(Last Updated On: 08/07/2020)
Since we began travelling as a family, we have visited almost all the continents, all the major cities around the world, the most popular tourist attractions around the world and experienced different cultures. Though we like trying out new things, one item that never misses in our bucket list is a visit to museums. Having been to Krakow, London, New York, Paris, Rome, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other cities around the world, we have seen it all as far as museums and galleries are concerned. We love a trip to the museum as it provides our kids with unforgettable, immersive learning experiences that aggravate imagination and introduce them to unknown worlds and subject matter while offering exceptional environments for quality family time. When we were going through our travel photos, we realized that we have been lucky enough to visit some of the best natural history museums as well as science museums, and we wondered which the biggest museum in the world is. So we compiled a list of the largest museums in the world.
Let’s get started.
Which is the largest museum in the world?
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C
The largest research and museum complex in the world is the Smithsonian. It comprises the National Zoological Park, 19 galleries and museums, and several research stations. It houses more than 137 million pieces documenting the history of America.
The Smithsonian is also the most interactive and varied and pretty much for everybody and not just for art enthusiasts.
There is plenty to see that if you spent one minute looking at every single object at the museum every day and night, you would only see ten percent of the entire collection in ten years! For this reason, it is wise to have a clear plan before you head out to the Smithsonian Museum.
However, the Smithsonian usually provokes a heated debate whether it is the largest museum in the world, seeing that it is an institution spread out between 19 separate museums and research stations.
But when it comes to standalone museums, there are plenty that beat Smithsonian’s individual museums.
What are the largest art museums in the world?
1 – The Louvre – Paris, France
The Louvre used to be a medieval fortress and the residential home of many French Kings before it was transformed into a museum around two centuries ago.
The museum holds strong at number spot as one of the most visited museums in the world with more than 9 million annual visitors. Interestingly 30% of those visitors are domestic residents, while 70% are international guests. Louvre is home to some of the most influential artworks in the world such as the Aphrodite’s Venus de Milo, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and the finest diamond on earth, the Regent.
In total, the Louvre houses more than 70, 000 pieces in a 650,000-square-feet gallery space.
I.M. Pei’s pyramid has become one of the most identifiable structures in the world and is probably most popular than the museum building itself. The pyramid was built in 1989 to serve as the main entrance to the museum.
A second Louvre Museum was opened in 2017 in Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island. Abu Dhabi paid France $525 million to use the name Louvre as well as an additional $747 million for art loans, management advice, and special exhibitions.
2 – State Hermitage Museum – St. Petersburg, Russia
Although Russia is not known as an artistic destination, the Hermitage has nevertheless managed to attract a wide range of art collections from around the world. It is home to more than 3 million pieces of art ranging from the early 20th century to the Stone Age. The museum is spread among six buildings in the banks of Neva River, and the most recognizable structure is the confection-inspired Winter Palace. This building, which is in blue and white, was completed in 1764 and served as the primary residence of the czars.
The founder of the museum was none other than Catherine the Great, in the same year the Winter Palace was finished (1964) after she bought some 255 artworks from Berlin. The museum focuses on the history of Western European art. Among the notable works represented at the Hermitage are those of Picasso, Da Vinci, Tiepolo, Rubens, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Goya, Titian, and Gogh.
But the main attraction is the Gold Rooms, which display golden masterworks from Eurasia, the Orient, and the Black Sea Littoral in antiquity.
3 – National Museum of China – Beijing, China
The National Museum of China in Beijing is one of the most visited museums in the world, receiving more than 7 million annual visitors. Unlike most museums that we visited, which can trace their origin centuries back, this museum was only founded in 2003 after the merger of two museums – the National Museum of Chinese Revolution and the National Museum of Chinese History.
It is easy to access this gallery since it is conveniently situated in Tiananmen Square. Covering a space of 192,000 square meters, the National Museum of China is one of the largest on earth.
The pieces in the museum are focused on the modern and medieval Chinese history and many artworks stored here include some Neolithic treasures such as jade carvings like the jade dragon which dates back between 6000 and 5000 BC, fine painted red clay basin, and the flag that was raised by the infamous Mao Zedong at the Proclamation of the People’s republic of China back in 1949.
Gallery space 65,000 m2 (700,000 sq ft) Established: 1959
4 – Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York City, United States
Besides the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is the largest in the Western Hemisphere. It is also one of the most all-encompassing galleries in the world, with its more than 2 million collections of artworks covering the whole world from present to medieval times. The Met is also deep, holding large volumes that it may seem like galleries unto themselves. It holds works of famous painters such as Botticelli, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rodin, and Degas as well as other luminaries.
