20 museums for your bucket list


Wednesday, May 18 is International Museum Day, a global event that promotes the cultural and social significance of the world’s museums.

To celebrate International Museum Day 202we have picked 20 under-the-radar museums from around the globe.

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Henri Laurens in Lousiana
A work by Henri Laurens in front of  the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art © Getty Images

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk, Denmark)

Louisiana’s collection of modern art is so incredible it’s almost intimidating. Luckily, even visitors who don’t know much about – or care for – contemporary works can get something out of a visit. The glass-heavy modernist building allows art and nature to blend together.  

Top tip: On a clear day, pack a lunch and sit on the water’s edge, looking across to neighboring Sweden (while saving yourself a few kroner).

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Schoolchildren examine an old tram carriage in the Hong Kong Museum of History
Schoolchildren examine an old tram carriage in the Hong Kong Museum of History © eWilding / Shutterstock

Hong Kong Museum of History

This excellent (and free) museum does away with tedious displays of out-of-context artifacts and has you literally wandering through the fascinating history of Hong Kong. You’ll stroll through the city’s recreated streets from 1881, board an early 20th-century tram and learn about HK’s troubled World War II occupation. It’s an engaging overview of this incredible city from its founding to the Handover.

Top tip: As a reward for all that culture-vulturing, check out nearby bar Lee Family Chicken where meat and beer are the perfect restoratives.

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Interior view of the inner courtyard and garden of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston
 Interior of the inner courtyard and garden of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston © Mark Zhu / Shutterstock

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston)

Walking around Isabella Stewart Gardner’s former home, you can’t help but be gobsmacked by both her exquisite taste and her thorough pillaging of world art. Works by Botticelli, da Vinci and Titian – to name but a few – vie for space, while priceless statues from ancient Greece and Rome are casually strewn across the magnificent courtyard.  The museum is the subject of the recent Netflix documentary series, This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist. 

Top tip: Be sure to plan ahead and purchase your tickets in advance online.

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An interior room of the Little Museum of Dublin, which occupies a lovely Georgian townhouse
The Little Museum of Dublin is a cozy Georgian townhouse © Little Museum of Dublin

Little Museum of Dublin

The Little Museum of Dublin tells the story of the Irish capital in a quirky, relatable way. Set in a Georgian townhouse location, it takes you through history from Alfie Byrne (former Dublin Lord Mayor and the city’s most popular politician of the 20th century) to U2. 

Top tip: Wander across the road to the oasis of tranquility that is St Stephen’s Green afterward to feed the ducks. 

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Indulge in the occult at this Prague gem © Speculum Alchemiae

Speculum Alchemiae (Prague)

This museum of alchemy is intimate but intricate, focusing on a little slice of history that can be devoured and enjoyed in under an hour. A genuine alchemist’s lab, it was only discovered in 2002 and sheds light on Prague’s history of occultism. Explore secret tunnels full of curios, including labs where alchemists worked futilely to create gold.

Top tip: Don’t confuse it with the Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague across the river. This one is tucked away in the Jewish Quarter.

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The intricate dome of the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur
The intricate dome of the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur © Mariangela Cruz / Shutterstock

Islamic Arts Museum (Kuala Lumpur)

Enter the Islamic Arts Museum and be fascinated by the incredible scholarship, innovation, exploration, creativity and mashup of styles between Indigenous cultures and the Islamic world. It’s hard not to fall in love with the beautiful mathematical designs, the architecture and the storytelling here.

Top tip: Stay for lunch at the tasty Middle Eastern restaurant on-site.

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City Photo Book London
A man and child inspect skeletons at the Horniman Museum © Mark Chilvers / Lonely Planet

Horniman Museum (London)

The Horniman is the astonishing collection of tea merchant John Horniman, housed in a lovely art-nouveau building. It’s worth a trip to just to see the 100-year-old overstuffed walrus that takes centre stage (it even has its own Twitter account). It’s surrounded by ageing cabinets that contain all sorts of questionable taxidermy specimens; elsewhere there’s art and musical instruments from all over the world.

