The World's 12 Most Beautiful Museums

Samuel Spencer

From converted train stations to medieval ruins, museums across the world are just as inspiring as the exhibits they contain. We bring you the most striking cultural destinations from across the globe.

1. Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Building, Museum

Musée dOrsay interior
© Dimitry B./Flickr
This gigantic collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces (the biggest collection of such work in the world, in fact) can be found in what used to be a railway station. Originally the Gare d’Orsay, the building is one of the finest examples of the Beaux-Arts movements in France, with many of the period features like its gorgeous clocks maintained. It would take an impressive building to match a collection featuring some of the finest Manets, Van Goghs and Gauguins, but the Musée d’Orsay manages this feat.

2. The Natural History Museum, London

Building, Museum

Although many millions visit London’s Natural History Museum every year, many miss the purpose-built beauty of the building itself. Fitting the natural history subject matter, the walls, pillars and ceilings of the building are teeming with paintings and carvings of animals, flora and fauna that make every room a delight. From the tiny details of the stone monkeys climbing up the pillars around the main museum block to more recent additions like the atmospheric Earth Room, this building deserves just as much scrutiny as the exhibitions contained within it.

3. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Art Gallery, Building, Museum, School

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, New York, USA.
© Dorling Kindersley ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
With its distinctive spiral architecture, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is one of the most recognizable buildings in New York. Created by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s, it took him sixteen years to build the museum and is arguably one of his most significant works. The shape of the building allowed the work to be presented in a totally new way, with pieces being displayed on a continuous path from the top to the bottom of the museum.

4. Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao

Building, Museum

Universally revered as one of the most important buildings of the late-20th century, this Frank Gehry building was that extremely rare thing for architecture: a critical and a popular success. Reflecting Bilbao’s maritime history, the Guggenheim Bilbao is reminiscent of boats and well as fish scales. Housing a collection of Spanish and international artists, the museum has become an emblem of what has been named ‘The Bilbao Effect’, a controversial and much-debated model of gentrification. Whatever your views on this, however, what cannot be denied is the beauty of this museum.

5. The Hanoi Museum, Hanoi

Building, Museum

Built to celebrate the millennial anniversary of Hanoi, this seemingly gravity-defying building takes the form of an inverted pyramid. Although buildings and monuments wider at the top than at the bottom are nothing new (with the New York Guggenheim being another example on this list,) few have achieved it on such a remarkable scale. Some critics have said that the contents of the museum, which features over 50,000 objects that track the history of Vietnam’s capital, are no match for its exterior – but what an exterior it is.

6. The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Building, Museum, Park

The Royal Ontario Museum has long been one of North America’s most popular museums, but in 2007 it also became one of its most architecturally fascinating, with the opening of ‘The Crystal.’ This jagged deconstructionist structure designed by Daniel Libeskind was built as an expansion to the original building, and makes for a fascinating contrast, facing into the future as much as the heritage of the building looks to the past. This new wing has many fans drawn in by its bold daringness – but many critics who name it one of the world’s ugliest buildings.

7. Monet's House and Gardens, Giverny

Bridge, Museum, Park

The famous bridge over the waterlily pond in Monets garden
© Elliott Brown/Flickr
The Fondation Claude Monet instantly immerses you in Monet’s most famous works. The house and gardens have been extensively preserved to ensure unique insight into the painter’s world – a world of color, stillness and exquisite national beauty. What is most exciting, however, is being able to cross the actual bridge that features in so many of his works, a feeling that cannot be replicated in even the most architecturally advanced museum.

8. Moscow State Historical Museum, Moscow

Building, Museum, Store

8. Moscow State Historical Museum, Moscow
| © joneybrain / pixabay
A striking neo-Russian building built in the 19th century, the vivid scarlet of the State Historical Museum perfectly suits its location on Red Square, where it sits alongside the many other brightly colored buildings of Moscow. Tracing Russian history from the prehistoric to the present, the museum itself estimated it house a collections totaling in the millions. The building itself has a history as interesting as the collection, however. Originally a baroque building built in the days of Peter the Great, it has moved from Tsarist opulence to Soviet austerity and back again.

9. Hedmark Museum, Hamar

Cathedral, Museum, Ruins

Protected Cathedral Ruins at the Hedmark Museum
© Torstein Frogner/WikiCommons
More accurately a collection of buildings and museums rather than a single museum, the Hedmark separates itself from other provincial or regional museums of its type with what is sometimes called its ‘double cathedral.’ The domkirkeruineneis the ruins of a medieval cathedral in Hamar enclosed within a protective glasshouse. It is this contrast of the ancient and modern that make this an exhibition to remember.

10. The Louvre, Paris

Museum, Building

Officially the world’s most visited museum, the evolving architecture of the Louvre offers masterpieces to compete with the ‘Mona Lisa’ or the ‘Venus de Milo’ contained within. The building offers everything from the museum’s original medieval fortress foundations (visible in the crypt) to its famous glass pyramid built in 1989 and inverted pyramid finished in 1993. Across its 60,000 square meters we find some of the most beautiful architecture in France, a building that was expanded throughout the centuries.

11. The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha


Inspired by the Islamic art and architecture that the museum houses, the Museum of Islamic Art was designed by I.M. Pei, the star architect also responsible for the Louvre pyramid. The first of its kind in the Arab States, it has since been joined by museums in locations like Cairo and Ghazni. The Doha location, however, houses one of the most complete collections, a huge set of objects that perfectly compliments the intriguing structure they are housed in. The interior is equally stunning, with ceilings taking a modern and fascinating approach to Islamic patterns.

12. The Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, FL

Museum, Building

The back of the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida
© Dan Lundberg/Flickr
Any museum that focuses on the work of a single artist should be housed in a building that perfectly represents that artist. Out of many dedicated museums across the world, the Dali Museum is perhaps the most successful in that endeavor. The cuboidal main structure is fairly standard, but it is truly Dali-fied by the steel and glass that seems to melt from the building, like the viscous clocks of ‘The Persistence of Memory’. A surreal addition to Florida’s west coast, it perfectly suits the work of the master of surrealism.

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