The museum also holds Egyptian Collection, which focuses on the tomb of Perneb (circa 2440), as well as the wonderful Temple of Dendur (circa 23-10 B.C).
Last but not least, the American Wing features everything about American arts and crafts, with the most notable piece being a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie House
The Met is also one of the most visited museums in the world with more than 7 million visitors annually.
The main building was finished in 1870 and is situated along the Museum Mile in Central Park.
While there are plenty of impressive attractions at the Met Museum, the most well-known is the Adam and Eve carving by Albrecht Durer.
5 – Vatican Museums – Vatican City (Rome), Vatican City
This is the most famous and popular museum in Italy. It is composed of twenty-two separate collections, with each one more remarkable than the next. Perhaps the most popular ones are the Museu Pio-Clementino, which features a spectacular classical sculpture; the Pinacoteca, which consists of the best of the Vatican’s collection of Renaissance and medieval paintings, the Raphael Rooms, which is an entire room painted by famous painter Raphael; and the iconic Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo.
You can also find ancient Egyptian displays of the Museo Gregoriano Egizio and the Etruscan offerings of the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco. There are plenty of attractions at the Vatican Museums but the most standouts are the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel.
The museums also attract more than 6 million annual visitors, making it one of the most visited museums in the world.
For more information about the Vatican Museums, read our post on interesting facts about Italy.
6 – Tokyo National Museum – Tokyo, Japan 1872
As one of the largest museums in East Asia, the Tokyo National Museum houses some of the most important pieces in the history of Japan. Among the items, you should look forward to seeing include some complicatedly embroidered kimonos, serene-faced Buddha sculptures, samurai swords, and thousand-year-old pieces of ceramics.
Enclosed by the shrines and winding paths of the Ueno Park, you will never find a beautifully positioned museum than this Japan’s oldest museum. It is a must-visit, whether you are a historian, a culture vulture, or just want to admire the architecture of the building and the surrounding landscape.
The permanent collection at the gallery contains more than 100,000 pieces, which is mostly about the history of Japanese art.
What people love about Tokyo National Museum is that despite having a comparatively small amount of collection, the curators were still sensible enough to space out their treasures, making it easy to browse. Each gallery room is painstakingly composed rather than tangled, and all special exhibitions are rotated continuously, which means that the pieces from the permanent collection at any particular time are not the same as you view the last time you were there.
7 – National Museum of Anthropology – Mexico City, Mexico
Museo Nacional de Anthropologia is the largest and most visited museum in Mexico. It specializes mainly in the history of the country prior to the Columbian heritage, through some of the most mind-boggling archaeological artifacts you will ever find elsewhere.
The museum was built by architect Pedro Ramirez Vazquez as a tribute to the original legacy of Mexico. It located in the Chapultepec Forest as an emphasis on a natural relationship with the environment and contains more than 600,000 collection pieces that include the Xochipilli statue and the Aztec Stone of the Sun sculpture.
It should be noted that Mexico City was built over the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the ancient capital of Aztec Kingdom, so be sure to find a lot of artifacts related to this one powerful kingdom in South America.
8 – Victoria and Albert Museum – London, United Kingdom
Located next to the National History Museum, V&A is considered to be the most seductive museum in London. It also perhaps the most radical of all the Victorian galleries, having fitted with gas lightening to enable evening sessions. The most popular collections include Asian and Islamic art.
The centrepiece of the attraction is, however, the Tipu’s Tiger, a life-size 18-century automaton dedicated to Mysore monarch and depicts a tiger tearing apart an officer of the East India Company.
Its other collections include ceramics, wallpapers, fashion, and jewelry, some of which spans 5000 years ago.
V&A is also one of the free museums in London.
9 – National Museum of Korea – Seoul, South Korea
The National Museum of Korea is located in Yongsan, right in the heart of capital Seoul. This cultural complex is tasked to preserve and display the history of Korea raging from present to medieval. It also hosts a number of events including the Children’s Museum.
It houses more than 200,000 collections, which are on display and specialized in painting and calligraphy, crafts and sculpture, and many others. Moreover, the museum also occasionally stages international artifacts from such places as China, India, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Japan.
The setting of this museum is also breathtaking. It is located in the heart of Yongsan Family Park overlooking the Han River and in the background is Mt. Namsan.
Gallery area 27,090 m2 (291,600 sq ft) established 1909
10 – Art Institute of Chicago – Chicago, United States
With over 300,000 collections of art, the Art Institute of Chicago is the largest museum in the city of Chicago. The visitors can enjoy the artworks from across the old building as well as the new Modern Wing, which was designed by architect Renzo Piano.