Top tip: Outside in the surrounding farm and gardens, visit real-life animals that have escaped being stuffed and enjoy a breathtaking view of the London skyline.

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A recreated single-room apartment in the DDR Museum, Berlin
A recreated single-room apartment in the DDR Museum, Berlin © Pornticha Wongyannava / Shutterstock

DDR Museum (Berlin)

The DDR Museum is ideal for anyone wanting a hands-on experience of history. Drive a simulated route in a Trabant (East German car), take a seat in a typical DDR tower-block flat, rummage through a collection of books and tapes and fiddle around with digital displays; all to get a feel for life in former East Germany under the Stasi regime, a sector of the government that kept its citizens cut off from the rest of the world.

Top tip: For more history, cross the river to visit the Cathedral Museum in the spectacular Berliner Dom.

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Kids looking at Macaw in the Rainforests of the World dome at California Academy of Sciences
Kid Macaw in the rainforests of the world dome at California Academy of Sciences © Sabrina Dalbesio / Lonely Planet

California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco)

This fun, interactive place bills itself as the world’s only aquarium-planetarium-rainforest-living museum. The albino alligator is particularly memorable, as is the ‘living roof’ of wildflowers, earthquake simulator and the opportunity to climb into the canopy of a rainforest.

Top tip: The museum offers ‘nightlife’ tickets so you can explore the exhibits with a cocktail in your hand.

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London's Garden Museum is housed in the disused church of St Mary-at-Lambeth
London’s Garden Museum is housed in the disused church of St Mary-at-Lambeth © Neil Setchfield / Lonely Planet

Garden Museum (London)

The Garden Museum is a hidden oasis. Housed in a Victorian church, visitors journey through exhibitions focusing on quirky gardening histories, alongside contemporary artworks. The best bit is the tranquil, leafy courtyard – grab a deckchair and forget you’re in the heart of London.

Top tip: Don’t miss venturing up the winding medieval tower that rewards with panoramic views of Victoria Gardens and the Houses of Parliament.

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The City of Paris Museum of Modern Art is located in the 1937 Palais de Tokyo building in the 16th arrondissement © EQRoy / Shutterstock

Palais de Tokyo (Paris)

Paris has a reputation for having a somewhat fusty, traditional art scene compared to New York, Berlin and London, but Palais de Tokyo is one of the city’s major risk-takers. As a contemporary art museum, it’s less commercial than most places in Paris. Whether you truly understand what you see or not, whatever’s on display will put your imagination to work.

Top tip: Museum cafe The Readymade is a popular workspace with locals, so bring your laptop if you want to catch up on emails in one of the trendiest places in Paris.

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A subterranean concrete wall in the National September 11 Memorial Museum, New York City
The subterranean concrete wall in the National September 11 Memorial Museum, New York City © Kotsovolos Panagiotis / Shutterstock

National September 11 Memorial Museum (New York City)

The National September 11 Memorial Museum, on the site of the World Trade Center, is an interactive experience that pays tribute to the 2,977 people killed in the 2001 terror attacks. The victims’ stories are central to this poignant and powerful memorial, which contains thousands of artifacts, videos, images and oral recordings.

Top tip: Book the early access museum tour, before the crowds arrive, for an intimate experience with an expert guide.

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Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington © ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

Te Papa (Wellington)

Te Papa (‘treasure box’) is indeed a trove of Māori history and culture, with environmental exhibitions, ‘discovery centers’ for children and New Zealand’s National Art Collection. Given the country’s youth, it’s fun to see relatively modern items such as Converse and pop culture artifacts included as pieces of history too.

Top tip: Be sure to check out the realistic and thought-provoking earthquake simulator.

