A trip to a museum is similar to visiting a place for the first time and discovering everything that makes the place special. Visiting museums isn’t just a great way to experience the culture of the city you’re visiting but also to get an enriching history lesson that’ll make your overall experience more memorable. Visiting museums is a popular choice of activity for tourists around the globe and many prominent museums make the list of must-visits! The Louvre in Paris, The British Museum in London, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Vatican Museums, The Smithsonian in Washington D.C., and numerous others. While these are some of the most popular museums in the world, many others evade the spotlight but are equally enlightening and fabulous. Here’s a list of the top 15 most underrated museums in the world.
CosmoCaixa is Barcelona's most renowned science museum and makes for an interesting visit for the entire family. The museum was created to make science fun and interesting through interactive exhibitions designed to capture your attention. CosmoCaixa opened for visitors in 1981 and holds the honor of being Spain's first interactive science museum and is housed in a modernista building perched at the top of the upper ring of the Collserola foothills in Barcelona. Designed by famous Catalan architect Josep Domenech, the museum building was meant to function as an asylum for the blind. While the asylum closed in 1979, it was renovated into the museum while maintaining the original facade of the building.
While the CosmoCaixa is home to many beautiful and fascinating exhibitions, one of the most interesting exhibitions in the museum is the Flooded Forest. A breathtaking and incredible replica of the Amazonian rainforest, the Flooded Forest is completely encased in glass walls allowing you to witness the beauty and aura of the vanishing ecosystem in all its glory, including underwater! Another must-visit experience at the CosmoCaixa is the Geological Wall which showcases various natural explorations like tectonic, sedimentation, and erosion. The exhibit also boasts rocks that can be traced back to the prehistoric history of the Iberian peninsula. Also visit the stunning Hall of Matter which explores the concept of life, physics, and movement through hands-on exhibits, aquariums, and fossils.
Formerly known as the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, the Bode Museum is located on Museum Island in the historic center of Berlin. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the museum was built between 1898 and 1904 in Baroque Revival style per the design and architectural plans by Ernst von Ihne. The original building housed a memorial to Frederick III, a German Emperor that was destroyed by authorities from East Germany. During World War II, the museum building was heavily damaged and heavily restored from 1948 to 1986. During this time, the building was renamed the Bode Museum in honor of its spiritual founder and first director. With the reunification of Germany, previously separated collections were merged under the auspices of the Staatliche Museen Zu Berlin. With this united collection came the decision of renovating the museum again to make it a better fit for modern sensibilities.
In 2006, the Bode Museum reopened to the public after a major renovation drive. The new iteration of the museum primarily housed and showcased the Museum of Byzantine Art and the Sculpture Collection. The latter boasts over 150 pieces of art from the Gemäldegalerie collection that has been featured at the Kulturforum since 1998. Another highlight of the Bode Museum is the Münzkabinett that houses a fascinating collection of medals and coins and showcases human history through metal.
3Cancún Underwater Museum
The Cancun Underwater Museum, originally known as Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA), is amongst the most popular tourist attractions in the area and welcomes approximately 750,000 visitors annually. Hidden between the islands of Isla Mujeres and Cancun on the Mexican coast, this beautiful underwater museum is unlike anything else you’ve seen before. Designed by Jason De Caires Taylor, a British sculptor, the museum features almost 500 life-size sculptures and installations submerged underwater on the stunning Caribbean island coast. The Cancun Underwater Museum enjoys the distinction of being both a coastline getaway and a world preservation site. The museum aims to promote marine diversity with assistance from its fabulous underwater installations that double as fertile landscapes for the lost fauna.
The installations featured in Cancun Underwater Museum are interesting, to say the least, and cover a wide range of topics from the holistic living of the fisherman community to more pressing issues like capital greed and environmental degradation. During your visit to the underwater museum, you’ll chance upon sculptures such as the famous art form of Vicissitude to simple but thoughtful objects like a time bomb. Each installation and sculpture at the Cancun Underwater Museum has a story to tell and a lesson to impart, making it a truly enlightening experience.
4The Tenement Museum
New York City
Housed in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, the Tenement Museum is a National Historic Site and worth your time even when you’ve none! The museum is made up of two dated tenement buildings that housed over 15,000 people between 1863 and 2011. What makes the Tenement Museum truly special is the fact that the buildings housed people from over 20 nations and promotes something the world sorely lacks now - empathy and tolerance. If you’re on the lookout for an authentic immigrant experience in New York City, the Tenement Museum is where you should be at. Featuring a visitors center, the museum aims to promote togetherness and showcase a historical perspective on the immigrant experience.
The Tenement Museum was the brainchild of social activist Anita Jacobsen and historian Ruth Abram and was founded in 1988. If you’re looking to experience the strikingly American tales of immigration and its continued impact on the city, the Tenement Museum is meant for you. Participate in the guided tour and learn fascinating stories of immigration and migration through the two tenement buildings. Embark on an engaging trip back in time and discover the true stories of seemingly ordinary families through the lens of architecture, public policy, and urban development.
