35 Best Art Museums in the World, Ranked
It's impossible to know the amount of art and artifacts on display at the world's best museums. But it's a safe assumption that the total number is somewhere in the billions. Housed in the greatest institutions of the planet, these artworks tell the story of human and natural history since the earth's inception.
Which museums are truly the best for art, though? We all know the heavy hitters, like the Louvre in Paris or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But what about the lesser-known ones that tell the more niche histories and showcase a finely tuned collection? Or the ones that aren't necessarily known for art but have incredible art displays?
We looked museums that display art, even if it's not their main purpose, and whittled them down to the best 35, ranked by number of visitors. Ready to discover the 35 best art museums in the world?
Why the Palacio de Bellas Artes Is So Popular
One of the most important cultural institutions in all of Mexico, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, or Palace of Fine Arts, enjoys worldwide fame. The palace is host to the Mexican ballet, as well as numerous national and international operas and plays.
But even if you're not going to enjoy a night at the opera, it is worth visiting the institution to tour its collection of work by Mexican muralists. The palace proudly displays murals by the most important artists in the country, including Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
On the last floor, you'll also find the National Museum of Architecture.
34. Uffizi Gallery
Location: Florence, Italy
No. of annual visitors: 915,278
Where to stay: Hotel Hermitage
Why the Uffizi Gallery Is So Popular
Housed in a former Medici complex, the Uffizi Gallery is one of the most famous museums in the world. It is also one of the oldest modern museums, opening to the public in 1765 to display some of the incredible artworks that once constituted the collections of the powerful Medici family.
Visitors stand in line for hours for a chance to see works like Boticelli's "The Birth of Venus" and "Primavera," Caravaggio's "Medusa," Da Vinci's "Adoration of the Magi" and "The Annunciation," and Michelangelo's "The Holy Family."
33. Tokyo National Museum
Location: Tokyo, Japan
No. of annual visitors: 992,824
Where to stay: Mimaru Tokyo Ueno East
Why the Tokyo National Museum Is So Popular
One of the largest art museums in Japan and the oldest national museums in Japan, the Tokyo National Museum holds many of the country's national treasures.
The large museum covers Japanese art from prehistory to the end of the 19th century, covering sculpture, painted scrolls, woodblock prints and pottery. Objects from other parts of Asia, particularly places important to the Silk Road, are also on display.
Why the National Gallery Singapore Is So Popular
The National Gallery of Singapore holds the largest collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art in the world and is, unsurprisingly, the largest museum in the tiny city-state.
Though visitors often spend their time at the impressive Gardens by the Bay or enjoying Singapore's food scene, a visit to the National Gallery Singapore is nothing short of enlightening for understanding the country's culture better.
Famous works include Raden Saleh's "Boschbrand" (Forest Fire) and Chua Mia Tee's "National Language Class."
31. Saatchi Gallery
Location: London, United Kingdom
No. of annual visitors: 1,161,000
Where to stay: Sloane Square Hotel
Why Saatchi Gallery Is So Popular
While not as famous as other London-based museums, the Saatchi Gallery is nevertheless well respected in the world of contemporary art. And with over 1.1 million annual visitors, it's still one of the most popular art museums in the U.K.
The gallery constantly changes the artists that are on display, but past artists include Damien Hirst, the Chapman Brothers and Andy Warhol.
30. Musée National d'Art Moderne (Centre Pompidou)
Location: Paris, France
No. of annual visitors: 1,267,781
Where to stay: Le Relais des Salles
Why Centre Pompidou Is So Popular
The Musée National d'Art Moderne, better known as the Centre Pompidou, was the second museum in Europe exclusively dedicated to modern art. With more than 100,000 individual pieces, it is second only to the MoMA in the size of its modern art collection.
Centre Pompidou is itself a piece of contemporary art, with colorful and experimental architecture both in its facade and its interior. Notable works are Georges Braque's "Man With a Guitar," Theo van Doesburg's "Pure Painting," and Kandinsky's "To the Unknown Voice."
29. Guggenheim Museum
Location: New York, New York
No. of annual visitors: 1,283,000
Where to stay: The Franklin New York
Why the Guggenheim Museum Is So Popular
There are three Guggenheim Museums: one in Bilbao, Spain; one in Venice, Italy; and one in New York City. Of these, the latter is arguably the most famous.
Housed in one of the most recognized Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings in the country, the Guggenheim houses collections that range from Impressionism to contemporary art.
You'll be able to see works by artists like Juan Gris, Kandinsky, Georges Braque and Paul Klee.
Why the Art Institute of Chicago Is So Popular
Located in Chicago's Grant Park, the Art Institute of Chicago holds one of the most valuable art collections in the United States.
It is known for having important works of American arts, such as Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" and Grant Wood's "American Gothic." Its international collection is just as impressive, with pieces by Picasso, Mary Cassatt, and George Seurat.
