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The 20 best museums and galleries in the world

Plan your next exhilarating cultural day out with our definitive ranking of the world’s greatest museums

Sophie Dickinson
Written by
Sophie Dickinson

All over the world, there are vast collections of art and artefacts that are available for everyone to see. Some are centred on a particular artwork or place (hello Acropolis, Museum of Terracotta Warriors), others bring together masterpieces collected across the globe (hiya Louvre, Uffizi, MOMA). But one thing our favourite galleries and museums across the globe have in common? An ability to make your jaw drop as soon as you step through their doors.

That could be down to the building itself (the bigger and more out-there the better, we reckon). It might also be the fact that a world-famous sculpture or object is right there, looming over you in the foyer (museums really like to freak you out like that). In many cases, happily, it’s both.

And that’s not to mention the sheer breadth of the art hanging on their walls. Big into the Dutch Masters? The Rijksmuseum’s your guy. Looking for modern art? Try Copenhagen’s the Louisiana. Like your moody Spanish paintings? It’s got to be the Prado. Whatever you’re into, you’ll find it in our ranking of the best museums and galleries in the world. Time to plan your next properly exhilarating cultural day out.

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Best museums and galleries in the world

There are so many dazzling classical works in the Uffizi that some visitors have been taken to hospital due to the overwhelming sensation (Florence is the birthplace of Stendhal syndrome, after all). It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ a thousand times already, nothing prepares you for the real thing. And there are plenty of other spectacular Renaissance paintings to admire, like Caravaggio’s ‘Medusa’ and Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’.

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You may have heard of this one. They’ve got the Mona Lisa, for Christ’s sake. And though you should definitely go and see that rather famous work while you’re here, you’ll also want to take in the Delacroix and Dürer collections – plus the thoroughly excellent ancient Egyptian rooms. In 1983, IM Pei’s sleep glass pyramids upgraded the Louvre from stuffy national museum to dazzling architectural marvel, and lent it a much funner vibe too.

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The German artist Gerhard Richter once called the MoMA his favourite museum in the world. Take one step inside the glass-fronted New York behemoth, and you can totally see why. The collections are filled with masterpieces by the likes of Kathy Acker and Jean-Michel Basquiat, but that’s no surprise considering MoMA has been a major player in modern art history since its inception. It launched with a Picasso retrospective in 1939, unnerved visitors with spooky installation project ‘Information’ in 1970, and held an emoji exhibition in 2010. Whatever’s next, it’s bound to get the world talking.

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The MMCA kept a lot of art lovers entertained during lockdowns, its digitised collections providing curious homebodies plenty to browse without even having to leave their sofa. But let us tell you this: these artworks are definitely, definitely worth seeing IRL. Take a good look at Yoo Youngkuk’s colourful abstract works, then stroll through the sculpture park outside the gallery. This city is known for its love of the gaudy, and this museum really captures that.

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Part of the Smithsonian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture offers a comprehensive look at the USA’s racial history. The curation is equal parts fascinating and devastating, with exhibitions focusing on the unmet promises made in the aftermath of the Civil War and the legacy of police violence that followed. Be warned: you could whittle away a whole day (or even longer) here.

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The Acropolis Museum has gone through multiple iterations since it was first conceived in the 1880s, with politicians and historians proposing various ways to hold the artefacts dug up by the Parthenon. These days, the museum is an airy, sleek exhibition space that will delight history buffs and idle tourists alike. Walk above the preserved ancient neighbourhoods or peer at remarkably intact items from the Byzantine city.


Can you imagine how incredible it must have felt to uncover the terracotta warriors for the first time? No, of course you can’t, but we’re guessing it must have felt pretty good. The people who did were farmers in Xi’an in 1974, and while we can’t experience the thrill of unearthing these world-famous stone monuments, seeing the army standing in their intended layout must come pretty close. Gathered around the tomb of China’s first emperor, the 8,000 warriors and their horses are a majestic sight.

Apparently, if you looked at every object in the State Hermitage for one minute each, it would take 11 years to see everything. That’s quite the commitment. But it’s certainly traipsing around its galleries for a day or two. Highlights include a 200-year-old clock adorned with mechanical golden peacocks, but make sure to take plenty of pictures of the building’s pastel façade too (it looks best on crisp winter mornings).


