyptianmuseum.gov.eg/
National Museum – We were fortunate to have the opportunity to catch the National Museum during our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam since we’d missed it on our first visit to Bangkok. We started with an exploration of the country’s history then delved into the stunning collection of art and objects. http://www.bangkoksite.com/NationalMuseum/index.htm
Royal Barges National Museum – The boat ride to the museum is pleasant and the barges are gorgeous. It’s a small museum but a must-see.
Ha Noi, Vietnam
Museum of Ethnology – Excellent, extensive collection of artifacts, including clothing and implements, from ethnic minority groups in Vietnam. A highlight of our trip. http://www.kit.nl/frameset.asp?/objectid/html/ethnology_museum.asp&frnr=1&
Shanxi Provincial Museum – Along with the Qin Shi Huang-Di’s incredible terra cotta army, this museum is worth a visit to Xian for its remarkable collection of Chinese antiquities.
Sydney, NSW, Australia
Powerhouse Museum – This aptly named museum was one of our favorites down under. It houses an extensive collection of objects in the areas of science & technology, decorative arts & design and Australian history and society. Great for both kids and adults. http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/home.asp
Auckland War Memorial Museum - We were particularly thrilled with the Maori art and artifacts, including buildings and an amazing war canoe, though there is much more to see as well. http://www.akmuseum.org.nz
The Louvre – Anyone who doesn’t know how extraordinary the Louvre is, probably isn’t very interested in art in the first place and doesn’t need the recommendation. If it’s your first visit, the Mona Lisa is much smaller than you’ve probably imagined and the crowds around it are humongous, so it’s tough to get close enough to appreciate the details. If you visit the museum in the morning, buy tickets in advance (on-line, at venues listed on the web site, or if you intend to visit a lot of museums, get a museum pass), get there before it opens, enter by one of the less crowded ports (i.e. not the Pyramid) and head immediately to see the Mona Lisa before the crowds gather, then you’ll have time to leisurely view the rest of the masterpieces. Don’t overlook Michelangelo’s Slaves. Otherwise, you might want to try visiting during the evening hours on the days that the museum stays open late. Unless you really need to economize, try to avoid the first Sunday of the month when museum admission is free, as it is very crowded then. http://www.louvre.fr/louvrea.htm
Musee d’Orsay – Even if you’re not as crazy about art as we are, you must visit this jewel of a museum, occupying the former Gare D’Orsay (train depot). The building is so beautiful it might distract you from the fantastic collection. If you go in the morning, get there when it opens and head upstairs to the Impressionist galleries, especially the pastels section, as the space is tighter than in other areas of the museum and these seem to be the most popular galleries. You can return downstairs, where there is a lot more space, later on when crowds have gained critical mass. The restaurant is good if you want to take a break for lunch without leaving the building. Or, come during the more serene evening hours on Thursday while most tourists are heading back to their hotels to rest and prepare for dinner or to grab a drink. It’s impossible to list all of the paintings you should see as there are too many masterpieces to mention, but do look at the Whistlers. If you were only familiar with his famous maternal portrait, you’ll gain a new appreciation. http://www.musee-orsay.fr/
The Picasso Museum – As impossible as it may seem to single out just one, this is our favorite small museum anywhere. It’s not only that the collection of Picasso paintings, drawings, sculpture, etc. is so fascinating, it’s also the clever design of the museum and the brilliant annotation. The galleries, occupying a restored 17th C mansion, take you in chronological order through Picasso’s life with materials in each room illustrating the milestone events that influenced his art. It’s truly a worthy tribute to this passionate genius. http://www.musee-picasso.fr/
The Rodin Museum – The collection by this deservedly revered sculptor is gorgeous and is enhanced by its setting in a handsome manor with lovely gardens. The garden is a tranquil place to rest awhile during your sightseeing adventures. http://www.musee-rodin.fr/
Musee Marmottan – If you love the impressionists (and really, who doesn’t?), you’ll adore this wonderful museum in the lovely residential 16th arrondissement. Especially since Monet’s stolen masterpiece “Impression: Sunrise” has been recovered. http://www.marmottan.com/
Musee du Cinema Henri Langlois (Palais de Chaillot) – Very interesting and entertaining museum for film buffs. http://www.cinemathequefrancaise.com/htm/musee/musee.asp
Cluny Museum (Musee National du Moyen Age) – Even if you have not developed an appreciation for the eloquence of medieval art, you cannot fail to admire the superb tapestries, including the celebrated Lady with Unicorn suite.