Besides modern art, the museum has pieces of ancient and Byzantine art, as well as Asian artworks that date over 5,000 years.
Why the Van Gogh Museum Is So Popular
Few artists get the honor of having a museum dedicated just to their work, but Vincent van Gogh was not any artist. As one of the most influential figures in modern art, he is recognized around the world for his distinctive style.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam houses the largest collection of the artist's work, and also displays sketches and personal letters. This must-see museum is an iconic landmark of the Dutch capital.
26. Museum of Modern Art
Location: New York City, New York
No. of annual visitors: 2,500,000
Where to stay: Warwick New York
Why the Museum of Modern Art Is So Popular
New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is the most prestigious museum of its kind in the world. Visitors to New York can't skip visiting it, not only to see some of its (now) "classic" modern works, but also to learn about contemporary art.
Unmissable works include Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," Dali's "The Persistence of Memory," Van Gogh's "Starry Night," and Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans."
25. Mevlana Museum
Location: Konya, Turkey
No. of annual visitors: 3,464,155
Where to stay: Hich Hotel Konya
Why Mevlana Is So Popular
Everyone knows the Mevlana Museum in Konya, Turkey. It's the building with the iconic conical, green dome. It was built as the tomb of the 13th-century philosopher Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, but today, it also hosts the Mevlana Museum, which makes it both a pilgrim's place of worship but also one of the top tourist sites in Turkey.
The majority of the structure is from the 16th century, but the area where Mevlana lived dates back to the 13th century. To get to the museum, you first have to walk through a gorgeous garden brimming with roses and babbling with fountains.
24. Museo del Prado
Location: Madrid, Spain
No. of annual visitors: 3,497,345
Where to stay: Gran Hotel Ingles
Why Museo del Prado Is So Popular
The Museo del Prado is one of Spain's most important museums. It has a collection of more than 8,000 paintings and 700 sculptures. Originally, it was built to host the royal collection of the Spanish Monarchy.
Inside, you can see the work of legendary Spanish painters, like Velazquez, El Greco, Goya and El Bosco. The museum has also survived three wars in Spain: the Spanish War of Independence, the Spanish Civil War and World War II.
23. Musee d’Orsay
Location: Paris, France
No. of annual visitors: 3,651,616
Where to stay: Le Meurice
Why Musee d’Orsay Is So Popular
At Paris' Musée d'Orsay, visitors will find one of the most important and memorable collections of art. The pieces in the museum range from the late 19th century to the early 20th century and have been put together from the collections of three other museums: The Louvre, Musee du Eau de Plume and the former National Museum of Modern Art.
Within the collection are paintings, sculpture, photography, graphic arts and examples of architecture. The building was originally built as a train station to bring visitors to the World's Fair in 1900. The station closed in 1939 and fell into disuse until the 1970s. Here, you can find amazing artworks by van Gogh and Monet, among many, many others.
Why Shenzhen Museum Is So Popular
Showcasing more than 6,000 years of history, the Shenzhen Museum is one of the most important museums in China. Learn about the progression of human activity in China, including the migration history of the Cantonese and Hakka people.
There are four museum sites in one here, including the Shenzhen Museum of History and Folk Culture, the Shenzhen Museum of Ancient Art, Dongjiang River Guerrilla Command Headquarters Memorial, and Shenzhen Reform and Opening-up Exhibition Hall.
Why the National Palace Museum Is So Popular
The National Palace Museum in Taipei has more than 650,000 art objects and documents that were formerly in Beijing as part of the Chinese imperial collection. The collection comes from the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong, who reigned from 1735 to 1796.
The collection spans more than 4,000 years of history and has among the best collections of Chinese paintings in the world. It also includes bronze statues, ceramics, jade, lacquerware, carvings, tapestries, calligraphy and more.
Why the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution Is So Popular
The Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution takes visitors through the history of military equipment, beginning with the People's Liberation Army to modern-day weapons. The building that the museum lives in is one of the Ten Great Buildings built for the 10-year anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
Inside the museum are 10 different halls, all of which contain military artifacts from different conflicts. The largest hall is the Hall of Weapons, which has antique weaponry from the many different wars in which China was involved.
19. China Science and Technology Museum
Location: Beijing, China
No. of annual visitors: 3,891,000
Where to stay: Shangri-La Beijing
Why the China Science and Technology Museum Is So Popular
The Chinese Science and Technology Museum first opened its doors in 1988 and has grown to become one of the most important museums in China for science education. The collection includes exhibitions, training-best education programs, experiment-based exhibition programs and more.
It shows Chinese science and technology from ancient times up through the modern day, including everything from the invention of the compass and gunpowder to aeronautics, life science, environmental science and more.
