What makes a city a great museum city? Variety and location.
Are you looking for the comprehensive and massive collections of The British Museum, The Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the like, or do you prefer to immerse yourself in the unique history and culture of a small museum?
Is it Greek, Roman, or Egyptian history and culture you seek? Is it the European Renaissance that speaks to your imagination, or does modern art and contemporary design call your name?
Maybe you want it all under one roof. Maybe you want to experience the past, the present — and even the future — of a city you are visiting by spending time in smaller, specialized museums.
Here is our list of 10 great museum cities, no matter what your preference:
Athens is the place to steep yourself in all that is Greek. In the shadows of the Parthenon you will find the most extensive collection of Ancient Greek artifacts in the world at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
The Acropolis Museum and The Benaki Museum should also not be missed. For a more modern view of Greek life, car collectors will enjoy The Hellenic Motor Museum. If pottery and tombstones are your interest, visit Kerameikos Museum. The Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, which houses a collections of more than 4,000 pieces of jewelry and micro sculptures, is devoted entirely to the decorative arts.
Some say the best museum in Rome is the city herself.
The Vatican Museums consists of fifty-four galleries, the last one being the Sistine Chapel. There is a dress code for the Sistine Chapel, and it’s recommended you book a time slot on the website to avoid waiting in line.
Galleria Borghese is one the best small museums in the world and is on the must-see list.
Enjoy works both ancient and modern at the Capitoline Museums, a group of art and archeology museums located on Capitoline Hill. Looking for 21st century artists? Visit MAXXI Museum, which is a piece of art in itself, designed by famed architect Zaha Hadid.
The Big Apple is home to both The Met and Moma. The Met (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere with over two million works of art from around the world. MoMa (Museum of Modern Art) is arguably the most influential modern art museum in the world. Of the smaller museums The Frick is not to be missed—works by Titian, Whistler and Vermeer, etc. are hung in the former Frick mansion itself, surrounded by legendary antiques.
Add to this The Guggenheim, The Neue Galerie, The Museum of Natural History and 100 plus other museums in the city (in addition to private art galleries), and New York will keep any museum fanatic busy.
D.C. is also home to more than 200 other museums, many within close proximity to each other. There are over fifty gallery rooms to peruse at the National Gallery of Art alone, which often arranges temporary exhibits about a wide range of topics related to art in Western civilizations.
The Phillips Collection is a must for works ranging from the French Impressionists to American modern art to works by current artists.
Le Louvre of Paris, France is one of the world’s largest and most visited art museums with collections ranging from antiquity to the first half of the 19th century. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa is here as are many of the greatest Titians, and as you go up the grand staircase you will see the original Winged Victory of Samothrace.
If the Louvre does not fully satisfy your museum appetite, just walk over the bridge to the other side of the river to see the Musée d’Orsay, located in a stunning former railway station. Here you will find the best of the Impressionists and post-Impressionists.
Those who want to check out more contemporary work will find over 8,000 works sampling all major trends from the 20th and 21st century at the Museum of Modern Art of Paris.
Any museum trip to Paris would not be complete without Musée Picasso, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée Rodin, Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée de Cluny, Musée du quai Branly, and Carnavalet Museum to name just a few more.
Take some time to plan your visit to see the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles at The British Museum. It is definitely worth while to take the tours and attend some talks. There are also plenty of guides to help you select your path through enormous holdings of The British Museum.
More of London’s fine museum offerings include the Museum of London, Natural History Museum, Imperial War Museum, London Transport Museum, and of course the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. Given England’s history as a naval superpower, it should be no surprise that the National Maritime Museum is considered the best of its kind in the world (not to mention the home of what the world knows as “Greenwich Mean Time”).
Berlin has some of the best collections of art from the ancient world, mostly located on Museum Island itself. Here you will find three world-class museums: The Pergamon, a museum of ancient architecture; the Neues Museum which features archaeological finds as well as Egyptian and Etruscan sculptures, including the renowned bust of Queen Nefertiti; and the Altes Museum, the oldest on the island, which displays Greek and Roman art objects on its first floor and holds temporary exhibitions on its second floor. In addition there are two other important museums, the Bode Museum (paintings from Late Byzantine up to 1800), and the Alte Nationalgalerie covering the 19th century. All in all, a remarkable collection of museums on one small island in the Spee River.
Amsterdam is home to more than fifty museums, ranging from those featuring the old masters to those dedicated to sex. In one city you can visit the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, and Anne Frank House, to name only the most popular. The Rijksmuseum, is a must-see for the works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Steen and Van Dyck. The Van Gogh Museum has the largest collection of works by this artist, and is not to be missed. The Stedelijk Museum concentrates on modern works, including major paintings by Malevich, Chagall, Kandinsky as well as new works by current artists. Anne Frank House is a deeply moving monument to the author of the essential diary of the Holocaust.
In Florence, Italy you will find the Uffizi, among the oldest and most famous art museums of Europe. The Uffizi holds the world’s finest collection of Renaissance paintings as well as masters from the early medieval, baroque and Mannerist periods.
The only city with more museums than Mexico City is Paris.
You will find the largest collection of ancient Mexican art—Olmec, Mayan and Aztec—at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
Downtown Mexico City is home to the Templo Mayor Museum and Archaeological Site. The site was discovered when electric company workers uncovered a giant, pre-hispanic monolith in 1978.
Over 160 museums are located throughout the rest of Mexico City. You will find fine selections of European, Mexican art and culture, as well a profusion of highly specialized museums with unique collections, including museums dedicated to shoes, toy making, tequila and mescal.