The Geographical Cure

Expert Museums Tips: How To Have An Enjoyable Museum Visit

Wondering how to tackle a museum? Here are my must know tips for visiting a museum.

As a museum geek of the highest order, I have visited hundreds and hundreds of museum. Based on my experience, I think there are some benchmark rules for the organized museum goer who wants to have the best museum experience.

the I.M. Pei Pyramid at the Louvre

Museums are some of the most popular tourist attractions for travelers. However, museums can be large, crowded, and intimidating.

If not done right, the experience of visiting a museum can be disappointing or frustrating, even for the experienced museum addict.

To make sure you get a real experience, not a short touristy version, you need some preparation and a little know how. You need some museum tips.

Pinterest pin for tips for visiting a museum

Don’t just show up to a museum. You don’t want to just stumble around hoping to find what you want to see. Or wondering what is worth seeing. You could come out a bit huffy and frustrated.

Museums can be much more appealing, if you’ve done your background research and know what to expect and see. Then, armed with must know museum tips, you can take in the astonishing art without undue confusion, stress, or FOMO.

There are many ways to visit museums, of course. It depends entirely on your own personality and interests. But there are some basic procedures to follow.

the National Gallery in London

How To Prepare For a Museum Visit, Pro Tips

Here are my tips to get the most out of your museum visit. These must know tips and tricks will make your museum visit more efficient, more enjoyable, and less overwhelming.

1. Decide Which Museum To Go To

First you have to decide which museum you want to visit.

If you’re visiting a small city, then it’s pretty simple. You choices will necessarily be limited.

If you’re going to a big city like London or Paris or Rome , then you’re confronted with an overwhelming number of choices. You could spend weeks and weeks visiting all the museums in these cities.

the Barnes Foundation, a quirky Philadelphia museum with a huge stash of Impressionism

If that’s the case, do your research and pick a museum that matches your interest. You may prefer small less crowded museums to large museums.

You may love an authentic artist studio, historic home, or in situ museum like the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston . Or perhaps you want to see a bucket list masterpiece .

READ : Best Small Museums with Supersized Collections

For me, I love small museums and the periods from the Renaissance to the 20th century. I’m also a huge ruin luster. I’m not keen on sports memorabilia or conceptual art.

There are so many types of museums out there — prehistoric art, old masters, Impressionism, tapestries, photography, fashion, history, cutting edge contemporary, etc. Suit yourself.

the Louvre and the Tuilieries Gardens

Pick one that will excite you personally rather than just checking off what someone else says should be on your bucket list. Trust me, though it’s a beautiful portrait, seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre can be an incredibly underwhelming experience.

2. Identify the Museum’s Masterpieces

Once you’ve chosen a museum to visit, visit the museum’s website. Check out the hours and what day the museum is open.

Then, read up on its collection and highlights. This kind of pre-trip studying will make the art and artifacts more fun and accessible.

Hall of Sculptures in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris

Figure out your priorities in advance. It’s not terribly enriching to just wander aimlessly through a museum with no clue what you’re looking at or for.

Does the museum have some famous masterpieces you want to see? What art style do you love? Do you like paintings, sculpture, or artifacts?

If the museum is massive with millions of artworks, you can’t see it all. Pick a collection that suits you. It’s a common misconception that a great museum only has great art. But that isn’t true.

The museum may have collections you love and ones you hate. Skip over the art works that don’t interest you to conserve time and energy.

If you don’t identify what you want to see in advance, you may get stuck seeing the works close to the entrance and miss the treasures that lie deeper in the museum.

the gorgeous Tate Britain museum in London

3. How Long To Visit A Museum

Another good tip for visiting a museum is to decide in advance how long you want to stay. This may depend on the size of the museum.

Or, it may depend on how long you can stare at art without getting “museum fatigue” and starting to glaze over the artworks. Science has proven that as the length of a museum visit increases, your engagement and attention decrease.

For me, two hours is about right, though I can do longer with breaks. If you want to do two museums in one day, take a long lunch break in between.

the Pompidou Center, Paris' modern art museum

If this is the only time in your life you may be at this museum, then stay longer and take a break at the museum itself. Most museums have cafes where you can get a snack, meal, or drink.

Or you can browse the museum bookstore or gift shop. If your ticket permits same day reentry, you can take a walk outside. You can recharge your batteries and then go back for more art.

If you’re at a massive museum like the Louvre, the Met, or the British Museum , you won’t see everything in one visit. These museums are best experienced by going back repeatedly. Other large museums are the same way.

READ : Tips For Visiting the Louvre

great hall in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

4. Learn the Museum Layout

If you’re visiting a big museum, you’ll want to be efficient with your time. In the case, the best museum tip is to look at the layout of the building in advance.

Some museums are shockingly disorganized, sometimes because they’re housed in an ancient or cavernous building. I find the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to be that way, for example.

Also, it’s a good idea to figure out your parking options in advance, if you’re driving to the museum. When you arrive at the museum, pick up a map at the front door, the information desk, or the ticket desk.

5. Take a Virtual Tour of the Museum

Once you’ve figured out what you want to see or to get further inspiration, take a virtual tour of the museum collection or masterpiece you want to see.

Most museums have virtual tours or online collections that you can explore. You can also explore on Google Arts & Culture.

READ : Virtual Tours of 50 Best Museums

Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

6. Learn Out Loud: Listen to Free Podcasts or Films

If you’re not an art expert, museums can be hard to decipher. Podcasts or documentaries are an excellent way to bone up on masterpieces or a particular artist’s artworks you’re planning to see.

Here’s my guide to the best art-related podcasts and my guide to the best art films and documentaries .

Another fantastic source for a quick preview of an artwork is Smarthistory .

7. Get Tickets in Advance

There is a super important museum tip. There’s nothing worse than staring your museum visit by queuing for hours waiting to get in (and then go through another security check).

And that’s the grim reality when visiting many of world famous museums like the Louvre , the Uffizi Gallery , or the Vatican Museums .

aerial view of the Vatican Museums

I had to queue up one toasty summer for hours for the Vatican Museums. Never again! There are plenty of hidden gems you can visit in Rome that don’t require a taxing wait.

READ : Guide To the Sistine Chapel

To avoid this fate, be smart and purchase your museum ticket online in advance of your visit. You can often do that on the museum website or a service like Get Your Guide or Tiqets.

For some museums — like the Alhambra in Granada or the Borghese Gallery in Rome — you can get tickets months in advance. And they sell out quickly. So plan ahead and don’t arrive empty handed at the landmark museums or sites.

Museum Island in Berlin

8. Let the Art Speak To You

If you are more type B, sometimes the best way to visit a museum is without any preconceptions. Just go look at the art with a short preview of what’s there beforehand.

Art is entirely subjective. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and people react differently to art. Be open minded and know you’ll see things you haven’t been exposed to before.

If you find an artwork in front of you compelling or interesting in any way, then read the little information “chat” plaque next to the work. If the work holds no interest, walk on by.

You’re not obligated to like any art. Look for another piece that captures your interest.

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1503 -- the world's most famous painting

Sometimes the information provided on the chat label can be valuable. Other times it can be a tad pretentious.

It may even tell you how you’re supposed to feel about the artwork. I occasionally find these labels off-putting or their verbiage indecipherable.

Hold on to your own opinion of a piece or artist.

For example, I’ve read that the Pre-Raphaelites shouldn’t be admired because they were just a group of men paintings pretty pictures of porcelain skinned maidens. Yet, I love the hyper romantic group and Ophelia is one of my favorite paintings.

the Albertina Museum in Vienna

9. Get a Museum Or Audio Guide

Another way to have an enjoyable and relaxing museum visit is to book a private tour, especially for a very large museum or popular tourist attraction. The tour guides knows the museum very well. You’ll get an in depth look at the museum highlights.

Museums typically have either free or docent museum tours available as well. They are super informative and usually last roughly two hours. And you’ll also have a chance to ask any questions.

If you don’t want a formal guide, many museums have their own dedicated apps you can download to your phone. Use them to navigate the museum and look up individual items in the collection. For some, you punch in a number. Others have a scan function.

Or, you can use the more conventional audio guide.

Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

10. You Don’t Need a Phone or Camera

I take pictures at museums because, as a culture and travel blogger, I have to. However, I think a museum experience is much better without stopping to take pictures. Or even worse, waiting in line to get a photo of a famous masterpiece like the Mona Lisa .

Museums should be a leisurely cell-phone-free experience. Art is meant to be enjoyed and evoke emotion.

It’s better just to admire the art, or soak in the details, without wasting time and energy with your phone or camera. You can always buy a book at the bookstore to revisit the works at home.

Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1486 -- the most popular painting in the Uffizi

11. Museum Shops

I tend to love museum shops. I often pick up a book about the museum itself or about the special exhibition I’m attending.

There are usually a wide variety of souvenirs. And often there are local handicrafts at the shop, some of which are quite beautiful.

12. Dress Sensibly

You can do a lot of walking in museums. But it’s the standing that really gets me. Wear some comfy shoes for all the standing. In some museums, there’s not even a bench to give your feet a respite.

the loggia of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

And don’t carry a lot with you. Some museums require you to check anything other than a small handbag. If you don’t check them, you may end up with shoulder fatigue.

Some museums like the Vatican Museums or churches with art collections have a dress code. You won’t be let in if your shoulders and knees aren’t covered.

By the way, in cities like Rome or Florence , the churches house much of the city’s must see art. And they may be free to visit.

READ : Guide To the Best Churches in Rome

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums

13. When To Go To a Museum

Try to go off season. If you’re visiting a super popular museum (the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum in London , or the Uffizi Gallery in Florence), the crowds can be utterly overwhelming. Visiting in shoulder season is eminently preferable to the summer.

Try to avoid the weekends, if you can. Sunday afternoon is the most popular time for museum-going. I really like going when there’s a late night opening.

Most museums are open late once a week, some until 9:00 pm. The Louvre is open until 9:45 pm on Friday.

Rodin Museum in Paris

14. Consider Visiting A Single Artist Museum

Another good museum tip to try a single artist museum. I find single artists museums or artists studio-museums to be so revelatory. And they don’t have the oppressive crowds of the more famous museums.

If you’re in Paris, go to the Rodin Museum rather than the Louvre . If you’re in Barcelona , go to the Picasso Museum instead of Sagrada Familia .

If you’re in London, try the John Sloane Museum instead of the National Gallery. If you’re in Florence, visit Casa Buonarotti or the Bargello Museum instead of the Uffizi.

And nothing beats a trip to Monet’s House in Giverny France, if you’re road tripping in Normandy or taking a day trip from Paris .

the British Museum in London

I hope you’ve enjoyed my tips for having a fantastic museum visit. Need more museum destination inspiration? Here are some of my museum guides :

  • 75 Art Masterpieces in Europe
  • Best Museums in Paris
  • Secret Paris Museums That Aren’t the Louvre
  • Best Museums in Rome
  • Guide To Rome’s Palace Museums
  • Best Museums in Florence
  • Free Museums in London
  • Best Museums in Vienna
  • Masterpieces at Paris’ Musee d’Orsay
  • Guide To the Uffizi Gallery

If you need tips for visiting a museum, pin it for later.

Pinterest pin for must know tips and tricks for visiting a museum

3 thoughts on “Expert Museums Tips: How To Have An Enjoyable Museum Visit”

Within driving distance there is at least one museum near me that is worth visiting. I have even been there a few times in the past myself to visit. The museum in question has a nice kids club too. It even organises a lot of fun events and activities for school aged children as well.

I recommend making notes. Look at the supplied information on the website of the actual museum. You can always read articles in order to find out more details. Good luck to you. Ask your closest friends and family members to tell you more facts about the museums in their local area. Do your tailored research. Use your brief summary notes as a starting point to learn something more. Reflect on the museum when you happen to visit the place. Talk to the museum staff and speak to the museum visitors.

Thank you for this post, Leslie. It has so much great information that I will implement on future museum visits. I also love how you mention “museum fatigue.” I also get that and find I’ve reached my saturation point in about two hours.

Yes 2 hours is about it before I need a break to stay focused!

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Last Updated on July 9, 2023 by Leslie Livingston

30 Best Museums in the U.S., Ranked

30 best museums in the u.s..

Detroit Institute of Arts, one of the best museums in the U.S.

There are more than 35,000 museums in the United States — an impressive figure, even when considering the massive size of the country. It’s impossible to visit them all, of course, but you can prioritize and conquer the most important ones.

From the iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, this list takes you on a tour of the U.S. museums you absolutely have to visit at least once. (And more if you can!)

Some, like the MoMa, are world-renowned, while others are hidden gems. Within each, you’ll gain a breadth of knowledge on subjects as diverse as space, Ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, Renaissance art, World War II and beyond. 

Note: We may earn money from affiliate partners if you buy through links on our site.  

30. Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science - Miami, Florida

Science museum in Miami

While Miami is more known for its art scene — whose Latin American coverage is one of the best in the country — one of the most fun museums you can visit is the Frost Science .

The highly interactive institution covers everything from the environment of the Everglades to the production of electricity and the inner workings of the body. You'll also see a rare model of a dinosaur as they actually were: feathered.

Geared towards children, there is also a three-level aquarium where you can see many species native to South Florida as well as other animals from around the world.

Where to stay:  citizenM Miami World Center

Must-See at the Frost Museum: The Mammoths Hall

Mammoth fossil at the Frost Museum

On the museum's fourth level, you'll find the fossils of mammoths.

You can follow the fascinating history of these giants that once roamed North America and learn about their extinction.

29. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis - Indianapolis, Indiana

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

No one ever has to wonder what to do on a family trip to Indianapolis, as the state capital has the largest children’s museum in the entire world. (Its size? Nearly half a million square feet.) 

Of course, the museum is highly interactive, with kids being encouraged to touch and play with almost everything. Little ones can hunt for fossils at the Dig Site, examine a model mastodont skull, climb rock walls, build toy boats to float in actual water and much (much) more.

Even your antsiest kid will never get bored. 

Where to stay:  Stone Soup Inn  

Must-See at Children’s Museum of Indianapolis: Paleo Prep Lab

Paleo Prep Lab at the Children's museum of Indianapolis

Kids are (finally!) allowed to touch a real T-Rex bone at this interactive lab. How cool is that? 

And let’s be real: Adults love it too.

28. Chihuly Garden and Glass - Seattle, Washington

Chihuly Garden in Seattle

Two hours will be enough to see the entirety of Seattle's Chihuly Garden and Glass . But the unique institution proves that size doesn't always matter. 

The entire museum is dedicated to the glasswork of Dale Chihuly, perhaps the best-recognized artist in this medium. But rather than present his beautiful pieces on their own, they are interwoven with the garden, in a way that the line between the natural and the intervened can become blurry. 

When you visit Seattle, this is a must-see attraction.

Where to stay:  Hyatt House Seattle Downtown

Must-See at Chihuly Garden and Glass: The Glasshouse

“Viola Crystal Tower" by Chihuly

A gigantic glasshouse houses hanging glass pieces that are broken into fractals when reflected on the walls. 

From the outside, the Glasshouse could easily be confused with a greenhouse. But step inside to see the majestic display of glass on glass on glass.

27. USS Midway - San Diego, California

Midway Museum

Right in downtown San Diego, this museum is located on a floating aircraft carrier. Within the large space, there are 60 exhibits, including flight simulators, virtual reality games and restored aircrafts. Its interactive collection was planned with families in mind, as people of all ages find it easy to engage. 

The USS Midway also has a beautiful view of the San Diego skyline, which makes for great photo opportunities. And while you're enjoying that, your kids can complete a scavenger hunt to get their wings.

Where to stay:   Intercontinental San Diego, An IHG Hotel  

Must-See at the USS Midway: Sailor's Bunks

Midway bunkers

Although it's cool to see things in museums, sometimes it's frustrating not to be able to touch them. At the Enlisted Sailor's Bunks exhibit, you can touch, play and pretend as much as you want.

You are encouraged to lay down in one of the bunks and imagine what it was like for sailors onboard the Midway.

26. The Broad Museum - Los Angeles, California

The Broad Museum in Los Angeles

Opened in 2015 in downtown Los Angeles, the Broad Museum seeks to bring contemporary art to the general public. Because of this, admission is always free for permanent exhibitions.

Its collection counts 2,000 pieces, which is impressive for a museum of its age. You'll find well-known contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Liechtenstein and Yayoi Kusama. The museum also has the largest Cindy Sherman collection on the planet.

Where to stay:  Omni Los Angeles Hotel California Plaza

Must-See at the Broad Museum: Yayoi Kusama's 'Longing for Eternity'

"Longing for Eternity" at the Broad Museum

Inside a seemingly simple white box, you can peer through an entrancing kaleidoscope of colors.

25. Modern Art Museum - Fort Worth, Texas

The Modern Art Museum Fort Worth

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is know equally known for its gorgeous exterior as for the quality of works it houses in its interior. 

The museum was designed by Tadao Ando, whose use of light, straight lines and a reflecting pool has been applauded. Inside, the collection focuses on post-World War II modern and contemporary art. Featured artists include Picasso, Susan Rothenberg, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Takashi Murakami and Mario Garcia Torres.

Where to stay:  Home2 Suites by Hilton Fort Worth Cultural District  

Must-See at the Modern Art Museum: David Bates' 'The Cleaning Table'

"The Cleaning Table" by David Bates

Though not the most famous artwork in the collection, this bold painting was made by Texan artist David Bates. It is celebrated for its broad brushstrokes and is a fine representation of local art.

24. Asian Art Museum - San Francisco, California

Asian Art Museum San Francisco

If you want to escape Eurocentrism in art galleries, San Francisco has the perfect antidote. 

This large collection of Asian art includes pieces from across the entire continent. Some of the works in the collection date back several thousand years, ranging from samurai armor to Hindu deities from Cambodia to ancient Persian ceramics. 

Where to stay:  San Francisco Proper Hotel  

Must-See at Asian Art Museum: Seated Buddha

Seated Buddha at the Asian Museum of Art, San Francisco

Dating all the way back to 338, this is the oldest known Chinese Buddha sculpture. It remains in remarkably good condition considering its age. 

23. Greenfield Village - Dearborn, Michigan

Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan

This sadly underrated museum is not as well known as others on this list. However, it is quite significant, considering that it has collected several important artifacts from American history. You can see the bus where Rosa Parks refused to stand up, as well as the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop and home. 

The outdoor museum is part of the Henry Ford Complex and includes his furnished childhood home and prototype garage. Some sections of the village showcase life in different periods of the country, complete with costumed actors demonstrating old-time daily tasks. 

Check out this hidden gem before people finally catch on! 

Where to stay:  The Henry Autograph Collection  

Must-See at Greenfield Village: John F. Kennedy Limousine

John F. Kennedy Limousine at Greenfield Village

The limousine President JFK was riding in when he was assassinated makes for a chilling display. In a similar vein, you can also see the theater chair that President Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot.

22. National Air and Space Museum - Washington D.C

National Air and Space Museum

This Smithsonian museum is so gee-whiz exciting that it is loved even by people who generally find museums boring —  including but not limited to restless youngsters.

Explore everything related to the magic of taking your feet off the ground, including the Wright Brothers’ earliest flight machines, warplanes used in WWI and the famous “Spirit of St. Louis,” which Charles Lindbergh flew on the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in 1927.

You can also enjoy the space exhibitions featuring several artifacts from the iconic Apollo missions.

Where to stay:  Canopy by Hilton Washington DC The Wharf  

Must-See at National Air and Space Museum: Lunar Rock

Lunar Rock at the Air and Space Museum

Although other museums have lunar rock samples, you are actually allowed to touch this one. It's the next best thing to actually stepping on the moon.

21. National September 11 Memorial & Museum - New York City, New York

visit a few museums

Commemorating the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, this memorial stands as a public statement of resilience. 

The museum covers what happened before, during and after these tragic events, always keeping those lost and those who lost someone at the forefront of the narrative. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come each year to pay their respects while exploring powerful exhibits featuring artifacts, photography and archival recordings. 

Where to stay:  World Center Hotel

Must-See at National September 11 Memorial & Museum: The Survivor Tree

visit a few museums

Recovered from the ruins with only one branch alive, this tree also survived a storm that uprooted it while it was being replanted in the Bronx. It now stands tall in the memorial, a symbol of strength and hope.

20. Kennedy Space Center - Titusville, Florida

Kennedy Space Center

If you’ve ever dreamed of going to space, or are merely curious to know how it's possible, head to NASA’s Floridian visitor center. Here, you can learn about the physics behind the launches, see moon rocks and maybe even meet some astronauts. 

The museum is interactive, has two IMAX theaters and is extremely child-friendly. We don’t want to say it, but this probably beats a visit to Disney. 

Where to stay:  R ocke

Must-See at Kennedy Space Center: Shuttle Launch

Rocket launch in Florida

Check this handy schedule to see if your visit coincides with an actual shuttle launch — an amazing experience few people in the world get a chance to witness.

19. Museum of Fine Art - Houston, Texas

MFAH gardens

As the first and oldest public art museum in Texas, the Museum of Fine Art Houston has a noteworthy selection. The pieces in its collection span over 6,000 years and come from every inhabited continent. You will be able to see ancient decorative arts, classical East Asian paintings as well as modern works by artists like Kandinsky.

The museum also has extensive gardens with sculptures that you can walk through. The gardens are one of the best spots in the museum to take a small break.

Where to stay:  The Inn at St Botolph  

Must-See at the Museum of Fine Art: James Turrell's 'The Light Inside'

The Light Inside exhibition

It isn't often that you get to walk through a piece of art, let alone one that seems to transport you to another world of reality. This tunnel made up of brightly colored walls and sharp light lets you connect between two buildings of the museum.

18. The National WWII Museum - New Orleans, Louisiana

The National WWII Museum

World War II has obviously shaped the history and culture of this country in many significant ways, and there’s no better place to learn about it than at this extensive, thoughtful NOLA museum.  

Built on a former factory where D-Day boats were made, the museum is heaven for any history buff. To arrive at the entrance, you must board a train car, making you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. You can spend the rest of the day walking through the museum’s six acres, listening to oral histories, seeing boats and tanks up close, and even greeting some veteran volunteers happy to tell their stories. 

Where to stay:  The Higgins Hotel New Orleans, Curio Collection by Hilton

Must-See at National WWII Museum: War-Themed Canteen

visit a few museums

Unwind from all the heavy history while still feeling immersed in it at this canteen featuring all-American foods and authentically old-fashioned entertainment (think: swing bands and vocal trios). 

17. The Getty Center - Los Angeles, California

The Getty Center

One of the best art museums on the West Coast is a piece of modern art unto itself. The undulating and circular structure, designed by legendary architect Richard Meier, is perfectly complemented by 86 acres of manicured gardens, where visitors can stroll after exploring the galleries and gaze out over West L.A.

The collection centers on European art from the Renaissance to modernity but also includes photography, decorative arts, and so much more. Oh, and admission is free!

Where to stay:  Palihotel Westwood Village

Must-See at The Getty: Van Gogh’s 'Irises'

Van Gogh’s “Irises”

Van Gogh painted this beauty, one of his most well-known pieces, just a year before his death. 

16. Cleveland Museum of Art - Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland Museum of Art

With more than 60,000 pieces of art from around the world, this museum is regarded as one of the country’s best. It has an impressive collection of Asian art and a renowned decorative-art wing. Still, perhaps its greatest selling point is its photography wing, featuring powerful pictures of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. 

Unlike precious few museums on this list, its exhaustive collection is also free an open to the public.

Where to stay:  Intercontinental Cleveland, An IHG Hotel

Must-See at Cleveland Museum of Art: Botticelli’s 'Virgin and Child with the Young John the Baptist'

Botticelli’s 'Virgin and Child with the Young John the Baptist'

You don’t have to go to Italy to see the works of Renaissance master Botticelli, whose composition skills are gorgeously displayed in this work. But is it really Botticelli’s? Some people believe the piece was actually painted, in part or in full, by Botticelli’s student, Filippino Lippi.

15. Salvador Dalí Museum - St. Petersburg, Florida

Salvador Dalí Museum in Florida

No one expects the largest collection of Dalí works outside of Europe to reside in a small beach town on the west coast of Florida. Then again, when has anything related to Dalí been conventional? 

The museum was born from the private collection of a couple who decided to share the masterpieces they had in their possession with the world. The building itself is inspired by surrealism and houses drawings, objects, paintings, photographs, prints and even book illustrations made by the artist. 

Keep an eye out for the Aphrodisiac Telephone , more commonly known as the Lobster Phone.

Where to stay:  The Inn on Third

Must-See at Dalí Museum: 'The Hallucinogenic Toreador'

Dali's 'The Hallucinogenic Toreador'

One of the artist’s most significant masterpieces was inspired by his wife’s distaste for bullfighting. You could spend your entire day staring at its surrealist elements and symbols, trying to parse their meaning. 

14. Philadelphia Museum of Art - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania

Mainly housed in a 1928 building, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the best in the city. With more than 225,000 works, the museum's collection is America's largest — certainly a source of pride for locals who love their city's rich history. 

The collection spans centuries and includes works from all over the world. You'll see paintings of Benjamin Franklin as well as works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso and Duchamp. 

Where to stay:  Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown

Must-See at the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Jean Metzinger's 'Le Goûter'

Le goûter, Tea Time

Picasso usually takes over the name of Cubism.

If you want to see other masterpieces from the movement, we recommend this gorgeous painting by Jean Metzinger.

13. Detroit Institute of Arts - Detroit, Michigan

Detroit Institute of Arts

Listed as a National Historic Place and as one of the most visited art museums in the world, the DIA is a reminder that Detroit was once a major, thriving American city. (Happily, in recent years, it’s been working to reclaim this mantle.)

As with other large institutes of its kind, the museum covers thousands of years of art history, ranging from Ancient Egyptian encryptions to contemporary art. Of course, you can expect works from the great masters of Western art as well, including bold-face names like Degas and Van Gogh.

Where to stay:  The Inn On Ferry Street

Must-See at Detroit Institute of Arts: Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals

Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals

Commissioned in the 1930s, this series of murals depicting labor at the Ford Motor Company and the history of Detroit is the artist's personal favorite work. 

12. National Portrait Gallery - Washington, D.C.

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery houses the portraits of every U.S. president and other important figures of American history. Since Hillary Clinton, the gallery also houses portraits of first ladies. 

Whether you love American history or want to learn more about it, it's fascinating to see the portraits that have allowed us to remember prominent faces. At the museum, you can also see daguerreotypes of the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.

Where to stay:  Conrad Washington, DC  

Must-See at the National Portrait Gallery: Abraham Lincoln Daguerreotype

1965 daguerrotype of Lincoln

Though cracked, this plate of a Lincoln daguerreotype is considered priceless. It was done by famed photographer Alexander Gardner in 1865, the same year the president would be assassinated. 

This is the last seated portrait of Lincoln before his death.

11. The Whitney Museum of New York - New York City, New York

Whitney Museum New York City

It's not easy to stand out from the pack in New York City, home to some of the best museums in the  world . But the Whitney is very much worth visiting, especially if you want to focus more on modern and contemporary art. 

The museum has a collection of over 25,000 works of 20th- and 21st-century art. These include everything from 25,000 paintings to sculptures to films and prints. As one of the most respected institutions in the city, you can count on it to always be excellent.

Where to stay:  The Standard High Line

Must-See at the Whitney Museum: Edward Hopper's 'New York Interior'

Edward Hopper's 'New York Interior'

Hopper's "Nighthawks" (housed in the Art Institute of Chicago) is much more famous than this piece. But "New York Interior" keeps the artist's signature style of looking at intimate moments in the city. An air of loneliness surrounds the painting, even while activity is evident. 

Because it peeks inside a bedroom, anyone seeing the painting feels as if they were not meant to see it. And yet you can't take your eyes away from it. 

10. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - Washington D.C.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This museum is the nation’s official monument in commemoration of one of the most horrifying tragedies in human history. Upon entering, visitors receive a card with the name and story of a Holocaust victim or survivor, a way to make the almost incomprehensible number of victims less abstract. 

Permanent exhibitions containing original letters from victims, audio and visual recordings of their testimonies, and various recovered artifacts further help tell the story, to painful but important effect.