Why the Victoria and Albert Museum Is So Popular
Since the very beginning, the Victoria and Albert Museum was designed to show off the world's best contemporary architecture and design. It opened in 1851 with the world's first international display of design and manufacturing. It moved to its current location in 1857 and was known as the South Kensington Museum.
Named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, it commemorates the role the prince played in making it the museum we know today. It has more than 2.27 million objects spanning arts, decorative arts and design.
17. National Gallery of Art
Location: Washington, D.C.
No. of annual visitors: 4,074,403
Where to stay: Lyle Washington D.C.
Why the National Gallery of Art Is So Popular
With a collection of more than 150,000 paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photographs and more, The National Gallery of Art showcases some of the best history of Western Art. The museum was a gift to the people of the United States by Andrew W. Mellon, secretary of the treasury between 1921 to 1932.
Today, the collection includes the East Building (designed by I.M. Pei), the West Building (the original building) and a sculpture garden.
Why the Zhejiang Museum Is So Popular
The Zhejiang Museum is one of the most famous museums in the eastern province of Zhejiang. It was built in 1929, which makes it one of the oldest museums in China.
Its collection has more than 100,000 items of cultural heritage. The museum is divided into the Solitary Hill Branch, the Wenlan Pavilion, the West Lake Gallery, the Wulin Branch, the Memorial Hall of Huang Binhong and the Former Residence of Sea Menghai.
Why the Nanjing Museum Is So Popular
The Nanjing Museum is one of China's largest and most important museums. It is home to more than 400,000 items in its permanent collection and has one of the largest global collections of Ming and Qing porcelain. The museum is also home to paintings, lacquer and ceramics. You'll also find silk and embroidery, calligraphies and seals.
The museum opened in 1933 and, today, is divided into six exhibition halls: the Historical Hall, Art Hall, Digital Hall, Republic of China Hall, Intangible Cultural Heritage Hall and Special Exhibition Hall.
14. National Museum of Natural History
Location: Washington, D.C.
No. of annual visitors: 4,200,000
Where to stay: Hotel Hive
Why the National Museum of Natural History Is So Popular
The National Museum of Natural History is an important research museum that hosts scientific collections, free exhibitions and educational programs. A staff of researchers spans several departments covering everything from anthropology to vertebrate zoology.
Today, it has more than 146 million objects and specimens. In fact, it is the largest natural history collection in the world. Among its permanent collections are the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals; the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins; and Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt.
13. Guangdong Museum of Revolutionary History
Location: Guangzhou, China
No. of annual visitors: 4,257,100
Where to stay: Shangri-La Guangzhou
Why the Guangdong Museum of Revolutionary History Is So Popular
This niche museum in Guangzhou is a specialty museum designed to display the history of the revolutionary struggle of the people of Guangdong province. It tells the story of everything from the independence from the Opium War, to the Wuchang Uprising in 1911, to the national liberation in 1949 and what transpired after.
Within the museum are 13,000 pieces of cultural relics and literature as well as historical photos.
Why the Museo Reina Sofia Is So Popular
Devoted to 20th-century Spanish art, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is one of Spain's national museums. It includes Spain's greatest collections of Picasso and Dali pieces, including Picasso's 1937 masterpiece, “Guernica.” Other masterpieces found in the museum include work by Joan Miro, Pablo Gargallo, Juan His, Lucio Munoz and others. But it also has international artist collections from Francis Bacon, Alexander Calder, Vasily Kandinsky, Rene Magritte and many others.
The building is on the site of Madrid's first general hospital. It became a museum in 1988.
11. Shanghai Science and Technology Museum
Location: Shanghai, China
No. of annual visitors: 4,824,000
Where to stay: Wanda Reign on the Bund
Why the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum Is So Popular
The largest museum in Pudong, Shanghai, the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum was built to help drive the development of the Pudong area. It initially opened in 2001 with themes that included harmony of nature, mankind and technology. A second phase opened in 2005.
The modern-day museum is dedicated to science as well as the three harmonies. It features 14 permanent exhibitions, including the Spectrum of Life, which is an exhibit that shows off the scenery and flora/fauna of the province. It also covers robots, animals, space and navigation, health and much more.
10. State Hermitage Museum
Location: Saint Petersburg, Russia
No. of annual visitors: 4,956,529
Where to stay: Hotel Helvetia
Why the State Hermitage Museum Is So Popular
St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum was founded in the 18th century by Catherine the Great. It was located next to the Winter Palace and was primarily used as a private gallery for the empress' art collection. After the October Revolution of 1917, the collections all became public property.
Today, the museum is now situated within five interconnected buildings and has nearly 3 million items that range from the Stone Age to modern day. In fact, it has one of the largest collections of European paintings that range from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, Baroque and beyond. You will also find art from Central Asia as well as, of course, Russian art.
