Museums and cultural institutions beckon people to explore new cultures and topics through their carefully curated collections and transcending exhibitions. For those quick to dismiss the museum experience as boring, it's time to think again. Galleries in all corners of the world, from Senegal to Japan, have mastered the art of creating engaging exhibits on art, history, and culture that can change any naysayer's mind.
While the subject matter may vary from location to location, the best museums in the world make visitors think differently about society. An added bonus: Many of these museums are also known for their incredible restaurants and lush landscapes, making a day at the museum a fulfilling experience.
Check out this comprehensive list of 45 of the best museums and galleries throughout the world with one-of-a-kind displays that educate and inspire. Whether you're interested in discovering the ancient gems of Egypt or learning about the post-impressionist works of Van Gogh, these incredible collections are well worth the trip.
Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid
Since its inception in 1990, the Museo Reina Sofia has always been viewed as a cultural center where art retells the history of Spain and gives insight into its future. The 20,000-piece collection focuses primarily on Spanish artists from the 20th century, but you'll find a number of groundbreaking pieces from international artists like Vasily Kandinsky and Sarah Grilo.
The star of the museum is Pablo Picasso's Guernica, a powerful oil painting depicting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Reina Sofia's other signature exhibition of includes the works of Salvador Dalí.
Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg
Since its opening in 2008, the Apartheid Museum has been regarded as one of the most informative museums in South African history. The institution's 21 exhibition halls document the rise and fall of apartheid within the country through film footage, photographs, and artifacts.
Upon arrival, guests are greeted by seven columns detailing the Pillars of the Constitution in the main courtyard. The most striking exhibit details the life and wisdom of Nelson Mandela, the famous revolutionary who served as South Africa's first president after the end of segregation.
The Museu de Arte de São Paulo
Founded in 1947 by Brazilian businessman Assis Chateaubriand, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) was the first modern museum in all of Brazil. Originally located on Rua 7 de Abril, the museum's current glass structure on Avenida Paulista was designed by Lina Bo Bardi in 1968. The award-winning building's airy appearance is mirrored throughout the exhibition halls as works on crystal easels feel as though they are floating.
Its holdings consist of nearly 11,000 artworks and objects collected from all across the world, including the most important collection of European art in the southern hemisphere.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark
Knud W. Jensen's vision was clear: he wanted to create a museum where Danish people could see modern art from their peers. Though in the years that followed its 1945 founding, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art quickly turned into the predominant institution of international modernist art and architecture.
The 4,000-piece collection encompasses works from 1945 to today from an array of styles including eclectic European Nouveau, global Realism, and American Art Pop. The institution's main principle is not to simply put things out for show, but educate the masses about each work and its impact on society.
War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City
Hidden amidst the bustle of Ho Chi Minh City sits a shocking scene of fighter jets and tanks lined up seemingly ready for action. While it may appear to be an army base, it's actually the War Remnants Museum which truthfully documents the brutal effects and tragedies of the Vietnam War through photography and relics. A heavier museum-going experience, the war museum offers insight into a defining chapter of the country's history, and how it has affected the nation's identity today.
Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal
Inaugurated in 2018, the Museum of Black Civilizations acts as a creative hub for Senegal—and the entire African continent—to celebrate their culture while detailing the struggle that Africans faced throughout history. The museum was the vision of the country’s first president Léopold Sédar Senghor, who vowed to build an institution honoring African art and identity. While Senghor unfortunately passed before the museum opened, his legacy lives on in the curated art selections and striking displays filling the galleries.
The opening of the cultural landmark also spurred a debate amongst the art world, with many scholars calling for museums throughout Europe to return thousands of artifacts looted from Africa during the colonial period.
Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán in Chiclayo, Peru
In 1987, Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva was called upon by police to investigate the Moche archaeological site at Sipán, where grave robbers had been looting artifacts. When he began excavating the site, Alva soon found he was not unearthing a few pieces of jewelry and gold, but rather, the tombs of the Lord of Sipán and 14 other members of the Moche civilization.
The Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán was built to honor and display what has been considered one of the most important archaeological discoveries in South America. Guests can ogle lavish jewels, regal vessels, and other stunning artifacts of Peru’s ancient community.
The National Art Center in Tokyo
You never quite know what awe-striking sculpture or Japanese masterpiece you’ll find at this impressive institution. The National Art Center prides itself in being an “empty museum,” constantly ushering new exhibitions and collections spread across it’s concrete-and-glass structure designed by Kisho Kurokawa.
Established in 2007, the quirky museum quickly grew in popularity and became a must-see attraction in Tokyo, boasting roughly 2 million visitors each year. Past exhibitions cover a wide range of topics from the Impressionist works of Claude Monet and the impact of anime on Japanese culture to the history of Cartier.