Where to stay:  Salamander Washington DC  

Must-See at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: The Hall of Remembrance

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

An eternal flame burns bright in memory of the victims in this somber hall. Visitors are encouraged to light a candle as a way of paying their respect. 

9. The Field Museum - Chicago, Illinois

Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

Though it's not  the best natural history museum in the U.S. (that'll be listed later), the Field Museum is still very much worthy of attention. 

With museums, fossils and archaeological artifacts from around the world, the Field brings together the past and the present. One of its most interesting aspects is its focus on the effects of climate change and what that means for the current world. 

Where to stay:  Le Méridien Essex Chicago

Must-See at the Field Museum: Inside Ancient Egypt

Mummy at the field museum

Did you know that Egyptians mummified more than humans? At the field museum, you can see over 20 mummies and several mummified animals, who were often beloved pets of rulers. 

You can also see authentic hieroglyphics that go back around 5,000 years.

8. Museum of Fine Arts - Boston, Massachussetts

Museum of Fine Arts - Boston

After The Met, this source of pride for all Bostonians boasts the second-largest collection of art in North America , a fact that every local you encounter will happily throw your way. 

Though it focuses mostly on European and American art — it even has more Monets than any museum outside Paris — the museum also has more diverse offerings. Its Ancient Egyptian sculptures, in particular, are well worth seeking out.

Where to stay:  Sonder at Pierce Boston

Must-See at Museum of Fine Arts: Gilbert Stuart’s 'George Washington'

Gilbert Stuart’s 'George Washington'

This unfinished painting of America’s first president is the model that was used for the one-dollar bill. 

7. National Museum of African American History and Culture - Washington D.C.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Opened in 2016 to much acclaim, this relatively young Smithsonian museum has enjoyed immense popularity. In fact, it has already earned a place within the country’s 10 most visited museums . 

Its collection thoughtfully educates visitors on the history of slavery, segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, highlighting the figures who have often been ignored by mainstream history. Photographs, oral histories, clothing and song recordings contribute to an immersive storytelling experience. 

Where to stay:  JW Marriott Washington, DC  

Must-See at National Museum of African American History and Culture: Harriet Tubman’s Personal Items

Harriet Tubman's shal

Learn about the extraordinary woman who helped countless slaves gain their freedom through the use of the underground railroad by exploring a collection of her personal items — including presents given to her by Queen Victoria.

6. National Gallery of Art - Washington D.C.

National Gallery of Art - Washington D.C.

Located near Capitol Hill, it is difficult to imagine that this expansive gallery started from the donation of a patron’s personal collection. Established in 1937, the museum mainly focuses on European and American art, boasting pieces by the likes of Henri, Monet and Dégas. (Ever heard of them?)

Like most of DC’s museums, this one is also free to explore.

Where to stay:  Riggs Washington DC

Must-See at National Gallery of Art: Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Portrait of Ginevra de' Benci'

Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Portrait of Ginevra de' Benci'

This stunning oil painting depicting a 15th-century aristocrat is the only da Vinci work on display in all of the Americas.

5. American Museum of Natural History - New York City, New York

American Museum of Natural History

Although the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in D.C. is amazing, New York’s first museum steals its spotlight. More than 32 million specimens are preserved within the walls of this magnificent institution, considered one of the best science museums in the world. 

You’ll get to see dinosaur fossils, taxidermied elk and underwater creatures from around the world. The museum is interactive, with an extremely fun space wing and 3-D film showings.

Where to stay:  Hotel Belleclaire  

Must-See at American Museum of Natural History: T-Rex Fossil

T-rex fossil at the American Museum of Natural History

Displayed in a stalking position, this fossil is both awe-inspiring and a little scary. It’s just one part of the museum’s exhaustive collection of fossil mammals and dinosaurs, the largest of its kind in the world.

4. National Museum of American History - Washington D.C.

National Museum of American History

Fitting the history of a nation within a museum is a difficult task, but the National Museum of American History is more than up to the job.  

Exhibits cover different periods, from the life of indigenous communities before European colonization until today. The collection includes original letters from the Civil War, props used in iconic movies, propaganda posters for WWII and even Julia Child’s kitchen. 

It doesn’t capture all you need to know about U.S. history, obviously, but the breadth and diversity of its collection wows. 

Where to stay:  Grand Hyatt Washington  

Must-See at National Museum of American History: Original Star Spangled Banner Flag

Original star spangled banner flag

Located in the center of the second floor, this is the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that would become the country’s stirring anthem. 

3. The Art Institute of Chicago - Chicago, Illinois

The Art Institute of Chicago

Holding about 300,000 pieces, the Art Institute of Chicago earns its rank among the world’s great art museums, and touts an enviable location in the city’s Millennium Park to boot. 

The museum’s collection covers the span of humanity’s affair with art, beginning with ancient curiosities and ending with contemporary showstoppers. It says something that the museum houses both Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and Mary Cassat’s “The Child’s Bath,” and neither are what we’re highlighting as the most iconic piece to see. 

Where to stay:  Kimpton Gray Hotel  

Must-See at The Art Institute of Chicago: George Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”

George Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”

Perhaps the most recognized work of Pointillism depicts a beautiful day in Paris along the banks of the Seine. This is one of those pieces that it’s easy to get lost in.

2. Museum of Modern Art - New York City, New York

Museum of Modern Art - New York City

With works like van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” and Frida Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair,” the MoMA boasts one of the best collections of modern art in any country. Located right in the center of Manhattan, it is a New York must-see, with patrons often making multiple visits in order to see its 200,000 pieces. 

The collection has everything from impressionism to cubism to abstract geometry and boundary-pushing contemporary works. It’s also better than ever, thanks to a just-completed $450 million renovation and expansion that, among other changes, added a new space for live and experimental programming to the mix. 

Where to stay:  Omni Berkshire Place  

Must-See at Museum of Modern Art: Picasso’s 'Les Demoiselles d’Avignon'

Picasso’s 'Les Demoiselles d’Avignon'

One of the artist’s most famous works was crucial to the development of cubism, making it not just riveting, but important.

1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York City, New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met is an icon of culture and the largest museum in the U.S. It is impossible to see everything in this vast museum in a visit (or two or even three), as the collection includes an Egyptian temple, ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, Middle Age armor, Nigerian ivory masks, Renaissance paintings, contemporary masterpieces and so (so) much more. 

With more than 2 million pieces in its collection, this museum should be on every art and history bucket list. The Met also curates special exhibitions, bringing masterpieces from around the world to New York City, and hosts a wonderful lecture series. 

Must-See at The Met: Raphael’s 'Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints'

Raphael’s 'Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints'

The only altarpiece by the artist in the United States is a beauty. Other must-sees include Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Cow Skull,” van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat” and Monet’s “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies,” to name just a few of many, many classics on display. 

Culture tourist

Art & Culture Travel Blog

How to visit the museum: a guide for the perfect museum visit.

  • Tea Gudek Šnajdar
  • Museum Tips

visit a few museums

Museums are some of the most popular tourist attractions and usually places many travellers wants to visit on their trips. However, the experience of visiting a museum could also be quiet disappointing if not done right, even for the experienced museumgoers. After doing it wrong many times, and then learned how to visit the museums right, I wanted to share with you this guide for a perfect museum visit.

How to visit the museum

There are many ways to visit the museums right. And many more to do it all wrong. It, of course, depends entirely on your interests and the way you love to explore the new places. However, there are some ground rules you should follow if you’d like to know how to visit the museum right.

⤷ Read more : 15 best museums in Europe you should visit 

What if you don’t like museums?

Roman statues in front of the red wall

Then don’t visit them! I’m not a massive fan of adrenaline parks, and that’s why I would hardly ever end up in one while travelling.

It’s the same with the museums. Do you feel like you should go and see Mona Lisa if you’re in Paris ? Despite the fact, you don’t really appreciate the painting? Well, don’t! Your experience isn’t going to be the best, you probably won’t like the picture any more, and you’ll lose a few hours you could spend doing something more fun in Paris .

⤷ TIP : But, if you’d like to give museums a chance, then I have a suggestion for you. Book a private tour and let someone who knows that museum very well guide you around. Private museum tours usually last for roughly two hours. The guide will have your ticket sorted, they’ll show you the most interesting exhibits and will tell you some exciting stories about them. Trust me, they know how to visit the museum right.

A guide for the perfect museum visit

However, if you do like art and history, feel like a real culture tourist, then let me give you some tips on how to visit the museum right. I broke them in three steps that will make your museum visit much more enjoyable.

1/ Before a museum visit: How to prepare for a visit to a museum

A good museum visit starts with a well-done preparation. Here are some of my tips.

# – Chose the museum you’d like to visit wisely

Old clothes exhibited at the museum in Bruges

Obviously, we all have different interest. I’d be utterly bored at a museum of sports. But give me an exhibition about fashion, and I’ll be thrilled. You get the point.

If you’re going to a major city that has several museums you could visit, do some research and check which one could be the most interesting to you.

If you love the old masters and are visiting Amsterdam , then the Rijksmuseum is a place to go for you. If you’d like to learn more about Vincent van Gogh during your trip to Europe, then Orsay in Paris or the Van Gogh Museum in the Dutch capital should be on your list.

Researching the best museums according to your interests in a town you’re going to visit, before your trip, is one of my essential tips on how to visit the museum right.

⤷ Read more : Here is a selection of the best museums in Amsterdam , best museums in London , best museums in Paris and best museums in Tournai .

# – Get familiar with the collection it’s home to on their website

Okay, so you’ve chosen the museum or more of them, you’d like to visit.

The next step is to research the museum itself. Visit their website and see what the highlights in it are. Do they host some of the world most famous masterpieces? Or the work of a painter you like? Maybe they have a nice collection of an art style you love? It’s good to check all of that before your trip, so you can plan your museum visit better.

I also love to research the museum website before my visit to see are there any special events taking place during my time there. Temporary exhibitions, lectures or art workshops could be a great way to make your visit even more enjoyable.

In case some art pieces are on loan, or if some galleries are temporarily closed, you’ll know how to plan your museums visit better, too.

# – Check if you could find any videos about that museum

There’s nothing like watching an excellent video about the museum you’re going to before visiting it. You’ll get familiar with the collection and see which art pieces you’d like to see. You’ll also learn a bit about them before actually seeing them.

Watching some museum videos before your visit could also be great to get a feeling of a museum interior a bit.

⤷ TIP : Check out some of Culture Tourist museum videos on a link here to see if I’ve already made some about the place you’re planning to visit.

# – Buy your ticket online

There is nothing worse than staring your visit by queuing in front of the museum for a few hours just to get in. And that’s the sad reality when visiting many of those world-famous museums.

However, be smart and purchase your museum ticket online before your visit. You can often do that on the museum website. Or, you can do as I do, and use the platform called Tiqets (here is the link) to buy all of your museum tickets online.

That way you can go straight to the entrance and get into the museum immediately.

# – Book a museum tour

Visiting a museum on a guided tour makes a huge difference. Especially if it’s a private tour. I used to work as a museum guide for several years and speak from the experience here.

And even though I have a MA in Art History, I always book a tour when visiting a new museum. A good guide is going to tell you about the museum, its collection and will tell you the stories behind some of its highlights in a fun and exciting way. You’ll also get a chance to ask all the questions you have.

⤷ TIP : You’ll find a wide selection of museum tours on a link here – this is where I’m usually booking all of my museum tours.

2/ During the museum visit: How to get the most of your visit to a museum

Okay, so you’ve prepared well for your visit in advance. But, let’s talk now about how to visit the museum right once inside of it.

# – Dress appropriately

Young man watching the painting at the Picasso museum in Paris

This is quite an important advice for visiting museums.

Let’s start with your shoes first. When in the museum you won’t walk that much, but you’ll stand on the same spot a lot. And that could be tiring. Wearing some comfy shoes is definitely crucial for a great museum experience.

Many exhibits are fragile and to prevent their decline, museums have a special cooling system in their interiors. That’s why it’s always a bit fresh at the galleries. So, my advice is to bring a cardigan to put it on when inside.

# – Don’t spend more than two hours at a museum

From my experience, after two hours at the museum, you’ll be too tired to continue exploring it.

That’s why the step of researching the museum collection before your visit is so important. Getting in a museum and just wandering around without any idea of what you’re looking at, won’t be the best experience.

To really enjoy the artworks, learn the story behind them and have a great museum experience, pick only one collection and explore it extensively.

If you’re at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam , spend your time just at the Gallery of Honour. Or, if at the Orsay in Paris, explore only the Impressionist collection . That’s what I usually do, and it makes such a difference, trust me.

# – Focus on details rather than trying to see more

The Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum

This museum tip is related to the previous one. Rather than trying to see as much as you can at the museum, put your focus on details. Art is all about the feelings it evokes in us. And to get the chance to feel the paintings, focus on details.

Stand in front of the painting and see if you can notice the brushstrokes or a texture artist has painted. How does the frame look like? Is it new or old? You can also get very close to the painting and look to the colours, texture and details. And then take a few steps back and look at it from the distance to see how the whole composition changes.

Pick a few paintings and explore them in this way, and I’m sure your museum experience is going to be much more interesting than usual.

# – Ask questions

One of my favourite things about visiting museums is to talk about the art pieces. If you’ll visit the museum on tour feel free to ask your guide all the questions you have. Why is that painting so famous? How long would an artist need to create a marble statue? Use the advantage of having an expert with you and ask everything that interests you.

If you’re going to visit on your own, you can always ask the museum guards to advise you which part of the museum to explore next. Or even about some exhibits. They usually know a lot about the collections they are taking care of.

And also, discuss the art with your travel companions. Is there something you didn’t like at all? Talk about that! Art is a subjective thing, and it should be discussed. Remember me mentioning how art is all about the feelings it evokes in us? Well, those feelings could be happy, sad, angry or even confusing. And it’s fun to see how the person you’re with perceived the same art piece.

# – Avoid taking pictures

Interior of the Snider house in Antwerp

Lose the phone when at the museum!

Museums are places to enjoy at a slow pace. That way, they transfer you to some different world. And although some exhibits could be so beautiful and interesting to you, don’t take photos of them.

First, if using the flash, you’re damaging the paintings that are often hundreds of years old. And since the light is often dim at museums, the quality of your photos won’t be the best.

Museum shops are selling the postcards with the majority of the artworks they host, so you can keep the memory to it in that way. And very often, you can find great high-quality photos of the paintings on their website.

Another thing is that you are ruining the experience to other visitors who are trying to enjoy in those exhibits. And are ruining the experience to yourself, too. So, lose the phone and enjoy a wonderful relaxed museum visit.

3/ After the museum visit: What to do after visiting the museum

So, you enjoyed visiting the galleries and exploring the artworks. But what to do now to enjoy your visit a bit longer?

# – Have a coffee at a museum cafe

Although there are different opinions about them, I love to finish my visit at a museum cafe. I don’t know is it because of a couple of hours of walking, being a bit overwhelmed by all that art, or just because they usually have a beautiful setting, I love to spend a bit more time at a museum cafe after my visit.

# – Take some time off to absorb everything you saw

Having a break at a museum cafe also allows some time to absorb everything you saw at the galleries.

If you’re alone, you can browse through the flyer or a museum booklet you’ve got and keep that feeling of fulfilment with art for a few more moments. Or if you’re in a company, you can talk about your favourite art pieces or the ones you didn’t like/understood at all.

# – Visit the museum shop

Rijksmuseum museum shop

There are mixed opinions about them, too. But, I love visiting museum shops at the end of my visit. It’s a nice way to get something to remember the museum and the art you saw there. Perhaps, you could buy those postcards or reproductions of the paintings you liked the most.

I also love the art books selection they have and am always looking for some new editions to add to my collection.

They are also a nice place to look for some lovely local designs products. Museums in London have a great selection of them. And I really love some design products you can find at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam .

# – Read a book or watch a movie about something that you liked the most

If you were entirely amazed by some painter or an art movement you saw during your visit to the museum, check out if you can find a book or a movie about it. There are many great fiction books about the old masters and some lovely documentaries about Impressionism. If you liked the work of Vincent van Gogh, you can read more about the life and work of Vincent van Gogh in my series of articles here.

Visiting a new museum could be a bit challenging at first, but good preparation for your museum visit is key. I hope this guide for a perfect museum visit will help you in organising your trip and understanding how to visit the museum right.

Do you have any other tips for visiting museums? Share them with me in the comments!

*This post includes some affiliate links.

How to visit the museum , Museum Guide , Museums

visit a few museums

15 Best Museums in Philadelphia

For art and history lovers, there's truly nothing like spending the day exploring museums, and Philadelphia museums are among the greatest and most renowned in the country, if not the world, thanks to the City of Brotherly Love's rich history and art culture. With dozens of amazing exhibits and collections to check out, you can find museums across the city dedicated to vastly different niches — from classic automobiles to medical mysteries to the nation's founding and history.

Discover the 15 best museums in Philadelphia, and find out for yourself why Lonely Planet has named Philadelphia the 5th best city in the world to visit and 1st in the U.S.; USA Today readers gave Philly the top spot for walkability in the U.S. noting the city’s cultural and historical attractions; and travel magazine Afar listed Philadelphia as one of the top 25 places in the world to visit in 2024, particularly noting upcoming exhibitions at the Rodin Museum and Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) has a remarkable history as the first art school and museum in the U.S. Today, the museum showcases innovative collections and exhibits of American art, highlighting the work of renowned regional talent and featuring an outstanding permanent collection.

Among its outstanding, 16,000-piece permanent collection, you’ll find 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces by greats including Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, and Mary Cassatt. No worries if your taste runs to works by 20th and 21st century artists. Their collection also features the art of several modern/contemporary artists including Charles Demuth, Mickalene Thomas, Andy Warhol, and Kehinde Wiley.

The academy is located in the heart of Philly, at 118-128 North Broad Street, just blocks from Philadelphia City Hall. If you enjoy getting the nitty gritty details when exploring an art collection, you can request a reservation for private tours from their dedicated and knowledgeable staff.

The PAFA museum is closed Monday through Wednesday every week. On Thursdays and Fridays, doors are open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Weekend hours shift slightly, and the museum is open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Museum of the American Revolution

little girl picking up a fish from bucket

The Museum of the American Revolution offers an immersive look into our country's unique history with walking and guided tours, living history demos, and the hands-on, family-friendly discovery center, Revolution Place. It's an excellent day trip for students just beginning to learn about the American Revolution, but also for history buffs, art enthusiasts, and scholars. The museum's extensive collections include:

  • Personal artifacts of leaders of the revolution, soldiers, and civilians.
  • Late 1700's weapons including muskets, swords, and other armaments.
  • Art from the era depicting key battles, as well as portraits and posters.
  • Rare documents including manuscripts, newspapers, and books.

This museum is conveniently located near Penn's Landing in the eastern portion of the city at 101 South Third Street. Visitors can enjoy special events, including classes and hands-on workshops, and the newest exhibits. Regardless of when you visit the Museum of the American Revolution, you'll leave with a deeper and more meaningful appreciation of the hardships endured and the incredible bravery of both soldiers and civilians and the devoted leaders who founded this nation.

The Museum of the American Revolution is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. To fuel your visit, enjoy a warm coffee and light snack at the museum's Cross Keys Cafe.

The African American Museum in Philadelphia

a girl holding flag

The African American Museum in Philadelphia tells the story of the African American experience in Philadelphia and the U.S. over the past several centuries. The museum’s impressive collection of art, artifacts, and memorabilia document the remarkable history, heritage, and culture of African Americans and people of the African Diaspora through four galleries of exhibits.

The permanent collection is organized chronologically so visitors can walk through the Black experience from America's pre-Colonial days through the Civil Rights movement with a key focus on family life, and the impact African Americans have had on the arts and entertainment, sports, medicine, architecture, politics, religion, law, and technology.

You can find The African American Museum at the corner of 7th and Arch Street. That's just a stone's throw from Franklin Square and the National Constitution Center in the city's Historic District.

The museum is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Before you go, they ask that you reserve one of the following four time slots to visit:

  • 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
  • 12 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.
  • 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m.
  • 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.

The Franklin Institute

franklin institute building

Have kids who love science and/or looking for the premiere technology and science museum in Philadelphia? With three stories of interactive, hands-on exhibits, a planetarium on the first floor, and an observatory on the roof, The Franklin Institute is your must-visit, science-y destination.

Be sure to visit the "heart" of the museum — literally. The iconic, two-story-high Giant Heart walkthrough exhibit has been educating visitors about the human heart and public health issues for more than 50 years. It even features sounds of a real human heartbeat so you can see if your heartbeats are in synch with the display.

You can explore the museum solo or register as a group. Be sure to sign up for the fun and impressive live science demonstrations, such as their liquid air or combustion shows, making the museum the ideal spot for families and friends to enjoy together.

The Franklin Institute is located at 222 North 20th Street and takes up an entire city block. Visit any day of the week from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a convenient, designated parking garage right off North 21st Street.

The Rosenbach Museum & Library

The Rosenbach is among the most treasured museums in the Philadelphia area. Its stunning collection of rare art , furniture, and manuscripts will transport you to a different time. And for all the big readers out there, its renowned research library is home to hundreds of rare books you can peruse to your heart's content. Literature lovers, keep your eyes peeled for collections that include works by Bram Stoker, Lewis Carroll, and Charles Dickens.

Founded in 1954 by renowned fine art and book dealers Dr. A.S.W. and Philip Rosenbach, The Rosenbach is situated in a row of historic 19th-century townhomes. You'll find the beautiful brick building at 2008-2010 Delancey Place in Center City West, just a few blocks away from Rittenhouse Square.

The Rosenbach is open Thursday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Their Sunday hours are shortened by just an hour and a half, opening at 10:30 a.m. and closing at 4:30 p.m. Visitors are strongly encouraged to pre-register for timed tickets online.

Please Touch Museum

little girl looking at art collection

If you're looking for cool museums in Philadelphia that are kid-friendly and interactive, you've got to check out the Please Touch Museum . While other institutions discourage and often prohibit visitors from getting too close to the displays, the Please Touch Museum encourages kids to get physical and interact with nearly everything on display.

In addition to three separate toddler zones, kids can have fun exploring these interactive exhibit zones at the Please Touch Museum:

  • Roadside Attractions
  • Flight Fantasy
  • City Capers
  • Wonderland Centennial Exploration
  • River Adventures

The museum is located in Memorial Hall at 4231 Avenue of the Republic in Fairmount Park near the Schuylkill River. You can tour on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Sunday hours are shortened to 11 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. You can reserve your spot online for children older than one year.

Eastern State Penitentiary

With crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers, the nearly two-century-old Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the most haunting and memorable museums in Philadelphia. About 85,000 people were imprisoned behind its walls before it closed in 1970 — some famous, some infamous, but most whose names are lost to history.

Visitors can explore the remnants of this empty, haunting world of grand architecture and America's most historic prison by taking a daytime tour where you can see gangster Al Capone's furnished cell during his eight-month stay at the prison, complete with fine furniture, oriental rugs, and cabinet radio. For a truly creepy, fright-filled, and fun evening experience, you can visit Eastern State Penitentiary for their Halloween Nights experience in October.

You can find Eastern State Penitentiary at 2027 Fairmount Avenue. Visitors can tour Eastern State daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Independence Hall

No trip to Philadelphia is complete without touring Independence Hall , a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This beacon of freedom for the world and icon of American democracy is where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were drafted, debated, and signed by the nation's Founding Fathers.

The key stop on the half-hour tour is the Assembly Room where all the action in the nation’s founding took place. The room is set up just as it was in 1776 (or as close as historians have surmised), complete with George Washington’s famous “Rising Sun” chair.

There are a few things to know before you go. Unless you’re touring the building in January or February, you’ll need to present a timed ticket obtained beforehand . The tickets are free, but there is a $1 handling charge. You can print your tickets or have a digital copy ready on your phone. It's also a good idea to arrive about 30 minutes before your tour because everyone is required to go through a security screening.

You can find Independence Hall at 520 Chestnut Street, between 5th and 6th Streets, in Philadelphia. It is open for daily tours from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tours last about 20 minutes, so Independence Hall is a fantastic place to explore if you have limited time in the city.

Science History Institute

If you are a chemistry or engineering enthusiast looking for fun museums in Philadelphia, you'll marvel at the hidden circumstances of some of the most important moments of discovery at the Science History Institute Museum and Library , which shines a spotlight on overlooked stories of scientific innovations. Fine art, instruments, artifacts, and an oversized mass spectrometer are just a few of the items you can expect to uncover. You can also access preserved documents and photographs of significant individuals throughout scientific history.

This museum is not just for adult science enthusiasts. Kids will also enjoy an afternoon exploring a wide range of scientific concepts, from vaccinations to rare elements. Visit the museum on Saturday for a family-friendly program that highlights the many strange and surprising stories from the history of science, with fun, interactive activities designed for science lovers of all ages.

The Science History Institute is located at 315 Chesnut Street on the eastern side of Philly. Admission is free for all visitors. You can tour the museum Wednesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Most visitors spend about an hour or two, exploring the permanent and rotating exhibits.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

two people looking at a card

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the very best Philadelphia museums. From its iconic “Rocky” steps to its 200 galleries housing the museum’s remarkable collection of masterpieces, the museum will delight art lovers and those who simply enjoy looking at pretty (amazing) pictures. The building itself is a treat to experience as one of Philadelphia’s major landmarks.

The museum’s collections feature the works of artists from throughout the world and range from the “old masters” to today’s contemporary artists, with African and African Diasporic art one of their newest collections. The tens of thousands of objects that comprise their collections include sculptures, textiles (including Grace Kelly’s royal wedding dress) and other decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs.

You can find the main building at 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway near the Schuylkill River in downtown Philly and visit the museum anytime between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Visitors can enjoy a pay-what-you-wish admission on Friday nights and the first Sunday of each month.

Mütter Museum

The Mütter Museum at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is not for the faint of heart. Its exhibits are the most novel and mesmerizing of the downtown Philly museums. If you are deeply interested in anatomy and medical history (and have a strong stomach), this is the destination for you.

With the tagline "disturbingly informative," you can probably guess the museum showcases a wide range of astonishing but sometimes hard-to-look-at medical artifacts. You can expect to see real human body parts, anatomical marvels, and shocking medical instruments from the “dark ages” of medicine.

You can find the Mütter Museum in the heart of Philly at 19 South 22nd Street. They are open Wednesday through Monday, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Visitors can also visit the Historical Medical Library on the weekends with the same operational hours.

Barnes Foundation

The Barnes Foundation is one of the best museums in Philly for European art lovers. Their impressive collection of paintings includes multiple works by some of the world's most famous and renowned painters. Even people who aren't typically "wowed" by museums will likely find themselves breathless seeing art by Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Matisse, Modigliani, and Picasso!

It is worth the trip just to see the unique way the artwork is displayed. Unlike most museums where art is labeled and displayed by artist, genre, or time period, the works at the Barnes Foundation are arranged in ensembles that emphasize visual relationships between light, color, lines, and space. Here you are likely to see a work by one of the great masters hung alongside African masks, native American jewelry, Greek antiquities, or decorative metalwork, just as the museum’s founder, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, visualized.

To get the most out of your visit, plan to take one of their guided tours or use your smartphone and their mobile gallery guide, Barnes Focus, to learn more about a specific piece of art on your own.

You can find this museum located at 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the heart of Philadelphia, just a three-minute walk from The Franklin Institute. The Barnes Foundation opens its doors Thursday through Monday, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Members who pay an annual fee can enjoy early members-only access from 10 a.m. until 11 a.m. along with other member benefits.

National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center is one of the best Philly museums for history buffs and those interested in the U.S. Constitution and how it has influenced, informed, and guided the nation for more than two and a half centuries. Here, you can take a deep dive into the nation’s founding and history with rare artifacts and manuscripts to peruse and the live performance, Freedom Rising, described as "the best 17-minute civics lesson in the country" and the perfect place to start your museum experience.

Be sure to visit Signers Hall with its 42 life-size bronze statues of America's Founding Fathers. The statues recreate the final day of the Constitutional Convention with each statue in a life-like pose. There is also a display dedicated to Alexander Hamilton — perfect for all the "Hamilton" fans among us. You can grab a snack or lunch from a variety of on-site options, including a coffee shop and a few cafes.