5Pollock's Toy Museum
Featuring an enviable collection of Victorian toys, the Pollock's Toy Museum is an exhibition center and toy shop located inside two atmospheric and beautiful buildings in Fitzrovia, London. Spread across two winding staircases and six rooms, the toy museum showcases everything from tin toys, dollhouses, and puppets to teddy bears, optical toys, toy soldiers, and toy theatres. Originally a printing shop, dating back to the mid 19th century, Pollock's has now become one of the most loved tourist attractions in the city.
Named after founder Benjamin Pollock who hand-printed, constructed, and colored most of the toy theatre material housed in the museum today, the toy museum is perfect for the entire family. During the 1950s and 60s, the museum was established and the toy shop was redesigned by Marguerite Fawdry. The current collection at Pollock’s Toy Museum can be traced back to donations from friends, family, and the public and purchases. Presently, the museum is run for the benefit of the public and to showcase the toy collection as opposed to earning a profit. When in London, make sure you visit this cute, independent family-run museum.
6Kirchner Cultural Centre
A cultural center located in Buenos Aires, the Kirchner Cultural Centre holds the honor of being the largest in Latin America and the third-largest in the world. The center was inaugurated in 1928 by then-president Marcelo T. de Alvear and designed by fabled French architect Norbert-Auguste Maillart. The cultural center officially opened for visitors on May 21, 2015, and is a part of the original Buenos Aires Central Post Office building.
Kirchner Cultural Centre is named after the former Argentine president Néstor Kirchner who oversaw its conversion from the post office to a cultural center. Featuring five auditoriums for concerts and plays, a massive concert hall, 40 rooms of art and history galleries, 16 rehearsal rooms, 18 poetry reading halls, and two rooftop terraces, the nine-floor cultural center is spread across over 15,000 square meters. Amongst the most popular attractions in the cultural center is La Ballena Azul or Blue Whale symphony hall. This three-story, blimp-shaped hall floats in the original packing area of the post office. Boasting impressive acoustics and Klais Orgelbau pipe organ, the Blue Whale symphony hall has hosted numerous gifted performers over the years.
7Museo Reina Sofia
The Museo Reina Sofia is a renowned modern art museum showcasing a wide collection of Spanish art from the 20th century, including everyone from Picasso to Solana. Opening for visitors in 1990, the Museo Reina Sofía has stood tall as a museum for modern Spanish despite the many challenges, both monetary and structural, it had to face along the way. Some of the highlights of the museum are the fascinating exhibitions of the two greatest 20th-century masters associated with Spain, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso. Arguably, the most well-known artwork housed in the museum is the 1937 painting by Picasso, Guernica.
Amongst the world's largest museums for modern art, the Museo Reina Sofia offers both national and international exhibitions in its many galleries, along with an extensive art collection. Holding the honor of being the 9th most visited art museum in the world, Museo Reina Sofia brought it approximately 4,425,000 visitors in 2019 alone. Apart from the art galleries and exhibitions, the museum also hosts a spectacular free-for-all library boasting an impressive collection of books, videos, and sound recordings.
8The Museum of Pop Culture
Looking for a trip down pop culture lane? The Museum of Pop Culture or MoPoP is where you should be at. This non-profit museum is located in Seattle, Washington, and is designed to feature and honor modern pop culture. Founded by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, in 2000, the Museum of Pop Culture has since gone on to host numerous exhibitions, out of which 17 have toured nationally and internationally. The MoPoP was formerly known as the Experience Music Project and later the EMP Museum is amongst the most visited tourist attractions in Seattle. Each year, the museum organizes various events including “Sound Off”, an epic battle of the bands, “Pop Conference” where musicians, critics, academics, and music fans gather.
The outside of the museum is encased with over 21,000 individually cut and shaped aluminum and stainless steel shingles. Each of these shingles reacts differently to light and change in appearance when viewed from different angles, serving as a reminder to visitors that music and pop culture never stay the same.
9Canadian Museum for Human Rights
The first museum in the world primarily dedicated to the celebration and evolution of human rights, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is located in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Since the museum holds the honor of being the world's first museum committed to human rights, your experience here will be deeply steeped in ideas revolving around the respect and understanding of human rights and the positive impact it can have on the rest of the world. The brainchild of philanthropist Israel Asper, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights began construction in 2000. While Asper didn’t live to see the completion of the museum building, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II herself unveiled the Museum cornerstone in 2010.
Featuring curving lines and bold geometrical shapes, the museum is innovative and groundbreaking, just like the ideas it hopes to imbibe on its visitors. The unconventional design includes irregular surfaces, walls sloped at unusual angles, and much more, and employed the latest construction techniques including 3D modeling. Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and embark on a fulfilling and enlightening experience.