Wonderful collection. http://www.musee-moyenage.fr/
The National Gallery – The vast permanent collection of European paintings is enough to consume you for hours, and then there are the special exhibitions. We recommend visiting during the quiet, uncrowded evening hours on Wednesday. There’s even a decent café where you can grab a reasonable meal. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/
The Tate Britain – Extraordinary collection of British art from 1500 to present. The Turner collection alone will take your breath away. We’ve been less impressed with Tate Modern, though the building itself is worth seeing. http://www.tate.org.uk
The British Museum – A fantastic exploration of archaeological treasures from the whole wide world. http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/
The Courtauld Institute Gallery – Small but exquisite collection of paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture and decorative arts. http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/
Vatican Museums (Vatican City) – Most people visit specifically to view the Sistine Chapel, and while it is as phenomenal as you expect, you will be astonished at the breadth and quality of the rest of the collection. Allocate more time than you believe you will need and bring binoculars – the ceiling is very high and you’ll miss the exquisite details of Michelangelo’s genius unless you have superhuman vision. http://www.vatican.va/phome_en.htm
Uffizi Gallery – Virtually all of the Italian masters are well represented, including Leonardo Da Vinci, and those of other nations as well. At the Uffizi, we recommend getting on line a half hour before it opens, buying a museum guide from one of the street vendors (or printing out the gallery map from the website in advance) to figure out what you most want to see, and going directly to those rooms when the museum opens. You can enjoy your favorite paintings without the crowds, and then take your time with the rest of the collection. We had a blissful communion with Botticelli and Leonardo practically in private, and developed a greater appreciation for Lippi. http://www.uffizi.firenze.it/
Galleria dell’Accademia – Michelangelo’s statue of David is the most magnificent hunk of marble you will ever see. Photos do not do it justice, it practically lives and breathes. This is not the only work worth seeing here, but you may find it hard to drag yourself away to view the rest. http://www.sbas.firenze.it/accademia/
Galleria Palatina (in Palazzo Pitti) – The Raphael paintings in this gallery in the opulent Pitti Palace will take your breath away. While you’re visiting the palace, take a stroll through the Renaissance designed Boboli Gardens. http://www.sbas.firenze.it/palatina/
Museo di San Marco – We were enthralled by the Fra Angelico paintings in this former Dominican convent. http://www.sbas.firenze.it/sanmarco/
Museo Nacional del Prado – You can gorge yourself on the Goya and Velasquez paintings alone, but save room for the rest. The Prado is home to Bosch’s fantastical Garden of Earthly Delights and scores of other masterworks. http://museoprado.mcu.es/ihome.html
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza – Don’t stop with the Prado, this fine museum merits an extended visit. http://www.museothyssen.com/
The Istanbul Archaeological Museum – Located just outside Topkapi Palace, the Archaeological Museum contains a huge array of treasures. Among our favorites were the stunning, intricately carved sarcophagi from the tomb of Sidon (5th-4th C BC).
Mosaic Museum - This small gem displays handsome mosaics from a Byzantine palace.
Ephesus Museum – Nearby the astounding ruins at Ephesus, precious relics from the site are showcased in this excellent museum.
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium – The Museum of Ancient Art and Museum of Modern Art house a vast collection of art ranging from the 15th C to modern times. The Brueghel room alone is worth the price of admission. http://www.fine-arts-museum.be/
The Royal Museums of Art and History (in the Cinquantenaire Park) – An extensive archaeological collection from Egypt, Greece, Rome and other places as well as decorative arts and other precious artifacts. We greatly enjoyed the carved wooden retables from European churches. http://www.kmkg-mrah.be/index.html
Musical Instruments Museum – The collection of instruments is gorgeous to view and better yet, you can wear headphones and hear the sounds they play. This museum, a branch of the Art & History museum, is a pure delight. http://www.mim.fgov.be/
Mayer van den Burgh – The private collection of a 19th C art patron displayed in a manor house. Brueghel’s Dulle Griet (Mad Peg) is a marvel but there are many more interesting works in this intimate gallery.