The National Constitution Center is located at 525 Arch Street on the eastern side of Philadelphia. They are open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The Academy of Natural Sciences

If you love learning about wildlife and the marvels of the natural world, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is one of the best museums in Philly. Consider this museum your window into the wilderness. Many of their exhibits are kid-friendly and highly interactive, bringing science to life and sparking meaningful conversations.

There is so much to do at The Academy of Natural Sciences . You can tour a room with massive dinosaur skeletons or explore a display to help you visualize the wild food chain. On weekends, kids can become amateur paleontologists with fossil brush in hand to dig for dinosaur bones at The Big Dig.

The Academy of Natural Sciences is located near Logan Square at 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia and just a five-minute walk to the Franklin Institute and a six-minute walk to the Barnes Foundation. The museum is open Wednesday through Friday, starting at 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., with weekend hours from 10 a.m. through 5 p.m.

Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum

photo of a vintage car dashboard

If you ever wanted to peer inside a super-high-performance Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Mercedes, Jaguar, Bentley, Porsche, Aston Martin, Corvette, Ford, or other of the world’s greatest racing cars, a visit to the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum clearly should be at the top on your “must-visit” and lifetime bucket list.

With the theme "The Spirit of Competition,” they are passionately devoted to preserving and showcasing the evolution of these “magnificent machines.” Organized largely by race course to show how competition has led to substantial improvements in car design and performance, many of the 75 cars in their outstanding collection have appeared in at least one race, with the earliest a 1907 Renault 35/45 Vanderbilt Racer and 16 cars that have raced at Le Mans.

Located at 6825 Norwitch Drive in South Philly near the Philadelphia Airport in a former engine manufacturing plant, the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum is also home to one of the largest specialized collections of automotive books, periodicals, and photographs in their research library.

The museum and its accompanying library are open Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Saturday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. They also host Demo Day on two Saturdays each month, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. where you can see high-value classic cars in action. It may make the perfect Father's Day excursion!

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11 Tips for How to Visit a Museum and Enjoy It

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Arkansas Road Trip — From Tall Mountain Peaks to Towering Waterfalls, Explore Scenic Byway 7

In the past two months, I estimate that I’ve been to at least 100 museums in the Midwestern region. That’s a lot of museums. Some of them were even accidental. For example, I pulled over for a quick hike down to the Missouri River and discovered the Lewis & Clark Interpretative Center nearby. Even my smartphone seemed confused (not an unusual occurrence, unfortunately).

Nevertheless, museums don’t have to be the intimidating and school-like institutions that people remember from their childhood. These days, many are ramping up the tech with movies, smartphone audio tours, interactive exhibits (like, want to experience seasons on the Kansas prairie?), and even holograms. Museums are important because they hold concrete objects of ideas, science, and history. You can often immerse yourself in the past and culture of the area and discover that yes, history does often repeat itself.

So, 60 days in. Here is what I have learned and gathered from talking with other museum patrons about how to get the most of your museum trip. (You’ll find that I also have a great ability to laugh at myself. Road trips need humor stops). These lessons can be applied to your standard country or city museum (standard exhibits), interactive and huge centers like the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library , or even living history museums . Biggest lesson learned? Wear walking/tennis shoes.

Plan Ahead.

This is hard to do if you are on the road and find a unique museum in some small town or state park. (I saw one by the roadside in Kansas that wasn’t affiliated with either!). However, if you do have some time and are planning for a visit, be sure to look online to see what the hours, fees, and restrictions are. Here are a few guidelines whether you plan way ahead or found a roadside sign that looks intriguing.

Do not go on Mondays

Most museums are closed on Mondays. This is especially true if the museum is operated by a city, county, or state. I should start a collection of museum photos with a prominent closed sign in the window. They are usually open on Sundays, however, so weekend getaways are a good idea. To beat the crowds, however, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a weekend.

Call or Google for the busiest time of day

You will save yourself some time and frustration if you can find out what the busiest time of day is for the museum. For the smaller ones, it isn’t usually that much of a challenge. However, some of the national museums fill up fast. The Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois, for example, fills up quickly. Your best option is to get there early and get the free tickets to reserve your spot. If it is a more massive museum, you can often purchase tickets online ahead of time.

Try to visit either first thing in the morning or midweek in the afternoon. Summer evening hours, if available, are great times to visit. Avoid holidays if you can. If you are on a road trip over the Fourth of July weekend, then it might not be an option. If you can plan your schedule, do so. Just imagine trying to beat the crowds on the Fourth of July in the Washington Mall. Been there, done that, bought new shoes, and will never do that again .

Figure out parking ahead of time

Parking can be a challenge whether you are at a large museum or some museum inside of a cow pasture (long story). Many of the free museums like Lincoln Home or Nelson-Adkins Museum (highly recommend) in Kansas City are free but do charge for parking. Some of the paid ones have free parking, or you park nearby in a parking garage. The Lincoln Presidential Museum, for example, does not have a standard parking lot but there is a garage across the street.

The Old Courthouse in Springfield also has a parking garage…that is kind of hidden unless you know where to look. Try to figure out where to park before you are heading down 6 th street in the right lane going 40 mph. You probably won’t be able to veer across three lanes of traffic. It sounds like common sense, but sometimes we get so caught up in following our smartphones directions that we wind up in the suburbs.

Also, some museums are free but do require that you purchase tickets for a specific time. You have to get the free tickets ahead of time for Lincoln Home tours. (You have to pay $2 per hour for parking if you park there but if you walked there, it’s free). Another great example is the Getty Villa in Malibu, one of my favorite museums with a perfect view of the ocean. Admission is free, but you do get a timed-entry ticket. These can be purchased online to be used when you get there. When I’m in town, I just reserve mine right before I drive up and I have not had a problem yet.

With paid museums, see if there are free days

Some museums or similar venues do have a paid fee but have days where they offer free admission. The Overland Park Arboretum, for example, charges a fee but is free for everyone on Tuesdays. You also need to verify just how busy it will be. Nothing’s worse than seeing something for free only to find it so packed full of people that you need binoculars. (It’s even worse than when you pay to look at the back of 500 people’s head—hello Mummy Exhibit in Denver.)

Check out special exhibits

Many museums have special exhibitions that only occur at certain times of the year or sporadically. Try to view the museum’s website online to see what’s available. You might be surprised and delighted or decide to wait. Some special exhibits also incur additional fees, such as the Dinosaur exhibit at the Flint Hills Interpretative Center. This way you don’t get sticker shock when you arrive at your destination. Most are free and considered part of the exhibit. For example, Getty Villa has a current main exhibition called Beyond the Nile that is part of your free ticket.

Consider Age Appropriateness

This point is probably going to be a little controversial, but it should be common sense. Simply put, please consider whether the exhibit will educate your child or scar them. Some museums offer children’s exhibit or playrooms for a reason.

The Lincoln Presidential Museum, for example, has an activity room called Mrs. Lincoln’s attic where children from 3 to 12 can play with toys, the dollhouse, etc. The other exhibits are for children in the 4 th grade and up (around 8 or 9) who, frankly, need to see it. Kids younger than that will most likely scream, cry, and in one case I saw, throw up all of themselves because they were so upset. After touring the entire museum—and seeing the reactions of some of the children — it made sense. When they state that some of the shows and presentations may be disturbing for young children, they are not kidding. Heck, it’s disturbing to grown adults who understand that the (very lifelike) wax figurines are not real (the child pulling at his mother’s skirt will stay with you), the yelling and angry voices are pre-recorded, and that nobody is presently getting shot at Ford’s Theater.

Try to get the recommended age range ahead of time and look for other exhibits or playrooms. Your children will thank you for it. (They also won’t have nightmares about remember seeing a man get shot in the head, getting yanked away from their parents, etc.).

At the Museum

Okay, so you’ve got your ticket, parked your car (or walked) and you are ready to go. What are some standard tips for making sure you have a good time while not getting kicked out?

Check out the Tour

Some museums, like the Getty Villa or Lincoln Presidential Museum, are self-guided. Others, like the Lincoln Home, do provide tours that guide you through the exhibits. Some require you to take a tour, and others just offer it as a service. I would recommend that you take the tour to get the full experience. The guides will help you understand what you are viewing and can often get you into some hidden areas that a self-guided tour wouldn’t show. You can see the Lincoln Home, for example, with a Park Ranger tour but do a self-tour walking around the street to see the rest of the historic row. Mix it up.

Check Camera Policies, Turn off the Flash, and Silence your Phones

Many of the museums are okay with non-flash photography. The flash can damage some of the exhibits, especially old manuscripts, so you need to turn it off. This includes the flash on your cell phone, so if you want to take pictures, turn it off ahead of time. You also need to check the selfie policy; some (like the Lincoln Library) expressly forbid selfie sticks. Smaller museums, such as the Strawberry Hill Museum in Kansas City, Kansas, ban pictures being taken at all, especially if the exhibits are unique or very old. This could also fall under the planning section, but most post their policy up front and center.

Also, be respectful of your fellow museum-goers and silence your phone. Texting is often okay as long as you aren’t holding up the line. It also takes away from the museum experience of being lost in a different age if you are surfing your phone while walking around. If you are curious about something, read the placards or ask a tour guide. Trust me, they are usually more than happy to give information.

Museum Fatigue is Real

Try not to spend all day at the museum as it can wear you out. There have been multiple studies that show that too much time spending traversing, reading, and so forth at museums can cause physical and even mental exhaustion.  After a while, you stop reading the plaques, starting speeding through the exhibits, or even begin glossing over exhibits as you race to get it finished. Visiting Washington DC? I would recommend choosing two or three of the Smithsonian museums a day; don’t try to view them all. Even with the Getty Villa, which is phenomenal if you are an ancient history geek like I am, you begin seeing “just another marble statue” after a couple of hours.

The great thing about some of the more prominent museums is that they give you passes for the day. So, if you want to step out and get a bite to eat, you can just show them your badge, your armband, or another device and get right back in. They understand the concept of museum fatigue, and they are usually flexible with it. At the Lincoln Presidential Museum, you get an armband. The Manhattan Flint Hills Interactive Center gives you a little fob that you keep you with you. If you need to leave, you can always come back that same day.

If it’s closer to home, try taking multiple trips and spend only a few hours reading a few of the exhibits. This is harder if you are on the road but try to keep it at two hours per museum. Take a stroll through nature or get some lunch before hitting the next museum.

Get Interactive

To help combat the museum fatigue, try using some of the interactivity of modern exhibits. If you see a button that says press me, do it just to see what happens. Watch the video displays that give details about the time and place or have people talking to you. At Fort Scott, for example, they have interactive exhibits where you can select a person from that period and watch their story.  Some will even let you ask them pre-selected questions. Living history museums are another great place where you can not only interact with the old buildings but ask the interpreters anything you would like. The relics are usually off-limits, but you can generally find some interactive device nearby that explains it. Cell phone audio tours are also becoming more and more common, even in remote areas.

After the Museum?

If you genuinely enjoyed a museum, sign up and subscribe to their newsletters . Get exclusive offers, details about upcoming and current exhibits, and learn more about the subject matter. Sign up as a “friend of the museum” or join as a member for additional benefits, such as a magazine. You can even usually get discounts throughout the year on special exhibits.

Most of all, have fun!

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12 World-Class Museums You Can Visit Online

By rudie obias | mar 10, 2023, 12:34 pm est.

A virtual tour of the Vatican Museums lets you view its splendor without the crowds.

While it’s hard to beat the experience of seeing a seminal piece of fine art or important historical artifact with your own two eyes, you could easily spend a lifetime traveling the world in search of all of them. Fortunately, the digital age has made it possible—easy, even—to visit some of the world’s most famous museums from the comfort of your own home. Here are a dozen of them.

1. The Louvre

The Louvre is not only one of the world’s largest art museums, but it’s also one of Paris’s most iconic historic monuments. The museum offers free online tours of some of its most important and popular exhibits, such as its Egyptian Antiquities and works from Michelangelo . You can take a 360-degree look at the museum, and click around the rare artifacts to get additional information on their histories.

2. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The inside of the Solomon R Guggenheim museum.

While the architecture of the Guggenheim’s building itself, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is quite impressive, you don’t have to visit the Big Apple to get an up-close view of some of the priceless pieces of artwork inside. The museum makes some of its collections and exhibits available online for people who want to get a taste of what the museum has to offer, including works from Franz Marc, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, and Jeff Koons.

3. The National Gallery of Art

Founded in 1937, the National Gallery of Art is free and open to the general public. For those who aren’t in Washington, D.C., it also provides virtual tours of its gallery and exhibits. You can view its current exhibitions and listen to audio and video recordings of past lectures online.

More Articles About Museums:

4. The British Museum

With a collection that totals more than 8 million objects, London’s British Museum makes some of its pieces viewable online . The museum also teamed up with the Google Cultural Institute to offer virtual tours using Google Street View technology.

5. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

A virtual tour of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History lets you experience its exhibits without the crowds.

Washington, D.C.’s National Museum of Natural History, one of the most-visited museums in the world, offers a peek at its wonderful treasures with an online virtual tour of the entire grounds. Viewers are welcomed into its rotunda and are greeted with a comprehensive room-by-room, 360-degree walking tour of all its exceptional exhibits, including the Hall of Mammals, Insect Zoo, and Dinosaurs and Hall of Paleobiology.

6. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met is home to over 2 million works of fine art, but you don’t have to be in New York City to enjoy them. The institution’s website features an online collection and virtual tours of some of its most impressive pieces, including works from Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, and Giotto di Bondone. In addition, The Met also works with the Google Cultural Institute to make even more artwork (that’s not featured in its own online collection) available for view.

7. The Dalí Theatre-Museum

Located in the town of Figueres in Catalonia, Spain, the Dalí Theatre-Museum is completely dedicated to the artwork of Salvador Dalí . It features many rooms and exhibits surrounding every era of Dalí’s life and career, and the artist himself is buried here. The museum offers virtual tours of the grounds and a few exhibits.

Pilot your own virtual tour at Space Center Houston.

NASA offers free virtual tours of the Langley Research Center in Virginia, as well as of Ohio’s Glenn Research Center . The Space Center Houston also has an app that provides virtual tours, augmented reality experiences, and videos and audio stories about space exploration.

9. The Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums feature an extensive collection of important art and classical sculptures curated by the Popes over many centuries. You can take a virtual tour of the museum grounds and iconic exhibits, including Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel .

10. The National Women’s History Museum

The mission statement of the National Women’s History Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, is to educate, inspire, empower, and shape the future “by integrating women’s distinctive history and culture in the United States.” Part of that mission is delivered through well-curated online exhibits and oral histories .

11. The National Museum of the United States Air Force

As its name suggests, the National Museum of the United States Air Force is the official museum of the United States Air Force. Centered on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, it houses a wide array of military weapons and aircraft, including the presidential airplanes of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon. The museum also offers free virtual tours of its entire grounds, letting you glimpse objects like decommissioned aircraft from World War II, Vietnam, and the Korean War.

12. The Google Art Project

To help its users discover and view important artworks online in high resolution and detail, Google partnered with more than 1200 cultural institutions from around the world to archive and document priceless pieces of art and to provide virtual tours of museums using Google Street View technology. The Google Art Project features fine art from the White House, the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, and even São Paulo street art from Brazil. Here’s a complete list of museums you can visit virtually.


30 Really Interesting American Small Museums

Last Updated on April 4, 2024

people in a small museum of glass

Estimated reading time: 1 minute

By Jim Ferri

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I’m biting off quite a bit here.

When I originally wrote this article a few years ago, I wanted to acknowledge some of America’s fascinating small museums, which often remain under a traveler’s radar.

After all, when most of us travel, we only think of visiting major museums… the Smithsonian in Washington, the Metropolitan and others on New York’s Museum Mile , the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston…

people in an ornate ballroom in a small museum

But, in fact, we’re a country fabulously rich in lesser-known museums as well. Most are small and unique and incredibly interesting museums, depending on your interests. They are scattered all over the U.S., many not in large cities.

Consider that according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, there are 35,000 small museums in the U.S. In perspective, that’s 10,000 more than all Starbucks and McDonald’s in the USA combined.

A few days ago I came across my original article and decided it needed an update. I have, after all, visited many more interesting small museums since it was initially published.

But while that original article included 10 small U.S. museums, today’s tally has rocketed three-fold to 30. I’ve done a lot of travel in the past several years.

As you look at the list, however, you’ll only see 28 because I’ve grouped three museums together since they relate to the same subject. Look at the music museums in Memphis , and you’ll understand what I mean.

If you know of an excellent small museum not on this list, I ask that you please add it in the comments section at the end of the article. You’ll see that has recently been done by numerous readers of our Museum Ships article . If you enjoy museums, you may enjoy that article as well.

Here are 30 small museums you may or may not have heard of, but each is unique and captivating in its own way. They are presented alphabetically by state.

two woman looking at a statue by a pool  in a small museum

California (Los Angeles/ Pacific Palisades) – Getty Villa Museum

First and foremost, don’t confuse the Getty Center, located in Brentwood, with the Getty Villa Museum in Pacific Palisades.

While the Center showcases European art amid modern architecture with a bird’s-eye view of Los Angeles, the Getty Villa Museum is a re-created Roman country home. This country home, however, displays ancient Greek and Roman art along with its ocean views.

It’s also unlike any place you’ve ever visited, home to 4,000 years of ancient art, from the Stone Age to the final days of the Roman Empire. To provide a sense of what it’s like, imagine you were living in ancient Rome and going to visit a wealthy friend. After all, J. Paul Getty was the world’s richest man.

The villa contains ancient Greek and Roman treasures – Greek on the first floor and Roman on the second floor. It’s all beautiful as well as beautifully done. Its Outer Peristyle, an open garden inside the dwelling lined by a row of columns and a continuous porch, is a focal point of the villa. The villa’s most significant garden space, it contains sculptures, water fountains, and covered walkways.

Enjoy the villa’s most extensive garden, featuring a reflecting pool, colonnaded walkways, and views of the Pacific Ocean.

Incredibly, J. Paul Getty never visited the Getty Center or Getty Villa Museum.

Getty Villa Museum

17985 Pacific Coast Highway Pacific Palisades, CA 90272 Tel: (310) 440-7300

people standing by an old train  in a small museum

California (Sacramento) – California State Railroad Museum

You don’t have to be a train buff to enjoy the California State Railroad Museum, a complex of historic facilities and unique attractions in Old Sacramento. It’s a fascinating place, a world-class tribute to the “iron horse,” both steam and diesel, that connected California to the rest of the country.

You can climb aboard meticulously restored engines, some of which date back to the years of the Civil War, and be astounded by the complexities of the old giants. Walk through a restaurant car and see how food was prepared and served on lengthy journeys.

You’ll also find engaging exhibits – including a full-scale diorama of an 1860s construction site high in the Sierra Nevada – and have the opportunity to ride an old steam train on weekends during the summer. It’s the place many travelers would not expect to visit but are glad they did.

 California State Railroad Museum

 111 I Street  Sacramento, CA 95814   Tel: (916) 323-9280

people looking at a large painting  in a small museum

Florida (St. Petersburg) – Dali Museum

It might seem a bit odd to have a  Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, along the Gulf Coast of Florida . However, it turns out that the founders chose the site because it resembles Dali’s hometown of Cadaques, Spain.

This small museum near the St. Petersburg waterfront is home to more than 2,400 works by the surrealist master. It’s received a lot of raves, and even the Michelin Guide has given it a three-star rating.

While his famous oil paintings, watercolors, and sketches may feel like a journey into Dalí’s mind, it’s not only the art that attracts the crowds. The museum building itself is a big part of the experience. In fact, Architectural Digest has named it one of the ten most interesting museums in the world.

And to tell you the truth, although I was never a Dali fan, I fell in love with this museum and left with a newfound respect for the man and his works.

The Dalí (Salvador Dalí Museum )

1 Dali Boulevard St. Petersburg, FL 33701 Tel: (727) 823-3767

people by an exhibit of glass lamps  in a small museum

Florida (Winter Park) – Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

The town of Winter Park is among the unexpected pleasures awaiting visitors to Central Florida. Built in the late-19th-century as a winter refuge for wealthy northerners, it is only about a half-hour drive from Orlando.

In Winter Park, nothing is as dazzling as a stroll through The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art galleries. It’s one of the great things to do in Orlando for adults who want to avoid the theme parks.

The Morse Museum is a great small museum, home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of works, in a single place, by American designer Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933). Highlights include the restored Byzantine-Romanesque chapel interior Tiffany designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and a wing showcasing the museum’s collection of art and architectural objects from Tiffany’s Long Island home.

In addition to Tiffany’s works, the museum’s collection includes ceramics, late 19th- and early 20th-century decorative arts, paintings, and graphics.

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

445 N Park Avenue Winter Park, FL 32789 @    [email protected] Tel: (407) 645-5311

people walking through an ornate room  in a small museum

Florida (Palm Beach) – Henry Morrison Flagler Museum

After a career as a founding partner with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil, Henry Morrison Flagler’s interests turned to developing Florida.

Eventually, Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway and the luxury hotels he built along the way linked the entire east coast of Florida. In addition, he was instrumental in establishing agriculture and tourism as Florida’s leading industries and Palm Beach as one of the great winter resorts.

When completed in 1902, the New York Herald proclaimed that Whitehall, Henry Flagler’s Gilded Age estate in Palm Beach, was “more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world.”

Today, Whitehall is open to the public as the Flagler Museum. In addition, you can also see Flagler’s amazing private rail car in the adjacent Flagler Kenan Pavilion.

Henry Morrison Flagler Museum

1 Whitehall Way Palm Beach, FL 33480 Tel: (561) 655-2833

people looking at an exhibit of a miniature circus in a small museum

Florida (Sarasota) – A Wonderful Small Museum: The Circus Museum

You’ve never seen anything quite like this – an incredible miniature recreation of a circus , built to exact scale (3/4” to the foot) and which is amazingly detailed. For example, parked on a siding are 55 tiny circus-train cars. And there are 7,000 miniature folding chairs in the Big Top that, when folded, fit into the five small wagons, just as they would in the actual show.

There’s also much more covering an area of 3,800 square feet and about 1½ times the length of a football field. Even more impressive is that only one man, Howard Tibbals, created the entire thing for this small museum over 55 years.

After visiting the miniature circus, make sure you go up to the second floor, where there’s another exciting exhibit that details the history of the circus from ancient times to the present. But, of course, you also won’t want to miss this either. Fittingly, you’ll find it on the grounds of the Ringling estate, home of the late John Ringling.

The Circus Museum

5401 Bay Shore Road Sarasota, FL 34243 Tel: (941) 359-5700

people walking outside a large old mansion

Florida (Miami ) – Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

This historical Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is on the shore of Biscayne Bay, just minutes from the downtown skyscrapers of Miami. It’s a subtropical interpretation of a country estate in the Veneto region of northern Italy.

Industrialist James Deering, who in the early 20th century decided to build himself a 16th-century style Italian estate, constructed it on Biscayne Bay. He succeeded spectacularly, and the property – a blend of Renaissance and Neoclassical styles due to changes made over the years – contains many of the items purchased by Deering on his shopping trips all over Europe.

As you wander about the house, you find one of the USA’s most significant Italian furniture collections. The collection is in addition to all of the items Deering purchased on his shopping trips all over Europe. Several of its rooms, as you might expect, including the Reception and Music Rooms on the first floor, were inspired by Italian cities, including Milan, Palermo, and Venice.

In the rear of the property, on the Bay, striped poles along the shoreline evoke the beauty of Venice. At the same time, its beautiful formal gardens mix Italian and French features with the tropical foliage of Florida. So this should be the place to visit if you see no other site in Miami during an afternoon away from the beach.

The magnificent historic residence is a blend of Renaissance and Neoclassical styles. Thankfully it was built with great care not to disrupt the surrounding subtropical environment.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

3251 S Miami Avenue Miami, FL 33129 Tel: (305) 250-9133

3 young women walking up steps by an old farmhouse

Georgia (Atlanta) – Atlanta History Center

The Atlanta History Center is not a single small museum that explores the history of Atlanta, as I expected.

It is a beautiful, multifaceted complex with a Folklife Gallery showing how folk arts shaped traditions in the changing South. But it also includes a presentation on Indians in Georgia, an exhibition on golf legend Bobby Jones Jr. and the evolution of the Masters Tournament. There’s also the charming and fascinating Smith Family Farm from the 1860s and the 1928 Swan Mansion back through the woods behind the museum. So, by all means, don’t miss it – there’s something here for everyone.

Most riveting, however, was the Center’s exhibition “Turning Point, the American Civil War,” which, in a personal way, explained the impact the Civil War had on people’s lives both in the North and the South. It was not pro-South, nor pro-North, but pro-education. And excellent.

Atlanta History Center

130 West Paces Ferry Rd NW Atlanta, GA 30305 Tel: (404) 814-4000

people looking at a war exhibit  in a small museum

Louisiana (New Orleans) – National WWII Museum

The National WWII Museum is a must-see for individuals or families visiting New Orleans . In addition, the U.S. Congress has designated it as America’s official WWII Museum.

It is not, however, your run-of-the-mill “war museum” with static exhibitions. Instead, its powerful images and artifacts bring to life the spirit and, courage, teamwork of the young men and women who won the war. You’ll see America’s role in the war zone and on the Home Front.

Your journey into the war begins at the Union Pacific Train Station. Board the train, and you’ll feel what it was like for soon-to-be soldiers heading to their training camps. Like everything in the museum, it’s an immersive exhibit that highlights the sights, sounds, and emotions of going to war.

Later, you’ll reach the beaches of Normandy and the sands of Iwo Jima as the exhibits tell the stories of dozens of amphibious landings and the thousands of men and women who made the Allied victory possible. There’s a reproduction of the LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) that carried thousands to the beaches of Normandy and a soaring Douglas C-47 aircraft.

The USS Tang Submarine Experience  brings you aboard the most successful submarine in World War II for its fifth and final war patrol. Finally, there’s Tom Hank’s production of  Beyond All Boundaries,  a 4D journey through the war.

National WWII Museum

945 Magazine Street New Orleans, LA 70130 Tel: (504) 528-1944

3 people admiring the architecture  in a small museum

 Massachusetts (Boston ) – Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

In Boston, certainly enjoy the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which houses significant examples of European, Asian, and American art.

After her husband, John L. Gardner’s death in 1898, Isabella Gardner realized their dream of building a suitable space to exhibit their treasures. She purchased land in the marshy Fenway area of Boston and created Fenway Court, modeling it on the Renaissance palaces of Venice.

Upon Isabella’s death, her will stipulated that her art collection –including paintings, sculpture, tapestries, and decorative arts ­–be permanently exhibited “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever.” Visit the museum today, and you’ll find it’s a museum and an experience.

In 1990, thieves stole  thirteen of the museum’s works ; the crime remains unsolved, and the works, valued at an estimated $500 million, have not been recovered. A $10 million reward for information leading to the art’s recovery remains.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

25 Evans Way Boston, MA 02115

Tel: (617) 566-1401

people in an old car museum

Michigan (Hickory Corners ) – Gilmore Car Museum

Even though I’m not a car fanatic, the Gilmore Car Museum floored me. Never before – and likely never again – have I seen such a collection. It includes more than 400 cars (Model A’s, Cadillacs, Pierce-Arrows, Duesenbergs, Studebakers, Hudsons, etc.) and eight restored 19th-century barns, an authentic operating 1940s diner, a recreated 1930s Shell gas station and train depot from the 1890s.

The crème de la crème of the collection of this small museum is a rare 1938 Mercedes 540K Sport Tourer. Although Mercedes made only two of the cars, Gilmore possesses the only surviving one (valued at $3+ million), discovered only in 2005 following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Surprisingly, the owner of the other was Adolph Hitler.

Its original owner, to conceal it from the Americans and Soviets and protect it from destruction in WWII, hid it in a basement garage of his Dresden, Germany home. He had bricked up the entrance, filled the driveway with soil, and planted a rose garden above it.

Gilmore Car Museum

6865 Hickory Road Hickory Corners, Michigan 49060 Tel: (269) 671-5089

people walking past a large photo of a criminal

Nevada (Las Vegas ) – The Mob Museum

The Las Vegas Mob Museum is unlike any other museum you’ll visit almost anywhere.

