Europe is home to numerous fantastic museums, and we already wrote about many of them at the Culture Tourist. However, in this article, we selected 7 top art museums in Europe with some of the best fine arts collections. From the Renaissance masterpieces, Baroque paintings to some of the contemporary art highlights, these museums are home to all of them.
7 Top Art Museums in Europe
Although we could argue about the best museum collections out there, these institutions are without a doubt among the top art museums in Europe.
The Louvre in Paris is undoubtedly one of the best museums in Europe.
Well known as the home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa’, it has one of the best art collections in the world. Impossible to be seen in a day, it’s good to plan your visit in advance. Open in 1793, it’s home to some 38,000 exhibits covering the time from Prehistory until the 21st century. Its collection of Renaissance and Egyptian art are the highlights of the museum.
Besides the ‘Mona Lisa’, some of the top-rated items there are ‘Fayum Mummy Portrait’, Ghirlandaio’s ‘Portrait of an Old Man and his Grandson’, Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slave’, ‘Nike of Samothrace’, Napoleon’s portraits, etc.
It’s one of the most famous museums in Europe (and the world), so it’s good to plan your visit in advance. Choose the collections you’d like to see beforehand and purchase your entrance ticket online, so you don’t need to queue for hours before you’ll get into the museum.
2/ The Prado Museum
Where is it? Madrid, Spain
The Prado Museum in Madrid is without a doubt one of the top art museums in Europe. It has one of the best collections of paintings made by Spanish artists between the 11th and 19th centuries. Think of masters such as Goya, El Greco or Velazquez.
The museum is also home to the vast collection of artworks made by Italian and Flemish authors. Opened in 1819, it has more than 8,000 paintings and 1000 sculptures in its collection. The Prado Museum is considered the main museum in Spain.
Some of the museum highlights are P.P. Rubens’ ‘The Three Graces’, Dürer’s Self-portrait, ‘Las Meninas’ by Velázquez, Raphael’s ‘The Holy Family’, Goya’s ‘The Family of Charles IV’, and many more.
The Royal Museum of the Netherlands or the Rijksmuseum is home to some of the most famous Dutch Golden Ages’ paintings. Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ and Vermeer’s ‘Milkmaid’ are just some of the best known among them. Eight hundred years of Dutch art and history with around 8,000 exhibits are on display in the Rijksmuseum.
Its building, designed back in 1885, is a piece of art itself. You can spend a day there only by admiring its wall paintings and statues on its façade. It’s also probably the only museum in the world with a road going through it.
4/ The Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums is one of the top museums in the world and a place any art lover and culture tourist should visit at least once. It was founded in the early 16th century by Pope Julius II. Since then, it’s displaying art collections gathered by popes.
Today, the Vatican Museums is home to one of the world’s largest and best art collections. The most remarkable exhibits are in a section of the old Roman art, which consists of primarily sculptures and mosaics. Some of the most famous exhibits are ‘Apollo Belvedere’, ‘Laocoön and his Sons’ and ‘Belvedere Torso’.
Now incorporated into the museum floor, ancient mosaics are also something worth seeing. Besides them, ceiling decoration and its optical illusions are amazing.
Other fantastic artworks at the Vatican Museums are the Renaissance wall paintings in the private pope’s chambers, known as Rafael’s Rooms. During the Renaissance, some of the most famous masters created wall paintings in the popes’ chambers. One of the first-night scenes ever was painted in one of them. It’s Raphael’s ‘Deliverance by Saint Peter’, made in 1514. However, with all of its symbolism and portraits of contemporary artists, my personal favourite was ‘The School of Athens’.
TIP: Buy your entrance tickets in advance. Even with them, you will still queue for some time at the security check.
5/ Hermitage Museum
Located in a beautiful Winter Palace, Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.
With over three million objects, it’s the second-largest museum globally and definitely a treat for any art enthusiast. It’s said that if you spent only a minute observing each exhibit, you would need to spend eleven years in a museum.
Hermitage Museum was founded by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, who was a true art patron. She started to gain an art collection for her Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. The museum today is composed of six buildings. Its central part is the Winter Palace with its recognisable green façade.
The museum is home to some famous Renaissance paintings and one of the best collections of Dutch Golden Age art pieces. Interestingly enough, it’s also home to some sixty cats who live in a museum. They’re here from the 18th century when Empress Elizabeth ordered them to control the museum’s mice problem.
6/ The National Gallery
Founded back in the 19th century, the National Gallery in London is home to more than 2,300 artworks. Located in the heart of London, it’s one of the top museums in Europe that shouldn’t be missed by any art lover.
It is also one of the museums in London that’s free of charge (you should only pay an entrance fee for the special exhibitions). Which gives you an excellent opportunity to visit it on multiple occasions during your trip to London.
The National Gallery has a lovely fine art collection with the oldest artworks dating back to the 1300s. Some of the highlights are Vincent van Gogh‘s ‘Sunflowers’, Rembrandt’s ‘Self Portrait at the Age of 34’, Johannes Vermeer’s ‘A Young Woman Standing at the Virginal’, Georges Seurat ‘Bathers at Asnieres’, Jan van Eyck‘s ‘The Arnolfini Portrait’, and many more.
TIP: If you can’t visit the National Gallery right away, subscribe to their newsletter. It’s one of the best museum newsletters I’m receiving. It’s always filled with stories about some of the museum’s artworks, online events, interesting speeches by their curators and more great content.
7/ Kunsthistorisches Museum
Where is it? Vienna, Austria
Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is the largest art museum in Austria. But also one of the top art museums in Europe. Opened in 1891, it is located on Maria-Theresien Platz, just opposite its twin building, the Natural History Museum. Both of those places were created to house the collections of the Habsburg family.
The museum is home to a lovely collection of paintings made by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, such as ‘Tower of Babel’, ‘The Hunters in the Snow’ and ‘The Peasant Wedding’. Other highlights of the Kunsthistorisches Museum are Cellini Salt Cellar, Titian’s ‘Suleiman the Magnificent’, Johannes Vermeer’s ‘The Art of Painting’ and Caravaggio’s ‘David with the Head of Goliath’.
Hopefully, this list of top art museums in Europe will inspire some of your future visits. Although there are many wonderful museums in Europe, if you’re looking for some of the world’s best known fine arts, these are the best art museums in Europe.
Have you been to any of these museums? Let us know in the comments.
Cover photo by Diogo Fagundes on Unsplash