12 Destination Museums Worth Planning Your Next Trip Around
Frequent travelers — and anyone who visited foreign cities with their parents as a kid — know: it just wouldn't be a vacation without a trip to local museums.
With the emergence of mainstream street artists, design-focused hospitality brands, and social media branding, arts-focused tourism is on the rise; as with everything else, your parents were right: museums are cool. In many ways, this shift can be credited to the evolution of not only the way tourists view art, but of the museum itself; the modern art museum is more than a place to view paintings and sculptures, but a community hub highlighting a portion of the world's greatest artworks. Today, the museum is a destination worth not only planning a trip to, but worth planning a trip around.
MALBA (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
One of the newer museums on this list, the MALBA — shorthand for The Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires — focuses on contemporary Latin American art, mostly from the 20th century. Beyond the physical art displayed in the many rotating and permanent exhibitions, the MALBA functions as an artistic epicenter of Buenos Aires; the space brings together both tourists and locals for film, literature, and other community events.
British Museum (London)
Founded in the mid-18th century as the first national public museum in the world, the British Museum has a legacy rooted deeply in the mission of providing the public with free access to art. Since its early years, the museum has expanded both in its works and structures; while the library and national history collections have since moved into designated buildings, the British Museum has grown to include a series of courts and galleries. The physical expansions represent responses to the center’s ever-growing body of work; those of particular note include the Rosetta Stone and Parthenon sculptures.
The Louvre (Paris)
You may know the Louvre for being the largest museum in the world, that glass triangle everyone takes pictures in front of while visiting Paris, the spot Mary-Kate and Ashley were forced to explore instead of meet up with their respective love interests in Passport to Paris, or, perhaps, for what might be its most common claim to fame: home to Leonardo da Vinci’s "Mona Lisa." But the Louvre’s extensive collection of masterpieces — which also includes Alexander of Antioch’s "Venus de Milo," Eugène Delacroix’s "Liberty Leading the People," and the Code of Hammurabi, among others — is not all that makes this museum one of the world’s most important cultural landmarks; the space itself dates back to the 12th century and has a rich history as a royal residence.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
The crown jewel of the thriving NYC arts scene, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) has been serving up a healthy dose of culture to the Big Apple since 1870. Since these beginnings, The Met has added two New York City locations, The Met Breuer and The Met Cloisters, and amassed a vast collection of seminal works artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Roy Lichtenstein, Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, and Cy Twombly. The museum is a popular tourist attraction and offers a range of family, educational, and community programs.
SFMOMA (San Francisco)
Reopened in 2016 after an expansion and redesign to the original Mario Botta-designed SoMa space, the SFMOMA's transformation includes a 10-story addition, 45,000 square feet of public space, a rooftop sculpture garden, and fine dining restaurant as well as The Fisher Collection, an immense range of works privately owned by the founders of Gap Inc. The artfully curated collections feature artists including Diane Arbus, Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, and René Magritte.
Vatican Museums (Vatican City, Rome)
A collective term referring to the artistic works, Pontifical Villas and Gardens, archaeological areas, and Apostolic Palace rooms located in Vatican City, the Vatican Museums catalogs an archive of cultural acquisitions and commissions made by popes starting with Nicholas V (1447-1455) and Alexander VI (1492-1503). This includes more than 25 rooms, galleries, chapels, and museums, as well as the Sistine Chapel and its notable ceiling mural, painted by Michelangelo.
Hakone Open-Air Museum (Hakone, Japan)
An innovative concept landing somewhere between an indoor museum and outdoor garden, the Hakone Open-Air Museum is best known for its impressive sculpture display including works from Niki de Saint Phalle, Henry Moore, and Joan Miró, as well as Japanese artists Torao Yazaki, Yasuo Mizui, Kotaro Takamura. The green lawns also feature the Garden of Stars, hot-spring foot bath, Picasso Pavilion of original paintings, floating sculpture pond, and Gabriel Loire’s "Symphonic Sculpture," a magnificent tower of stained glass that visitors can explore from the inside out.
Museo Nacional del Prado (Madrid)
The Museo Nacional del Prado — commonly known as The Prado Museum — was first constructed in 1785 to house the National History Cabinet upon orders from King Charles III. The museum, which was originally designated the Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures, opened to the public in 1819 with just over 1,500 works; since, it has amassed a collection that includes masterpieces from Bosch, El Greco, Raphael, Velázquez, and Goya.
Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Coffee shops and canals aren’t the only attractions worth checking out in Amsterdam. Located in the Museumplein Museum Square, the Rijksmuseum’s exhibits span medium, time period, and artists; the museum has a particularly strong body of paintings featuring works from greats including Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, and Vincent van Gogh.
The Getty Center (Los Angeles)
In many ways, The Getty Center embodies the modern museum: it’s a cultural hub and urban oasis, a hilltop community watering hole overlooking one of the country’s most creatively charged cities. The art on the gallery walls takes a bit of a backseat, but it’s hard to compete with the The Getty Center’s free Summer outdoor concerts, picnic-friendly lawn, and Alice in Wonderland-esque manicured gardens. It’s an experience that starts from the moment you park and take the scenic tram ride up to the car-free museum grounds.
The State Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia)
When Catherine the Great wasn’t busy being the country’s longest-ruling female ruler, she was ordering men to build both the Small and Large Hermitage buildings and amassing what would become the foundation of the modern museum collection. Today, The State Hermitage Museum includes five public areas — The Winter Palace, The Small Hermitage, The New Hermitage, The Hermitage Theater, and The Great (Old) Hermitage — as well as The General Staff Building and The Building of Menshikov Palace. Though each building houses its own range of works, the museum collectively includes many of the most architecturally and historically relevant structures in Russia.
Smithsonian Museums (Washington DC)
Of this collective of 19 separate Smithsonian museums, the 11 located directly on Washington DC’s National Mall include the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History, and the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, opened in 2016. A living history of the US, theses museums offer various portraits of American culture, arts, and legacy, as well as an archive of various ethnic groups’ visions of the American dream.