Want to see the actual wall against which Bug Moran’s men were shot in the St. Valentine’s Massacre? It’s there. Want to see an electric chair or the barber chair in which someone whacked the infamous Albert Anastasia? You’ll see them both. Want to hear some actual wiretaps? They’re there, too; slip on some headphones. You’ll find this museum to be unlike any other.

The museum, whose actual name is the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, states that it’s trying to advance public understanding of organized crime and its impact on American society through high-tech presentations, interactive displays, themed environments, and artifacts. It does a remarkable job of it.

300 Stewart Avenue Las Vegas, Nevada 89101 @    [email protected] Tel: (702) 229-2734

2 women admiring a large Tiffany stained glass window

New York (Corning) – The Corning Museum of Glass, a Truly Great Museum

If you wonder what’s so special about glass, this place will knock your socks off. Founded in 1951 by Corning as a gift to the nation for the company’s 100th anniversary, this small museum has since evolved into the world’s best collection of art and historical glass.

The Corning Museum of Glass has 45,000 glass objects spanning 3,500 years, including the glass portrait of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Undoubtedly it will dazzle you with its beauty.

It’s a hands-on place where you can also explore the science and technology of glass, see live glass-making demonstrations, and even make a glass object yourself. This small museum will keep you occupied and awed for hours. So go out of your way to visit it if you’re in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

The Corning Museum of Glass

One Museum Way Corning, NY 14830 Tel: (607) 937-5371

a woman looking at a piece of western art in a museum

New York (Corning) – The Rockwell Museum

A renowned small museum in Corning, NY, is the  Rockwell Museum , an affiliate of the Smithsonian. It had previously been known as the Rockwell Museum of Western Art but was renamed to identify its collection as American art, not solely Western art.

If you’re visiting the Corning Glass Museum, you can easily see the Rockwell Museum via a shuttle bus that runs continuously throughout the day all year.

The Rockwell is a beautiful, manageable, interesting small museum that portrays the American experience through art. I found the exhibition “The World of Man, Animals, and Spirits” intriguing during my visit.

The exhibition contains nearly two dozen soapstone and bronze sculptures by artist Abraham Anghik Ruben, a gallery previously in the  Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian . Equally beautiful and fascinating was an exhibit of Native American contemporary pottery with interactive touch screens that let you delve deeper into the history and artistry of the pieces.

The Rockwell is in the old 1893 City Hall, encompassing the old city offices, firehouse, and police station. When you enter the museum shop, look to your left, and you can see the hole in the ceiling where the firemen’s pole originally stood.

The Rockwell Museum

111 Cedar Street Corning, NY 14830 Tel: (607) 937-5386

2 men looking at a biplane

New York (Hammondsport) – Glen Curtis Museum

One of Hammondsport’s most popular attractions is the  Glenn H. Curtiss Museum , dedicated to the town’s favorite son. Curtiss, a pioneer aviator, is the “architect of American aviation.” This small museum is a fascinating place with a priceless collection relating to early aviation and regional history.

The museum, as you’d expect, takes you back in time. But it also opens your eyes to the incredible problems to overcome in developing the airplane before World War I and throughout the war. Curtiss also invented the world’s first seaplane.

 Before becoming involved in aviation, Curtiss was a young cyclist. He was also a mechanic who invented the motorcycle. While the museum displays many things related to his life and inventions, it also shows all sorts of things related to the local Hammondsport area.

As the museum director told me while we were chatting, “we’re selling nostalgia.”

As I told him, “you do it well.”

Glen Curtis Museum

8419 State Route 54 Hammondsport, NY 14840 Tel: (607) 569-2160

an archive photo of a crowd of immigrants on a city street

New York (New York C ity) – Lower East Side Tenement Museum

While Ellis Island highlights the hardships that immigrants faced when they arrived in the USA, few museums show you the hardships they endured living in the USA, often in crowded city tenements. That is until this small New York City museum opened its doors.

New York’s Lower East Side Tenement Museum is, as the name implies, a tenement in NYC’s Lower East Side. Yet, it was somehow surprisingly found intact in the late 1980s.

Take a tour through the tenement at 97 Orchard Street. You’ll develop a new-found respect for the immigrant population when you see first-hand the adversities they endured before housing laws were enacted, including dark and dingy rooms, narrow hallways, and communal bathrooms. Then, join a tour at the Museum shop on the corner of Orchard and Delancey Streets.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum

103 Orchard Street New York, NY 10002 Tel: (877) 975-3786

people entering an old city mansion

New York (New York City) – The Frick Collection

The Frick in New York City is not only one of the preeminent small art museums in the United States. It is a very comfortable place to spend a few hours, almost as if you were in someone’s home.

It has a high-quality collection of old masters and fine furniture housed in nineteen galleries of varying sizes within the former residence. Since Frick had intended the mansion to eventually become a museum, a few paintings are still arranged according to his design. In addition to its permanent collection, the Frick has always organized small, focused temporary exhibitions.

The collection features some of the best-known paintings by major European artists and numerous works of sculpture and porcelain. It also has 18th-century French furniture, Limoges enamel, and Oriental rugs. Nearly half of the collection’s artworks were acquired after Frick’s death.

The Frick Collection

1 E 70th Street New York, NY 10021 Tel: (212) 288-0700

3 people admiring a large paiting in a museum

New York (New York City) ­– Neue Gallery

Two blocks north of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is the Neue Galerie , a museum for German and Austrian art created between 1890 and 1940. It’s on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 86th Street.

It’s a small museum with exhibits of painting, sculpture, decorative arts, and photographs. You’ll find works by Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann, Wassily Kandinsky, and others. Its most notable work is Klimt’s famous “Woman in Gold,” stolen by the Nazis in Vienna before the war.

The movie  Woman in Gold  (2015), starring Helen Mirren, tells the story of how a woman fought the government of Austria for almost a decade to reclaim the iconic painting of her aunt, officially known as the “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.” (Be sure to see the movie before visiting the museum).

Also in the museum is  Café Saborsky , a coffeehouse and restaurant that’s a bit of old Vienna in New York. The café alone is worth a visit when you’re on the New York City Museum Mile. It has a great breakfast and lunch, Viennese style.

Neue Gallery

1048 Fifth Avenue (at 86th Street) New York, NY 10028 Tel: (212) 628-6200

a man in a red shirt walking past a large group of statues of people

Pennsylvania (Philadelphia ) – National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center is the first and only institution in America established by Congress to “disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a non-partisan basis to increase the awareness and understanding of the Constitution among the American people.” So, finally, you might say Congress got something right after you visit this center.

Located on Independence Mall, a visit to this small museum begins with an excellent overview of the U.S. Constitution, aptly named “We the People.” It’s not a social-studies review but a 15-minute production, with an actor in the center and a 360-degree screen all around you, which had the adults in the audience glued to every word when we were there. It’s a fascinating hands-on place with hundreds of interactive exhibits, engaging theatrical performances, and original historical documents.

 You’ll become absorbed by its many small presentations. For example, “Everything that Washington does sets a precedent”…; “our young democracy passed a crucial test today. Thomas Jefferson, a Republican…”; “Tuesday, March 2, 1824 – (Chief Justice) Marshall turned the high court into a force to be reckoned with…”; on and on it goes, right up to the present day.

National Constitution Center

525 Arch Street Philadelphia, PA 19106 Tel: (215) 409-6600

a very large statue of a mammouth

South Dakota (Hot Springs ) – The Mammoth Site

You’ll likely never visit another museum to view Ice Age fossils that’s quite like the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota . The Hot Springs site is an active paleontological dig site, and it’s all indoors. Open year-round, the Mammoth Site offers self-guided tours, an enhanced educational experience, and Summer Educational Programs.

In June 1974, a heavy equipment operator was leveling ground for a Hot Springs housing development. While grading a small hill, his blade struck something that shone white in the sunlight. Getting out for a closer look, he found a tusk, about seven feet long, sliced in half lengthwise, along with other bones.

The Mammoth Site is the world’s largest mammoth research facility and the only late Ice Age facility of its kind in North America. As a result, it’s become a valuable educational resource for children and adults in the United States and the world.

Although digs occur only 6-8 weeks a year during the summer, you can often see bones in the pits from the previous digs any time of year.  Opening times  vary by month.

The Mammoth Site

1800 US 18 Bypass Hot Springs, SD 57747 Tel: (605) 745-6017

a woman pointing at a map for a mother and daughter

Tennessee (Memphis) – Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum

In the mid-1800s, the need for slave labor was in high demand in Memphis, Tennessee where “cotton was king.” Some enslaved people attempted to liberate themselves whenever possible by running away. Abolitionists aided some runaways and gave them safe passage on the Underground Railroad. You’ll learn about this in the small Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum in a small house.

I was amazed when I visited the Slave Haven. It’s a remarkable place because you learn how the Underground Railroad worked, which will likely shock you.

This museum is the original house of Jacob Burkle, a German immigrant who operated a way station on the Underground Railroad. From his small house, Burkle secretly ferried enslaved people up the Mississippi to freedom in Canada. “The Mississippi River was the real Underground Railroad,” our docent/guide told us.

As we walked through the house, she brought everything to life while discussing the house’s history. In the cellar, we were amazed at how people could live in such an exceptionally confined space, hidden from outsiders.

If you ever visit Memphis, by all means, ensure that Slave Haven is one of your “don’t miss” places.

Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum

826 N 2nd Street Memphis, TN 38107 Tel: (901) 527-7711

a photo of Elvis on a cafe wall

Tennessee (Memphis) – Rock ‘n Soul Museum / Sun Studio / Stax Records

Memphis may be a town built on cotton, but if you visit, you better like barbeque and music. Especially music.

And any lover of music looking for things to do in Memphis must visit Sun Studio. Here is where rock ‘n roll was born in a former upholstery shop.

Sun Studio shot to fame after an unknown 18-year-old, Elvis Presley, walked in one day and recorded his first record.  The Studio also attracted many others , including Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and countless other legendary stars. Pay a visit, and you can stand in the same spot each did while recording.

Now a National Historic Landmark , its tour is exciting and nostalgic, especially the outtakes from some recording sessions.

It’s a bit far from the downtown Beale Street area, but there’s a shuttle from the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.

706 Union Avenue Memphis, TN 38103 Tel: 901- 521-0664

two women in a rock 'n roll museum

Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum is one-of-a-kind. It’s the one museum that lauds only Memphis musicians and Memphis’s music history.

The Smithsonian Institution developed the exhibition, and the museum showcases some exhibits from the Smithsonian’s collection. It’s one of the best things to do in Memphis, especially if you love rock ‘n roll.

What’s great about the museum is its focus on musicians from all socio-economic and racial backgrounds. It tells the critical story of the musical pioneers who overcame racial and socio-economic obstacles to create music that changed the cultural complexion of the world. It’s a fun, comprehensive, and educational exhibit.

You’ll find this small museum on Beale Street, the home of the Blues. The museum also provides audio guides and maps of historic Beale Street. In addition, there are free hourly shuttles from the museum to Graceland and Sun Studio.

191 Beale Street Memphis, TN 38103 Tel: (901) 205-2533

people looking at exhibits in a museum

Stax Records

Stax Records  is one of the most successful soul music labels ever. In fact, with artists including Carla Thomas, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and The MGs, Rufus Thomas, William Bell, and Otis Redding, it is second only to Motown in sales. As a result, it’s one of the don’t-miss things to do in Memphis if you visit for a long weekend or a day.

In the southeast of Memphis , the museum is also on the site of the original Stax Records studio. It’s a fascinating museum with over 2,000 exhibits, including films and galleries. One of the more surprising things here is  Isaac Hayes’s 1972 Cadillac Eldorado , part of a Stax renegotiation deal. It has 24-carat gold exterior trim, a TV, a refrigerator, and a minibar.

It’s a captivating museum that even has a dance floor for visitors. 926 E. McLemore Avenue Memphis, TN 38106 Tel: (901) 261-6338

a woman petting a calf in a barn

Vermont (Woodstock ) – Billings Farm & Museum

The Billings Farm & Museum in Vermont is a beautiful small museum and old farmstead once owned by Laurance Rockefeller and his wife, both conservationists. Today it’s famous as a museum of Vermont’s rural past.

It’s still a working farm with champion Jersey cows and sheep, and they produce the milk sold. An exhibit at the farm highlights the conservationist movement that revived Vermont farming after erosion had ruined the land for agriculture.

Even during the winter we visited, we had much fun, including petting newborn calves. We were surprised that the late 19th-century farmhouse had hot running water, an indoor bathroom, and electricity. Moreover, guides explained how they made butter (they had a large operation in the basement) and cooked macaroni and cheese, a staple winter meal at the time, on a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. It’s undoubtedly fascinating for visitors of every age.

Billings Farm & Museum

69 River Road Woodstock, VT 05091 @ [email protected] Tel: (802) 457-2355

a man looking at an exhibit of a masked man

Washington, DC – International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum , an easy walk from the White House, undoubtedly contains the most extensive collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display. Guinness World Records officially named the Spy Museum the largest espionage museum in the world. Overall, it’s a favorite D.C. museum for many, not just spook wannabes.

Here you can explore the entire intelligence process from collection to analysis to action and dive into moments in which espionage changed history. With interactive and immersive displays, and in-depth stories of intrigue, daring, and betrayal, the museum puts visitors in the shoes of the officers, agents, and analysts.

Exhibits include Secrets Revealed, Stealing Secrets, Making Sense of Secrets, Covert Action, Spying That Shaped History, and more. You’ll find it fascinating.

International Spy Museum 700 L’Enfant Plaza, SW Washington, DC 20024   @   [email protected] Tel: (202) 393-7798

people walking past an exhibit of brightly colored glass

Washington (Seattle) – Chihuly Garden and Glass

Chihuly Garden and Glass, in the Seattle Center directly next to the Space Needle, showcases the studio glass of Dale Chihuly.

Chihuly’s incredible glass art is part of over 200 museum collections worldwide. He’s also received many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships.

This small museum features three primary components: the Garden, the Glasshouse, and the Interior Exhibits, with significant secondary spaces, including a 90-seat café with additional outdoor dining. The 100-foot-long masterpiece inside the Glasshouse is one of the artist’s largest  suspended sculptures.

It’s a spectacular place both inside and out. Many of Chihuly’s masterpieces sprout among the flowers in the gardens outside, and inside, the magnificent pieces leave the crowds oohing and aahing. If you’re visiting Seattle, put this small museum at the top of your “must-see.”

Chihuly Garden and Glass

305 Harrison Street Seattle, WA 98109 @    [email protected] Tel: (206) 753-4940

people looking at planes in a museum

Washington (Seattle) – Museum of Flight

The Museum of Flight is one of the world’s most significant air and space museums. It has more than 160 historic aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird. Sit in its cockpit or ride in a flight simulator; all are hands-on and fascinating.

I found the museum section dedicated to World War II most interesting since it explained the aerial war from both sides of the conflict. Walking about a Messerschmitt, a Spitfire, and many other aircraft, all either hanging above me or parked on the ground, I got a new historical perspective of the war.

In addition, step outside, and you can board a Concorde, Air Force One, and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The reality of the surroundings makes it all the more interesting; Boeing Field is a working airport where you’ll see the liveries of dozens of different world airlines.

Consequently, every few minutes, planes being tested land or take off close by, or pilots take delivery of new aircraft. Don’t miss it.

The Museum of Flight

9404 East Marginal Way South Seattle, WA 98108-4097 @.   [email protected] Tel: (206) 764-5700

a woman looking at memorabilia of native Americans in a museum

Wyoming (Cody) – Buffalo Bill Center of the West

If you had to pick not just a small museum in Cody, WY , but a focal point of the entire Wyoming region, it would be the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. You’d be hard put to find anything else quite like it anywhere in America.

It’s a spectacularly exciting place dedicated to the American West. It’s also affiliated with the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

The complex is not one museum but five fascinating complexes under one roof: the Draper Natural History Museum, the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, and the Whitney Western Art Museum. Accordingly, you understand why critics rave about the place when you walk in the door.

But the Buffalo Bill Center doesn’t just celebrate its namesake. It also celebrates the American West in its entirety, including its peoples, art, landscape, culture, and history. It’s so diverse, entertaining, and educational that some exhibits mesmerize you. So plan to spend at least a half-day inside. Also, keep in mind that your admission is for all five museums.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

720 Sheridan Avenue Cody, WY 82414 @    [email protected] Tel: (307) 587-4771

a woman looking at an exhibit of Japanese Americans

Wyoming (Powell) – Visit Heart-Breaking Heart Mountain

There’s more history, albeit infamous, about a 20-minute drive outside Cody. It’s  Heart Mountain , a Japanese American internment camp from World War II. Many find Heart Mountain heart-breaking, but it’s a National Historic Landmark that’s well worth a visit. It’s among the most exciting things to do in Cody .

With a wonderful  interpretive center  containing photographs, oral histories, etc., it explains what Japanese-Americans endured during World War II. A few of the old barracks are still standing up the road, perhaps two hundred yards from the visitor center. However, they look more like remnants of a ghost town than anything else.

Heart Mountain is both mind- and eye-opening about a lamentable period in American history. Despite its melancholy nature, you don’t want to miss it.

Heart Mountain

1539 Road 19 Powell, WY 82435 @    [email protected] Tel: (307) 754-8000

You may also enjoy: Things to Do In the Finger Lakes, NY / The National Constitution Center – “We the People…” / Traveling to Atlanta With Kids: Finding Great Things to Do

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February 14, 2020 at 2:02 pm

Some of the small museums I’ve visited and enjoyed over many years growing up in MA and traveling the USA:

Peabody Essex & Witch Mus, Salem, MA; The Clark, Williamstown, MA; DeCordova, Lincoln, MA; George Eastman & The Strong, Rochester, NY; Henry Ford & Greenfield Village, Dearborn, MI; Cantor Art Center & Anderson Collection, Stanford, CA; Buffalo Bill Center of the West (5 museums in one), Cody, WY; Blackhawk Car Museum, Danville, CA; Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ; Crocker, Sacramento, CA

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February 14, 2020 at 2:09 pm

Hi Richard, You have some great ones here. Sometimes I think that some of the great treasures are in the small museums of America. Thanks for sending this along.

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December 5, 2022 at 4:06 pm

The Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast GA is a hidden gem. www// It highlights a rich culture of pottery in this area.

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May 4, 2023 at 1:00 pm


MoPOP 325 5th Avenue N Seattle, WA 98109 206-770-2700 [email protected]

MoPOP 325 5th Avenue N Seattle, WA 98109 Directions ▸ 206-770-2700 [email protected] Museum of Science Fiction: same location as above

Norman Rockwell in The Berkshire’s

May 8, 2023 at 11:19 am

Thank you for including these Ellen. I’ve enjoyed the Pop Museum in Seattle. It’s a good place to visit. Jim

May 4, 2023 at 1:12 pm

Heard Museum in Phoenix Native American Arr

2301 North Central Avenue Phoenix, AZ 85004 Main: 602.252.8840

May 8, 2023 at 11:18 am

Thank you Ellen. Although I haven’t (yet) visited, I’ve heard (no pun intended) people rave about it. Thanks for including it. Jim

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May 8, 2023 at 2:34 am

Thanks for sharing these museums. I’d like to add the Stafford Air & Space Museum in Weatherford, OK. Worth the stop!

May 8, 2023 at 11:16 am

Thank you Heather! Jim

[…] Corning is best known for though, is its stunningly beautiful Museum of Glass (see 10 Really Interesting Small American Museums). It contains 45,000 glass objects spanning 3,500 years (including the glass portrait of an ancient […]

[…] Tower, and Notre Dame Cathedral. The pass also includes free entry to many of the city’s smaller museums and galleries, as well as discounts on some of the larger […]

[…] making their way to the Sistine Chapel and onto St Peters Basilica, but they miss many of the smaller museums that are housed within the museums. There is no set itinerary for the Vatican, so you can explore […]

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The Best Ways to See the World’s Great Museums, According to Experts

Strategies for getting the most out of your visit to some of the best museums in the world..

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The Best Ways to See the World’s Great Museums, According to Experts

The Tate Modern in London, UK Dalbéra

Like most aspects of travel, Museums can be a source of joy and anxiety alike. They are an obvious draw—and an obvious addition to a to-do list—when visiting a new city. Institutions like the Louvre in Paris and the Prado in Madrid are, to many travelers, a requirement. And while seeing so much priceless art can feel like a truly priceless experience, it’s also a serious undertaking: The perceived obligation to get the most out of a few hours in a house of great works of art can feel like a lost cause.

The key to visiting a big museum without fully exhausting yourself or walking out feeling like you didn’t do it right is to take away all the pressure. So much travel advice boils down to “just go, be in the moment, and enjoy yourself,” which can be both maddening and a relief. We spoke to a few artists and art historians to get some actual advice for visiting the museums they know and love the best.

The Louvre — Paris Advice from Ellen McBreen, owner, Paris Muse “

Try not to be overly ambitious,” McBreen advises. “A lot of people—especially Americans—approach travel the way they approach their professional life: they want to be as productive as possible, and they don’t want to waste time.” The joy of seeing the Louvre, she explains, is the discovery of those works you weren’t planning on seeing. That won’t happen if you have every second of your visit planned.

Visit on a Wednesday or Friday night, when the museum is open later and the crowds are more manageable. McBreen recommends doing “a tiny bit of research, but not too much.” Make a list of 10 works you want to see, and when you walk from work to work, let yourself be drawn to those things that naturally attract you. If you’re looking for a recommendation, try the second floor of the Richelou wing—an important part of Muse’s “Hidden Masterpieces” tour—which is home to a number of works from Rembrandt, Reuben, and Vermeer.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art — New York Advice from Hallie Bateman, artist, frequent Met visitor

The Met is enormous—it feels like the sort of museum you could spend a lifetime in and still not see everything. So it’s important not to put pressure on yourself, says Bateman, who likes to visit the museum without a plan. “Take a whole day,” she recommends—don’t try to fit in the nearby Guggenheim or the Frick just because they’re close. If you get tired, or need a lunch break, go seek a bit of relief in Central Park; there’s a little lake near the museum that’s good for sitting and recharging your brain. And most importantly: “Only stay as long as you’re interested.” Just because museums are “capital—I Important” doesn’t mean they should feel like a chore.

The Museum of Modern Art — New York Advice from Jason Polan, artist, author of The Every Piece of Art in the Museum of Modern Art Book

Polan has spent a lot of time at MoMA. When working on his book project, he’d regularly spend all day there, gradually drawing every work on display. His advice? First of all, stay calm: there’s a lot to see, but you can still do it all in a few hours. And be sure to do some research before you go on temporary exhibits, since they’re often ticketed, but usually very worth it. “I think doing a little investigating is good,” Polan told me, “but not too much, because [it’s nice to] come upon things.”

And don’t be afraid to ask questions: “The guards are really knowledgeable, and they have interesting stories that you don’t often get.” The same goes for the volunteers at the information desks. If you’re looking for advice on what to see, or are seeking out a specific art work, museum staff are an excellent resource. Lastly, check out the galleries in the Cullman Education Building, which is across the garden from the main galleries. This lesser-known area has a gallery downstairs with an exciting rotation of exhibits.

The Tate Modern — London Advice from Josephine Livingstone, PhD

The Tate alone is a sight to behold—Livingstone recommends the walk from the South Bank to the Tate, along the river which is “so funny and varied,” Livingstone explains, “full of churches and ancient things and new things and a few different bridges. Go up and down the levels and look at the Turbine Hall from different angles.”

Once you’re inside, don’t miss the works of those ultra-famous artists who are, in Livingstone’s words, “especially at home” in the Tate: Rothko, Brancusi, Man Ray, Lucio Fontana, Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, and Tracey Emin. And while the museum is more calming than its brethren in other cities thanks to its “lusciously big” spaces, Livingstone recommends taking a break to head outside and look at the river. If you’re thirsty, check out Founders Arms , a solid nearby pub.

The Prado — Madrid Advice from Sarah McCarty, Regional Manager for France and Spain, Context Travel

First up: Start early to avoid crowds. And, as with most museums, McCarty reminds us that trying to do too much will only end in failure. “Focus on one type of work,” she recommends. Goya is a great example: “There’s a rich collection of his work there, and he’s an important contributor to Spain’s art legacy. Definitely do not miss the Black Paintings, 14 pieces he did very late in his life that demonstrate his rather grim frame of mind.”

Since the Prado began as the royal family’s collection, it goes really deep on a few artists, particularly court painters. “At the Prado you can plan a route that shows the evolution of [Goya’s] work, from the early years when he was painting for The Royal Tapestry Factory, to the mid-life painting portraits of the royal family, to the end.” Understanding one story instead of getting bits and pieces of a hundred different ones will have you feeling like you really accomplished—and learned—something in your visit.

Tokyo National Museum — Tokyo Advice from Lara Budge, Regional Manager for Asia, Context Travel

This museum can feel like quite the undertaking—mostly because there are six different buildings to visit. Do yourself a favor, then, and don’t try to see them all in one day. Friedman recommends starting with the Honkan, which is the Japanese Gallery. “It works its way chronologically through Japanese art,” she explains, “and is therefore a good starting point.” The best times to visit are spring and fall when the museum’s gardens are at their most beautiful.

>>Next: 14 Excellent Art Museums with Free Entry

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Philadelphia Museum of Art is the best museum in Philadelphia

The 21 best Philadelphia museums

The City of Brotherly Love is home to an astounding number of cultural offerings: here are the best Philadelphia museums

Josh Middleton

No visit to the City of Brotherly Love is complete until you’ve wandered inside at least a few of the best Philadelphia museums. And, given the diversity we’ve got going on in town, you’ll never have to worry about finding one that you like.  

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway—a work of art in itself—is ground zero when you want to ogle art (and, yes, the Rocky Statue) by the world’s most famous creatives, like Picasso, Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. Looking for history? Find it in spades in Old City, where the revolutionary era comes alive in a handful of high-tech museums that are fun for grownups and kids alike. The campus of the University of Pennsylvania is also home to a diverse group of destinations—including a couple of underrated gems that are absolutely free to enter.

Feel up on some cheesesteak at the best restaurants in town and then get ready to peruse the city’s top cultural offerings.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Philadelphia

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Philadelphia museums

Philadelphia Museum of Art

1.  Philadelphia Museum of Art

  • Art and design
  • Ben Franklin Parkway - Kelly Drive

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is perhaps more widely known for its role in Rocky , but it’s so much more than that. Overlooking the Schuylkill River, this crown jewel on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway wows with a world-class art collection that spans the ages—from medieval relics to seminal Impressionist works and colorful wonders from the Modern era. Its permanent collection boasts masterworks by Picasso, Van Gogh, Brancusi, Kahlo, Duchamp and more, but blockbuster special exhibitions held throughout the year bring in even more pieces of must-see art from around the globe. Your ticket grants you two-day access to PMA, the Rodin Museum, Cedar Grove and the next-door Perelman Building, which holds the art museum’s acclaimed fashion and textile collection and features displays of prints, drawings, photographs and modern design.

Barnes Foundation

2.  Barnes Foundation

  • Greater Philadelphia

Step inside this modern marvel of architectural design to explore the renowned art collection of Albert C. Barnes, a wealthy chemist who made his fortune by inventing a medicine called Argyrol. Barnes amassed one of the world’s leading collections of works by impressionist and modernist masters, including Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-August Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Henri Rousseau. With so many noteworthy artists, it’s no wonder that the museum’s 4,000 holdings are worth an estimated $25 billion. Check out the 2013 documentary The Art of the Steal for more on the Barnes’ fascinating backstory.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

3.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

  • Middle City East

You’ll know you’ve found the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) on Broad Street when you spot a 51-foot-high inverted paintbrush and a crashed fighter jet stuck in the pavement. These works, respectively by Claes Oldenburg and PAFA alumnus Jordan Griska, are dramatically installed on the plaza outside the elegant Victorian-era museum and art school that opened in 1805. The destination takes the viewer on a chronologically arranged tour of American art from the 1760s to today, with works by notable art all-stars, such as Benjamin West, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Alice Neel, Jennifer Bartlett, Alex Katz and Frank Stella. That's in addition to an itinerary of well-thought-out special exhibitions happening throughout the year.