10The Palestinian Museum
The most popular and respected project of the Welfare Association, the Palestinian Museum is many things, some entertaining, others informative. Designed and constructed to showcase the history, dreams, and aspirations of the people of Palestine, the museum is part of a concentrated effort to develop more humanitarian projects in Palestine. The Palestinian Museum attempts to feature the past, present, and future of Palestine through art galleries and exhibits. Located in Birzeit, approximately 25 km north of Jerusalem, the museum opened for visitors in May 2016 and has since witnessed a steadily increasing influx of visitors. The first exhibition in the Palestinian Museum, Jerusalem Lives, opened in August 2017 to rave reviews.
The Palestinian Museum is located on a terraced hill overlooking the Mediterranean and features a design by the neighboring landscape. Featuring a facade made of limestone and cascading gardens, the building artfully represents the Palestinian history of vegetation and agriculture. In 2019, the Palestinian Museum won the coveted honor of winning the Age Khan Award for Architecture.
11Aceh Tsunami Museum
Located in Banda Aceh, the Aceh Tsunami Museum is designed to function as a symbolic reminder of the 2004 tsunami disaster and an educational center. The museum building is structured similarly to the traditional raised Aceh House and resembles a ship with its protruding funnel. Designed by Indonesian architect Ridwan Kamil, the Aceh Tsunami Museum is spread across an area of 2,500 square meters. The four-story museum features long curving walls that are covered in geometric reliefs. The entrance interiors are designed to recreate the noise and panic of the tsunami and feature two high walls of water.
Walk inside to witness walls covered with images of people performing the traditional Saman dance, which locals believe signifies discipline, religious beliefs, and strength of the Acehnese people. The ground floor of the Aceh Tsunami Museum is designed to emulate the authentic Acehnese houses that were best suited to survive a disaster like a tsunami.
12Topkapi Palace Museum
One of the world’s richest museums and Istanbul’s most visited tourist attractions, the Topkapi Palace Museum is another museum that goes overlooked in favor of museums located in more mainstream cities. This glorious oriental palace is located on a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Amongst the world’s finest architectural marvels, the Topkapi Palace served as the residence of the Ottoman sultans back in the day. The construction of the palace can be traced back to the 15th century on orders of Fatih Sultan Mehmed atop the Byzantine acropolis.
Spread across an area of approximately 700,000 square meters, the Topkapi Palace is surrounded by the Marmara Sea on one side and the 1400-meters city walls dubbed the ‘Royal Walls’ on the other. Presently, the Topkapi Museum houses some of the world’s most revered samples of bookbinding, seals, inscriptions, and jewelry and box craftsmanship. Visit the formal imperial kitchen to witness the world’s finest Chinese porcelain collection.
13Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Featuring the finest collection of global art in Russia, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts showcases artistic developments over the years on a global level. The museum is home to an explosive 700,000 works of art, making its collection amongst the richest in the world! Apart from functioning as a museum, the Pushkin Centre has also operated as an educational and research center with the sole aim of bringing together generations of artists together and showcasing art as a discipline worthy of scientific research. The museum was founded by Moscow University professor Ivan Tsvetaev in 1896 and continues to be a premier arts and culture center in Moscow to date.
Outside of being a home for priceless foreign artwork donated by members of the Russian high society, the Pushkin Museum is also famous for housing the plaster casts of thousands of popular sculptures and architectural features. The artwork currently showcased in the museum spans from Ancient Egypt to the 21st century including engravings, graphic art, paintings, sculptures, mosaics, glasswork, decorative and applied art, numismatic items, and much more.
Studio Ghibli is one of Japan’s most renowned animation studios and the Ghibli Museum is a full-fledged celebration of the art and animation featured in their movies. Studio Ghibli has produced numerous feature films including Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and many others. The Ghibli Museum is located just outside central Tokyo in Mitaka and is a must-visit for fans of Ghibli films. Beautifully designed to replicate the distinct art style featured in the studio’s films, the museum features many characters from the movies including the robot from Castle in the Sky.
Each section of the Ghibli Museum is dedicated to a specific aspect of the studio’s films with the first floor exhibiting the techniques and journey of developing the striking animation style that’s come to be associated with the studio. The second floor of the museum is home to temporary special exhibitions that visitors can enjoy. The Ghibli Museum also houses a small theatre where short movies from the studio are played, a children’s play area, a gift shop, a cafe, and a rooftop garden.
15Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre
A regional art gallery in Murwillumbah, Australia, the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre rounds out our list of the world’s most underrated museums. Located in a massive, contemporary, and architecturally sound building overlooking Mount Warning, the center is a must-visit when in Australia. The Tweed Regional Gallery features seven exhibition spaces showcasing a wide variety of exhibitions from historical to modern tours, alongside exhibitions showcasing the work of local, national, and international artists.
A mainstay in the Gallery’s exhibition is an excellent collection of portraits showcasing Australia’s community. During your visit, you can also partake in free-of-cost public workshops designed for all ages and skill levels. The Tweed Regional Gallery also features an education center, a research library, a gallery cafe with outdoor seating, and a gallery shop. Head on over to the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre for a fascinating look at Australian art.