This museum was conceptualized after the Great Fire damaged the city in 1871. The leaders of the town embarked on reconstructing and growing the city, and in their plans was a new museum and fine arts school.
The front entrance of the gallery is marked by two bronze lion, and inside, you can find among others, the works of Gustave Caillebotte (Paris Street, and Rainy Day), as well as Grant Wood (American Gothic).
Gallery area 26,000m2 (280,000 sq ft) established 1879
11 – Nanjing Museum – Nanjing, China
The city of Nanjing has storied past and one of the best ways to learn about its history is by checking in at Nanjing Museum. It is one of the largest museums in China and boasts over 400,000 collections of arts spread over more than 753,473 square feet.
Nanjing Museum is also one of its kind in China, being the only museum that covers comprehensively the story of the country’s civilization as far as during the Paleolithic era. It is divided into six pavilions, where you can observe the medieval bull-shaped oil lamp that dates back to the Han Period, unparalleled artworks of imperial porcelain dating back to the Qing and Ming dynasties as well as numerous jade sculptures, paintings, and lacquerware among other pieces.
You can also visit designed villages representing ancient life in different regions in China.
The entrance is free, but you will need to have your ID.
12 – British Museum – London, United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has a lot of history some of which cover its colonies and development of the English language. That is why the country has high numbers of museums scattered across its borders.
The British Museum is the largest in the UK and focuses on the national collection of ethnography and archaeology, with more than eight million artifacts ranging from primaeval bones to pieces of Athens’ Parthenon and Assyrian palace rooms.
Despite all the great pieces on display at the British Museum, the main attraction has to be the Egyptian gallery, which boasts the second finest collection of Egyptian relics in the world outside Egypt, most notably the Rosetta Stone, which is believed to have been engraved in 196 B.C.
13 – National Gallery of Art – Washington, United States
The National Gallery of Art was founded as a gift to the nation and serves as a center visual art, culture, and education. It features a collection of more than 150,000 paintings, decorative arts, sculptures, prints, photographs, and drawings, which spans the history of western art.
The museum is made up of two buildings, the East Building, which is also linked by an underground passage, and the West Building, which is the oldest having been completed in 1941.
The Wets Building was built using pink Tennessee marble and was designed by architect John Russel Pope reminiscent of the Jefferson Memorial. It has an extensive collection of sculptures and paintings by European artists from ancient times including Claude Monet, Jan Vermeer, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Leonardo da Vinci.
The East Building, on the other hand, is in stark contrast with the West Building in terms of design. It was completed in 1978 and designed by M. Pei and resembles a trapezoidal shape. The building is further divided into two triangles. This section specializes in modern and contemporary art and features collections of works by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Motherwell among others.
Gallery area 25,200 m2 (271,000 sq ft) established1937
14 – MASS MoCA – North Adams, United States
The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts (MASS MoCA) is a gallery located in North Adams, Massachusetts. Before the building was transformed into a museum, it used to be Arnold Print Works but today it is one of the largest museums of contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States.
The development of the museum began in 1986 after a group of staff from the Williams College Museum of Arts, which is nearby, were looking for a large warehouse to display their works. They were then directed to this abandoned complex by the city mayor. After observing the space, they realized that it had much more potential than just a one-off gallery exhibition.
Gallery area 23,225m2 (249,990 sq ft ) established 1999
15 – Art & History Museum – Brussels, Belgium
This public museum is located in Cinquantenaire Park in Belgium’s capital Brussel as a part of the Royal Museums of Art and History (RMAH). The first collections of the museum can be traced back to the times of Duke of Burgundy.
Today, the museum’s collections are divided into four categories, namely the National archaeology, Classical antiquity, Non-European civilization, and European decorative arts. The national archaeology comprises a large collection of archaeological pieces from prehistory, Gallo-Roman, and Merovingian periods.
Classical antiquity, on the other hand, contains a collection of pieces from the ancient Egyptian, Middle-Eastern, Roman, and Greek civilizations. Non-European sections deal with artifacts from Asian countries like Korea, Japan, China, the Americas, and Southeast Asia.
European section, as you have already guessed, deals with arts from continental Europe and the Middle Ages. It features pieces such as sculptures, ceramics, furniture, glassware, and metals.
16 – Three Gorges Museum – Chongqing, China
The dome-shaped Three Gorges Museum is a free museum that specializes in four areas including research, education, protection, and preservation. Here you can learn all about the ancient B-Yu history and culture as well as the history of the city and the Three Gorges Dam.