Penn Museum

4.  Penn Museum

  • University City

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, familiarly known as the Penn Museum, houses a staggering one million objects—including art and fascinating relics from far-flung lands, such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia, the Middle East and ancient Greece and Italy. The star of the show is the Egyptian gallery with its 15-ton granite sphinx, ancient hieroglyph-inscribed columns and mummies. The Chinese rotunda, with a soaring ceiling that stretches to 90 feet, houses sculptures and the famous Qing Dynasty 55-pound flawless crystal ball. Wander down hallways and discover treasures in the Etruscan, African, Greek and Canaan galleries that will bring out your inner explorer. Also, don’t miss the spectacular artifacts, jewels and the famed Ram-in-the-Thicket statuette in the newly remodeled Middle Eastern galleries.

Mütter Museum

5.  Mütter Museum

  • Science and technology
  • Center City West

This is invariably the museum that out-of-town guests beg to be taken to when visiting Philadelphia. It houses a curious collection of antique medical oddities, deformed organs floating in jars of formaldehyde, and anatomical specimens and wax models. Get, as the museum touts, “disturbingly informed” as you ogle the 200-year-old conjoined liver of Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, slices of Albert Einstein’s brain and the famed “Soap Lady,” a woman from around here whose body was exhumed in 1875 after being encased in a bizarre soaplike fatty substance. If that’s not enough to scare you away, maybe the interactive exhibit that lets you experience what it’s like to have your arm amputated will.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

6.  Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

  • Bainbridge St Booksellers Row

You can’t miss this imaginative museum on South Street, with its facade—and even some surrounding buildings—plastered with bits of colored glass and shards, broken ceramics and even bicycle wheels. The experience continues inside, as you wind your way through mosaicked hallways and step into glistening courtyards. The labyrinthine museum is the product of the insanely creative mind of local artist Isaiah Zagar, who’s gone on to contribute hundreds of mosaics throughout South Philadelphia. See how many you can spot while you’re strolling around the area.

Eastern State Penitentiary

7.  Eastern State Penitentiary

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Fairmount District

Once the world’s most expensive prison, Eastern State Penitentiary is now a fascinating museum, charting nearly 150 years of criminal history. The imposing fortress closed its doors in 1971, but not before it held renowned inmates like Al Capone and Slick Willie Sutton, who famously tunneled out of the prison in 1945. Guests are able to walk through the creepy halls and peek into the empty cells, all while listening to a Steve Buscemi-narrated audio guide. If you’re here in the fall—and brave enough—the facility turns into a monstrous haunted attraction called Terror Behind the Walls, which offers multiple haunted experiences and a pop-up bar near Capone’s former holding cell.

Institute of Contemporary Art

8.  Institute of Contemporary Art

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is where you go if you want to see ultra-contemporary, experimental works and installations. The compact museum has been mounting exhibitions of works by major contemporary artists since its opening in 1963, when it vowed to bring in what was “new and happening on the art scene.” Andy Warhol presented his first-ever solo museum show here in 1965. Since then, the ICA has added artists like Robert Mapplethorpe, Laurie Anderson, Glenn Ligon, Agnes Martin, Damian Ortega, Pepon Osorio and Lisa Yuskavage to its impressive roster. Another thing: the ICA is absolutely free, so stop in and get your culture fix completely gratis.

Museum of the American Revolution

9.  Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of the American Revolution is a fun, high-tech addition to the city’s historic offerings—and it’s a blast to explore for kids and adults alike. Located in Old City, where the rumblings of revolution began, the place boasts weaponry displays, interactive experiences and thousands of artifacts from the colonial era—including the tent George Washington used as his headquarters from 1778 to 1783.

National Museum of American Jewish History

10.  National Museum of American Jewish History

Rising dramatically above Independence Mall in Old City, this sharp, modern museum utilizes thousands of artifacts, papers, photos and films to tell the story of being Jewish in America—beginning at the time Jews arrived here in 1654 and moving through the present day. The experience includes creative, interactive exhibits, like a booth where you can record you own story, and famous artifacts from Jews who have made an impact on American life and culture. You can check out a costume Barbra Streisand wore in the cult-fave 1980s musical Yentl , Stephen Spielberg’s first camera and a pipe that once rested on Albert Einstein’s brilliant kisser.

National Constitution Center

11.  National Constitution Center

For better or worse, politics is a hot topic these days—all the more reason to make sure you know your rights. Get started at the National Constitution Center, devoted to telling the story of the U.S. Constitution—which was drafted and signed just across Market Street in Independence Hall. Learning is fun here, with high-tech exhibits—both permanent and temporary—interactive displays and historic artifacts. A display of life-size bronze statues of all 42 of the Constitution signers is great fodder for your Instagram feed, because who wouldn’t like a selfie with a founding father?

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

12.  Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

  • Natural history
  • Parkway Museums

This spot on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is a no-brainer for kids, with its towering dinosaur skeletons, hands-on fossil digs and animal dioramas, but it’s a must for lovers of natural history as well. Founded in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences is home to 18 million plant and animal specimens—both living and long-dead. There are more than 30 dinosaur and Mesozoic reptile species, including a fully constructed Tyrannosaurus rex; an exhibit where you can walk among a myriad of fluttering butterflies from around the world; and a hall filled with dozens of dioramas from the 1930s and ’40s, including Kodiak bears, bison, moosn, zebras, gorillas, tigers and pandas.

The Franklin Institute

13.  The Franklin Institute

  • Logan Square

If your kid can’t find something at this science museum to get excited about, you better check their pulse. Step inside the rotunda to greet a 20-foot-high marble statue of Benjamin Franklin, the museum’s namesake, before zooming in to explore room upon room of fun, interactive exhibits in this historic—and super hands-on—science museum. Permanent exhibitions and attractions include the four-story Foucault’s Pendulum; a giant heart that you can walk through and hear pulsing with blood; the 350-ton Baldwin steam locomotive and the 1948 T-33 Shooting Star jet. While a lot of this is for kids—and kids at heart—adults can find plenty to love in two Escape Rooms, the Fels Planetarium and a host of virtual reality experiences.

Mummers Museum

14.  Mummers Museum

  • Special interest

Venture into South Philly and pay the cheap $5 admission to learn all about one of the city’s most time-honored, kooky traditions: the Philadelphia Mummers. For nearly 120 years, the New Year’s Day Mummers Parade has featured dozens of Mummer troupes made up of men, women and children who wear over-the-top costumes and put on outlandish musical shows for spectators lined up along Broad Street. The Mummers Museum delves deeper into the history of the trend with a colorful collection of costumes, videos and a demonstration on how to do the “Mummers Strut.” Keep in mind the venue is only open Wednesdays through Sundays.

Arthur Ross Gallery

15.  Arthur Ross Gallery

Situated in a gothic Victorian library on the University of Pennsylvania campus, the 2,000-square-foot Arthur Ross Gallery is free and open to the public. Named after the New York investor, philanthropist and Penn graduate who founded it in 1983, the gallery showcases works from Penn’s collection in addition to four major exhibitions each year. The thoughtfully curated shows embrace a variety of cultures and mediums—from photography to painting and sculpture.

African American Museum in Philadelphia

16.  African American Museum in Philadelphia

Learn about African American contributions to culture and art in the U.S. at this modest Old City museum that’s located just a few blocks from Independence Hall. The story unfolds through interactive computer displays, photographs, videos and an impressive lineup of rotating special exhibitions that explore the African American experience through fine art, multimedia storytelling and historic artifacts shipped in from across the country.

Woodmere Art Museum

17.  Woodmere Art Museum

  • St Pauls Church

The trip to Chestnut Hill is totally worth it, if only to spend an afternoon art-peeping at the Woodmere Art Museum. Housed in a charming 19th-century stone mansion, the museum has an easily browsable nine galleries that spotlight Philadelphia art, artists and classic paintings and sculptures from the 6,000-works-strong permanent collection.

Fabric Workshop and Museum

18.  Fabric Workshop and Museum

This contemporary art center just around the corner from Reading Terminal showcases art made with new materials and media. Shows include anything from sculpture to works on fabric to architectural exhibitions and video installations. Another perk? Admission is totally free.

United States Mint

19.  United States Mint

Philadelphia’s mint does not print paper money, but it does stamp coins by the tens of millions per day. The free self-guided tour explains what the process entails from start to finish as well as how it has all changed from earlier days. Along the way, kids will get to design their own virtual coins, try to lift a sack of nickels and see what happens to all the money that falls off the conveyor belts.

Science History Institute

20.  Science History Institute

Catch up on all the lessons you slept through in science class at this Old City museum that was founded to preserve and explore the history of science and teach the indelible impact that it has had on humankind throughout the ages. Step inside to look through one of the most renowned collections of rare books on chemistry, a host of historic scientific instruments and works that merge the worlds of science and modern art.

Fireman’s Hall Museum

21.  Fireman’s Hall Museum

  • Elfreth's Alley

Just outside of Old City, this restored firehouse offers close-up looks at antique fire trucks as well as artifacts rescued from some well-known fire-related events. Upstairs, look through old ship registers and get up close and personal with some of the many antique fire extinguishers on display. This is a free self-guided tour not to miss—especially if you have little ones in tow.

Museum-hopping on a budget?

Check out our guide to the best free things to do in Philly

Check out our guide to the best free things to do in Philly

  • Things to do

Many of the museums on this list offer free or deeply discounted nights throughout the week or month.

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The Benefits of Visiting a Museum

Nina Relf 21 May 2021 min Read

visit a few museums

François Biard, Four Hours At The Salon, 1847, Louvre, Paris, France.


visit a few museums

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During the protracted coronavirus lockdown, when all the art we see is digital , we can reflect on that which we took for granted before. There are so many benefits to visiting a museum. But what is it that makes us visit museums over and over again?

Benefits of Visiting a Museum: Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

It is hard to imagine the corridors of some of the most popular museums around the world as completely empty. Free of the crowds that would normally surround The Mona Lisa , it becomes eerie to picture the Louvre Museum with nobody in sight. The world’s most famous portrait with no one looking back at her. The time of visiting museums seems so long ago. Yet back then, we probably took for granted just how easy it was to go and see artworks. Since digital access is the only way to access them currently, we can reflect on the benefits of visiting a museum and seeing artworks in person. Whilst we wait until we are able to visit museums again, you can access a list of the best museums to visit virtually .

1. Getting up close and personal with the artworks

Benefits of Visiting a Museum: Claude Monet's Les Nymphéas at Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, France.

In this time of self-isolation, it is easy to feel distanced from all things art-related. We begin to miss the brightness of colors and seeing the painted brushstrokes in front of our eyes. You get a special feeling inside when you see the real artwork for the first time. The anticipation of what it will look like in real life is met with sheer excitement. In the case of some installation works, we are even allowed to touch and interact with the artworks. In the recent exhibition Anthony Gormley at the Royal Academy in London, the visitors were allowed to step over, under and through huge circles of metal wire.

As a whole experience, it feels exclusive and new. The opportunity to see the real thing often defies all our expectations from the static, two-dimensional images that we have seen online. But now, these online images are all we have.

2. Mindfulness from visiting a museum

Benefits of Visiting a Museum: Raphael's frescoes at Villa Farnesina, Rome, Italy.

If you have ever experienced being alone in a gallery room with a work of art, you will know that it is a feeling that is hard to replicate. You feel like you have been taken to a different world, that you have travelled back in time. You are standing before the artist’s masterpiece as if it has just been created. When you start looking at every tiny detail, there is so much to see, almost too much. You could spend hours in front of just a single artwork.

3. Visiting a museum for that perfect Instagram shot

Benefits of Visiting a Museum: Claude Monet's Les Nymphéas at Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, France.

We have all been guilty of this at least once. We live in an era where it has become the norm to constantly post images of where we are and what we are doing. If you did not put that picture of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers on Instagram, did you even go the National Gallery?

Of course, this has a huge benefit. The ability to scroll through Instagram and see artworks from all over the world, in high definition and all in one place, is incredible. It is a huge advantage to all of us who love art, who are currently unable to visit museums. It is difficult to imagine a time when this was not available. Social media allows us to access so much art at just the touch of our fingertips. But all of our Instagram feeds are missing those aesthetically pleasing gallery shots at the moment. Maybe the time has come to scroll back to a few months ago on our camera roll. Dig out an old photo and do a throwback post to something that we never uploaded before. We have got to perfect our Instagram profiles and update our followers, after all!

To view some perfect shots of artworks from museums across the world, you can access a list of the best museum accounts to follow on Pinterest .

4. A once-in-a-lifetime exhibition is worth visiting a museum for

Benefits of Visiting a Museum: Anthony Gormley's exhibit at The Royal Academy, London, UK.

Exhibitions are what draw a huge number of people to galleries every year. Unfortunately, some incredible exhibitions have been disrupted by the closure of museums due to the coronavirus outbreak. Titian: Love, Art and Desire at the National Gallery in London opened for just three days before it had to be closed due to the lockdown. For the first time in four centuries, the six paintings created as a series for Prince Phillip of Spain had been displayed together from galleries across the world.

Also at The National Gallery, Artemisia was planned to open this month – an exhibition dedicated to the female artist Artemisia Gentileschi. The exhibition was postponed because a lot of the artworks had to be sent from Italy and America to England, something that became impossible in light of the global situation. The chance to see an exhibition that is normally only open for a short period of time is what inspires so many people to visit museums. It is something that you would not want to miss, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

5. Visiting the gift shop of dreams

Benefits of Visiting a Museum: Kara Walker's Fons Americanus at the Tate Modern, London, UK.

Art history books galore, postcards, magnets, prints, posters, even Picasso earrings: they have it all. It becomes part of the experience, the opportunity to take a tiny bit of the gallery home with you. A chance to recreate the gallery in your own home, in the form of a poster or a small postcard for your pin-board. Perhaps one of the best gift shops is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is filled with the most beautiful textile patterns, scarves, tote bags, notebooks, and more. Another amazing example is the huge gift shop under the pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Many museums have their own online shops which you can still visit if you do not want to miss out on this shopping experience whilst in lockdown.

These are just some of the benefits of visiting a museum. Whether you want to explore a new city or see a particular artwork that never gets boring regardless of how many times you have seen it, museums have so much to offer. The chance to be in the presence of some of the most renowned artworks is something we take for granted. The lockdown has made us miss this physical contact with works of art and the contemplative experience that comes with it. But perhaps, when museums do reopen, we will enjoy the experience even more than we did before. The next time we are at a museum, maybe we will just stop for a moment and appreciate how much our minds can be transformed by looking at art.

  • Royal Academy of Arts
  • Villa Farnesina

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I am 22 years old, living near London and an aspiring Curator. I have just graduated from The Courtauld Institute of Art with a Masters degree in the History of Art, and I am a lover of painting, feminist art criticism and reading!    

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Visiting the Smithsonian Museum: 23 Helpful Tips

Smithsonian Castle

In this Article

visit a few museums

Tackling the largest museum complex in the world can be a tall task, so here are 23 Smithsonian Museum tips to help you make the most out of your visit to the Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC.

Despite what many people think, the Smithsonian isn’t a single museum. Rather, it is a collection of world-class museums, galleries, gardens, and a zoo. With 11 sites  clustered around the National Mall  and six other museums and the National Zoo elsewhere in the Washington, DC, area, the Smithsonian’s collection of knowledge centers serve as a treasure chest for visitors curious to learn more about the world. And w ith 1 40 million objects, works of art, and specimens, it’s no surprise that more than 30 million people visit the Smithsonian annually!

Fun Fact: In case the Smithsonian presence in Washington, DC, isn’t impressive enough, there are two additional museums located in New York City: Cooper Hewitt (the Smithsonian Design Museum) and the National Museum of the American Indian. 

Sage Advice:  Find the best place to stay in Washington DC based on your itinerary.

So how does one navigate the largest museum complex in the world? These Smithsonian museum tips will help! 

visit a few museums

To help offset the costs of running, you’ll find affiliate links lightly sprinkled throughout the site.   If you choose to make a purchase via   one of these links , there’s no additional cost to you, but I’ll earn a teeny tiny commission.   You can read all of the legal blah blah blah (as my little niece says) on the   full disclosure page .

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Have You Visited the Smithsonian Museums?

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1. Go Mobile

Download Smithsonian Mobile to help you easily access maps, tours, podcasts, tips, photos, and more.

Sage Advice:  The Smithsonian Institution has additional apps that you might find useful like the   NMAAHC Mobile Stories app  and the Smithsonian Channel app .

2. Or Go Old School

If you prefer paper, download a copy of the official Smithsonian Guide and Map .  In addition to English, the Smithsonian Guide and Map is also available in 10 other languages. Visitors can pick up a Braille copy at the information desk of any Smithsonian museum.

Sage Advice:  Get an overview of the Capital City with a guided tour of DC . For a unique experience, take a night tour , twilight tour , segway tour , or ghost tour !

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3. Visit Virtually

Before you head to Washington, DC, consider taking a virtual tour of the Smithsonian museums. When you browse exhibitions online, you’ll  learn more about what you’ll see when you visit in person. The digital exhibition experience will also help you  create and prioritize your “must see” list. Some virtual tours even let you experience past exhibits that are no longer available to visit in person.

Examples of virtual tours offered by the Smithsonian include:

  • The First Ladies Virtual Tour ,
  • America’s Presidents Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery,
  • Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine , a past exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History, and
  • the Enid A. Haupt Garden outside the Smithsonian Castle

Related Article:   8 Things to See at the National Portrait Gallery After You’ve Visited America’s Presidents

4. enrich your experience.

Whether you’re traveling with children, alone, or with other adults, taking some time to learn more about the artifacts you plan to see can enrich your experience. In addition to Tip #3, here are some recommendations:

  • Before going to the Air and Space Museum , read a book or watch a movie about Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis, the first plane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean
  • If the National Zoo is on your itinerary, check out these  fun facts about giant pandas
  • Read a biography about one of the US Presidents before exploring the  America’s Presidents exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery

History: From the Dawn of Civilization to the Present Day (DK Definitive Visual Encyclopedias)

5. Open 364 Days a Year

Most Smithsonian Museums are open daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm, except Christmas Day (December 25th). But the Smithsonian Information Center opens at 8:30 am. Housed in the Smithsonian Institution Building (widely known as the Smithsonian Castle), this is a great first stop for your Smithsonian museum adventure. (See tip #9 to learn why.)

On the later side, the American Art Museum and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery are open from 11:30 am to 7:00 pm.

Sage Advice:  For more to do and see after you’ve visited the Smithsonian museums, check out these tips on how to spend three days in Washington, DC .

Pile of US dollars in a variety of values

6. Keep the Change

There is no cost to visit any of the Smithsonian museums in DC. Yes, you read that correctly, Smithsonian museum admission is absolutely free! So enjoy all of the Smithsonian museums, galleries, and gardens — including the National Zoo  — at no cost. Thank you, Mr. Smithson (and American taxpayers)!

However, it is important to note that some Smithsonian Museums in DC — like the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) — are so popular that they require a free timed-entry ticket to visit. 

visit a few museums

7. Avoid the Crowds

With approximately 30 million visitors each year, the Smithsonian museums can be busy even on slow days. For a less crowded experience, avoid visiting on the weekends, holidays, and during peak travel seasons like during the Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring.

Sage Advice:  All Smithsonian museums are closed on Christmas Day, December 25th.

Related Article: Where to See Cherry Blossoms: 24 Enchanting Cities in the US

The Metro is a convenient way to travel to the Smithsonian Museums in DC.

8. Make the Most of the Metro

One of the most important tips for visiting the Smithsonian museums is not to drive. The DC Metro is a fast, easy, and affordable way to get to the Smithsonian museums located on or near the National Mall. The Smithsonian metro station stop at 12th & Jefferson, SW, is just to the west of the Smithsonian Castle, the perfect place to begin your Smithsonian adventure. (See Tip #9.) This stop is available on the blue, orange, and silver lines.

If your itinerary includes visiting the Smithsonian museums on the east half of the National Mall, then the Archives Metro Station (on the green and yellow lines) or the L’Enfant Metro Station (on the green, yellow, orange, blue, and silver lines) may be more convenient.

Sage Advice:   The Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley is another convenient way to get around Washington, DC. And, if you plan on visiting Arlington National Cemetery during your trip to Washington, DC, you can upgrade your ticket to include the cemetery and water taxi.

Related Article:  The People and Places Behind Popular DC Metro Stations

Smithsonian Castle in Washington DC

9. Start at the Smithsonian Castle

Mentioned briefly in tip #5, the red sandstone building at 1000 Jefferson Dr, SW, that looks like a 12th-century Norman castle is known as, um, the Castle. This Smithsonian Institution building houses the Smithsonian Visitors Center and is the perfect place to begin your Smithsonian Institution experience.

James Smithson Crypt at Smithsonian Castle in Washington DC

Don’t miss James Smithson’s tomb just outside the north entrance of the Smithsonian Castle. After all, if it weren’t for James Smithson, there wouldn’t be a Smithsonian Institution. This is also the place to get a fantastic overview of the collections at each of the Smithsonian museums as well as chat with in-house experts to fine tune your Smithsonian plans.

10. Then Move On to What Matters Most to You

As with any travel, it’s okay to skip the things that don’t interest you. Who cares if the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is the most popular. If airplanes and moon rocks aren’t your thing, spend your time exploring what matters to you!

A "must do" list written on a yellow legal pad

11. Have a “Must See” List

Even after you focus on the museums, exhibits, and artifacts that matter most to you, you likely still won’t have enough time to do and see it all. A little advanced planning will help ensure you don’t inadvertently overlook Julia Child’s kitchen in the Museum of American History or the America’s Presidents Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery.

Related Article:   Spend an Hour with America’s Presidents at the National Portrait Gallery

12. Start at the Top

As you visit each Smithsonian Museum, consider starting on the top floor and working your way down. While it may sound like a salmon swimming upstream, this technique is a proven way of avoiding crowds.

13. Pack Lightly

For a fast, easy trip through museum security, try to limit your possessions to a small purse or similarly-sized bag. Any large backpack will be subject to additional search by security.

Sage Advice:  Some Smithsonian Museums have lockers and check rooms available for coats, backpacks, shopping bags, and carry-on-sized luggage. As an alternative, check out Vertoe for a secure luggage storage option near the Smithsonian museum you wish to visit.

visit a few museums

14. Leave Your Selfie Stick Behind

While non-flash photography is generally allowed, visitors may not bring tripods , monopods, or selfie sticks into the Smithsonian Museums.

visit a few museums

15. Can I Buy You a Drink?

Like any world-class museum, food and drink are not permitted in the Smithsonian museums. Sack lunches, water bottles , and snacks that are properly secured and stowed during your visit may be carried but not consumed except in designated areas. Remember that the cafes, cafeterias, coffee shops, and other dining facilities in the Smithsonian museums are for guests who have purchased an item there and not for food and drink brought in from the outside.

visit a few museums

16. Step Lively

You’ll be expected to walk through a metal detector (or be hand-screened with an electronic wand) before entering nearly all Smithsonian museums. You should also expect to have your bag screened.

Be sure to wear comfortable shoes when you visit the Smithsonian Museums in DC.

17. And Wear Comfortable Shoes

Of all the tips for visiting the Smithsonian museums, do not overlook the importance of wearing comfortable shoes ! Simply walking counter-clockwise from the Smithsonian Castle to the other Smithsonian museums located on the National Mall is a 2.5-mile undertaking. Add all of the miles you’ll walk exploring the exhibits, sculpture gardens, and other stops along the way, and you’ll likely walk a marathon.

Related Article:   A Complete Guide to the Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall

18. Take a Load Off

Visitors of all ages and activity levels can easily tire from a day exploring the Smithsonian museums. Give your feet a rest by relaxing in the Enid A. Haupt Garden or the Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden. Or, you can take in an IMAX movie at the Air and Space Museum.

If younger children will be visiting the Smithsonian museums with you, please note that strollers are allowed in all museums, and a limited number of strollers are available for rent at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Consider biking between Smithsonian Museums

19. Biking Between Museums

To move between museums without wearing yourself out, consider biking. There are several places to rent a bicycle near the National Mall, and most Smithsonian museums have designated bicycle racks for secure storage while you explore the collections inside.

Related Article:    10 Essential Biking Rules Every Cyclist Should Know  (Especially If You’re Renting a Bike to Explore)

People Marching in the Street in Protest

20. A Brief Word About the First Amendment

Visitors are not allowed to carry placards, signs, or banners  while on Smithsonian grounds. You are also forbidden from handing out ads, pamphlets, or flyers. 

But there’s no ban on your favorite slogan t-shirt …

21. Use Your Inside Voice (and No Potty Mouth)

As with any museum, visitors are expected to use their inside voices and refrain from using abusive or obscene language.

A man with a handful of cigarettes and an e-cigarette in his hands

22. Do You Have a Light?

Whether you answered that question “yes” or “no,” you won’t need it when visiting the Smithsonian museums because you are not able to smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes in any Smithsonian building. You are also forbidden from using electronic cigarettes, vape pens, and similar devices.

visit a few museums

23. Have You Seen My _____?

This is one of the most important tips for visiting the Smithsonian museums if you fear you’ve lost an item. Each museum’s security office will hold lost and found items for 24 hours before moving them to a central lost and found office. You can reach the central lost and found office at 202.633.5630.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Smithsonian Museums

Where is the smithsonian museum.

The Smithsonian is a collection of world-class museums, galleries, gardens, and a zoo. The majority of Smithsonian sites surround the National Mall in Washington, DC. But there are additional museums in Washington, DC, and two museums in New York City.

How many Smithsonian museums are there?

By now you know that the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum complex (and not just one museum). But how many Smithsonian museums are there? There are 23 distinct properties that make up the Smithsonian Institution including museums, gardens, and even a zoo!

How many Smithsonian museums are there in DC?

Here is a complete list of the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC:

  • Anacostia Community Museum, 1901 Fort Place, SE, Washington, DC
  • Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC
  • Arts and Industries Building, 900 Jefferson Drive, SW, Washington, DC (temporarily closed)
  • Freer Gallery of Art, Jefferson Drive and 12th St., SW, Washington, DC
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Ave. at 7th St., SW, Washington, DC
  • National Air and Space Museum, 655 Jefferson Drive, SW, Washington, DC (reopens October 14, 2022)
  • National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, VA
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture, 1400 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC
  • National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC
  • National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC
  • National Museum of Natural History, 10th St. and Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC
  • National Museum of the American Indian, 4th Street and Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC
  • National Portrait Gallery, 8th and G Streets, NW, Washington, DC
  • National Postal Museum, 2 Massachusetts Ave., NE, Washington, DC
  • National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC
  • Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1661 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and G Streets, NW, Washington, DC
  • Smithsonian Gardens: Enid A. Haupt Garden and Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle), 1000 Jefferson Drive, SW, Washington, DC

Which Smithsonian museum is the most popular?

Based on total visits in 2021, the National Museum of Natural History is the most popular Smithsonian museum. It’s followed by the National Zoo and National Museum of American History.

How big is the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History?

According to its published fact sheet, the National Museum of Natural History is 1.32 million square feet, with 325,000 square feet of public space and 146 million artifacts and specimens. About five million people visit in a typical year, eager to gaze at the impressive Hope Diamond, walk through the Butterfly Pavilion, examine fossils, and so much more!

When does the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum open?

The Air and Space Museum has been under renovation since 2018. It reopens on October 14, 2022, and free timed-entry passes are available starting September 14, 2022.

Are the Smithsonian museums free?

Yes! There is no cost to visit any of the Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC. However, some museums — like the National Museum of African American History and Culture — require you to reserve a free pass to visit.

Sage Advice: If you’re interested in visiting the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, it’s currently the only Smithsonian museum that charges admission.

Do you need tickets for Smithsonian museums?

In Washington, DC, free timed-entry passes are required to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Zoo.

Are the Smithsonian museums open?

Most Smithsonian museums are open daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm, and all museums and the National Zoo are closed on Christmas Day, December 25th.

However, times vary by museum, and some buildings and exhibits can be temporarily closed for renovations, so be sure to confirm opening days and hours when you plan your visit.

Are Smithsonian museums open on Thanksgiving?

