5 Unforgettable Museums Around the World You Need to See
Mountains, cafés, rivers, bars, deserts, temples, beaches, cathedrals… When it comes to travel, I love seeing it all. Keep me under a roof or send me to the great outdoors, and I’ll be thrilled, as long as I’m exploring something new. And one of the best places to explore new things is museums, where you’ll find yourself face to face with thousands of years of history, millions of citizens’ stories, or an infinite wealth of knowledge all at your fingertips.
As I’ve traveled the world, I’ve had the chance to explore dozens of museums. Whether they’ve contained world-class art, eccentric curiosities, or cutting-edge science, they’ve housed some of the most captivating discoveries of all. Here are five of my favorite museums around the world that I’d return to in a heartbeat to discover deeper.
The Newseum, Washington D.C., United States
I could populate this entire list just with museums found in Washington D.C. All of the Smithsonians are unbelievable (and free!), and the National Holocaust Museum is beautifully harrowing. But my favorite museum in D.C. – and, in fact, anywhere in the world – is the Newseum. Back in the summer of 2009, my family stumbled upon it by accident, walked in figuring we’d spend an hour max there, and wound up exploring it for an entire day. It blew me away, and I absolutely intend to revisit it the next time I’m in D.C.
This interactive museum covers all types of communication, from newscasting to journalism, politics, entertainment, computer technology, and beyond. If you’ve ever turned on the TV or connected to the internet, I promise you’ll find something that speaks to you. At the Newseum, you can also visit sections of the Berlin Wall, a 9/11 journalism gallery, an interactive newsroom (ever wanted to make believe you’re a reporter?), and tons of other amazing displays. Let yourself get lost in all it has to offer.
The Louvre, Paris, France
The one time I’ve been inside the Louvre, during my December 2009 visit to Paris, I loved it for two main reasons: Umberto Eco, author of my favorite book, Foucault’s Pendulum, was curating a temporary exhibit at the time, and it was a warm and cozy refuge from the grey, snowy days Paris had greeted us with. Although Eco’s exhibition is long gone (rest in peace, Mr. Eco) and most Parisian days aren’t nearly as brutally cold as that one was, the true merits of the Louvre remain.
The museum displays over 38,000 objects, ranging from paintings to sculptures to prehistoric artifacts. It doesn’t take an art buff to marvel at world-famous pieces like the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and Hammurabi’s Code. It’s hard to believe how many masterpieces can be found under one roof. Whatever your level of appreciation for art, the next time you’re in Paris, I highly recommend you visit the Louvre Museum and dedicate a day to exploring its 782,910 square feet of culture.
The Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain
I’ll be the first to admit I’m no art connoisseur, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good work of art when I see it. And many of my favorite works of all time can be found in Madrid’s Reina Sofía modern and contemporary art museum. Located right near the more famous Prado (where you’ll find mostly traditional pieces from artists like Goya, Velásquez, and Bosch), the Reina Sofía really can’t be missed on a visit to Madrid. If Dalí, Picasso, or Miró take your fancy, many of their most impressive works are housed right here.
Don’t leave the Reina Sofía without paying a visit to Picasso’s Spanish Civil War masterpiece, Guernica. No matter how many times you’ve seen reproductions of this work, the 25 ½-foot wide painting is unbelievable in person. If you’re on a budget, the museum’s got your back! Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 7 to 9pm and Sundays from 1:30 to 7pm are totally free, or students, teachers, seniors, and several other groups get in free anytime. Be sure to also wander around Madrid’s amazing Retiro park while you’re in the area, and consider a visit to the adjacent Prado and Thyssen museums as well.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot, carried out a genocide that killed nearly one-third of Cambodia’s population. It’s a horrendous story that often gets overlooked in Western textbooks, and it’s a period in history I strongly believe we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves on and learn from. Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh can be truly eye-opening, and one of the most heartbreaking sights of all is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
If you’re ever in Phnom Penh, I highly recommend a visit to the Killing Fields, where Pol Pot’s regime murdered and buried more than a million people during that four year period. However, I found myself even more moved by the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, perhaps because I knew little about it before visiting, but also because of how effective it is in bringing the genocide to life. The museum is housed in a former school that was turned into a prison and execution center during this dark period, and it now showcases photos, letters, and stories of the victims who were brought there. We’re lucky to have opportunities to travel the world, but amidst all the fun, it’s important to take time to understand a destination’s past, no matter how dark.
The Drug Elimination Museum, Yangon, Myanmar
The award for the strangest museum in the world, hands down, goes to the Drug Elimination Museum in Yangon, Myanmar. Having read bizarre accounts of this museum online, I knew I had to experience it for myself, and it did not disappoint. Located several miles from anything worth seeing in Yangon, catch a cab to this concrete eyesore, venture beyond its imposing gates, and wander inside. There’s a good chance you’ll be the only tourist that’s stopped by for hours, and the imposing silence sets a spooky tone from the moment you enter.
The Burmese government created this museum to grandstand its alleged success in its war against drugs. You’ll find displays and dioramas, on par with those you’d see at a middle school science fair, explaining the relative dangers of various types of narcotics and lauding the government’s purported elimination of all drugs from the country. (Sure, if you say so…)
But the party really starts when you enter the addiction exhibit. Each scene features amateurly-crafted papier-mâché figures moving through the stages of addiction. The walkthrough culminates, naturally, in their painful, very neon and strobe-lit deaths. But drugs don’t just kill you, people! The exhibit concludes with an animatronic zombie hand reaching out from the grave. Because, apparently, if you smoke a little pot, before you know it, you’re the walking dead.
I’ve lost track of the number of magnificent museums I’ve seen around the world, but these five are hard to forget. Whether they showcase art and culture, remind visitors of important periods in history, or are just plain bizarre, they’ll leave a lasting impression on you and leave you eager to discover more.