10 Best Museum Cities

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:

1. Athens, Greece

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Photo by Martin451, Wikimedia Commons.

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.

The Children’s Museums, Athens Planetarium and The Greek Reptile Center are fun for both kids and adults.

 

2. Rome, Italy

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Photo by Albeins, Wikimedia Commons.

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.

 

3. New York, New York

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Photo by Wallygva, Wikimedia Commons.

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.

 

4. Washington, D.C.

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Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest research and museum complex containing 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and various research stations.

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.

 

5. Paris, France

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Photo by Xoán Castro, flickr.

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.

 

6. London, England

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Photo by Andrew Dunn, Wikimedia Commons.

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”).

 

7. Berlin, Germany

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Photo by Pedelecs, Wikimedia Commons.

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.

 

8. Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Photo by Velvet, Wikimedia Commons.

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.

 

9. Florence, Italy

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Photo by Clayton Tang, Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Other must-sees in Florence are the Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s most famous work of art, the David, the Medici Chapels, the Bargello and the museums within Palazzo Pitti.

 

10. Mexico City, Mexico

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Photo by Joyborg, Wikimedia Commons.

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.

 

11 Comments on “10 Best Museum Cities

  1. So funny ranking!!! No St Petersburg Russia in top 10??? So funny……… 🙂

  2. Somebody knows Goya?
    Somebody knows Velazquez?
    Somebody knows El Prado museum?
    Somebody knows where is it?
    Somebody knows why in a review called 10 best museum cities does not appears that city?

    Somebody knows “El Guernica” from Picasso?

    And…somebody knows L´Hermitage and Russian museums in Sant Petersburg?
    Somebody knows Hagia Sophia Museum and Topkapı Palace in Istanbul?

    Washington? Mexico City?

    Enjoy culture

    Kind regards
    Áureo

    • Hi Áureo,
      We agree that Madrid, St Petersburg and Istanbul are also great cultural cities with so many museums and sights to enjoy! If we had a list of 15 museums, they would have been there for sure! Unfortunately, we had to choose only ten. This shows how many great cultural cities we can explore! There’s so much to see, right? Cheers!

      • Thanks for your reply.

        I understand that you choose 10…but maybe you choose it with no real criteria on museums that are really important on the world.
        Things, when they do, they should do well, and is not enough to have good intentions, we must investigate and obtain all information.
        Perhaps this post is one of the most outrage believed to culture, as you can see in the comments. Culture is one of the legacies of humanity and can not be treated without due respect just to publicize certain interests.

        All my best
        Áureo

  3. So let me get this straight. You published a list of the world’s ten best museum cities and left off Chicago?!?! Wow… congratulations HomeExchange. com, you’re the first. How did this glaring and outrageous omission even make it past a first editorial meeting? I’ll gladly give you Paris, London, New York, and Washington DC, all glorious museum cities with every credential to earn their places on your list. Rome certainly makes the cut on importance and the sheer power of the Vatican and Borghese, combined with the countless museum “sites” that serve as living, breathing galleries of western origins on their own merit. But after that? Without apology or caveat, Chicago easily bumps out Berlin, Athens, Amsterdam, Florence, or Mexico City for best museum city and I’ll happily prove it! The Pergamon is phenomenal and highly unique, but also Berlin’s only truly important museum by most historian and collector standards – the wall and Checkpoint Charlie count but for different reasons and the Neues only dazzles with the Nefertiti bust and limited Deco collection; very few visit Berlin for museums. While Athens is its own gallery, the National Archaeological is widely considered the only museum worth inclusion on a typical visitor’s must-see list; less than 2% of visitors travel the difficult distance to take in other options. In Amsterdam there are only two museums that lead guidebooks; the Rijks and Van Gogh – Anne Frank’s home is a big draw but as a historic sight, not a museum, and the Stedelijk remains unpopular (the Sex Museum draws, but for different reasons…) Florence also boasts only two kingpins, and one of them is a draw for only two works; beyond the short gauntlet-run past the David and Prisoners the Academia is easily and repeatedly ignored by 99% of visitors for good reason. Mexico City boasts quantity, but not quality, especially when compared with the world’s leading collections. Now we arrive in Chicago, which starts by claiming 5 truly world-leading institutions in the Art Institute (with the world’s second largest Impressionist collection and many of the most famed works ever created), Field Museum of Natural History (including Sue), Science & Industry (considered by many to be the world’s best, housed in it’s own museum as the last remaining building from the iconic Columbian Exposition), the MCA, and Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio (in the city with the largest collection of Wright homes in the world.) From there, numerous others actually make it onto a high percentage of Chicago’s tourist to-do lists including the Chicago Cultural Center, Museum of Broadcast Communications, Chicago History Museum, National Museum of Mexican Art, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, DuSable Museum of African American History, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Children’s Museum, Morton Arboretum, Chicago Botanic Gardens, Illinois Holocaust Museum, Smith Museum of Stained Glass, and Spertus Institute. Why so many? Because unlike most other huge cities everything is close by, easily accessible, with lots of parking or public transportation, and open long and regular hours for easy planning on most tourist agendas. Add in a massive museum of the single most comprehensive collection of important skyline architecture on the planet, and Chicago couldn’t make your top ten???!!! Research people, research! Home exchangers around the world deserve to know; if museums are on your holiday agenda, you just can’t do better than Chicago. Shame on you HomeExchange.com – your subscribers deserve better 🙂

    • Hi Steve! Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment! Chicago is indeed an amazing city – unfortunately, we had to chose only 10! We would love to dedicate a Blog post to the best things to do in Chicago. Would you like to help us write this? We are sure that your experience would be very valuable to encourage HomeExchange.com members to visit Chicago 🙂

    • Really, there is no need to call “shame” simply because you disagree. Perhaps if there was more advertising of such wonderful sounding museums in Chicago, the city would be better known for them. Tourism, in general, focuses on what any city or country portrays. I have traveled quite a bit and am always looking for the cultural attractions in a city but could not say that I would have associated Chicago with museums. Now I know, I will take a look- thank you for the list, they sound wonderful.

  4. Not only do we love living in Washington, DC, and wholeheartedly agree that it’s one of the world’s best museum cities, we just love that so many of the museums are free!

    You can visit the 19 Smithsonian museums here in the nation’s capital as well as the National Gallery of Art and the National Zoo and never pay an admission fee. It’s so great to be able to visit them as often as you want, for as much or as little time as you want without having to reach for your wallet.

    No wonder so many of our exchange partners find themselves planning a second visit here even before their first one is over.

  5. Enjoyed the list and have been to all except Mexico City. I really enjoyed Berlin including Wall Museum and Amsterdam and prior to visiting I wouldn’t have thought of either of them as museum cities but both are. I agree both Istanbul and Madrid are top museum cities. I hope to see St. Petersburg which is on my bucket list.
    I love Chicago and all the museums (plus deep dish Pizza, italian food and Cubs) but another US city I have really enjoyed is Philadelphia for the Barnes Foundation-1300 Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings. What about New Orleans for the National WWII museum that is wonderful and the only problem, it should be in Washington D.C. What about Fredericksburg, Texas for a small town to have a world class Nimitz Museum of the WWII Pacific theater.
    Maybe need 10 honorable mention runner up cities?

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