Major cities around the world boast renowned centers of art – New York’s Metropolitan Museum and MOMA, Paris’ Louvre, Madrid’s Prado – which are must visits for many travelers. But smaller museums can be just as worthy of a visit, often providing a more concise overview of a period or artist. They are also great destinations for visitors with limited time or for those who have already visited the large institutions.
Here are our picks for eight of the best small museums around the world. We have excluded single artist museums and instead focus on places that specialize either in a particular period or manage their resources in creative ways to give an overview of history through art.
225 South Street, Williamstown, MA
Divided between two buildings, one classic and the other modern, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute possesses an astounding collection for such a small museum. The highlight is the Impressionist collection, including more than two dozen works by Renoir, as well as works by masters such as Degas, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Pisarro and many more. The newer wing has a gallery devoted to American artists including Winslow Homer and another devoted to J.W. Turner, John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough. An added benefit is that the museum is free more than half the year.
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm; open Mondays in July and August only (10am – 5pm)
Admission: Free November 1 – May 31; June 1 – October 31 Adults $15, students and under 18 free
The Frick Collection
1 East 70th Street, New York, NY
Housed in the former mansion of industrialist Henry Clay Frick across from Central Park, the Frick is small but maintains an impressive collection of classic European art, including work from Corot, Fragonard, El Greco, Goya, Whistler and Rembrandt. The museum is perhaps best known for having three paintings by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, who only has 36 existing paintings attributed to him.
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 6pm, Sunday 11am – 5pm. Closed Monday and Holidays
Admission: Adults $20, Seniors $15, Students (with ID) $10. Children under 10 not admitted. Pay what you wish Sundays 11am – 1pm
Princeton University Art Museum
Princeton University, NJ
Set amidst the lovely campus of Princeton University, this museum showcases a comprehensive collection of art from ancient Greece and China through the European masters and Impressionists to Contemporary heavyweights. Smartly arranged and with ample background info on most artworks, the museum truly provides an educational component to its comprehensive overview of the history of art. Don’t miss three Monets, Blue Marilyn by Andy Warhol, works by Yves Tanguy, Willem de Kooning, Goya and much more. Allot at least 2 hours to visit the entire collection.
Hours: Tuesday & Wednesday 10am – 5pm, Thursday 10am- 10pm, Friday & Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 1pm – 5pm.
Phoenix Museum of Art
1625 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona
The Phoenix Museum is the preeminent museum in America’s Southwest, with a particularly strong collection devoted to Western and Latin American Art, including works from Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo. The contemporary collection is broad and engaging, with highlights such as Anish Kapoor’s giant black orb titled “Upside Down, Inside Out,” a digital tree by Jennifer Steinkamp, and the delightful lightshow “You Who are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies” by Yayoi Kusama.
Hours: Wednesday 10am – 9pm, Thursday – Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 12pm – 5pm, First Fridays 6pm – 10pm, Closed Monday & Tuesday
Admission: Adults $15, Seniors $12, University Students $10, Ages 6 – 17 $6, Under 6 Free
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
Avenida de Berna 45A, Lisbon
The 6,000 pieces amassed by industrialist and avid art collector Calouse Gulbenkian are housed in a one-story building set amidst lush parkland in downtown Lisbon. Ingeniously arranged both chronologically and by geographical area, the museum takes visitors on a history of human culture region by region of the world. This grouping creates parallels and overlapping pieces among cultures – from currencies to meticulously crafted books of worship (Korans in the Middle East and Bibles in Europe) to furnishings to timepieces throughout history. The tour ends in 19th Century Europe with key works by Turner, Manet, Degas and Monet. Don’t miss the striking, photograph-like painting by Pascal Dagnon-Bouveret in the second to last room or the collection’s coda – meticulous Art Nouveau jewelry and glass from René Lalique.
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5:45pm. Closed Mondays, January 1, Easter, May 1, December 25
Admission: Adults €4 (20% discount with Lisbon Card), Seniors and Students 12 – 25 €2, Kids under 12 Free
Heimplatz 1, Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich’s Kunsthaus is best known for its outstanding collection of works by Swiss-Italian sculptor Alberto Giacometti. With over 150 works, including many examples of his famous thin-figured sculptures, the Kunsthaus has arranged the collection chronologically so that visitors can see the artist’s evolution. On the second and third floors, the museum showcases a strong collection of paintings dating from 16th Century Italy to the 20th Century. Though the building is deceptively small from the outside, the collection housed within is deep and impressive, with multiple works from Picasso, Chagall, Paul Klee, Mondrian, Monet and more. The modern works include examples of Surrealism and Dada, which began in Zurich in 1916.
Hours: Saturday – Sunday, Tuesday 10am – 6pm, Wednesday – Friday 10am – 8pm, Closed Mondays, April 4, December 25
Admission: Adults 20 CHF, Students & Seniors 10 CHF, Kids under 16 Free, Free to all on Wednesdays
Musee de l’Orangerie
Jardin de Tuileries, Paris, France
Located between the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, the lesser known Orangerie is first and foremost a showcase for Claude Monet’s famous series of eight watercolors known as “Nympheas.” After a multi-year renovation, the works are now housed on the upper floor in two successive light-controlled galleries. The rest of the museum contains Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works from artists such as Matisse, Cezanne, Sisley, Renoir and Picasso. A highlight of the collection is a series of paintings from Jewish artist Chaim Soutine.
Hours: Wednesday – Monday 9am – 6pm, Closed Tuesdays, May 1, December 25
Admission: Adults €7.50, Seniors & Students €5, Free first Sunday of each month; €13 Combined ticket with Musee D’Orsay (valid for 4 days)
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Dorsoduro 704, Venice, Italy
Set in Peggy Guggenheim’s longtime residence, the unfinished Palazzo Venier dei Leon, the impressive collection of modern art spans the major movements of the 20th Century including Cubism, Futurism and Surrealism. Here you will find all the great masters of the 20th Century, including Picasso, Brancusi, Mondrian and more. The gardens are full of jasmine trees and sculptures from Max Ernst, Henry Moore and Giacometti.
Hours: Wednesday – Monday 10am – 6pm, closed Tuesdays and December 25
Admission: Adults €14, Seniors €12, Students under 26 €8, Children under 10 free