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The imposing Victorian Gothic home of the Pitt Rivers and Natural History museums
The imposing Victorian Gothic home of the Pitt Rivers and Natural History museums © Gordon Bell / Shutterstock

Natural History & Pitt Rivers museums (Oxford)

At the Museum of Natural History in Oxford you’re encouraged to touch the taxidermy and fossils, unlike in its London equivalent. Afterward, descend into the basement Pitt Rivers Museum, home to the anthropological collections of the University of Oxford. It’s a maze of cabinets filled with sometimes creepy curiosities.

Top tip: Make sure you seek out the Museum of Natural History’s very own dodo!

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Genocide Museum Cambodia
Photographs of inmates at Security Prison 21, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum © Mark Read / Lonely Planet

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

This former school was transformed into a prison during the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s; most of the rooms have lain largely untouched since the tragedies. Horrifying in its entirety, the museum provides the ambiance required to reflect on the horrendous crimes of its past.

Top tip: Think carefully about what you want to get out of a visit; though an important and powerful museum, this is an extremely sobering place.

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The interior of Cape Town's Zeitz MOCAA Museum, housed in a former silo
The interior of Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA Museum, housed in a former silo © christianthiel.net / Shutterstock

Zeitz MOCAA Museum (Cape Town)

The most important museum to open in Africa for more than a century, the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa has been miraculously hewn from the inside of a massive disused grain silo. The sense of space within this state-of-the-art complex is as enthralling as the collection of art it showcases.

Top tip: With more than 80 galleries, it’s a place to lose yourself in. Just make sure you find your way to the rooftop sculpture garden.

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The foliage-clad, brightly coloured exterior of the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo
The foliage-clad, brightly coloured exterior of the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo © cowardlion / Shutterstock

Ghibli Museum (Tokyo)

Nestled in Inokashira Park, the Ghibli Museum is enchanting for kids and adults alike. Here, Hayao Miyazaki’s cinematic visions come to life – characters from Studio Ghibli films line stained glass windows and frescoes, and original artwork is on display. You can explore spiral staircases, passages and hidden doorways to your heart’s delight, while kids can climb aboard the furry cat bus and discover the robot in a lush rooftop garden. Tickets also grant access to a short Ghibli film, exclusive to the museum, in a gorgeous in-house cinema.

Top tip: Book in advance; this place is no secret!

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Inside the Mütter Museum, Philadelphia
College of Physicians is known for being the home of a museum depicting the history of medical science © Richard T. Nowitz / Getty

Mütter Museum (Philadelphia)

This multi-storey museum echoes a 19th-century circus sideshow, with rare, odd and sometimes disturbing medical specimens from history. It might be one to avoid if you are squeamish, but it’s fascinating to see how the human body has developed, adapted and disformed through modern-day medical observance.

Top tip: You can get $2 off admission on Monday and Tuesday.

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Erotic pottery in the Lima's Larco Museum
Erotic pottery in Lima’s Larco Museum © saiko3p / Shutterstock

Museo Larco (Lima)

The fascinating Museo Larco shows you how long and complex human history really is. This incredible museum houses a massive private collection of Peruvian pre-Columbian artifacts, with pieces reaching back over 5000 years. Peruse the gallery to spot solid gold ceremonial headdresses, incredibly detailed portraits sculpted into pottery and even some, ahem, erotic ceramics.

Top tip: Stop into the on-site cafe to sample Peruvian cuisine while overlooking the atmospheric garden.

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Bicycles in Museum of Arts and Design. ©Dan Herrick/Lonely Planet
Bicycle heaven © Dan Herrick / Lonely Planet

Bicycle Museum of America (Ohio)

Bicycles have come a long way since their mysterious first appearance (there is no verified claim to ‘inventor of the bicycle’). From Penny Farthings to BMX, the curators reckon there are over 1000 bikes in the collection, prepare for a lot of nostalgia as you spot your own first bike here.

Top tip: Opening hours are limited, so check them before you go.

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