New York and Paris are often revered as two of the greatest museum cities in the world. The city of love and the city that never sleeps, are bestowed that honor with good reason but there are many more incredible museum cities out there that are not on that two city path.
If you want to see Rembrant's "The Night Watch," you'll have to go to Amsterdam. If you want to inspect the Parthenon's frieze, you'll need to fly to Athens. And if you're looking to view Dali's "Lobster Telephone," you'll need to find a way to London.
Below, we've gathered a list of the 13 other great cities for museum-goers to take in famous and contemporary art. Paris and New York better watch the throne.
According to Frommer's, Mexico City is home to more than 150 museums. These range from European art museums, to museums devoted to communication and learning, to science focused museums and more. In Mexico City, you'll find artifacts from the Aztec, Olmec and Mayan cultures, as well as Frida Kahlo's Blue House and the largest collection of decorative art in Latin America at the Franz Mayer Museum.
Few cities can rival Athens when it comes to historic importance. This seat of ancient western culture was the birthplace of so many traditions, inventions and theories that still define society today. A visit to Athens also proves that the classical foundations of Greek life are still proudly showcased by today's Athenians, particularly at the Acropolis Museum. Devotees of classical culture, archaeology and numismatology (the study of coins) also have cause to rejoice in Athens, as there are all kinds of museums devoted to those very topics.
London is well-known as a theater hotspot, but its visual art scene is just as important. It has the highest number of non-national museums (160), and the highest percentage of residents attending museums and galleries (53.6%), at least according to CNN Travel. The best part? Most of the city's museums are free. London also has done an excellent job of preserving the city's history, so it's a great destination for culture vultures and art history buffs alike.
While Washington, D.C. is best known as a political center, it is also home to many of the United States' great historic monuments and educational museums. This is thanks primarily to the Smithsonian Institution, which, as the largest museum complex in the world, includes 19 museums and galleries as well as the National Zoological Park and more.
Notable Museums: the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of American History, the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of the American Indian, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and more.
While San Francisco is home to one of the finest art museums on the West Coast, The de Young Museum, its other museums truly shine. Here, there are science museums with rainforest domes and interactive museums devoted to human perception, as well as various museums concentrating on many different experiences and identities. Its museum culture is diverse, just like the city itself.
Notable Museums: the California Society of Sciences, the de Young Museum, the Exploratorium, the GLBT History Museum, the Asian Art Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora, the Walt Disney Family Museum and more.
Del Prado is one of the world's great art museums, and its influence is global. Its home is Madrid. While Barcelona gets credit for being Spain's creative center — and it is — Madrid's museum culture has gravitas. Most of Madrid's museums are primarily fine arts hubs, focusing on European art and often Spanish paintings in particular.
The great Dutch masters were hugely influential throughout art history, and much of Amsterdam's museum culture reflects that. The Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands' largest artistic and historical collection, is the obvious starting place. In addition, the recent opening of The Stedelijk, a modern and contemporary art museum, indicates that Amsterdam's appeal as a cultural capital will only continue to grow.
Despite suffering a crushing loss in January when Cairo's prestigious Museum of Islamic Art was damaged in a car bombing, Cairo's museum culture is still very strong and very unique. As the cradle of ancient Egyptian culture, Cairo has deep historic ties, which many museums emphasize. Many other museums highlight Egypt's rich religious history and material culture, like the Coptic Museum and the Museum of Islamic Ceramics.
Johannesburg does not have as many museums as the other cities on this list, but the ones it does have are well worth visiting. Perhaps because of South Africa's unique and troubled recent history, the museums here take on the weight of palpable gravitas. Museums that focus on Apartheid-related history, like the Mandela House and the Apartheid Museum, can't be missed.
Notable Museums: MuseuMAfrica, the Apartheid Museum, the Mandela House, the Hector Pieterson Museum and the Johannesburg Art Gallery.
Doha is still establishing itself as a presence in the international museum scene, but its influence, particularly in the field of Islamic art, is growing. Its I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art is an iconic and substantial step in the right direction. Doha's most popular museums cover primarily Islamic art, though the focus ranges from ancient to modern and contemporary work.
The State Hermitage Museum is the Russian equivalent of Versailles, and puts St. Petersburg firmly on the map as a museum destination. The Hermitage was founded by Catherine the Great, and occupies the buildings and palaces that were traditionally home to the tsars and tsarinas. Another destination in St. Petersburg is The Kunstkamera, Russia's oldest state museum. Its focus is anthropology and ethnography, and it provides an interesting scientific counterpoint to the Hermitage.
Berlin has 18 national museums, the third-highest number of national museums in a city in the world (it follows Shanghai, which has 27, and Paris, which has 24). While many of these museums are fine arts focused, others are devoted to history, culture, politics and science. Berlin's numerous museums explore topics from ancient Egyptian art to World War II and Holocaust history.
Notable Museums: the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, the Deutsches Historisches Museum, the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, the Jewish Museum Berlin, the Pergamon Museum, Martin-Gropius-Bau and more.
Statistically, Shanghai is one of the world's most cultured cities. Shanghai has 27 national museums, and 47.5% of its population visits museums and galleries — the second highest percentage globally. From art to science and technology, Shanghai's museums are both plentiful and engaging. As the global balance of power shifts eastward, major Asian cities like Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong are poised to usurp the historic dominance of cities like Paris and New York.