My love for history and culture isn’t a secret. One of my favorite quotes goes like this, “Art is an effort to create, beside the real world, a more humane world.” – Andre Maurois
Museums offer us an unparalleled window into the history and culture of societies around the world. While the presentation of artifacts can be biased, their existence remains a testament to human ingenuity, perseverance, passion, and creativity. Museums bring these items to the masses which otherwise would be hidden in vaults and universities. I’ve visited dozens of museums on 5 continents and haven’t lost a bit of my passion for exploring these wonderful institutions. Here are my favorite museums and what makes them special to me.
Vatican Museums Vatican City Rome
I’ve been blessed to visit the Vatican Museum on three different occasions. But it wasn’t until I had a private tour of the Vatican Collection with Context Travel that I truly understood how special this place is. It’s not only wall to wall history, it’s a testament to the TRUE power of religion. Not as a personal system but as a means of global power and control. The sheer magnitude of artifacts shows the reach of the Catholic Church and it’s an impressive display of human ingenuity and creativity. As the worlds second oldest museum, the Vatican Museum has certainly earned its place as one of the best places to view such works.
Permanent Display to See: The Sistine Chapel. Oh, come on. You knew this was going to be the pick. However, I want to throw something else at you. The Laocoön is a piece that caught me by surprise. I had never even seen a picture of this sculpture but there was something familiar about it.
Victoria & Albert Museum London England UK
The Victoria and Albert Museum is one of those surprise delights for me. Prior to visiting London, I didn’t have any real knowledge or desire to visit this design museum. In 2014 I was invited to see an exhibition on the work of Horst P. Horst, one of my favorite fashion photographers (where my career started). And my world changed. V&A gives you an inside look at design in all aspects of life. From fashion to furniture, design drives our lives. And observing the science and thought behind it makes things around you seem a bit more alive.
Permanent Display to See: Tipu’s Tiger. This piece could personify the debate between looting and acquisition in the great museum debate. Especially when discussing colonialism. Tipu’s Tiger was “acquired” in 1799 by the British Army in India. Originally belonging to and created for Tipu Sahib. The ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore (Southern India), one of Indians greatest leaders, and sworn enemy of the British and the East India Company.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City USA
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is an institution of class and celebrity. Yearly we see images from the MET Gala and several other high profile events. Which might make it seem a bit inaccessible. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. You might be surprised to know that MET is “free”. They operate on a donation system. Where you can essentially pay what you think is fair.
Throughout the museum, you’ll find works for legends of art like Van Gogh, Matisse, and Picasso.
Permanent Display to See: Van Gogh Self Portrait
Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre Bangkok Thailand
The Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre is criminally overlooked by tourists. Especially given its prime location in Bangkok’s shopping center. Where it’s literally connected to two of Bangkok’s most popular shopping centers. BACC isn’t a museum in the traditional sense of the word. It’s more of a revolving collection of exhibitions and shops. Displaying everything from graffiti to photographs taken by the Princess of Thailand. Giving visitors an intimate look at what makes Thai culture and identity truly special.
Permanent Display to See: BACC doesn’t really have permanent displays. But I recommend exploring the small “galleries” and shops that are on the lower floors before you explore the visiting exhibitions. Many are permanent and act as a great place to beat the heat or pick up some much need art supplies.
The British Museum London England UK
The British Museum just might be the worlds most controversial and beloved museum at the same time. There’s a valid debate regarding ownership of certain artifacts and relics. But we’ll save that for another piece. That aside, the British Museum is the worlds best collection of historical artifacts, hands down. Home to over 7 million pieces from every continent, the British Museum gives visitors the ability to follow human evolution and culture from the beginning to today. A special feat.
Permanent Display to See: Rosetta Stone
The Hagia Sophia Istanbul Turkey
I’ve long had a personal connection to Hagia Sophia since I was a kid. I often speak of my childhood reading National Geographic and Readers Digest. A poor black kid from Cleveland dreaming of exploring the furthest reaches of the world. And I’ll never forget the first time I saw images of Hagia Sofia. At the time, Turkey was the furthest place in the world. My Shangri La. Obviously, traveling to Istanbul has become a bit routine for me now. But back then, a true dream. Personal connection aside, it’s still one of the worlds most iconic structures. It’s been a church( for 916 years), mosque (482 years), and today, a museum.