With its 40 Rembrandts and four Vermeers, the Rijksmuseum is unmissable if you’re partial a sullen seventeenth-century scene. The museum in fact houses more than a million works of art, and by no means are these limited to just paintings. If you’re visiting with kids, hunt down the dollhouse collection and inspect Dutch life in miniature – right down to the tiny plates set for dinner. Hungry after all that browsing? The café does excellent bitterballen.

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The Tate has four galleries in the UK: Liverpool, St Ives, Britain, and Modern. It’s the latter that’s really world-class, though. Housed in a former power station on London’s Southbank, the cavernous galleries house a vast permanent collection and blockbuster exhibitions that pull in the crowds. Head to Turbine Hall for an always-excellent mega-installation (previous artists have included Ai Weiwei and Marina Abramović).

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The Prado may be named after the meadows that previously occupied this side of Madrid – but this museum is anything but twee. The terrifying works by Goya and mysterious El Greco portraits should suffice to prove that. Grab one of the free maps by the entrance to plan your route (you won’t want to miss the Velásquez and Hieronymus Bosch rooms). There are a few time slots each day that allow you to visit without an entry fee.

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You’ll find all manner of striking sculptures in the gardens of the MNA, which occupies a massive 20-hectare site. It’s a tantalising taste of the treasures hidden inside. The sleek, minimalist museum building centres on a courtyard dominated by ‘El Paraguas(The Umbrella’), a towering water feature. Wander through the whopping 23 exhibition rooms, explore the incredible array of pre-Hispanic artefacts, and make sure not to miss the huge Leonora Carrington mural outside.

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This cool, undulating, white-tiled space is the perfect antidote to a balmy summer’s day in L.A. And it’s far more than just a refuge from the heat: you’ll find several of van Gogh’s iris paintings and numerous Rembrandt masterpieces on its walls. To learn more about the oil baron who gives the museum its name, you can visit the nearby Getty Villa, where there’s yet more art to explore too.

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Back in 2001, three young architects from Argentina won a competition to design MALBA, and their pared-back space has since drawn hundreds of thousands of art lovers from around the world. Placing a focus on Latin American art from the twentieth century on, MALBA has plenty of excellent temporary shows, a rich film programme and an interactive children’s gallery. Paintings from old faves like Frida Kahlo and Antonio Berni are hung alongside super-niche exhibits about the BA avant-garde. We like it like that.

The 21 exhibition halls of the Apartheid Museum chronicle the history of modern South Africa, from the country’s constitutional beginnings to the present day, with a separate space dedicated to the life and impact of Nelson Mandela. It’s a moving, important collection of photography, ephemera and footage, though most striking of all are the seven Pillars of the Constitution (pride of place in the main courtyard).


This museum prides itself on having a packed events calendar year round: the foremost institution on San Juan’s arts and culture scene hosts workshops and talks nearly every night of the week. Its brilliant permanent collection ranges from Jesús Cardona’s bold prints to José Campeche’s devotional paintings. Seen the lot? Check out Puerto Rico Plural, an exhibition the museum has put on in various key locations throughout the city.

Instituto Inhotim, Brumadinho
Photograph: Antonio Salaverry /

18. Instituto Inhotim, Brumadinho

The Inhotim only opened in 2002, but has already firmly established itself on the international museum circuit. Spread across 140 hectares of Brazilian forest, it’s as much a lush rambling spot as it is a contemporary art gallery. The museum has filled the gardens with sculptures by Olafur Eliasson and Yayoi Kusama, while inside you’ll find impressive large-scale installations. If you’re intimidated by the scale of the place, we recommend booking a tour with a curator.


The NGV has been closed throughout the pandemic. But that hasn’t stopped the gallery from being a central part of creative life in Melbourne: ace online exhibitions have been curated from the thousands of artworks in the collection. Founded in 1861, the NGV is Australia’s oldest museum, and today houses a range of artefacts from Aboriginal shields to modernist sculpture (along with one of the world’s finest stained-glass masterpieces).

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As modern art galleries go, the Louisiana is pretty enchanting – not least because of its location on the coast north of Denmark’s capital. The indoor collection includes pieces by Picasso and Giacometti, while the gardens are filled with works by the likes of Alexander Calder and Henry Moore. Make sure to linger in the gift shop, where you’ll find impeccably designed Scandi homeware, stationery and posters.

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