1. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
The Smithsonian is the world’s largest research and museum complex, with 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and various research stations. More than 137 million objects detailing America’s story are housed here, so you’d better prepare for a long week of walking.
2 2 . Le Louvre, Paris, France
The Louvre was a medieval fortress and the palace of the kings of France before becoming a museum two centuries ago. The addition of I. M. Pei’s pyramid shocked many when it was unveiled in 1989 as the new main entrance, yet it somehow works, integrating the palace’s disparate elements.
3 . 3. The Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
The stunning ground floor gallery houses finds from the slopes of the Acropolis. Its amazing transparent glass floor provides a walk over history, with a view of the archaeological excavation, while sloping upward to the Acropolis with sanctuaries of the Athenians from each historic period nearby.
4. State Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
Russia may be isolated from the artistic centers of Paris, Rome, and London, but the Hermitage has managed to acquire a spectacular collection of world art—more than three million items—spanning the years from the Stone Age to the early 20th century.
5. The British Museum, London, England
Britain’s largest museum looks after the national collection of archaeology and ethnography—more than eight million objects ranging from prehistoric bones to chunks of Athens’ Parthenon, from whole Assyrian palace rooms to exquisite gold jewels.
6. The Prado, Madrid, Spain
The Spanish royal family is responsible for the Prado’s bounty of classical masterpieces. Over centuries, kings and queens collected and commissioned art with passion and good taste. In addition to stars of Spanish painting such as Velázquez, Goya, Ribera, and Zurbarán, the Prado has big collections of Italian (including Titian and Raphael) and Flemish artists.
7. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere. Its collection of more than two million items is not only broad—covering the entire world, from antiquity to the present—but deep, with holdings so large in a number of areas that some might be considered museums unto themselves.
8. The Vatican Museums, Vatican City, Italy
Twenty-two separate collections comprise the Musei Vaticani, each one more spectacular than the next. The most famous are probably the Museo Pio-Clementino, with its splendid classical sculpture; the Raphael Rooms, entire rooms painted by Raphael; the Pinacoteca (picture gallery), which contains the cream of the Vatican’s collection of medieval and Renaissance paintings; and, of course, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
9. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
“Great” is an overworked adjective in Italy, where so many of the country’s monuments and works of art command the highest praise. In the case of the Galleria degli Uffizi, it barely does justice to a gallery that holds the world’s finest collection of Renaissance paintings.
10 .Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
About 900,000 objects fill the Rijksmuseum, the largest collection of art and history in the Netherlands. It is most famous for its paintings by 17th-century Dutch masters, including Ruysdael, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, and Rembrandt van Rijn.
From the National Geographic book The 10 Best of Everything
Photograph by Horst Friedrichs, Anzenberger/Redux