9. American Museum of Natural History
Location: New York, New York
No. of annual visitors: 5,000,000
Where to stay: The Whitby Hotel
Why the American Museum of Natural History Is So Popular
One of the most famous tourist attractions in New York City (and the world), the American Museum of Natural History has been operating for more than 100 years. It is known for its research institutions, collections and exhibitions that walk visitors through millions of years of the earth's history.
It enjoys one of the best locations in New York — right across from Central Park — and features 42 permanent exhibitions that cover everything from biology to astronomy. It has millions of artifacts as well as the Rose Center for Earth and Space.
8. Natural History Museum
Location: London, England
No. of annual visitors: 5,424,000
Where to stay: The Egerton House Hotel
Why the Natural History Museum Is So Popular
With more than 80 million items across five main collections, the Natural History Museum in London is one of the most important museums dedicated to natural history in the world. The five main collections include botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology.
Many of the items in the collection were collected by Charles Darwin himself, and the museum is known for its dinosaur skeletons as well as its gorgeous, cathedral-style architecture.
Why the National Gallery Is So Popular
The National Gallery in London is home to Great Britain’s national collection of European paintings. The museum opened in 1824 with just 38 paintings, and the current location of the museum was established in 1838.
Today, it still only has 2,000 pieces, but it’s seen as one of the best examples of European paintings in the world. Represented artists include the greats like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Vermeer. It also has a collection of Impressionist and Postimpressionist works that are equally exquisite.
Why the Tate Modern Is So Popular
One of London's most popular and important museums, the Tate Modern has the nation's collection of modern art that spans from 1900 to the present day. It has masterpieces that span the works of Picasso and Dali to Rothko and Duschamp.
The museum sits inside the former Bankside Power Station, which is actually the same size as Westminster Abbey and was opened to the public in 2000. The admission is free, and there are eight areas that make up the main collection.
Why the British Museum Is So Popular
The British Museum has one of the largest collections in the world dedicated to human history. It was founded in 1753 and first opened in 1759. Today, it has more than 7 million objects that come from all continents, and it walks visitors through human history and culture from the very beginning until modern day.
The collection is split into several departments, including those dedicated to Ancient Egypt and Sudan, Greece and Rome and the Middle East. One of the most important artifacts is the Cyrus Cylinder, which is a cylindrical scroll from 539 B.C. that features an inscribed story of the King of Babylon.
Why the Metropolitan Museum of Art Is So Popular
One of the largest museums in the world, the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art has more than 2 million pieces of art that span the history of human culture. It also has musical instruments, suits of armor, historical artifacts, furniture, costumes and more.
It opened to the public in 1870, originally with three private collections of paintings. Today, its collection ranges from the 12th to 19th centuries. There are 20 permanent collections within the museum as well as a variety of programs and tours.
3. Vatican Museums
Location: Vatican City
No. of annual visitors: 6,882,931
Where to stay: Singer Palace Hotel
Why the Vatican Museums Are So Popular
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to Vatican City and the Vatican Museums. The museums can trace their history back to the 15th century with the construction of the Vatican itself. St. Peter's Basilica, home to the world-renowned Sistine Chapel, was commissioned in 1471, and Michelangelo Buonarroti was hired to paint the ceiling in 1508.
The museums began with the private collection of Pope Julius II. Today, they feature more than 70,000 exhibits, home to the most extensive collection of art in the world that belongs to the Catholic Church. In addition to the Sistine Chapel, the Cabinet of the Masks, the Bramante Staircase and the Vatican Gardens are among the most popular exhibits.
2. National Museum of China
Location: Beijing, China
No. of annual visitors: 7,390,000
Where to stay: The PuXuan Hotel and Spa
Why the National Museum of China Is So Popular
If there is one place in the world to learn about the history and culture of China, it has to be the National Museum of China in Beijing. Located on the east side of the famous Tiananmen Square, the museum showcases both the history and art of China and is a prime place for public education and research.
The collection covers Chinese History from 1.7 million years ago through the end of the Qing Dynasty with a permanent collection of more than 1 million items. Its Road to Rejuvenation exhibition tells the story of China's recent history, from the First Opium War through the history of the Communist Party.
Why the Louvre Is So Popular
The Louvre is considered to be the best art museum in the world. In fact, it is the largest single-complex museum on the planet with 800,000 square feet. The original building was built in the 12th century, and it opened as a public museum in 1793 with only 500 pieces.
Today, the museum contains more than 380,000 pieces of art, including the “Mona Lisa” (as well as 25 percent of all of da Vinci's paintings). It also features pieces that range from early Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece and the famous “Venus de Milo” statue. Even though only 30,000 pieces of the vast collection are on display, it is still nearly impossible to see everything at the Louvre in a single day.