The oldest museums began as private collections of wealthy individuals, families, and institutions. They displayed their treasures in wonder rooms and cabinets of curiosities. At the time, public access to private collections was often arbitrary and depended on the wishes of the owners. The British Museum, founded in 1753, was the first museum to open to the public, and its collection was initially largely drawn from Sir Isaac Sloan’s private collection. In Italy, the Uffizi Gallery was open to visitors by request since the sixteenth century. This museum’s opening to the public came in 1765.
Today’s museums range from large collections located in major cities to small collections covering one specific subject. They are generally divided into categories: natural history, science, children’s museums, and fine and applied arts. Many are also landmarks or specialize in a particular subject. Listed below are some notable museums around the world. There is something for everyone at a museum. Take a moment to explore some of the great collections that await you.
The National Gallery is the largest art museum in the UK, attracting 6 million visitors per year. It has two-hundred-plus works of art, including masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Boticelli, and Vermeer. The collections of Da Vinci and Velazquez are the most popular among visitors. Sunflowers by Van Gogh is one of the most popular paintings. A visit to any of these museums is sure to enhance your appreciation of art.
Another popular museum in Spain is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. This beautiful art museum was controversially built, but has since proved to be financially beneficial to the city, attracting 1.1 million visitors in 2015.
In the United States, the Smithsonian Institution has 19 museums and the National Zoo. This is the largest museum complex in the world, with over 145 million specimens on display. Admission is free, and it is open every day of the year. The Smithsonian Natural History Museum is best known for its dinosaur collections, but its butterfly exhibits and minerals exhibits are also spectacular. There is even a film dedicated to this museum, Night at the Museum.
Another museum with a massive collection of Russian art is the State Russian Museum. This museum is home to over two million works of art and is one of the world’s supreme museums. Highlights include the European Paintings, and Egyptian art holdings such as the Temple of Dendur, dating back to 10 BCE. The Hermitage Museum is another museum with over 400 exhibit halls and a beautiful, connected palace. The list of great art museums is virtually endless, and you’ll be spoilt for choice.
The Vatican Museum is another fascinating place to visit. It has over 3 million species of animals on display, including some extinct. It is also home to a beautiful astronomical observation tower, called “il torrino.”