As a general rule, yes. The only day the Smithsonian museums are consistently closed all year is Christmas Day.

Are Smithsonian museums open on Memorial Day?

Yep! Just don’t plan to visit the Smithsonian museums on Christmas, and be sure to check the hours of the specific museum you want to visit before you go.

Share Your Smithsonian Museum Tips

What about you? Have you visited one or more of the Smithsonian Museums? What did you enjoy most about your experience? Do you have any additional tips for someone planning a trip to the Smithsonian museums to share in the comments section below?

Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and Capitol Building in Washington DC at night

Looking for more information to plan your Washington DC vacation? Check out my additional recommendations to help you plan your trip to Washington, DC , including what to see and do in Washington DC, the best places to stay in Washington DC, where to eat in Washington DC, and more!

Ready to Go? Use These Helpful Links to Book Your Trip!

  • Find low fares with  airfarewatchdog and Skyscanner
  • Book your plane ticket with   Expedia or Kayak
  • Or take the scenic route on an epic road trip in a rental car or an RV from Outdoorsy
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  • Need something else to plan your perfect trip? Visit my travel resources page for more trusted partners. Happy wandering!

Thank you for sharing!

43 thoughts on “Visiting the Smithsonian Museum: 23 Helpful Tips”

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Love this comprehensive guide muséums. 23 Smithsonian museums. I love the tip on going virtualcfirst, have a must-see lust, not forgetting the castle, zndcstarting from the top!

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These are great tips for visiting one of the largest museum complexes. I will use them when visiting the Smithsonian Museum because it is on my bucket list. It’s a simple idea to download Smithsonian Mobile App to have access to maps, tours, and tips. I will also take a virtual tour before the real visit, as it seems like a perfect idea. For sure, I will prepare a “Must See” list.

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Don’t miss James Smithson’s tomb just outside the north entrance of the Smithsonian Castle. After all, if it weren’t for James Smithson, there wouldn’t be a Smithsonian Institution. This is also the place to get a fantastic overview of the collections at each of the Smithsonian museums as well as chat with in-house experts to fine tune your Smithsonian plans.

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Yes, I absolutely agree! It is pretty amazing that James Smithson’s estate was left to a new nation he’d never met. How lucky for us!

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One visit at a Smithsonian Museum and your life will never be the same again. Thanks for putting together all these wonderful tips! Cheers, Elna

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It’s truly a national treasure!

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The Smithsonian museum complex looks amazing, it sure sounds like an incredible experience.

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I had no idea that the entrance to these museums is free and it’s certainly good to know about the free timed entry ticket for the ones in D.C. These museums are a treasure trove of exhibits – definitely chalking out a must-see list in advance is a great idea.

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I love downloading apps or listening to podcasts before I go to museums so that I can create a list of the things I know I really I want to see. But then leave the rest of the visit to chance and just wander around.

That’s a good strategy. When I take the time to do that (which isn’t 100% of the time), I find my experiences are so much richer! There’s nothing worse than getting home and reading about X or Y that you missed!

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I’ve only been to the Smithsonian museums once, but they sure are awesome. And your list of tips is so helpful. It can be overwhelming to visit them, so your advice to see come prepared and focus on what interest you is perfect.

I’m glad you found it helpful!

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Great tips on visiting the Smithsonian Museums! I like the idea of taking the load off and watching an IMAX movie or taking the rental bikes. Thanks for sharing!

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This is a new fact for me. I didn’t know Smithsonian museum is the world’s largest. Thanks for sharing these incredibly handy tips.

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An extensive source of information.

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A thorough list on this iconic building which I am yet to visit. When I do, I will take up your suggestion on biking between the buildings. Great job with the suggestions. Enjoyed reading this.

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i had heard of the Smithsonian museum complex but never visited. It looks and sounds like an incredible experience. May be if I ever get back to USA I will pay a visit.

Even just one day zipping through a few of the Smithsonian museums is a great experience when you visit Washington DC.

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This is the one place that I wish I would have taken the time to visit during my short weekend in Washington, but I did not have enough time. I was actually looking at an online course from the Smithsonian just yesterday 🙂

They have a lot of great online content, virtual tours, and more. While it’s an amazing experience to visit in person, those digital options are a great plan b!

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My Dad was in the military and we were stationed in Virginia on two different occasions for a couple of years. My family are big explorers so we hit every Smithsonian and I absolutely loved them. I have only been back to a few a quick side trip added to business trips for conferences and events there, but now since I moved to North Carolina, DC is six hours away and the perfect weekend trip – my hubby and I plan on hitting up these museums as my hubby has never been to any!

I’m also a military brat, and done of the absolute best perks is the chance to live and explore so many great places around the world. As you know, DC is FULL of great things to see and do, and I bet you and Monsieur Misadventures will have a blast!

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The Smithsonian Museum is one of those world class places I’ve been to, have read about yet have never got to experience. I love old style museums, we are thankfully spoilt for world class museums in the UK, so it’s always nice to see others which are on a par with the quality we have here. But also, I had no idea there were so many Smithsonian Museums.

And us lucky Yanks… Did you know that Mr. Smithson (the namesake of the Smithsonian Institute) was actually an Englishman who directed that his estate be used to create a museum complex for a country he never visited?

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These tips are great, Smithsonian Museum is on my and my daughter bucket list. I will pin your post for our future trip

I’m glad you found them helpful. You’re sure to enjoy the Smithsonian museums when you visit!

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I feel so silly that for YEARS, I didn’t realize that “The Smithsonian” was actually several museums! I always thought it was just one massive museum. Fortunately, a visit to DC cleared that misconception right up! Thanks for the post!

LOTS of people make that mistake! I think in part it’s because folks talking about The Smithsonian Institution as a singular concept. Aren’t the museums full of amazing treasures?

Absolutely! We only had a few hours to spend checking them out, and of course it was nowhere near enough time!

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Thanks for the thorough write up! These tips will be super helpful when i eventually visit DC, love the biking idea 🙂

In addition to the Smithsonian museums, bikes are a great way to see all of the monuments. Hope you enjoy your visit to DC!

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I was not ready during our last visit to the Smithsonian. First we got there later than planned. Then it took us an hour to find parking. Then it fizzled from there. We went to 2 museums and missed the 2 that I really wanted to see. I wish I had your guide 4 months ago. Thank you for the info.

Oh, no, what a horrible experience! Although, my hat is off to you that you braved DC by car. Even when I lived there (back when the years started with a “1” and “uber” only meant something to Germans) I was a big fan of the Metro. The museums are really amazing, so I hope you’ll get another go at them! <3

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Great post on an amazing landmark! I had no idea the museum were free. I especially liked your tip on downloading the app to find your way. Also the tip of making a “must see list” of most wanted attractions.

Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you liked it!

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This was a fun read and has so many useful tips!

Thanks! I’m glad you liked it.

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Great tips. I had no idea that the only day the museums weren’t open were on Christmas. I can think a few holidays that would be great days to visit with light visitors. Love this.

I know! I wished I lived closer to be able to seize those same opportunities!

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So, my family is from Northern Virginia, and over the Christmas holiday I went up to visit my mom and we were talking about how I hadn’t been to any of the Smithsonian Museums since I was like 12! Hey don’t make that wow face, I am not that old yet so it wasn’t that long ago, well maybe! Anyways, I told Darcee, the next time we go up I really want to go back to several of the museums so I love your tips on Visiting the Smithsonian Museums. For example: ~ I had no idea they were free! ~ I LOVE the idea of starting at the top and working my way backwards! Never would have thought to try that! ~ Using the Metro in the DC, Virginia, Maryland areas is actually very easy compared to driving; Parking plus it saves you tons of $$ ~ The Bike thing is genius if you are doing a couple of museums in a day! I don’t mind walking but they can be kind of spread out!

It is amazing how much museum goodness you get for no admission fee at the Smithsonian Institute!

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Love these practical tips for making the most of a visit to the Smithsonian Museums! Starting at the visitors center is great insight.

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Oh my gosh – these are such helpful tips! I went to the Smithsonian Museums when I was a child but would love to go back. Thanks for sharing 😉

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  • Travel Guide
  • Arts & Culture

How To Make A Museum Visit More Interesting – Travel Tips

Published: September 10, 2023

Modified: December 27, 2023

by Kimmy Eggers

  • Plan Your Trip
  • Travel Tips



Visiting a museum is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the fascinating world of arts and culture. It provides a chance to admire masterpieces, learn about historical events, and expand your knowledge in various fields. However, sometimes museum visits can feel overwhelming or uninspiring if you’re not fully engaged. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to make your museum visit more interesting and enjoyable.

In this article, we’ll explore some travel tips and strategies to enhance your museum-going experience. Whether you’re a seasoned art enthusiast or a casual visitor, these suggestions will help you make the most out of your time at the museum. From researching the museum beforehand to actively participating in interactive exhibits, there are numerous ways to deepen your understanding and appreciation of the artworks on display.

By implementing these tips, you’ll transform your visit from a passive stroll through exhibits to an engaging and enriching journey into the world of art and culture. So, let’s dive in and discover how to make your museum visit a truly memorable experience.

Research the Museum

Before your museum visit, take some time to research and familiarize yourself with the museum you’ll be exploring. This preliminary research will not only give you an overview of the museum’s collection but also help you appreciate the significance of the artworks you’ll encounter.

Start by visiting the museum’s website. Most museums have detailed information about their permanent collections, temporary exhibitions, and upcoming events. Take note of any specific artworks or exhibits that catch your attention.

If available, read about the history of the museum itself. Understanding the origins and mission of the institution can provide context for the artworks you’ll encounter during your visit.

Consider reading about the artists whose work is on display. Familiarize yourself with their background, artistic styles, and major contributions to the art world. This knowledge will allow you to appreciate the nuances and significance of their artworks.

Additionally, there are many online resources that can provide insightful articles, videos, and podcasts about various artworks and artists. Take advantage of these resources to gain a deeper understanding of the specific pieces you’ll encounter during your museum visit.

By doing your research beforehand, you’ll approach the museum with a sense of anticipation and knowledge, making your exploration more meaningful. Plus, you’ll be better equipped to ask informed questions and engage in conversations with museum staff or fellow visitors.

Remember, researching the museum is just the first step towards a more enriching experience. It lays the foundation for your visit and prepares you to fully appreciate the artworks, stories, and histories that await you. So, take the time to delve into the museum’s background and immerse yourself in the world you’re about to enter.

Take a Guided Tour

One of the best ways to enhance your museum visit is by taking a guided tour. Most museums offer guided tours led by knowledgeable docents or curators who can provide valuable insights into the artworks and exhibitions on display.

Guided tours offer a structured and curated experience, allowing you to see the museum through the eyes of experts. These tours often highlight key artworks, explain their historical and cultural significance, and provide a deeper understanding of the artists and their creative processes.

During a guided tour, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions, engage in discussions, and gain a more profound appreciation for the artworks. The tour guide’s expertise and enthusiasm can bring the artworks to life, revealing hidden details, narratives, and symbolism that you may have otherwise missed.

Additionally, guided tours can provide valuable context and background information that enriches your understanding of the artworks. By delving into the historical and cultural contexts, you’ll gain a deeper insight into the motivations and influences behind the creation of the artworks.

If the museum offers specialized tours, such as themed tours or artist-focused tours, consider signing up for those to delve even deeper into specific areas of interest. These specialized tours provide a more focused and tailored experience that caters to your particular interests.

Keep in mind that guided tours may have limited capacity and require advance booking. Check the museum’s website or inquire at the information desk to find out the availability and schedule of guided tours. Arriving early or planning your visit around a tour can ensure that you don’t miss out on this valuable opportunity.

By taking a guided tour, you’ll not only gain a wealth of knowledge about the museum’s collection but also develop a deeper connection to the artworks and the stories they tell. So, be sure to take advantage of this immersive and educational experience during your museum visit.

Use the Audio Guide

If you prefer a more independent and self-paced museum experience, utilizing the audio guide can be a great option. Audio guides provide a wealth of information about the artworks in a convenient and accessible format.

When you arrive at the museum, inquire about the availability of audio guides. Many museums offer them for rent or provide them as a part of the admission fee. These handheld devices allow you to explore the museum at your own pace while listening to commentary and insights about the artworks.

The audio guide provides in-depth explanations of the artworks, their historical context, artistic techniques, and interpretations. It offers a more detailed examination of the artworks, often including interviews with artists, curators, and experts in the field.

While using the audio guide, you can pause, replay, and skip to different sections, allowing you to devote more time to the artworks that resonate with you. It provides a flexible and personalized experience, catering to your specific interests and curiosity.

Additionally, audio guides often showcase different perspectives and interpretations, offering a more diverse and well-rounded understanding of the artworks on display. This can foster critical thinking and encourage you to form your own connections and interpretations.

Don’t forget to bring your own headphones to ensure a comfortable and immersive audio experience. Some museums may also provide Bluetooth connectivity to pair your mobile device with their audio guide app, allowing you to listen through your own headphones.

Using the audio guide can be a fantastic way to delve deeper into the artworks and gain valuable insights without the need for a guided tour. It allows you to explore the museum at your own pace, following your interests and curiosities along the way.

So, don’t hesitate to grab an audio guide when available and embark on a self-guided journey through the museum’s collection. Engage your senses and expand your knowledge as you listen to captivating stories and details about the artworks you encounter during your visit.

Attend a Museum Event or Workshop

Attending a museum event or workshop is a fantastic way to enhance your museum visit and engage with the artworks in a more interactive and dynamic manner. Many museums organize a wide range of events, including lectures, artist talks, panel discussions, performances, and hands-on workshops.

These events provide unique opportunities to learn directly from experts, artists, and scholars. By attending a lecture or artist talk, you can gain valuable insights into the creative processes, inspirations, and ideas behind the artworks on display.

Panel discussions offer a platform for in-depth conversations on various topics related to art, culture, and history. They often feature multiple perspectives, engaging participants in thought-provoking dialogue and expanding their understanding of the significance and relevance of the artworks.

Performance art events, such as live music, dance performances, or theatrical productions, bring a different dimension to the museum experience. They infuse the space with energy and emotion, offering a unique interpretation of the artworks and creating a memorable sensory experience.

Workshops provide a hands-on approach to learning and engaging with the artworks. Whether it’s a painting, sculpture, or ceramics workshop, these interactive sessions allow you to explore your own creativity while gaining a deeper appreciation for the artistic techniques and processes involved.

When planning your museum visit, check the museum’s calendar of events and see if any align with your interests. If there’s an event or workshop that catches your attention, make sure to reserve your spot or purchase tickets in advance, as these popular activities tend to fill up quickly.

Attending a museum event or workshop not only enriches your understanding of the artworks but also provides an opportunity to meet fellow art enthusiasts, exchange ideas, and broaden your perspectives. It adds an extra layer of depth and enjoyment to your museum visit.

So, keep an eye out for the exciting events and workshops happening at the museum you’re visiting, and make sure to incorporate them into your itinerary. You’ll discover new facets of the artworks and engage with them in a meaningful and interactive way.

Engage with Interactive Exhibits

Interactive exhibits have become increasingly popular in museums, offering immersive and engaging experiences for visitors of all ages. These exhibits go beyond traditional displays, allowing you to actively participate and interact with the artworks in unique ways.

Interactive exhibits can take various forms, such as touchscreens, multimedia installations, virtual reality experiences, and interactive sculptures. They often provide opportunities to explore different perspectives, experiment with artistic techniques, and even create your own artworks.

Engaging with interactive exhibits allows you to become an active participant in the museum visit, fostering a deeper connection to the artworks. You can manipulate digital images, delve into historical narratives, or even step into virtual worlds, experiencing the art in a more personal and immersive way.

These exhibits are designed to spark curiosity, ignite creativity, and encourage exploration. They provide a hands-on approach to learning and understanding the artworks, making the experience more accessible and enjoyable for visitors of all backgrounds and interests.

Take the time to fully engage with each interactive exhibit. Read the instructions, explore the available options, and experiment with different features. Don’t be afraid to try new things and let your imagination run wild.

Moreover, interactive exhibits often offer opportunities for social interaction. Collaborative activities or multi-player experiences allow you to engage with other visitors, friends, or family members, fostering a sense of connection and shared exploration.

Be sure to allocate sufficient time for exploring interactive exhibits during your museum visit. They can be both informative and entertaining, providing a unique and memorable experience that goes beyond traditional passive observation.

Remember, interactive exhibits are designed to be inclusive and engaging, catering to a wide range of interests and learning styles. So, take advantage of these interactive opportunities and dive into a world of creativity, innovation, and interactivity.

Ask Questions and Seek Information

As you explore the museum, don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek information about the artworks and exhibitions. Museums are filled with knowledgeable staff members who are there to enhance your experience and provide valuable insights.

If you come across an artwork that intrigues you, don’t be afraid to approach a museum staff member, such as a docent or an information desk attendant. Ask them about the artwork’s history, significance, and any interesting stories or symbolism behind it.

Engaging in conversation with museum staff can not only deepen your understanding of the artworks but also enhance your overall experience. They often have a wealth of knowledge and expertise to share, providing a unique perspective that adds depth and context to the artworks.

Additionally, museums sometimes have interactive stations or hands-on activities where you can further explore the themes or techniques of the artworks. Take advantage of these opportunities and ask questions about how to use the interactive features effectively.

Furthermore, seek out additional resources within the museum to supplement your understanding. Look for informational panels, brochures, or guidebooks in each gallery or exhibition area. These resources often provide valuable background information, artist biographies, and explanations of artistic concepts.

Many museums also have dedicated research libraries or educational centers where you can delve deeper into specific topics or access more in-depth information. Inquire about these resources and take advantage of the opportunity to expand your knowledge further.

Keep in mind that asking questions and seeking information is not limited to conversations with staff. Feel free to engage with other visitors as well. You might strike up a fascinating conversation, share opinions, or learn something new from fellow art enthusiasts.

Remember, curiosity is key in making your museum visit more engaging and rewarding. By asking questions and seeking information, you can gain a deeper understanding of the artworks and the stories they tell. So, don’t shy away from seeking knowledge and engaging in conversations during your museum exploration.

Explore the Museum’s Digital Resources

In our digital age, museums have embraced technology to enhance the visitor experience. Many museums now offer a wide range of digital resources that you can explore to enrich your museum visit.

Start by checking the museum’s website or mobile app. Museums often provide digital guides, virtual tours, and online galleries where you can browse through their collections from the comfort of your own home or plan your visit in advance.

Virtual tours allow you to explore the museum’s galleries and exhibitions online, offering a 360-degree view of the space. You can navigate through different rooms, zoom in on artworks, and even access additional information and audio commentary.

Digital guides, whether in the form of a mobile app or a downloadable PDF, provide a convenient way to enhance your experience during your museum visit. These guides often include interactive maps, detailed information about the artworks, and guided tours that you can follow at your own pace.

Additionally, many museums have embraced social media platforms to engage with their audience and share behind-the-scenes content, artist interviews, and interesting facts about the artworks. Follow the museum’s social media accounts to stay updated on their latest happenings and discover unique insights.

Some museums also have dedicated YouTube channels or podcasts where they showcase in-depth interviews, behind-the-scenes videos, and educational content. These resources offer an opportunity to further explore the museum’s collection and gain a deeper understanding of specific artworks or exhibitions.

During your museum visit, be sure to look out for digital interactive displays or multimedia installations within the galleries. These can provide additional context, videos, animations, and interactive features that complement the artworks on display.

Exploring the museum’s digital resources not only enhances your understanding of the artworks but also provides a more interactive and dynamic experience. It allows you to engage with the museum’s collection in new and innovative ways, expanding your horizons beyond the physical space.

To fully take advantage of these digital resources, consider bringing your smartphone or tablet, ensuring that you have a reliable internet connection or utilizing the museum’s free Wi-Fi if available. This way, you’ll have quick access to all the digital tools and information.

So, don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore the museum’s digital offerings. Embrace technology as a companion in your journey through art and culture, and discover a whole new world of resources and knowledge.

Take Breaks and Plan for Rest

While exploring the museum and immersing yourself in the diverse range of artworks, it’s important to remember the value of taking breaks and planning for rest. Museum visits can be intellectually and emotionally stimulating, and it’s essential to give yourself time to process and reflect on what you’ve experienced.

Museums often have designated rest areas or seating scattered throughout the galleries. Take advantage of these spaces to sit down, relax, and allow yourself to absorb the artistic atmosphere. It’s during these moments of rest that you can fully appreciate the artworks and contemplate their meaning.

Consider planning your visit with breaks in mind. Pace yourself and allocate time for rest in between exploring different sections or exhibitions. This allows you to maintain your energy levels and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

During your breaks, take the opportunity to review the information you’ve gathered, revisit your favorite artworks, or simply take in the ambiance of the museum. Reflect on the emotions stirred by the art and allow yourself to be present in the moment.

Rest doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down. Take short walks through the museum’s open spaces or outdoor areas if available. These moments of movement can provide a refreshing change of scenery and help prevent fatigue.

Remember that museums can be large, and it’s common to spend several hours exploring them. Plan for rest by bringing a water bottle and staying hydrated. Also, consider carrying a small snack to maintain energy levels throughout your visit.

By incorporating breaks and rest into your museum visit, you’ll be able to fully engage with the art and make the most of your experience. This mindful approach allows for a more contemplative and immersive encounter with the artworks.

So, embrace the importance of rest and take the time to rejuvenate yourself during your visit. By doing so, you’ll not only enjoy the museum more but also ensure that you have the energy and focus to appreciate the art to its fullest potential.

Take Notes and Sketch

One way to make your museum visit more engaging and memorable is to take notes and sketch the artworks that inspire you. This practice allows you to document your thoughts, observations, and personal reflections, creating a visual and written record of your museum experience.

Devote a small notebook or sketchbook specifically for your museum visits. As you move through the galleries, take the time to jot down interesting details about the artworks, your thoughts and interpretations, or any questions that arise. These notes will serve as a personal reference for future reflection and can deepen your understanding of the artworks.

If you have an inclination towards drawing, consider sketching the artworks that captivate you. It doesn’t matter if you’re not an accomplished artist—the act of sketching allows you to observe the artworks more closely, notice details that you might have missed, and form a deeper connection with the pieces.

Sketching can be a meditative and reflective process, enabling you to immerse yourself in the composition, lines, and textures of the artworks. It gives you a different perspective and helps you develop a closer relationship with the art.

Don’t worry about creating perfect or elaborate sketches. The purpose is not to create a masterpiece but to capture your impression of the artwork and express your personal response to it. These sketches can become cherished mementos of your museum visits and a visual representation of your artistic journey.

Taking notes and sketching also serve as a way to engage with the artworks on a deeper level. It forces you to slow down, observe more closely, and contemplate the meaning and messages conveyed by the artists.

Remember to be considerate of the museum’s rules and guidelines regarding the use of notebooks, sketchbooks, and art materials. Some museums may require the use of pencils instead of pens to prevent any damage to the artworks.

By actively documenting your thoughts and impressions through notes and sketches, you’ll be able to relive the museum experience long after your visit. These personal records become a tangible connection to the art and a source of inspiration for future artistic endeavors or deeper exploration of the subject matter.

So, grab a notebook, pack a pencil, and immerse yourself in the art. Allow your notes and sketches to become a visual diary of your museum adventures, capturing the moments, emotions, and insights that make your visit truly unique.

Discuss and Share Impressions

One of the most rewarding aspects of visiting a museum is the opportunity to discuss and share your impressions with others. Engaging in conversations about the artworks and exhibitions can deepen your understanding, offer new perspectives, and create a sense of connection with fellow art enthusiasts.

After your visit, take the time to reflect on the artworks that left an impact on you. Engage in discussions with friends, family, or fellow museum visitors about your favorite pieces, the emotions evoked, and the insights gained from the experience. Sharing your impressions can spark thought-provoking conversations and enrich your appreciation of the art.

Consider joining post-visit discussion groups or online forums related to the museum or specific exhibitions. These platforms provide an opportunity to connect with others who share your passion and exchange thoughts, ideas, and interpretations of the artworks.

Art is subjective, and each person’s perspective is unique. By engaging in discussions, you can gain insights and interpretations that you may not have considered on your own. Open yourself to different viewpoints, and be curious about the experiences and perspectives of others.

Sharing your impressions doesn’t have to be limited to face-to-face conversations or online platforms. Utilize social media to share your favorite artworks, thoughts, and photos from your museum visit. Engage with the social media accounts of the museum or use relevant hashtags to connect with a wider community of art enthusiasts.

Furthermore, consider writing a review or sharing your experience in a blog post or article. This not only allows you to express your thoughts and reflections in a more detailed manner but also contributes to the wider discourse surrounding the art and cultural community.

By discussing and sharing your impressions, you actively contribute to the ongoing dialogue and appreciation of art. Your insights and perspectives have the power to inspire others and cultivate a deeper understanding and appreciation for the artworks.

So, don’t keep your museum visit to yourself. Engage in discussions, share your thoughts, and invite others to join the conversation. By doing so, you not only enhance your own experience but also contribute to the collective appreciation and celebration of art.

Visiting a museum is a journey into the captivating world of art and culture. By implementing the travel tips and strategies outlined in this article, you can transform your museum visit from a passive observation to an engaging and enriching experience.

Beginning with thorough research of the museum and its collections, you can arrive prepared and eager to explore. Taking a guided tour or utilizing the audio guide allows you to gain valuable insights from knowledgeable experts. Attending museum events and workshops provides opportunities for further learning, interaction, and creativity.

Engaging with interactive exhibits and seeking information through conversations and inquiries enriches your understanding and connection to the artworks. Exploring the museum’s digital resources expands your horizons and brings a new dimension to your visit. And while taking breaks and planning for rest, you can reflect on the art and recharge your energy.

By taking notes and sketching, you create personal records of your impression and interpretation of the artworks. Finally, discussing and sharing your experiences with others, both in person and online, cultivates a sense of community and opens doors to diverse perspectives.

A museum visit is a dynamic and transformative experience. It offers the opportunity to engage with history, culture, and creativity in a profound way. By implementing these tips, you can embark on a journey that transcends passive observation, immersing yourself in the art and connecting with the stories and emotions it embodies.

So, whether you’re a seasoned museum-goer or a first-time visitor, remember to approach your next museum visit with curiosity, openness, and a desire to engage with the art. Allow yourself to be captivated, challenged, and inspired as you uncover the beauty and meaning that lies within the galleries. Your museum visit will become an unforgettable and enriching adventure that leaves a lasting impact on your artistic journey.


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The Top Museums To Visit In The US This Fall

They’re the best of the best.

Andy Warhol museum

There are more than 35,000 museums in the U.S. alone. Yes, you heard that right. From world-renowned curations to hidden gems, true museum-goers will always have a few must-visit spots on their list when traveling. And while it’s impossible to hit up all the thousands of exhibits in the country (or is it?), there are definitely some key ones to take in in this lifetime ... or even this season.

“The fall season is the perfect time to explore all that America’s museums have to offer,” James Brad, writer and founder of travel blog Travare shares. “From art and history to science and culture, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.” Indeed, the halls of a museum tell so many stories and introduce you to a world of new ideas, art, and concepts while giving you a visual representation of history.

This fall, whether you’re going on an out-of-state trip or looking for a new activity to partake in close to home, visiting a museum can get you out of the autumn chill and into a display of one-of-a-kind art and incredible visual storytelling.

Ahead, TZR tapped a few travel and museum experts for their top picks of museums (in no specific order) in the U.S. Consider your fall plans made.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art : NYC

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The Met may sound familiar to you if you love watching the annual gala on the first Monday in May. But the iconic museum itself displays a vast collection of art from around the world. It is one of the world’s largest and most famous museums. Brad shares that, with over two million works of art, the Met has something for everyone to enjoy. Its stunning display of artwork, fashion, and artifacts will top off the perfect fall day in the city.

The Museum of Modern Art : San Francisco

Travel expert and co-founder of Motel Matcher Lauren Farley has always been a fan of art museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. “It has such a wide variety of art, from modern to abstract to expressionist." The museum has incredible pieces by artists like Matisse, Picasso, Klee, and Chagall. It also features a sculpture garden that’s free to visit during gallery hours.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture : Washington, D.C.

