15 Must-See Art Museums (And the Masterpieces that Live in Them)
Thinking about going on vacation? We’ve compiled a list of 15 art museums you may want to plan your trip around.
Here's a tip: If you’re ever struggling with artist’s block, step away from your work and head to the nearest one. There’s no better way to find inspiration than to spend some time with the work of other artists. A few hours in a good museum will have you itching to get back to the studio.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Located in New York City, the MET is larger than any other museum in the U.S. Since its incorporation in 1870, the museum has gone on to amass a collection of more than two million artworks.
Highlights: The MET prides itself on its collection of Impressionist paintings that includes Claude Monet’s Camille and Auguste Renoir’s Lise (Woman with Umbrella).
Museum of Modern Art
Also located in NYC, the Museum of Modern Art is another one of the largest museums in the United States. As its name suggests, MoMA focuses on exhibiting works created during the modern and postmodern periods (basically, everything since Impressionism).
Highlights: MoMA is where you’ll find Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh as well as Les Demoiselles and a host of other paintings by Pablo Picasso.
The front entrance of the MoMA in New York, New York.
Art Institute of Chicago
If you find yourself in the midwestern U.S, make sure to check out the Art Institute of Chicago. They have an amazing permanent collection and show rotating exhibitions by contemporary artists.
Highlights: Remember the painting that Cameron was staring at in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? That painting is a work by Georges Seurat called A Sunday on La Grand Jatte and it’s on permanent display at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Outside the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.
The Getty Center
Located in Los Angeles, the Getty is among the most visited museums in the U.S. Famous for its stunning modern architecture and it’s located atop an enormous hill, providing a beautiful view of L.A..
Highlights: Aside from the property itself (which alone is something to see), you’ll want to make sure that you see Irises by Vincent van Gogh and The Royal End by Paul Gauguin.
Bird's eye view of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California.
The Musée d’Orsay, located in Paris, is to go-to destination for those of us who adore French paintings. Their collection is primarily focused on art created during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s so (like the MET), there’s plenty of Impressionism to be found here.
Highlights: In addition to works by Van Gogh, Cézanne, Monet and Manet, the Musée d’Orsay houses a few of Auguste Rodin’s most famous sculptures. The Gates of Hell and The Thinker, both very influential sculptures, can be found at this museum.
Night shot of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France.
Le Louvre Museum
This Paris museum is the most visited art museum in the entire world (scroll down to the highlights if you want to know why). With nearly 40,000 artworks on display, you’ll need to set aside at least a few days for this one if you want to see it all.
Highlights: The standout work in its collection is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (maybe you’ve heard of it). They also have a number of da Vinci’s other works including St. John the Baptist and Virgin and Child with St. Anne.
The Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
Musée National d’Art Moderne
Another amazing museum located in Paris, the Musée National d’Art Moderne primarily exhibits modern and contemporary works. They have an intensive exhibition schedule, running a new show every six weeks.
Highlights: The museum’s permanent collection includes a number of important works from the Surrealist movement. Hallucination Partielle, a strange and otherworldly painting by Salvador Dali is sure to catch your eye.
Bird's eye view of the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, France.
Museo Nacional Del Prado
The Prado Museum, Spain’s national art museum, can be found in Madrid. Its collection contains works dating as far back as the 1100’s. The museum has one of the largest collections of work by Spanish artists including Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez and El Greco.
Highlights: Velázquez’ painting Las Meninas is perhaps the most famous work on display in the Prado. Its bizarre and innovative composition will have you staring for hours.
Evening shot of the Museo Nacional Del Prado in Madrid, Spain.
State Hermitage Museum & Winter Palace
Located in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Hermitage Museum has been around since the late 1700’s. This museum has the largest collection of paintings in the entire world, making it a dream destination for those of us who love to paint.
Highlights: The museum’s architecture is considered a masterpiece so the building alone will be worth your trip. On display, however, is a sculpture entitled Crouching Boy by Michelangelo that you won’t want to miss.
Outside the State Hermitage Museum & Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.
National Art Center of Tokyo
Tokyo’s National Art Center is actually considered an “empty museum” because it doesn’t have a permanent collection. Instead, it holds an average of 70 rotating exhibitions per year. Despite having no works on permanent display, the museum is among the most popular destinations in Japan.
Highlights: Because there is no collection, don’t plan to see anything specific while your there. However, you can always count on seeing something fresh and exciting at the National Art Center. In the past few years, for example, the museum has held retrospectives for Yayoi Kusama and Makoto Shinkai.
Outside the National Art Center of Tokyo in Tokyo, Japan.
The National Gallery of London
If you’re ever in London, be sure to check out the National Gallery. It has a stupendous collection of paintings that date from the 1200’s up to the year 1900. A walk through this museum can teach you a lot about the history of painting.
Highlights: The National Gallery holds a few paintings by Johannes Vermeer, who is notorious for producing a few more than 30 paintings in his entire life. The ones he did make, however, are absolutely stunning. Look for his painting, A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal while you’re there. You can’t miss it.
A lion statue outside the National Gallery in London, England.
Another fantastic destination in London, this museum will surely provide you with some inspiration. Its massive collection includes not just artwork, but all types of historical artifacts. With more than 80,000 objects on exhibit, you could spend days at this museum and never see the whole thing.
Highlights: When talking about the British Museum’s collection, it’s hard to know where to begin. This institution houses an Easter Island statue as well as the Rosetta Stone. While not necessarily considered an artwork, the Rosetta Stone is one of the earliest documents of written language that we have and is sure to be of interest to both draftsmen and sculptors.
Inside the British Museum in London, England.
Looking for a British museum that shows more contemporary work than the two institutions described above? The Tate Modern might be more to your liking. Each year, the museum holds their annual Turner Prize exhibition, which is known for exhibiting work by young and controversial artists. If you’re into the experimental and abstract, this is the museum for you.
Highlights: The Tate houses some modern gems including an amazing bronze sculpture by Louise Bourgeois called Spider and a Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol.
The Tate Modern museum in London, England at dusk.
If you ever find yourself in Amsterdam, make sure to stop by the Rijksmuseum. It’s enormous, though, so set aside at least two days if you want to see all of the work there. This museum has one of the largest collections by the Dutch masters, so prepare to be blown away.
Highlights: If you’re a Rembrandt fan, this is the go-to museum. The collection contains work from every point in his career. On display at the Rijksmuseum are some of his masterpieces like The Night Watch as well as some equally beautiful but lesser-known works.
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
What would a top museum list be without at least one Italian museum? If you find yourself in Italy, our recommendation is that you head straight to the dell’Accademia. There, you’ll find a beautiful museum filled with works by Italian artists made between the 1300’s and the 1600’s.
Highlights: The most Instagrammed piece in this museum is definitely David by Michelangelo. However, the Galleria dell’Accademia also holds several of his smaller works and even mock-ups for his masterpieces. If you’re an artist yourself, you’ll love taking a look at remnants of the artist’s process and getting an idea of how his mind works. Once you’re done there, it’s time to return to the studio and work on your own masterpieces.
David by Michelangelo in Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy.