No matter where you go in Europe, you’ll certainly find wonderful museums that should be on your must-see list! Many are quite well known and you’ve no doubt heard lots about how you can’t miss them. Others are small museums but of particular interest for one reason or another. Some will be in large cities; others in smaller towns or villages. But there are handful of museums and galleries that stand out head-and-shoulders above the rest, and you simply must make them part of your itinerary if you find yourself in the destination where they are located.
One note in regards to the list below: You’ll often find it difficult to nab tickets to these places if you wait until you get there, and will most likely find yourself in a long line, even if tickets ARE available. So, as long as know when you’re going to be there, plan to buy advance tickets if available online or through a travel professional. It’s well worth any extra dollars you might spend doing so.
1. The Louvre, Paris, France – There was no doubt that this one would be on our list! This art mecca boasts one of the most important collections in the world and is housed in a building that was once a medieval palace, making it all the more special. Of course, I.M. Pei’s very controversial ultra-contemporary addition caused a lot of fuss a few decades ago, but we think it’s pretty neat. Even if you don’t have time to see everything, don’t miss Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo!
2. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia – St. Petersburg is a fabulous city and The Hermitage is a world-class museum. The art works displayed there span from the Stone Age to the 20th century and this fabulous museum owns a collection of more than 3 million pieces. Those on display are spread out over six buildings that sit in a lovely location along the Neva River. There are many wonderful pieces of art at The Hermitage but the museum is best known for its Western European collection.
3. The Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece – One of the coolest things about the Acropolis Museum is the glass floor on the lower gallery, which allows you to literally walk over an excavation area. Take a tour and you’ll see many items from the slopes of the Acropolis. The Archaic Gallery is great too because the museum recently did some renovations that allows visitors to now look at those objects from all sides. The Parthenon Gallery includes 50 meters of the Parthenon Frieze, which is especially beautiful.
4. British Museum, London, England – More than eight million ethnographic and archaeological artifacts call the British Museum home. This marvelous place could consume a good part of your day and is well worth the time it takes to explore. Look for the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Gallery, which includes the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside of Egypt. There are also great exhibits on loan as well and lots of excellent workshops, lectures, and more…given in English, of course.
5. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy – Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance and, quite fittingly, the spectacular Uffizi Gallery boasts the world’s most amazing collection of Renaissance art work, including pieces by all the masters of that period. Earlier works are on display as well. Artworks you won’t want to miss include Madonna with Child by Lippi, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, Doni Tondo by Michelangelo, Venus of Urbino by Titian, and Bacchus by Caravaggio (and many others).
6. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands – If you’re fond of the paintings of the Dutch Masters, then you don’t want to miss this wonderful museum, which is the best in The Netherlands. The building itself is about as spectacular as they come and this art and history museum displays its objects in a way that’s extremely visitor-friendly. You’ll want to see Rembrandt’s Night Watch, Vermeer’s Milkmaid, and Van Gogh’s famous 1887 Self Portrait. Wonderful pieces of decorative arts are on display as well and this is a great place to learn about Dutch history in general.
7. The Vatican Museums, Rome, Italy – You’ll no doubt be overwhelmed by the scope of the collections at the Vatican Museums, which includes 22 different sections such as a Gregorian Egyptian Museum, Miniature Mosaics, Tapestries, Contemporary Art, the Borgia Apartment, several different chapels, and – of course – the renowned Sistine Chapel and the spectacular Raphael Rooms. Not to be missed!
8. The Prado, Madrid, Spain – This museum was founded by Spanish royalty in order to display their amazing collections to the public. Open for almost two centuries, the museum boasts works by the greatest of Spanish artists as well as a wonderful Flemish and Italian collection. Book a tour that includes visits to the museum’s most well-known masterpieces. Lots of decorative arts are on display as well.
9. The National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark – This wonderful, wonderful history museum in this lovely city is a must-do because it truly does immerse you in the history and culture of the Danes. Collections include Danish Pre-History, Middle Ages and Renaissance, a display of royal medals and coins, Near Eastern Antiquities, and more. There’s also a special children’s museum area, which includes a fun dress-up area for little ones, a copy of a Viking ship, and more.
10. The Bode Museum, Berlin, Germany – Berlin boasts a collection of five museums in an area known as Museum Island. The Bode Museum, in our opinion, is certainly a must-see though the others around it are quite fine as well…and you may as well stop in for a look at each while you’re in the area. In particular, the Bode Museum was originally designed to house great works of the Renaissance but today the museum offers a fine sculpture collection and breathtaking works of Byzantine art.