Koninklijk Museum – Outstanding collection of Flemish art, though the collection includes other artists as well. There’s a glorious triptych of the Lamentation of Christ by Quentin Metsys that we’d particularly like to return to see again. http://museum.antwerpen.be/kmska/Engels/Engels.htm
The Groeninge Museum – When we visited the Memling Museum was being renovated and the Memlings were being displayed here. Even without them, this lovely museum is worth a special trip. http://www.brugge.be/Musea/en/mgroee.htm
The Memling Museum – Occupying the medieval St. John’s Hospital, the Memling paintings are almost more beauty than you can absorb in a single viewing. The exquisite St. Ursula Shrine is not to be missed.http://www.brugge.be/Musea/en/mmeme.htm
The Rijksmuseum – The 17th C Dutch masters are the big draw, particularly the marvelous Rembrandts and Vermeers, but there are rooms full of exciting paintings, sculpture, objects, prints and historical artifacts. Of about only 35 discovered Vermeer paintings, four can be seen here. http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/index.jsp
Van Gogh Museum – Another exceptional museum dedicated to a single artist. Van Gogh’s tortured talent is on full display. http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/
The Hague, Netherlands
Mauritshuis – Focusing on the Dutch and Flemish masters, this small museum is enthralling. Vermeer’s most familiar painting due to the recent book and movie (Girl with a Pearl Earring) resides here, but the rest of the collection also merits a trip to The Hague. http://www.mauritshuis.nl/english/
The Metropolitan Museum of Art – While other museums might have deeper concentrations of art from particular periods or countries, the Met’s incomparable collection spans centuries and geography to provide a collection of incredible breadth that is not lacking in depth - from the Egyptian Temple of Dendur to modern masterpieces, and everything in between, including indigenous art from Africa, Oceania and the Americas, costumes, decorative arts, armor, musical instruments and more. The galleries are attractively laid out, particularly the light-filled Greek rooms, the impressive hall of armor and the tranquil American Wing. We didn’t fully appreciate the quality of the Egyptian collection until we visited Egypt. The medieval collection extends to The Cloisters, a serene space constructed from elements of 5 medieval French monasteries overlooking the Hudson River uptown in Fort Tryon Park. At Christmas time the tree in the Met is decorated with beautiful Neapolitan baroque angels and you can attend a stirring concert of medieval music in a stone chapel in the Cloisters. http://www.metmuseum.org/
American Museum of Natural History and Rose Center for Earth and Space – The planetarium is spectacular and the extensive natural history collection is fabulous. We return for the special exhibitions but cannot resist revisiting the dinosaur fossil and cultural halls whenever we’re there. http://www.amnh.org/
The Museum of Modern Art – MoMA reopened November, 2004 following major renovation and expansion, and it is spectacular. The building interior is a treat for the eyes in almost any direction you look. The permanent collection is exceptional and the special exhibits are often revelatory. Their street level restaurant, The Modern is first rate for lunch with wonderful food (but we don't think the dinner is as good, even forgetting the much higher price), a beautiful room and great service and a fine wine list, but to avoid disappointment call for reservations at (212) 333-1220 or visit www.themodernnyc.com. On the 5th floor is a cafe with excellent lunches, wines and friendly service. You can see some of the spaces and some of the exhibits by clicking here. MoMA's website is http://www.moma.org
The Frick Collection – The private collection of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, augmented by additional pieces, displayed in his lavish Fifth Avenue mansion includes an amazing number of masterpieces for such an intimate space, among which are four superb Vermeers. http://www.frick.org/
The Guggenheim – The art is nearly upstaged by Frank Lloyd Wright’s dramatic architecture which is worth a visit all by itself. There are excellent works in the permanent collection, however, it’s best to visit during a special exhibit that tickles your fancy since most of the space is typically dedicated to changing exhibitions. http://www.guggenheim.org/
National Museum of the American Indian – A specialized collection, but if you enjoy indigenous American artistry as much as we do, it’s a must-see. Best of all, admission is free. http://www.nmai.si.edu/subpage.cfm?subpage=visitor
Smithsonian Institute Museums – An unparalleled complex of museums covering art, history, natural history, science, aviation and more. The National Air and Space museum is as thrilling for adults as for children. If you like modern art, don’t miss the Hirshhorn. Admission is free to all the museums. http://www.si.edu/museums/
National Gallery of Art – A world class collection of painting, sculpture, decorative arts and more from Europe and America spanning the 13th to 20th Centuries. Free admission. http://www.nga.gov/