Permanent Display to See: Christ Deesis Mosaic
Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art Berlin Germany
Y’all know there are two things I can’t get enough of. Museums and street art. So, I had to check out the newly opened Urban Nation during my last visit to Berlin. And damn this place is impressive. Featuring works from some of the world’s most brilliant artists. Street art has long been dismissed by the “mainstream” art community and society at large. But in recent years we’ve seen quite a bit of support for street artists like Banksy, C215, and Shepard Fairey. Check out my video tour here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQD-70rRZgM
Permanent Display to See: Sandra Chevrier: I also received a pleasant surprise as a true comic book junky. Not one of these fake I’ve seen all the movies “fans”. I mean I’ve read every single comic featuring every member of the Justice League, X-Men, Batman, Spawn, and Ghost Rider. Part of my obsession with actual comics and graphic novels is the art. So, when a friend told me about this dope female artist using Batman comics in her work I had to check her out.
I’m going to get this out of the way up front. The lines and crowds at the Louvre are EASILY some of the worsts in the world. But that’s a testament to how impressive this collection is. Drawing visitors from around the world. Annually, the Louvre welcomes around 8 million visitors making it the worlds most visited museum. One of these day’s ill have to create a Louvre without the crowds, well not as big crowds, guide. But one quick tip, visit in the evening. The Louvre stays open until 10pm. I like to show up around 630 or 7. Tour groups are long gone by then.
Permanent Display to See: I.M. Pei’s Pyramid
Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
With the extremely misconstrued image of Islam in the West, I’ve long advocated for Americans to visit Malaysia. And given its recent election results, I stand by that endorsement even more. The reason, Malaysia gives a welcoming reflection of Muslims and their cultural norms and dynamics. It’s easily the most welcoming Islamic nation ( to be fair most are welcoming) I’ve been to. One of the crown jewels of Kuala Lumpur is the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia. Not only will you get an excellent lesson about Islam in Malaysia, but globally. Especially tracking it’s spread through Asia nations like India and China which are rarely covered.
Permanent Display to See: Malay World Gallery
I have to be extremely honest, Russia is one of my least favorite places to visit. I say that to accentuate the point that the Hermitage was worth the pain. Every second of it. While it can’t compare to places like the Louvre or MET, it holds its own in beauty and substance.
Permanent Display to See: Matisse Room
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Cleveland Ohio USA
I’m a Cleveland boy. Through and through. I remember the EXACT day in 1995 when I was 12 years old. Full of performances by legends like Al Green, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Dylan which filled the streets of Cleveland with music for a week. Fast forward 22 years to my next visit to this iconic institution of music. Bigger, more high tech, and a lot less crowded than I remember. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum should be a pilgrimage site for any music lover.
Permanent Display to See: Picking a single thing would be insane. I highly recommend you just pick your favorite artist and explore. I’m a massive Jimi Hendrix fan and loved their permanent display for him. One criticism, “certain” musicians aren’t as prominently featured in comparison to others. Shocking that John Mellencamp (no offense) has basically a room dedicated to him while Prince barely has a full display. But i’m biased. lol
Museums I Want To Visit
The Smithsonian Washington D.C. USA
Given how much I love museums, people are surprised to find out I’ve never been to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Definitely high on my list. I hope to spend a few days exploring all the different museums on offer. The Smithsonian is 19 museums under the same umbrella. I’ll spend days exploring these places I’m sure. Especially the aviation and natural history wing. Come onnnnnnn. We all saw Night at the Museum 2.
Terracotta Warriors Xi’an China
I wish traveling to China wasn’t such a pain as an American. I was recently invited on a press trip specifically including the Terracotta Warriors but had to decline due to visa issues.
Louvre Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi UAE
The Louvre Abu Dhabi has become a must visit when in the Emirates. It’s less than a year old and I haven’t been to the Emirates since it’s opening but plan to visit very soon.
National Museum of African American History and Culture Washington D.C. USA
The museum opened on September 24, 2016. Since then I’ve been to the USA once. But it’s definitely on my list. Located in D.C. not far from the Smithsonian makes it perfect.
I want to hear from ya’ll now. What’s your favorite museum? What do you think of my picks?