As the newest addition to the Smithsonian family of museums, the National Museum of African American History & Culture is one you could spend a full day adventuring through. The powerful museum tells the story of African Americans in the United States — from the transatlantic slave trade to the present day. An impressive 36,000 artifacts are on display in the museum, displaying documents, photographs, and artwork.

National Air & Space Museum : Washington, D.C.

Maarten Cox from Gecko Routes says that the National Air & Space Museum is the most suitable place for individuals who are seeking a sense of adventure and like to explore new things. “This museum has so many exhibition galleries that feature astronomy, the program of Apollo space, world wars and many more.” It’s the perfect day-trip museum to visit and one will enjoy seeing the interesting artifacts that tell hundreds of space-y stories.

Seattle NFT Museum : Seattle, Washington

Although one of the newer, tech-related museums in the country, it’s an impressive one you should visit if able. Travel writer Cazzy Magennis says it’s one of the many exhibits that allows you to explore the future of art via displays of blockchain pieces, a technological trend that is gaining traction in the creative industry. “The museum includes 30 massive screens sprawled across 3,000 square feet of space,” she says, adding that the museum also features work from up-and-coming crypto artists, like Larva Labs.

Museum of Broadway : NYC

Magennis recommends that all fans of musicals should visit The Museum of Broadway in New York, which opens November 15, 2022. “They’ve curated an interactive experience for guests to learn about the history and development of Broadway, from its origins to the present day,” she shares. The museum uses a mix of immersion technology and traditional museum displays to tell the unique stories behind world-famous productions like Rent and Hamilton . “It’s an especially rewarding experience for those who have always wondered how a show is put together from start to finish,” she says.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial : Honolulu, Hawaii

While one may prefer to be soaking up the Hawaiian views and culture all year long, taking some time out of your sunbathing can prove to be very educational and enriching — especially for those who appreciate history, politics, and culture. Cox shares that the Pearl Harbor Memorial is filled with stories about the most pivotal periods in U.S. history. You’ll learn about the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the entry of the U.S. into World War II.

The National Civil Rights Museum : Memphis, Tennessee

The National Civil Rights Museum traces through the history of the struggle for equal rights for Black people in the United States. Blogger Vered DeLeeuw says that the museum covers the history from the time the first slaves arrived, through the Jim Crow era, to the Civil Rights Movement in the ‘60s. The activism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a point of heavy focus, and your walk through the museum ends in the reconstructed motel room where he was assassinated.

The Art Institute of Chicago : Chicago, Illinois

Cox shares that The Art Institute of Chicago is the perfect place to enjoy modern and contemporary art, architecture, and exclusive design collections. The museum features a wide range of exhibitions along with a variety of virtual and on-site opportunities to explore. If you’re a fan of the art by Van Gogh and other renowned and revolutionary artists, your time here will be well-spent.

Jamestown Settlement : Williamsburg, Virginia

Travel blogger Melanie Hartmann says that the Jamestown Settlement is a must visit this fall. “This living-history museum has vast indoor exhibits, some of which are interactive, along with an outdoor [component],” she shares. IRL reenactors share how Native Americans lived and traded with the English colony of Jamestown in a manufactured life-size Paspahegh town. There are even life-size recreations of the famous three ships that sailed from England to Virginia in 1607 that you are able to explore.

Millicent Rogers Museum : Taos, New Mexico

Celebrating the art and culture of Southwest, the Millicent Rogers Museum was created as a memorial for the socialite and oil heiress who fell in love with Taos’ local art community . Rogers set down roots in Taos in the late 1940s after discovering that the New Mexico air was good for her poor health. She made friends with the towns artisans and developed a collection of jewelry, weavings, and art that became the initial core of the museum’s exhibit. These days, it’s grown its showcase, and features a permanent collection of more than 7,000 objects and works from Native American and Hispanic artists.

Crow Museum of Asian Art : Dallas, Texas

A celebration and visual love letter to the vast cultures of Asia, this vibrant museum is a can’t miss. The robust collection features creative works from China, Japan, India, Korea, and Southeastern Asia, spanning from historical to contemporary. Current exhibits to check out (before they’re gone!) include Rare Earth: The Art and Science of Chinese Stones, Vishnu: Across Time and Space, and The Art of Lacquer.

The Andy Warhol Museum : Pittsburgh, PA

Pop culture and modern art collide beautifully at this high-octane museum that pays homage to legend Andy Warhol. Located in the city the creative was born, the exhibit tells of Warhol’s colorful life through his art, boasting the largest collection of his artworks and archival materials.

visit a few museums

Daycation DC

The Ultimate Guide to the Smithsonian Museums

“Can we visit the Smithsonian?” It’s a common question I get asked when people visit me from other states. But the Smithsonian isn’t just a single place that you can visit in a day! The Smithsonian Institution includes 21 museums plus the National Zoo making it the largest museum, education, and research complex in the world. Most of the museums are on the National Mall in Washington, DC plus two in New York City and one in Chantilly, VA. So, it’s going to require some time to visit everything! That said, the Smithsonian museums are a great way to spend any kind of day in the city. They are perfect for first-time tourists, locals, and escaping any kind of harsh weather.

If you are visiting DC or guiding out-of-town friends, remember that bucket list item to “visit the Smithsonian” might take a little more planning for someone who didn’t realize how big it is. This guide will break down the 21 museums and give you a sense of what you’ll see when you visit. 

Visit the Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall

Smithsonian gardens.

  • Independence Ave SW
  • L’Enfant and Smithsonian
  • Recommended time: 1 to 2 hours
  • No tickets required

The Smithsonian Gardens are behind the Smithsonian Institution Building, affectionally referred to as The Castle. The Castle is a great place to start your trip as it is home to the Smithsonian Visitor Center. While you are there, make sure you take photos of The Castle and visit the garden in the back. You’ll find the Enid A. Haupt Garden, Moongate Garden, and Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden. The gardens change with the seasons and make great backgrounds for photos year-round. 

The gardens are walkable from 2 metro stops: Smithsonian & Federal Triangle (orange, blue, silver) and L’Enfant Plaza (green, yellow, orange, blue, silver). Open daily except Christmas. 

Enid A Haupt Garden

National Museum of Natural History

  • 10th Street and Constitution Ave NW
  • Free ($8 for the Butterfly Pavillion)
  • Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Archives
  • Recommended time: 2 to 4 hours

The National Museum of Natural History is one of the most recognizable of the Smithsonian museums due to the large African Elephant in the lobby. You’ll find larger-than-life exhibits, including the Hall of Fossils (lots of dinosaurs), Ocean Hall, and the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals (including the Hope Diamond). Plus, don’t miss the smaller natural world with the Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion. 

This museum is great for all ages, but it is also a particularly good place to start if you are traveling with children. There is so much to see, and a lot of it is interactive. Because of the sheer size of many exhibits, it’s easy to keep short attention spans interested and fill an entire afternoon. For extra fun, check out the Butterfly Pavillion with live butterflies. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday, and tickets are $8/adult or free on Tuesday. Plan for 2-4 hours. 

The Museum of Natural History is easily walkable from three metro stops: Smithsonian or Federal Triangle (orange, blue, silver) and Archives (green, yellow). Open daily except Christmas Day. Timed tickets are not required.

Natural History Museum

National Museum of American History

  • 1300 Constitution Ave NW
  • Recommended time: 1 to 4 hours

Many of the Smithsonian museums cover aspects of our country’s history, but the Museum of American History is a great place to start. This museum usually features a variety of rotating exhibits to cover as much history as possible throughout the year. 

Ongoing exhibits include American Democracy, The First Ladies, Food: Transforming The American Table, and The Star Spangled Banner: The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem. The Museum of American History is great for all ages but might be better for kids and teens with some context for history through school. 

National Museums of African American History and Culture

  • 1400 Constitution Ave NW
  • Smithsonian, Federal Triangle
  • Recommended time: 4 to 6 hours
  • Tickets required

The Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016 and remains among the most popular Smithsonian museums. You can easily spend an entire day exploring this museum. Generally, the museum covers early American history on the lower flowers and works its way up to the present day. If you only have a few hours, I recommend selecting a few museum sections, including the two lower floors or the pop culture exhibits on the top floor. You’ll find everything covering slavery and freedom, sports, pop culture, visual arts, and more. 

Timed tickets are required to visit the Museum of African American History. They are available for groups up to 6 people 30 days in advance on a rolling basis. The museum is walkable from 2 metro stops: Smithsonian and Federal Triangle (orange, blue, silver). Open daily except Christmas. 

National Museum of African Art

  • 950 Independence Ave SW

The National Museum of African Art features both traditional and contemporary art representing the entire continent. Current ongoing exhibits include Currents: Water in African Art and Visionary: Viewpoints of Africa’s Arts. This is a great museum to stop at if you are short on time but want to see a museum during your time on the National Mall. Not only is the museum on the smaller side but it tends to be less crowded. Even if you only have an hour or so, you’ll have room to spend as much time as you’d like with each piece. 

The museum is walkable from 2 metro stops: Smithsonian (orange, blue, silver) and L’Enfant Plaza (green, yellow, orange, blue, silver). Open daily except Christmas. 

National Museum of Asian Art

  • 1050 Independence Ave SW

The National Museum of Asian Art includes the Freer Gallery of Art and the Slacker Gallery. The art collections across both galleries include more than 45,000 objects from the present day, dating back to Neolithic times. You’ll find pieces from China, Japan, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, and the Islamic World. It is also home to the world’s largest collection of works by James McNeill Whistler. Walking tours are available at 1:00 pm from Thursday to Sunday. 

This museum is also smaller than some of the other Smithsonian museums and can still be appreciated if you are short on time. Or pair it with the National Museum of African Art right next door for a longer day of art appreciation. 

Hirshhorn Museum

  • 7th Street and Independence Ave SW
  • Recommended time: 1 to 3 hours
  • Tickets required for select exhibits

The Hirshhorn Museum features modern and contemporary art. You can visit anytime, but some of the more popular temporary exhibits require timed passes. Always check the website before you go to see what is on display. Also, don’t miss the sculpture garden right outside the museum with sculpture and water features. You can also visit the notable cafe with coffee and small snacks. 


The Air and Space Museum

  • 600 Independence Ave SW
  • Free but there is an extra cost for the planetarium

The Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, was recently renovated in 2022 and features a variety of exhibitions from The Wright Brothers, the first trip to the moon, and exploration of other planets. This museum requires free timed passes to visit, released in 6-week blocks. While the exhibits at the museum are free, you may want to consider a planetarium show which is $9 per adult. (The planetarium is closed until March 10, 2024 for renovations.)

National Museums of the American Indian

  • 4th Street SW
  • L’Enfant, Smithsonian, Federal Center
  • Recommended time: 2 to 3 hours

The National Museum of the American Indian is home to one of the most expansive collections of Native artifacts. Like the African American History Museum, this museum has a wide variety of exhibitions covering both the extensive history of the American Indians and their impact today. One of my favorite exhibits is the powerful Americans exhibit highlighting Native American images used in pop culture. Connecting rooms dive deeper into the truth behind 3 widely known but frequently misunderstood historical events including the story of Pocahontas, the Trail of Tears, and the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Mitsitam Cafe is known to have some of the most interesting options among the museum cafes on the National Mall. The menu is divided into different regions with dishes representing native tribes across the continent.

The museum is walkable from 2 metro stops: Smithsonian & Federal Triangle (orange, blue, silver) and L’Enfant Plaza (green, yellow, orange, blue, silver). Open daily except Christmas. 

Renwick Gallery

  • 1661 Pennsylvania Ave NW
  • Farragut West and Farragut North

The Renwick Gallery is very close to the White House and is set a little farther away from the rest of the museums on the National Mall. This gallery is a branch of the American Art Museums that focuses primarily on contemporary art. It is on the smaller side but is highly visual with regularly rotating exhibits. Art lovers of all ages will find these exhibits fun and engaging. 

Smithsonian Museums in Downtown DC

Portrait gallery.

  • 8th Street and G Street NW
  • Gallery Place – Chinatown

The Portrait Gallery is the only place you can see all the Presidential Portraits outside of the White House. Wandering through the progression of US Presidents not only highlights snapshots of American history but also highlights pop culture and art trends used to portray each one. Additionally, you’ll find paintings and photographs of notable people from various points in history. While portraits of early Americans are often limited to the wealthy and powerful, The Portrait Gallery is actively working to ensure all Americans’ stories are represented. 

The Portrait Gallery is connected to the American Art Museum by a large covered courtyard. You can easily experience both in the same afternoon. Outside food is allowed, so you can grab a bite from a nearby restaurant to enjoy in the courtyard. The courtyard also has Wi-Fi and is a lovely place to spend a “work from home” day.  

The museum is walkable to the Gallery Place – Chinatown metro stop (green, yellow, red). Open daily except Christmas. 

The American Art Museum

The American Art Museum is home to one the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Collections include photography, paintings, sculpture, and more representing artists from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. Currently, you can see a special exhibit from self-taught American artists. Because it is located so close to the Portrait Gallery, visitors get to see both artistic interpretations of both the American people as well as American life and culture in the same afternoon. 

Be sure to spend some time in the courtyard that connects the Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum (mentioned above). 

The museum is walkable from the Chinatown metro stop (green, yellow, red). Open daily except Christmas. 

Smithsonian Museums Outside Downtown DC

Anacostia community museum.

  • 1901 Fort Pl SE

The Anacostia Community Museum is a space in the Anacostia neighborhood that is committed to telling the overlooked stories of the city. Exhibits are meant to shed a positive light on the stories of people making the most impact toward creating a more equitable future for all. Highlighted issues include social, economic, and environmental opportunities for growth. 

The museum is about a 30-minute walk from the Anacostia metro stop (green). Open daily except Christmas. 

National Postal Museum

  • 2 Massachusetts Ave NE
  • Union Station

The National Postal Museum is committed to the preservation and study of postal history. Dive into postal history with a massive collection of stamps and a special look at baseball through the lens of postal history. Visitors can also learn about what happens once a letter is dropped in the mail and how letters, magazines, and packages have traveled for the past 200 years.  

The museum is walkable from the Union Station metro stop (red). Open daily except Christmas. 

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

  • 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy Chantilly, VA
  • Free but parking is $15
  • Parking on site

 The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located outside the city in Chantilly, Virginia. It is an extension of the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. The Udvar-Hazy Center is worth a trip for all aviation lovers to see bigger aircrafts including Space Shuttle Discovery. While the planetarium remains closed in DC, don’t miss the IMAX theatre at the Chantilly location. Shows include topics like the moon landing, deep sea exploration, and aircraft carrier history. The theatre also features special showings of popular mainstream movies. 

The Udvar-Hazy Center is not metro accessible but has plenty of on-site parking. The museum is free like the rest of the Smithsonian museums but plan to pay $15/car. Open daily except Christmas. 

National Zoo

  • 3001 Connecticut Ave NW
  • Free but bring money for snacks
  • Cleveland Park and Woodley Park
  • Recommended time: 2 to 5 hours

The National Zoo in Washington, DC is free but requires timed tickets to visit. In the warmer months, the best time to visit the zoo is in the morning before the animals get too hot. There are also many food stalls available and daily animal demos. 

While many of the food stands are closed during the winter, the colder months are an under-rated time to visit. The zoo is not very crowded and you can warm up in a little of the indoor exhibits including the Small Mammal House and Reptile Discovery House.

The National Zoo is easily walkable in a day but sometimes feels like it’s uphill both ways. If you have small children, it’s important to keep their physical limits (and yours if you are pushing a stroller!) in mind. 

While the zoo offers plenty of snacks, consider grabbing lunch nearby at restaurants like Duke’s Counter or Open City. 

The National Zoo is walkable from 2 metro stops: Woodley Park and Cleveland Park (both red). Open daily except Christmas. 

visit a few museums

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The Embassy of Sweden proudly presents Faraway So Close: Swedish Artists Look at the United States. This exhibition includes both photography and video art that show American culture and society through the eyes of prominent Swedish artists. The display will be open to the public through February 19, 2023 at the Swedish Embassy in Georgetown. …

Can’t Miss Art Exhibits to Kick-Off 2020

Can’t Miss Art Exhibits to Kick-Off 2020

Winter can be a little dreary around the city. The holiday lights have disappeared and we are all waiting for cherry blossom season to begin. However, this doesn’t mean we are short on activities. The winter months can be one of the best times to visit the museums. With fewer tourists, it can be easier…

Posh Picnic Puts an Upscale, Rustic Twist on Outdoor Dining

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“I was looking for ways to connect with friends during COVID,” Sheilah from Posh Picnic tells me about how business inspiration struck. Like many Washingtonians, Sheilah turned to DC parks as a place to socialize safety. “I was seeing so many people hanging out with food in the beautiful parks,” she describes. “But it was…

Library of Congress: Architecture, History, and Research

Library of Congress: Architecture, History, and Research

Library of Congress: Architecture, History, and Research I always knew The Library of Congress was an architectural wonder in our city’s backyard. But it wasn’t until recently that I had the chance to immerse myself in its true beauty and history.  The gorgeous sculptures and traditional columns on the exterior immediately set the stage when we arrived. Inside,…

From Blogging to Bakery: Fetching Goodies Serves Up Gluten-Free and Vegan Treats​

From Blogging to Bakery: Fetching Goodies Serves Up Gluten-Free and Vegan Treats​

Rachel from Fetching Goodies in Alexandria has been blogging about recipes since college. After years of recipe practice and dreaming about opening a bakery, she took the leap to start a home bakery last year. Rachel’s specialty is cookie bars with plenty of gluten-free and vegan options. She’s also added some pie to her menu…

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Our mission is to serve the 50+ traveler who's ready to cross a few items off their bucket list.

19 Unique And Fabulous Experiences In Moscow

visit a few museums

  • Destinations

Thinking of visiting Russia? When visiting such a famous city, one must, of course, visit the iconic landmarks first. Moscow has plenty of those, most of them in the center of the city, which is very well-planned for tourists. Once you’ve seen the sights that are on most travelers’ lists, it’s time to branch out and visit some of the lesser-known sites, and there are some fascinating places to see and things to do.

I know this list is long, but I just couldn’t help myself. You probably won’t have the time to see them all. But that’s okay. Just scroll through the list and choose what sounds the most interesting to you. Where possible, make sure to book in advance, as things can get crowded, especially during high season.

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia

1. The Red Square, Kremlin, And Surroundings

Red Square (Krasnya Ploshad) is the heart and soul of Russia, and where much of the country’s history has unfolded. This is the most famous landmark in Moscow and indeed the whole country, it’s an absolute must-do! The square is always full of people and has a rather festive atmosphere!

Saint Basil’s Cathedral

This is the famous church with the rainbow-colored, onion-domed roof. The cathedral was commissioned in the 1500s by Ivan the Terrible and according to legend, the Tsar thought it was so beautiful, that he ordered that the architect’s eyes be cut out afterward, so he could never build anything more beautiful! He wasn’t called Ivan the Terrible for no reason!

Lenin’s Mausoleum

The “love-it-or-hate-it” of tourist attractions in Russia. A glass sarcophagus containing the embalmed body of Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin. It may seem a bit bizarre to display the mummy of a person, but it has been there for almost half a century and the 2.5 million visitors who come each year, clearly feel the queuing and thorough body search are worth it, to be in Lenin’s presence.

Pro Tip: no photos and no loud talking are allowed inside the Mausoleum.

Eternal Flame

There is an Eternal Flame in honor of an unknown soldier on the left side of Red Square. The hourly changing of the guards is worth seeing.

The Kremlin is the official residence of the Russian president. You can see it from the outside, or you can take an excursion to one of the museums located inside. This is the biggest active fortress in Europe, and holds a week’s worth of attractions! Once behind the 7,332-feet of walls, there are five squares, four cathedrals, 20 towers, various museums, and the world’s largest bell and cannon to see. Worth a special mention is the Armory Chamber that houses a collection of the famous Faberge Eggs.

Pro Tip: You can only go inside the Kremlin if you are part of a tourist group.

Interior of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscos

2. Bolshoi Theatre

Bolshoi Theatre translates to “The Big Theatre” in Russian, and the building is home to both the Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera — among the oldest and most famous ballet and opera companies in the world.

Pro Tip: It’s hard to get an inexpensive ticket, so if you’re reading well in advance of going to Moscow then try buying tickets on the official website . Last-minute tickets cost around $250 per person. If this is out of your budget, about an hour before a performance, you can try buying a ticket at the entrance from a reseller. Most can speak enough English to negotiate the price.

Tour the Bolshoi Theatre: You can take a group guided tour of the Bolshoi Theatre which focuses on the history and architecture of the theatre and behind the scenes. There’s an English language tour that lasts 2 hours and costs around $300 for a group of up to six.

GUM, a popular department store in Moscow

3. Luxury Shopping At GUM And TSUM

Russia’s main department store, GUM, has a stunning interior that is home to over 100 high-end boutiques, selling a variety of brands: from luxurious Dior to the more affordable Zara. Even if shopping is not on your Moscow to-do list GUM is still worth a visit; the glass-roofed arcade faces Red Square and offers a variety of classy eateries. TSUM, one of the biggest luxury malls in town, is right behind the Bolshoi and GUM. It’s an imposing building with lots of history, and worth a visit just for its design and its glass roof.

Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow

4. Christ The Savior Cathedral

This is one of Russia’s most visited cathedrals and is a newer addition to the gorgeous array of Muscovite cathedrals, but don’t let its young age fool you. After perestroika, in the early 90s, the revived Russian Orthodox Church was given permission to build a cathedral on this site. It did the location honors and built the largest temple of the Christian Orthodox Church. The façade is as grand as you’d expect, but it’s the inside that will mesmerize you, with its domes, gold, gorgeous paintings, and decor!

The cathedral is located just a few hundred feet away from the Kremlin and was the site of the infamous Pussy Riot protest against Putin back in 2012.

Pro Tip: Bring a shawl to cover your hair as is the local custom.

Gates at Gorky Park in Moscow

5. Gorky Park

Moscow’s premier green space, Gorky Park (Park Gor’kogo) is the city’s biggest and most famous park. There is entertainment on offer here for every taste, from outdoor dancing sessions to yoga classes, volleyball, ping-pong, rollerblading, and bike and boat rental in summer. In winter, half the park turns into a huge ice skating rink. Gorky Park is also home to an open-air movie theater and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. There is also Muzeon Art Park, a dynamic contemporary space with a unique collection of 700 sculptures. It is located right in front of Gorky Park.

6. Sparrow Hills Park

If you take a walk from Gorky Park, along the Moscow River embankment, you’ll end up in the city’s other legendary park, Sparrow Hills. Although the park doesn’t offer as many activities as its hip neighbor, it has a great panoramic view of the city

Pro Tip: You can take a free walking tour to all of the above attractions with an English-speaking guide.

River cruise in Moscow

7. River Cruising

One of the best ways to experience Moscow, and see all the famous landmarks, but from a different angle, is from the Moscow River. Take a river cruise. Avoid the tourist crowds. There are little nameless old boats that do the cruise, but if you are looking for a more luxurious experience take the Radisson Blu cruise and enjoy the sights with some good food and a glass of wine.

Moscow Metro station

8. Metro Hopping

Inaugurated in the 1930s, the Moscow Metro system is one of the oldest and most beautiful in the world. Started in Stalinist times, each station is a work of art in its own right. I’d recommend touring the stations between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. This way, you’ll be able to properly see it without the crowds. Ideally, I’d recommend taking a tour with a knowledgeable guide with GuruWalk, who will tell you stories of forgotten stations and how the history of the country is interconnected with the metro development. If going by yourself, then I definitely recommend checking out: Mayakovskaya, Ploschad Revolutsii, Kievskaya, Kropotkinskaya, Kurskaya, and Novoslobodskaya stations.

Visit the free Moscow Metro Museum: For real train enthusiasts, located in the southern vestibule of Sportivnaya station is a small free museum. Here you can take a peek into the driver’s cabin, see a collection of metro tokens from different cities, and see different models of a turnstile, traffic lights, escalator, and more.

Moscow State University at dusk

9. Moscow State University View

In his effort to create a grander Moscow, Stalin had seven skyscrapers built in different parts of town; they’re called the Seven Sisters. The largest of these buildings and the one with the best view is the main building of the Moscow State University. Although this is a little outside the city center, the view is more than worth it.

Izmailovsky Market in Moscow, Russia

10. Izmailovsky Market

Mostly known for the city’s largest flea market, the district of Izmaylovo is home to a maze of shops where you can get just about anything, from artisan crafts to traditional fur hats, handcrafted jewelry, fascinating Soviet memorabilia, and antiquities. It’s also one of Moscow’s largest green spaces. There are often no price tags, so be prepared to haggle a bit. Head to one of the market cafes for a warming mulled wine before continuing your shopping spree.

The History of Vodka Museum is found here, and the museum’s restaurant is the perfect place to sample various brands of the national drink.

Once you’ve covered the more touristy spots, Moscow still has plenty to offer, and the places below will also be full of locals! So for some local vibes, I would strongly recommend the spots below!

The skyscrapers of Moscow City

11. Moscow City

With a completely different vibe, Moscow City (also referred to as Moscow International Business Center) is like a mini Dubai, with lots of impressive tall glass buildings. Here is where you’ll find the best rooftops in towns, like Ruski Restaurant, the highest restaurant both in Moscow City and in Europe. Moscow City is great for crowd-free shopping and the best panoramic views of the city.

Art in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow

12. Tretyakov Gallery

Tretyakov Gallery started as the private collection of the Tretyakov brothers, who were 19th-century philanthropists. They gave their private collection to the government after their deaths. If there is just one museum you visit in Moscow, I recommend this one!

Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve, former residence of Catherine the Great

13. Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve

Tsaritsyno was a residence of Catherine the Great more than two centuries ago. It became derelict during the Soviet era but has now been fully renovated. With its opulently decorated buildings, gardens, meadows, and forests, Tsaritsyno Park is the perfect place for a green respite in Moscow.

Kolomenskoye Museum-Reserve in Moscow

14. Kolomenskoye

A 10-minute metro ride from the city center is Kolomenskoe Museum-Reserve, where you can get an idea of what Russia looked like 200 years ago. You’ll find ancient churches (one dating back to the 16th century), the oldest garden in Moscow, and the wonderful fairytale wooden palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, father of Peter the Great.

Ostankino TV Tower in Moscow at night

15. Ostankino TV Tower

Built in 1967, Ostankino TV Tower was the tallest free-standing construction in the world at the time, it’s still the 8th tallest building in the world and the highest in Europe. It’s also the best observation deck, with a glass floor and 360-degree views. The speedy elevators take you 1,105 feet in next to no time.

Pro Tip: You need to book in advance; entrance is based on specific ticket times and the capacity is limited and only a certain number of tourists are allowed per day. Don’t forget your passport, you’ll need it to get through security.

The floating bridge of Zaryadye Park in Moscow

16. Zaryadye Park

Zaryadye is a newly opened, landscaped urban park so new you won’t find it in a lot of tour guides. The park is near Red Square and is divided into four climatic zones: forest, steppe, tundra, and floodplains, depicting the variety of climatic zones in Russia.

These last three suggestions are a little quirky, but all are really worth checking out.

17. Museum Of Soviet Arcade Games

Release your inner child playing on 66 arcade machines from the Soviet era! What a great way to spend a couple of hours when tired of visiting museums and palaces. The staff speaks excellent English and are happy to explain how the games work.

The rooftops of Moscow, Russia

18. Moscow Rooftop Tour

Take a 1-hour private Moscow rooftop tour with an experienced roofer. I can just about guarantee none of your friends will be able to say they’ve done it! For your comfort, I recommend wearing comfortable shoes. Take your camera, there are some amazing photo opportunities out there!

A pool at Sanduny Banya in Moscow

19. Sanduny Banya

This classical Russian bathhouse opened its doors in 1808 and is famous for combining traditional Russian banya services with luxurious interiors and service. If you enjoy spas and saunas, then you should experience a Russian bathhouse at least once in your life! Go with an open mind and hire a specialist to steam you as it’s meant to be done — by being beaten repeatedly with a besom (a leafy branch)! This is said to improve circulation, but is best done by a professional!