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – A moving representation of a horrifying historical event. Allow several hours to explore the engrossing exhibits. Entry is via timed passes and lines are long for same day entry, so it pays to plan ahead and buy passes in advance. http://www.ushmm.org/
The Phillips Collection – An outstanding collection of early modern art from the Impressionists to Picasso, Klee, Matisse and modern American masters, such as Eakins, O’Keefe and Homer. http://www.phillipscollection.org/
Museum of Fine Arts – Spellbinding collection, worthy of a much larger city. http://www.mfa.org/
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – Art patron Isabella Stewart Gardner began exhibiting the extraordinary collection in her graceful 15th C style Venetian palace during her lifetime and her legacy continues. The quality of the art is further enhanced by the gracious architecture and lush gardens. http://www.gardnermuseum.org/
Harvard University Museums – As befits such a superlative learning center, the museums at Harvard are wonderful. We especially recommend the Fogg Art Museum (Western art), the Sackler (ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Islamic, Asian art) and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. http://www.harvard.edu/museums/
The Barnes Foundation – The private collection of a medical doctor displayed in a country manor with an arboretum in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The walls are crammed with treasures; there are rooms full of the most gorgeous Renoirs, for example. You must make reservations and pay in advance and entry is timed, so you have to plan for the visit. http://www.barnesfoundation.org/ed_c_highlights.html
Philadelphia Museum of Art – Asian, European and American art spanning the centuries comprise an extraordinary collection. Philadelphia is often underestimated and this museum is just one of many reasons to visit. If you’re not familiar with the splendid work of Thomas Eakins, this is a good place to acquaint yourself with it. http://www.philamuseum.org/main.asp
Chadds Ford, PA
Brandywine River Museum – Featuring the work of the talented and prolific Wyeth family (N.C., Andrew and Jamie), this elegant museum is the highlight of a venture into the scenic Brandywine River Valley. We highly recommend the optional tour of N.C. Wyeth’s house and studio which you can take from the museum. Space is limited on this tour, so if you visit during the busy season, you may wish to book the tour in advance. http://www.brandywinemuseum.org/
The Art Institute of Chicago – A broad collection of antiquities, paintings, sculpture, decorative art, armor, photos and more. The museum is rightly renowned for its coverage of French 19th C painting. We think this is the finest art museum in the U.S. west of Pennsylvania. http://www.artic.edu/aic/
The Field Museum of Natural History – Another fabulous museum for dinosaur lovers and those with interest in the natural world. http://www.fmnh.org/
Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia – The collection of Northwest Coastal art will thrill lovers of First Nations art and objects. The Haida artist Bill Reid’s pieces are magnificent, particularly the monumental wood-carved “The Raven and the First Men”. As an added bonus, there’s a fabulous Reid bronze at the Vancouver airport “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii – The Jade Canoe” to admire while killing time until your flight. We went to Vancouver specifically to tour this museum and it was worth the voyage, though there are lots of good reasons to visit Vancouver. http://www.moa.ubc.ca/
Sheldon Jackson Museum – A must-see for aficionados of indigenous Alaskan art. In addition to the many fascinating items on open display, you can browse through drawers full of additional treasures. http://www.museums.state.ak.us/Sheldon%20Jackson/sjhome.html
San Francisco, CA
Asian Art Museum – Comprehensive, breathtaking collection of Asian art spanning centuries and cultures. http://www.asianart.org/
Palace of the Legion of Honor – Relatively small but attractive collection of painting, decorative art and antiquities. http://www.thinker.org/legion/index.asp
Rafael Larco Herrera Museum – Extensive collection of ceramics from Pre-Incan Peruvian cultures. One of our favorite museums in South America. http://museolarco.perucultural.org.pe/english/
Ica Regional Museum (Maria Reiche Museum) – Wonderful collection illuminating ancient Peruvian cultures in the Southern region, including funerary bundles, mummies, textiles, ceramics and more.
Bruning Museum – Stunning collection of Moche, Lambayeque, Chimu and Vicus artifacts, many in gold, including the fabulous treasures from the tomb of the Lord of Sipan. We were crazy about the north of Peru and this museum is one of many reasons to explore this fascinating area.
Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio – Small but extremely interesting archaeological collection including dinosaur fossils and eggs. Visit the Peninsula Valdes for the abundant wildlife, but catch this museum while you’re there.