Without question, in terms of the quantity and quality of its museums, Europe leads the world. If you are one of those people for whom the term travel is synonymous with visiting museums, Europe should be foremost on your list of holiday destinations. Still, while the quality of these institutions cannot be doubted, to name the best of them can be a rather challenging task. With so much to choose from, a list of the best becomes a somewhat subjective affair – as different people value and appreciate different things. That said, here are Continental’s choices for the eight (or if you prefer, eight of the) best museums in Europe.
1. The British Museum, London
Established in 1753, the British Museum today possesses a permanent collection of some 8 million works and objects, making it one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world. Dedicated to human history and culture, the scale and breadth of the collection is beyond impressive. You could spend days in the museum and still go back to discover something new. With something for just about everyone, we think the British Museum is a great choice to start off our list.
2. Musée du Louvre, Paris
The largest art museum in the world, and a historic monument in its own right, the Louvre is a natural addition to our list. Located in the heart of Paris, the Louvre contains approximately 38,000 objects dating from prehistory to the present day, including some of the world’s greatest masterpieces. There’s a reason why it was the most visited art museum in the world last year. Ask anyone who has been, and they will tell you it’s well worth the trip.
3. Museo Nacional Del Prado, Madrid
The Del Prado is one of Spain’s largest museums, and the main national art museum in the country. Within the museum walls resides one of the finest collections of European art in the world, with works dating from the 12th to the early 20th century. Masterpieces by artists such as Francisco de Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, and Diego Velázquez number among the highlights of the collection; and, in our opinion, the display of de Goya’s so-called Black Paintings is reason enough to make the visit.
4. Museumsinsel, Berlin
We may be cheating slightly with this next choice, as Berlin’s Museumsinsel, or Museum Island, actually contains five (soon to be six) independent museums (the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum, the Pergamon museum, and coming in 2019 the opening of the Humboldt Forum); but concentrated as they are within a small area in the centre of the city, we feel we are justified. Indeed, UNESCO itself named the museum complex a World Heritage Site in 1999. With collections ranging from art to historical artefacts to archaeological objects and entire reconstructions of ancient buildings, a visit to Museum Island is certainly enough to keep one busy for a couple of weeks – but it can be done in a few days, and it should not be avoided.
5. Госуда́рственный Эрмита́ж, St. Petersburg
The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great. Located in the Winter Palace, the museum, as it is the second-largest art museum in the world, and adjoining palace square can be said to serve as a metaphor for the sheer size and scale of both St. Petersburg, and Russia itself. The museum’s collections comprise over three million pieces and objects, and the collection of paintings is the largest in the world. Admittedly, only a small fraction of this total is on permanent display, but it is incredibly diverse. With art by masters such as Matisse, Rembrandt and Picasso, a trip to the Hermitage Museum should be on everyone’s bucket list.
6. Naturhistorische Museum / Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Again, we may be cheating a little bit, but the Natural History Museum and Museum of Art History, located in twin buildings facing each other across a large square on the Ringstraße, compliment each other rather nicely. Both were opened to the public in 1889, and while the art housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum is certainly world class (the museum was originally commissioned to provide adequate housing for the royal family’s collection of art), the Natural History Museum is no less impressive. With over 30 million objects and specimens, and 60 scientists hired on full-time as staff, Vienna’s Natural History Museum is among the finest of its kind in the world.
7. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
While originally founded in the Hague in 1800, the Rijksmuseum moved to a new home in Amsterdam eight years later. It is a national museum of the Netherlands, dedicated to Dutch art and history from the years 1200 to 2000. The largest art museum in the country, with a collection consisting of around one million objects, including masterpieces by Frans Hals, Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer, it is routinely among the most visited museums in the Netherlands. It’s not hard to see why.
8. Musei Vaticani, Vatican City
With the vast amount of art and wealth amassed by the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries, it’s clear that a trip to the Vatican Museum would be worthwhile. First opened in 1506 when Pope Julius II placed a sculpture of Laocoon and his Sons on display, the museum has seen significant growth since then, with practically half of the buildings within Vatican City now dedicated to the museum. The museum includes content relating to history, ethnology, art and religion, not to mention the renowned Sistine Chapel with its fresco by Michelangelo and the Stanze di Raffaello with frescoes by Raphael. The Vatican Museum is a can’t-miss museum, whether you’re Catholic or not.
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