So there you have my list of things to do in Moscow. I could have gone on and on and on, but I didn’t want to try your patience! There are so many things to do in this vibrant city that you’ll definitely need to allocate several days for exploring.

Here are some other reasons to visit Moscow and Russia:

  • 7 Reasons To Put Moscow On Your Travel Bucket List
  • Russia 30 Years (And 30 Pounds) Ago
  • Massive Mysterious Craters Appearing Again In Siberia

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Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, before moving to Africa at the age of 21, Sarah Kingdom is a mountain climber and guide, traveler, yoga teacher, trail runner, and mother of two. When she is not climbing or traveling she lives on a cattle ranch in central Zambia. She guides and runs trips regularly in India, Nepal, Tibet, Russia, and Ethiopia, taking climbers up Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro numerous times a year.

visit a few museums

What to do with a few days in Nice, France

TikTok isn’t lying to you; the water off the coast of Nice, France, really is that blue.

I also came to find that the hype surrounding the French Riviera was not misplaced. Maybe I had rose-colored glasses on and not a Slack message in sight, but there was something magical about the southern French city.

While I’d like to be able to lay out a whole itinerary of my visit (that I, of course, planned beforehand), I can only admit to a penchant for a good stroll, during which I will find the principal of my daily activities.

Besides my internal desire to lead my own walking tours that take me into museums named after people I don’t know of and still won’t understand upon leaving, I have it on good authority that the best way to explore a city is to walk it.

Of course, you can take alternate transportation if you need to speed up your exploration or require other accommodations to make the most of your trip.

With a few days at your disposal, here’s how to get the most out of your visit to Nice.

Visit a museum or two

Now, this likely isn’t news to anyone who’s traveled to Europe before. Museums are probably on a majority of travelers’ lists, but believe it or not, I have specific reasons for including them here that aren’t just about seeing art. If you’re anything like me during my visit to Nice, you have a passable understanding of written French, less so of the spoken language. Museums are an easy way to practice both skills with the abundance of signs (that often have English translations) and docents that will speak to you in French regarding the art and your trip. I conversed in French for an excruciatingly long minute about where I was visiting from and why I was in Nice. Besides the language aspect, walking around a museum can give you a look into Nice’s past as well as the important figures in its history, while also posing a cool reprieve from walking around in the hot sun.

Museums to visit in Nice include:

  • Le Musée Masséna : Located just off the Promenade des Anglais, this museum displays the history of the city and artifacts related to Napoleon. Housed in an authentic villa, the museum’s wares are on display for visitors daily, except on Tuesdays.
  • Musée National Marc Chagall : Further from the coast, this museum’s offerings are slimmer, though the gallery is more than worth a visit. It traces Marc Chagall’s art and his spiritual/religious journey in tandem.

Dedicate time to multiple neighborhoods

One of the biggest mistakes you could make in Nice is confining yourself to one neighborhood. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest trying to see as much as possible, but giving yourself a variety of sites allows you to get a better understanding of the city and, of course, more to love.

Due to my haphazard planning style and desire to explore, I made it a priority to see as much of the city as I could.

With only a few days, you are limited, so I’d recommend picking a few areas to spend time in over the course of your trip. For me, that was Le Musiciens, Jean-Médecin, Vieux Nice, Le Port and The Promenade.

Don’t skip the beach

If you’re going to Nice, you’ve probably clocked the beaches already, especially if you’re visiting in the height of summer. This may sound less pleasant, though, to travelers visiting in colder seasons, but I’d argue that there’s still much to appreciate about Nice’s beaches in cooler weather. The water is magically blue (which came as a bit of a shock to this native Californian), the reading on the beach potential is endless and people watching is always entertaining. Even if you aren’t planning on a swim, there’s nothing like bringing a baguette or pastry down to the rocks and watching the water ebb and flow when you’re on vacation. It’s part of the French Riviera experience.

Get that croissant (and then do it again)

One of the best parts about being in France is the access to high quality food, specifically decadent pastries. I am not embarrassed to admit that my pain aux chocolat counter hit 10 (over a nine-day trip), and my chaussons aux pommes counter hit three. On that note, I implore all travelers heading to France in general to find and order chaussons aux pommes. It’s the French version of an apple turnover, but each one I had beat every American apple turnover I’ve tasted by a mile. They say calories don’t count on vacation, but if they did I’d still recommend multiple trips to the boulangerie.

Take a day trip

There’s plenty to do in Nice, but I’d guess a day trip will only enrich your experience. The ideal cities for a day trip include Eze, Menton, Marseille, Monte-Carlo, Antibes and Cannes, though there are various other options. I, for example, made a new acquaintance and walked from Vieux Nice to Villefranche-sur-Mer, a small neighboring town. In the high season, this town would have been bustling with tourists, but early November saw small crowds and an easy walk. The unwalkable day trips are made possible by a robust public transit system, which can be used to plan months in advance or the day of, so spontaneous day trips aren’t out of the question.

  • Why you should visit the South of France in the fall and winter
  • 8 of the easiest countries to relocate to as an American

Le Port, Nice, France, on Nov. 16, 2023.

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The Gang That Preyed on America’s Small Museums

No one mistook them for cat burglars, but the authorities say the crew spent two decades pilfering, and in some cases destroying, art and sports treasures, including Yogi Berra’s championship rings.

A display case in a museum with smashed glass.

By Christopher Kuo

Christopher Kuo reported from Scranton, Pa., where he reviewed hundreds of pages of court records.

The first burglary was in 1999 at Keystone College in Factoryville, Pa. One of the gang, the authorities said, sneaked onto the campus, smashed some glass display cases and walked off with memorabilia, including a baseball jersey once worn by Christy Mathewson, the legendary pitcher.

The Everhart Museum in Scranton was next, six years later. An Andy Warhol silk screen print and a painting attributed to Jackson Pollock were taken. Then the pace picked up.

The Space Farms: Zoo & Museum. The Lackawanna Historical Society. Ringwood Manor. The Sterling Hill Mining Museum. The United States Golf Association Museum and Library.

The list goes on.

Over the course of almost two decades, the crew showed up at 12 small, low-profile museums that often lacked elaborate security systems, stripping them of cherished items, including treasured heirlooms from America’s sporting past, the authorities say.

Just a partial list includes — from the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame — the 1903 Belmont Stakes trophy. From the International Boxing Hall of Fame, middleweight Tony Zale’s 1941 and 1948 championship belts. From the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, seven of Berra’s championship rings, his 1954 and 1955 M.V.P. plaques, and nine of his 10 World Series rings.

The only Berra World Series ring not stolen was the one he wore on his finger.

“These kinds of artifacts tell people the story of who we are, and they connect us to the past in a way that really nothing else can,” said Eve Schaenen, executive director of the Berra museum. “And now they’re gone.”

In the fall, four men charged with taking some part in the burglaries are scheduled to go on trial in Pennsylvania, where they live. Another five people have pleaded guilty. All nine, investigators say, avoided arrest for some portion of 19 years as museum directors across five states woke up to find smashed glass and things missing.

With so many heists going unsolved for so many years, one might imagine the thieves as some sort of a world-savvy, blueprint-studying, techno-literate crew so often seen in movies. But in court records and interviews, they come across as more 7-Eleven than Ocean’s Eleven.

Prepared? Yes. Sophisticated? No.

Sometimes they just hit houses. One favorite burglary tool was an ax, according to court records. They drove cross country to rob the Roger Maris Museum in North Dakota, rather than take a plane.

“These guys were not world-class criminals,” said Michael Wisneski, an official with the Everhart museum who described the thieves as schlubby. “They were operating out of the North Pocono School District.”

Most upsetting to many people is how little care was shown for the objects that were taken. A Jasper Cropsey painting from 1871 was torched. The crew did not even try to sell some of the high-profile sports memorabilia. Instead, gold and silver items like Berra’s rings, Maris’s M.V.P. plaque and the Belmont Stakes trophy were melted down and hocked as raw metals, according to court papers.

One of those arrested is accused of using some of the stolen gems to make himself a scepter.

“They could have done a smash and grab at a strip mall jewelry store and come away with more gold,” said Lindsay Berra, the granddaughter of Yogi.

When the accused crew members were finally named in an indictment last June, federal prosecutors laid out the inventory of what had been taken. It included stolen paintings, at least five 19th-century firearms, a Tiffany lamp and sports memorabilia that included more than 30 golf and horse racing trophies. Prosecutors valued the lot at $4 million. Most of the objects have not been recovered.

“This was a group of dishonest people that saw easy marks,” said William Kroth, executive director of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum. He called them “low life grifters.”

‘A Violation of Trust’

Michael Wisneski of the Everhart Museum remembers the morning in 2005 when he woke up and turned on the local television news. To his surprise, the reporters were in the parking lot of his museum, talking about a break-in.

When he arrived at the building, he found the back door smashed in, the Warhol and Pollock gone.

“It felt like somebody broke into your house,” he said. “It was a violation of trust or of security.”

According to the authorities, Thomas Trotta, 48, of Moscow, Pa., had used a ladder to smash the door of the museum.

Of the nine people later arrested, Trotta had been the one relied on to venture into the museums to take things, according to court papers. But he was helped in meaningful ways, investigators say, by Nicholas Dombek, 53, who has known Trotta since they were teenagers. After Trotta was arrested, he accused Dombek of being the ringleader, according to court papers. But Dombek’s lawyer, Ernest D. Preate Jr., said in an interview that Trotta was the ringleader, and he described his client as a handyman, not a mastermind, who did not even operate a computer.

Trotta’s lawyer, Joseph R. D’Andrea, declined to comment.

In an interview that aired Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Trotta said that he had grown up loving baseball and that part of why he stole sports memorabilia was to “touch history.” He wore Mathewson’s jersey and tried on Berra’s rings after stealing the objects, he said.

Dombek, who has pleaded not guilty, is from Thornhurst, a rural patch of Pennsylvania, where he lives on a street that carries his family name. His father and his brother were both science teachers, but Dombek never graduated from high school, and in a 2019 court hearing testified that he was in financial straits and was two months behind on his mortgage.

Still, he was not without ambition and, according to a search warrant affidavit, Trotta told investigators that Dombek had constructed something like a chemistry lab in his garage. Dombek himself spoke during the court hearing of hoping to cure cancer by tinkering with the chemical properties of water.

Dombek’s garage became an informal headquarters where the group planned break-ins, Trotta told investigators according to court papers. It was there that Dombek constructed a collapsible ladder and other tools for Trotta to use at heists, afterward using the space to melt down stolen memorabilia, according to court papers.

Most of the targeted museums were in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Each facility was studied before a break-in to determine access, security measures and what looked good to steal, investigators said in court papers. During one scouting trip, Dombek tested the thickness of a display case at the golf museum in New Jersey by scratching the glass with a coin, the papers said.

Trotta would sometimes wear a disguise, dressing as a firefighter when they stole from the Roger Maris museum, and as a Hasidic Jew when they went to break in to the Harvard Mineralogical & Geological Museum, the indictment said. (The theft was called off because a particular diamond they hoped to steal was no longer on display.)

The other accomplices are accused of playing a variety of roles: sometimes as getaway drivers, sometimes as transporters of stolen materials after the burglary.

At the Berra museum, the thieves cut the glass to gain entry, and were able to elude security cameras during one of the larger hauls, according to museum staff.

“They knew exactly where to break in,” Schaenen said. “They had a method to it.”

The Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y., had a motion sensor but no cameras in place when the thieves arrived in 2012. It lost 14 trophies and afterward, Janet Terhune, the executive director, said she called the staff of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga to warn them to increase their security. Both museums upgraded their protection.

It didn’t matter.

The next year, Trotta smashed glass displays in Saratoga with a center-punch tool and grinder and took off with five trophies, according to court records.

Brien Bouyea, the communications director for the Saratoga museum, said the institution had a solid security system in place at the time of the thefts.

“The smash-and-grab style of the robbery, however, narrowly beat the police response time,” he said.

A Fateful Traffic Stop

Even with the snow blanketing Route 307 outside Scranton early on the morning of March 4, 2019, the maroon Pontiac was swerving too much.

Two Pennsylvania State Police officers pulled the car over. Trotta, whose eyes were reddish pink and watery, was driving.

At the time, investigators in Pennsylvania had already found a DNA sample at a residential burglary that matched DNA samples taken from museum burglaries in New York and New Jersey that were in a national database. In 2015, for example, blood was left behind at a splintered glass window at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y. And surveillance photos from some of the crime sites had recorded a particular vehicle: a maroon Pontiac sedan.

But until then, officers had struggled to find someone who matched the DNA.

At the police station where Trotta was arrested on charges of driving under the influence, officers gave him a cup of water to drink. They later retrieved the cup. Bingo. The DNA in his saliva was a match, according to court records.

Inside the car, the police found bolt cutters, a sledgehammer, headlamps, ski masks, gloves and several phones.

The police at that point charged Trotta for burglarizing a home and an antiques exchange in Pennsylvania. Prosecutors also cut a deal with him: the promise of a more lenient sentence in exchange for information and cooperation. During interviews with law enforcement officials, Trotta detailed many of the museum thefts he had committed and identified several people as his accomplices.

And he agreed to wear a wire during numerous meetings with Dombek, where the two men chatted about past crimes, according to court records.

By May 2019, according to court papers, Dombek had grown suspicious that someone involved in one of the local residential burglaries, not Trotta, had been talking to the police. He discussed his concerns with Trotta in wiretapped conversations, according to a search warrant affidavit for Dombek’s house, and mentioned the possibility of giving the accomplice cocaine laced with fentanyl or perhaps false hellebore, a toxic plant that had been growing in his backyard.

But the accomplice was not hurt and Dombek’s sister, Cindy Fiorani, said her brother would never do something like that.

“My brother would give you the shirt off his back, and wouldn’t even ask why,” she said. “Nick is a joker. He likes to kid around,” she added.

In the summer of 2019, the crew planned a second heist at the horse racing museum in Saratoga, but the theft never happened, according to court papers. Dombek was arrested in August of that year and charged for a Pennsylvania burglary and was later charged with witness intimidation.

It would be four years before investigators would bring federal charges in the larger museum theft cases in an the inquiry led by the F.B.I. and the Pennsylvania State Police.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania declined to comment on the timeline of the investigation.

The four men now facing trial are accused of a range of offenses, including theft of major artwork, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. Trotta is one of the five people to have pleaded guilty in the case, but he and the others have yet to be sentenced. He was arrested on theft charges last week in connection with a report of items taken from a house in January but the charges were withdrawn.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Trotta expressed remorse over his actions, particularly melting down the Berra memorabilia for its metal, for which he said he and others received $12,000.

“Emotionally, I destroyed people,” he said. “I know this now.”

The authorities have not recovered the Warhol or some other stolen items that were not destroyed. Trotta said in the “60 Minutes” interview that the last time he saw the painting attributed to Pollock was in 2018 at a house in New Jersey. Museum officials say they try to be optimistic that some of the items will resurface.

“We’re always watching online auctions,” Terhune said about the Harness Racing Museum’s lost trophies.

Even those who have been told the heirlooms they cared about were likely melted down are not quite ready to move on.

“I think we all harbor some secret hope,” Lindsay Berra said, “that in like 20 years, somebody’s going to die, and their kids are going to go through their stuff, and they’ll find a couple of grandpa’s World Series rings.”

Christopher Kuo covers arts and culture as a member of the 2023-24 Times Fellowship class. More about Christopher Kuo

The Colorado Sun

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Telling stories that matter in a dynamic, evolving state.

After years of hard lessons and perseverance, Denver artist R. Alan Brooks is having a moment

Kevin Simpson

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  • Original Reporting

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visit a few museums

When Denver writer-rapper-cartoonist-speaker-podcaster-professor R. Alan Brooks — a man rapidly running out of hyphens — recently began to conceptualize his first children’s book, he rode a cresting wave of artistic momentum. 

Over the past several years, Brooks, 48, published his first graphic novel, landed a gig teaching that art form at a local university, hosted multiple podcasts, delivered a popular TED Talk, established a weekly comic strip for The Colorado Sun, published a second graphic novel, appeared in a short-story anthology and had his visual arts featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Denver Art Museum — twice.

Lots of other projects, from screenwriting to educational cartoons, filled in any gaps. Those surges of creativity — and income — allowed Brooks to step away from a day job selling insurance to focus full-time on his varied creative pursuits. And yet, to realize this children’s book, a relatively modest passion project inspired in large part by his bond with his young niece, he instinctively turned to crowdfunding. 

That his Kickstarter campaign surpassed its $8,400 goal in just five days tells the story of an artist who, having little luck with traditional avenues for monetizing his skills, instead has found financial footing by cultivating an organically grown audience who appreciates his work. And that audience has continued to expand as his artistic range has attracted more and more public recognition. 

And though appreciation may have been long in coming for the Ithaca, N.Y., native who grew up in Atlanta before venturing to Denver more than 20 years ago, Brooks has turned hard lessons and timely advice to his advantage.

visit a few museums

“The beauty of living in this age that we live in is that I don’t have to depend on a publisher to tell me I’m a writer,” Brooks says. “The beauty of Kickstarter is if I can create something that engages enough people, they will help me create it. And if I don’t engage them, then they don’t have to help me create it — but I’m not waiting on a gatekeeper.”

His experience in pulling together funding in 2017 for his first graphic novel, “The Burning Metronome,” became a foundational lesson in how to approach the business side of his craft that sustains his artistic instincts. Although he hadn’t had much luck previously with crowdfunding, this time his Kickstarter request found its way into a college alumni group. 

Some people from his alma mater — he entered Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, at 16 and graduated three years later — posted it on Facebook. Suddenly, names that he hadn’t heard for maybe 25 years started popping up as donors. Before long, he had just about doubled his original goal.

A black and yellow circle with a quote icon representing Nelson Holland.

By concentrating on the audience that I know that I can have direct connection to, and building out from there, I can have my needs met while I’m expanding, so that I’m not reaching for deals out of desperation.

— R. Alan Brooks, writer and artist

When his TED Talk hit a million views (it’s now approaching 3 million ), he reasoned that at least a million people knew about “The Burning Metronome.” Still, no traditional publishing offers materialized. He tried to leverage the TED success to generate speaking engagements, but potential agents mostly told him to come back when he had a major publishing deal. The traditional mechanisms for career advancement weren’t working for him.

“Basically, I’ve made a living in spite of those institutions,” Brooks says.

He began adjusting his thinking about the business side of his art after hearing some wisdom from Melanie Gilman, a comics creator who advised concentrating efforts on the smaller pool of already dedicated fans instead of aiming to mushroom his following.

“If you have a dedicated 1,000 that will buy three things from you a year, you can make a living,” Brooks says, recounting the advice. “And it sustained me. By concentrating on the audience that I know that I can have direct connection to, and building out from there, I can have my needs met while I’m expanding, so that I’m not reaching for deals out of desperation.”

Also, his life partner, Juan-Nean Young, became his business partner. She felt her background as a life coach with business and negotiation skills might make a difference and capitalize on the TED Talk. Brooks agreed — and soon Young was landing him paying gigs.

“I think he needed someone to be able to really accentuate all of his accomplishments, without it seeming self-centered, so that people can really understand his value,” Young says. “So I’m able to just put it in a different frame, that’s all. His mission, to creatively change the world through writing and art, is something that inspires me to speak on his behalf.”

Young says one facet of Brooks’ talent that may still be underappreciated is his music — both as a rapper and a songwriter.

“A lot of people don’t know how musically inclined Alan is when it comes to rapping,” she says. “He’s really good because he’s a wordsmith. He’s so good at being able to decode messages and to translate those messages in ways that people can understand.”

visit a few museums

Seizing opportunities

In 2018, The Colorado Sun approached Brooks about creating a multipanel comic strip that would be a vehicle to address issues important to Coloradans. Brooks responded with a proposal for “What’d I Miss?”, a strip built on the friendship of a young Black man and a middle-aged white woman recently emerged from a 30-year coma. He enlisted local artist Cori Redford to draw and color the strip while he handles the writing and storylines. 

It’s now approaching its 300th episode.

Around the same time, Regis University invited Brooks to speak to students about writing graphic novels (a genre of novels written in comic-book format) along with a couple of other writers. Brooks’ presentation stood out, and the university hired him as an adjunct professor of graphic narrative, says Andrea Rexilius, program director for the school’s Mile High MFA in Creative Writing.

She says Brooks melds pragmatic writing advice with motivational topics such as managing impediments like procrastination or personal fears that may get in the way of self-expression.

“What I love about him as a teacher is that he’s just incredibly practical at the same time that he’s visionary and inspiring,” Rexilius says. “He knows how to get the work done. He knows how to keep at it, even when there are obstacles. And that kind of tenacity, I think, is one of the most important things for grad students, or just students in general, to keep in mind.”

Landing two regular gigs in succession reinforced his tenacity to continue following his artistic muse. In 2019, he launched another collaboration — this time with artists Kevin Caron, Dailen Ogden and Sarah Menzel Trapl — with his second graphic novel, “Anguish Garden,” an allegory about white supremacy.

What I love about him as a teacher is that he’s just incredibly practical at the same time that he’s visionary and inspiring.

— Andrea Rexilius, program director for Regis University’s Mile High MFA in Creative Writing

“It was really incredible that this happened,” Brooks says of his turn of fortune. “Because I’ve lived my entire life as a person who was creating art but nobody’s ever wanted to buy it. I never had a lot of support with any of it.”

Eventually, Brooks also started teaching at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, which in turn led to writer and editor Cynthia Swanson offering him an opportunity to contribute to the 2022 anthology “Denver Noir,” a collection of short stories in which his comics-style entry — the only such piece in the local version of the popular Noir Series , and only the third overall — shared pages with a host of established authors including Peter Heller and Manuel Ramos. (He also earned recognition alongside those two writers and others in Westword as a “must-read” Colorado author. )

The project carried prestige, but didn’t come with enough money for Brooks to follow his preferred route of hiring an artist to flesh out his storyline. So he drew it himself, an exercise he says contributed to “finding my feet as far as being able to draw my own stories.”

That process had already begun as he took on some high-profile projects.

Connections on the dance floor

The first museum break came through a Denver dance club.

Brooks and a couple of acquaintances started showing up at Beauty Bar (since closed) on Motown Thursdays, an event thrown by DJ Miggy Camacho. One of Brooks’ friends, who happened to be a fan of comic books, wound up dating a woman who worked at the Denver Art Museum, and introduced her to Brooks at the club. 

Later, when the subject of finding a graphic novelist to produce work to complement the museum’s renovated Western galleries came up, she mentioned Brooks. Networking paid off.

“I guess the dance floor is like my version of golf,” Brooks says.

To that point, he hadn’t often drawn his own comics. But he’d also found that collaborating artists sometimes have difficulty keeping on schedule and finishing projects. The son of financial journalist Rodney Brooks (they share the same first name, so Alan goes by their shared middle name, minus the Jr.), Brooks has a healthy respect for deadlines and didn’t want to risk sharing the workload. So he decided to dust off his drawing skills and take on the challenge — he was to create a comic about the legendary Black cowboy Nat Love — entirely on his own. 

The permanent exhibit, a web-based creation viewed on a touchscreen in the gallery, drew positive notices from museum visitors, but Brooks looks at it now and sees it as one step in his broader development.

visit a few museums

“It’s all right. It’s cool,” he says. “I don’t have impostor syndrome or anything like that. But the places where I was growing as an artist are immediately apparent to me when I look at that.” 

His success earned him another project with the museum — a comic book treatment of Balthazar, one of the storied “Three Wise Men,” to provide a bridge from historic artists to the present in the exhibit “Saints, Sinners, Lovers, and Fools: 300 Years of Flemish Masterworks.” Museum director Christoph Heinrich jokingly noted that Brooks was the only living artist in the exhibit.

Lauren Thompson, a senior interpretive specialist at the Denver Art Museum who worked with Brooks, notes that in addition to Brooks’ artistic eye and imagination, his openness to experimentation proved a big plus. She also praises his adaptability to what can be an almost open-ended creative journey for which neither the artist nor museum staff can predict the end result. 

“It’s a creative process that we’re in together,” Thompson explains, “and he’s a wonderful partner to do that with. Not everyone can do it well, even if they’re extremely talented in their media. It’s just a different skill set. And he’s got that.”

Last year, Brooks also was commissioned to contribute a piece to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibit “Cowboy,” for which he created a comic book treatment about the town of Dearfield, the largest Black homesteading settlement in Colorado (a topic he also addressed in “What’d I Miss?”) . It still seems strange to him that his work has now appeared in museums, given his childhood experience of hearing teachers talk condescendingly about comic books.

“I would get in trouble for reading them,” he recalls. “Everybody talked about them like they were nothing. They weren’t in libraries. I couldn’t find them anywhere except for comic book specialty shops. So if you would have told 10-year-old me that comic books would take me into newspapers, museums and universities, I never would have believed that.”

Taking advice to heart

When Brooks decided to be a full-time writer, he started listening to writing and business podcasts — shows like “How I Built This” on NPR — and took some basic tenets to heart, such as “don’t spend more than you make.” Close attention to his bottom line meant embracing the tools of the do-it-yourselfer.

For instance, he drew the pieces for his museum exhibits in a program called GIMP, an open-source image editor similar to the popular but costly Photoshop. He asked himself: Is my drawing earning enough to justify paying a monthly subscription fee? The answer was no, so he taught himself the free alternative. 

Decisions like that have guided him through times when he acknowledges that leaving the insurance business to make comic books “didn’t sound like the wisest move.” He points to landing the Regis University job and then being recognized for his Sun cartoon with an award from the Society of Professional Journalists — coincidentally, the same year that his father won a journalism award — as turning points that cemented the idea with his family and within himself that his commitment to the arts was really happening.

“Thankful to say that I haven’t had a year where I’ve lost money as a business,” Brooks says, reflecting on his artistic rise over the last few years. “But it still feels gradual to me and I think it’s largely because I don’t make any money unless I generate activity. So it’s always like a hustle.”  

He’s drawn inspiration from the late Melvin Van Peebles , the Chicago-born actor, filmmaker and writer who once said that he realized he could either do what he wants or have what he wants — and he chose the former.

“I think there’s something to be said about the sacrifice to make things that are good for your soul. It’s a choice,” Brooks says. “And it’s not that I want to live in poverty, but it is a choice to choose what’s important and see how I can expand from there.”

And that brings him back to his latest expansion — a children’s book.

This venture began when the same people who initially connected Brooks with the Denver Art Museum suggested that a comics-style piece might help kids connect with an exhibit of African art. That idea struck a chord with him and rekindled a desire to write for a younger audience — a notion that had gained momentum with weekly Zoom calls he made to his then-5-year-old niece during the pandemic shutdown.

visit a few museums

“I was like, OK, how can I make this a piece that means something to me, and allows me to do something meaningful for my niece and children her age?” he says. 

The result was “The Masks In Your Dreams,” a 40-page story of how children on a school field trip to an African art exhibit “learn a lesson about how to love themselves, and how to unleash their dreams.” He included English and Spanish versions of the story.

While he was creating the book, he says, some medical emergencies among museum staff put the project on hold. In the meantime, he moved forward on his own, completing the book with the help of fellow cartoonist Lonnie MF Allen, who provided coloring expertise, and launching the Kickstarter campaign to finance the publishing.

Around the Christmas holiday, when Brooks was visiting his family in Maryland, he pulled out his laptop and showed the complete narrative to his now 8-year-old niece, who goes by Dylan G. and served as a model for a character in the story.

“She’s reading it to my mother,” he recounts, “and it was just like this really beautiful, beautiful moment. It was something I created, that had my niece in it, and she could see herself. And she’s reading it to my mother who raised me. It was just … all kinds of feelings.

“Business-wise, it’s just adding another dimension to what I’m able to give to people,” Brooks adds. “So much of it, for me, has been about creating a thing and then just seeing what activities come to me. And when they come, I’m sure going to be ready.”

Type of Story: News

Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Kevin Simpson Writer, editor, co-founder at The Colorado Sun

Kevin Simpson is a co-founder of The Colorado Sun and a general assignment writer and editor. He also oversees the Sun’s literary feature, SunLit, and the site’s cartoonists. A St. Louis native and graduate of the University of Missouri’s... More by Kevin Simpson


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