Three Gorges Museum was opened to the public in 2005 and was tasked with protection, research, and exhibition of the history and culture of Three Gorges and Chongqing area. It covers an area of about 3 hectares, and inside you will find a wide range of artifacts including cultural remnants from the Han Dynasty, bronze wares of Shu and Ba States, relics of southwestern people, and calligraphies, paintings, among others.
Gallery area 20,858 m2 (224,510 sq ft) established2005
17 – Museum of Fine Arts – Boston, United States
The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) has a vast collection of artifacts and art. The gallery is home to one of the finest collections of Korean pieces outside the Korean peninsula, the largest reserves of primeval Egyptian treasures, the ancient coins (the only gallery in the United States), and collection works by John Singer Sargent.
The most popular attraction is the Claude Monet gallery under the European Wing, which was installed in 2016. Another work worth a glance is the inspiring Arts of Islamic Cultures Gallery, which was reinstalled in 2019 in collaboration with the local Muslim groups.
Galery area 20,500m2 (221,000 sq ft) established1870
18 – Shandong Art Museum – Jinan, China
Founded in 1954, Shandong Art Museum is the first large-scale, provincial, integrated topographic museum in the People’s Republic of China. It is divided into two parts; the eastern section, which was established in 1904 by the British Baptist Missionary J.S Whitewright, in Guangzhi Temple; and the western section which was launched in 1942 in the Shangxin Street, and its collection of historical arts occupied the grounds of the Red Swastika Society.
Over the years, the museum has undergone numerous reconstructions, and today, the Shandong Art Museum does not only contain the history of the city but also its 100-year old history.
Gallery area 19,700 m2 (212,000 sq ft) established 1977
19 – Israel Museum – Jerusalem, Israel
As the largest museum and probably the best cultural institution in the Middle East, Israel Museum is ranked as one of the largest museums in the world, with more than 500,000 collections of arts. It is also home to the most wide-ranging collection of archaeological artifacts linked to the Holy Land. Perhaps the must-see attraction is the Shrine of the Book containing the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, which are the oldest biblical manuscripts today.
Other collections include rare and prehistoric Jewish manuscripts such as the Passover prayer books (Bird’s Head Haggadah) and a section dedicated to modern and contemporary art, which includes works by Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, and Claes Oldenburg.
Gallery area 18,500 m2 (199,000 sq ft) established 1965
20 – National Gallery – Singapore, Singapore
The National Gallery Singapore is among the top museums in the world with more than 8,000 modern Southeast Asian artworks. The museum focused on highlighting the most important works of the pioneer Singaporean artists including the likes of Cheong Soo Pieng, Georgette Chen, and Liu Kang, who are credited for being the founders of Nanyang art style, which utilizes Chinese tools but inclined by Western styles of an oil painting.
The museum is located in two buildings: the Supreme Court and the former City Hall.
It is also a children-friendly museum and constitutes the best things to do in Singapore with kids.
Gallery area: 18,000 m2 (190,000 sq ft) established 2015
21 – Minneapolis Institute of Art – Minneapolis, United States
If you are looking for a little bit of traditional art experience, try the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It is home to a large collection of work from the prehistoric times. There are also works by modern and contemporary artists such as Matisse and Monet. It has a great combination of arts so that if you are tired of watching modern pieces you can turn to the creative skills of the ancient Romans, with a number of human sculptures from this period on display.
Gallery area 17, 500 m2 (188,000 sq ft) Established 1883
FAQ about the largest museums
Which is bigger, Louvre or Met?
Before we wind up, let’s try to answer a thorny question among art lovers and travelers. Which is the biggest between Louvre and Met? This question can easily start a riot among lovers of arts.
But to answer this question, you will have to consider many things, for example, you have to define “bigger”. What does the term bigger mean? Is it by miles, by art collection? By the number of visitors, or by gallery space?
In terms of the number of visitors and gallery space, Louvre is the largest, but not by big margins.
What is the most important museum in the world?
This is a question that we will have to answer based on our own opinion. According to my, the most important museum in the world has to be the British Museum. The reason for our answer is that it is the largest collection size of any museum in the world, with about 8 million pieces. This means that it also has the widest coverage, and it should, thanks to Britain’s long history of colonialism in the Americas, Asia, and Africa.
Largest museums in the world – summary
Does it matter that one museum is bigger than the other – No, but bigger museum generally means more exhibits and more things to see. Our girls and we love spending time in museums, and I have to often drag them out from them. there are museums which we visited several times, and we hope this article helps you to make your mind up which museum
Biggest museums – Pin it for later
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