Museums in Europe
Can you really call your holiday ‘historic’ if it doesn’t include visiting a museum or two? Our list of the best museums in Europe cover restored palaces, ancient art galleries, Rococo exhibitions... and even one that’s dedicated to cats! A fascinating selection.
Two words: Gustav Klimt. Belvedere is an essential part of his story - the Vienna-born artist, alongside others, founded the museum in 1903 and helped mould it into the greatest collection of Austrian art it is today. Two of his Golden Period masterpieces are on permanent display, including the gold-flaked Kiss (Lovers) and Judith. Contemporary exhibitions rolling into 2019 include six funky floor installations from American artist Polly Apfelbaum and tentacle-themed ceramic works by David Zink Yi.
Albertina Museum, Vienna
Gustav Klimt’s wondrous works at Belvedere might be the first museum to spring to mind when you think of Vienna, but art-lovers who venture to Albertina Museum are rewarded with a varied and outstanding selection of works. Some of its mainstay masterpieces include art by Monet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna is the epitome of everything an art museum should be, and includes incredible installations and exemplary exhibits. The range and breadth of artwork they house not only allows visitors to explore different periods of history up-close, but incorporates modern technologies and exclusive events that makes the museum itself feel continually fresh, no matter how many times you visit.
The Museum of Art Fakes, Vienna
This completely off-the-wall art experience shouldn’t be missed. The Museum of Art Fakes is stuffed with replicas made by famous forgers, this (ironically) one-of-a-kind gallery is totally unforgettable.
Where to stay: The hosts at Hotel Stefanie consider Albertina the best museum in the capital. We consider Hotel Stefanie the best hotel in the capital. It may have been around for over four centuries, but the Austrian haven’s hospitality is always one step ahead.
Bruges’ lace-makers aren’t the only creative geniuses to grace the city - its artists have wowed for centuries. Groeningemuseum, located in the Groeninge district, is home to world-famous Flemish Primitive paintings. Art buffs will love masterpieces by Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling and Hugo van der Goes, alongwith neoclassical paintings by Duvivier, Ducq and Kinsoen.
3D Museum, Bruges
View some of the characters from Europe’s best-loved art in a completely new way, including those from the world-famous ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymous Bosch, at Bruges’ 3D Museum. Here, painted people that were once confined to the canvas have been made ‘real’, transformed into sculptures by expert visual artists from all around the world.
Where to stay: Slick city living meets nostalgic charm at Flanders Hotel. A splendid boutique base, the Bruges-based gem is within walking distance of the UNESCO-certified city and its museums (including Groeningemuseum). Expect a glorious indoor pool, summery gardens and 50 elegantly comfortable rooms.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Strasbourg
Invested in art history? This Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is for you. This grand glass structure contains an amazingly in-depth historic collection, which includes important works covering the most impactful art movements, from impressionism to surrealism. You’ll even spot paintings by Monet and Picasso, here, as well as contemporary contributions to the art world, like graphic art displays and exhibitions dedicated to emerging talent.
Where to stay: As with the museum, classic and contemporary influences coexist in harmony at the Hotel Le Bouclier D’Or. Based in a UNESCO World Heritage site – Le Petite-France – this charming hotel meshes original architecture with modern technologies, culminating in a stay that’s equal parts atmospheric and convenient.
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Ansbach
Ansbach is famous for its painters and porcelain. The city is Rococo through and through, with hidden art and architecture at every turn. The biggest and best museum is Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Here you’ll find everything from rare folk masks to paleolithic hand-axes - and of course, greats such as Dürer, Cranach and Rembrandt. For something completely different, the German Toy Museum is a hop, skip and a jump away – not just for kids.
Where to stay: The medieval-meets-modern Hotel Schwarzer Bock sits amid all of these weird and wonderful Ansbach museums. The historic hotel and inn dates back to 1100 and is also within walking distance of Kaspar Hauser Museum and Margrave Gardens.
Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf
Museum Kunstpalast is undoubtedly one of Düsseldorf’s most awe-inspiring attractions, and a great sightseeing spot for every type of culture lover. Enjoy a range of artistic genres and eras all under one roof, including – if you time your visit right – a huge range of events such as concerts, festivals and plays, which the building hosts throughout the year. It’s a brilliant place in which to embrace culture and the arts throughout the ages, from works that are centuries old to modern performances
Where to stay: The only inhabitable castle in Germany, Schloss Hertefeld is an unmissable hotel. Owned by the same family for 800 years, it’s lived through centuries of German history, and guests can enjoy a majestic stay in its historic cross vaults, tower and more. A truly one-off experience.
One for outdoor lovers. Müritzeum is a mesmerising jumble of nature and multimedia, providing the best introduction to Mueritz’s wind-in-your-air countryside. At the heart of it all, of course, is Lake Müritz: the second-largest lake in Germany. Children and adults alike will have fun exploring the exhibitions, which focus on the fascinating local flora and fauna.
Where to stay: Another Müritz local, Schlosshotel Klink sits right on the edge of Germany’s sparkling beauty. With a sprawling park area, impossibly white beach and adjoining yachting harbour (with boat rental), there’s no grander castle to stay in while visiting the area.
Hunt Museum, Limerick
Out of all of the museums in Europe, the Hunt Museum arguably has one of the most unique origin stories. It was founded by a couple of antique dealers and advisors, John and Gertrude Hunt, who over the course of their lifetime collected around 2,000 works of art and antiquities. Wanting to preserve their life’s work, they campaigned tirelessly to create the Hunt Museum as we know it today. Now, its eclectic collections – which feature everything from paintings to artefacts from Greece, Rome and Egypt – are a testament to the founders’ wide-ranging historic interests, as well as their passion and grit.
Where to stay: No.1 Pery Square Hotel and Spa peeks out from behind the trees at People’s Park. Considered one of the country’s most characterful hotels, it contains fourteen bespoke bedrooms that have been individually named after Irish poets and writers. You’ll also find a spa in the basement vaults… quite the serene (and singular!) experience.
Something a little different. Based in Merano, the Women’s Museum is a round-the-clock look at culture and history from a female viewpoint. Exhibits showcase everything from the representation of female ideals (from the 19th century until now) to fashion and books.
Where to stay: Dating back to 1152, Hotel Castel Rundegg is like stepping back in time to an old-age Mediterranean holiday. Only, today you’ll get all that historic glamour with the added bonus of cosmopolitan luxury - saunas, steam baths, beauty treatments and lip-smacking South Tyrolean cuisine.
Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum, Palermo
Theatre and museum culture combine at The Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum. Founded in 1975 by the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions, it contains over 5,000 items, including marionettes, hand puppets and shadow puppets from around the world: helping to preserve the art of puppetry, in all of its forms. In this spirit, the museum hosts events throughout the year to highlight its collections, too, including the Festival di Morgana, which features puppet performances and exhibits from international artists
Where to stay: Villa Lampedusa is located only twenty minutes by car from the heart of Palermo. There’s plenty to admire about this country mansion, from its stunning frescoes to huge glass observatory. What could be more romantic than stargazing in the Italian countryside?
Gipsoteca di Antonio Canova, Possagno
One of Italy’s most astonishing museums resides in Possano: the Gipsoteca di Antonio Canova. This museum centres around the work of the famous Neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova. Explore some of his magnificent masterpieces, and see where he was born and artistically inspired during your visit. Take special note of the Gypsotheca, which contains the original plaster cast models of some of his most famous works.
Where to stay: Accommodation-wise, you can’t get much better than Villa Cipriani. This five-star hotel is filled with luxuries to make your trip feel extra special. Book a room with a terrace to enjoy panoramic views of the stunning valley, enjoy a Turkish bath, take a dip in their outdoor pool and much more.
The World of Hat, Riga
It might be tiny, but this unique ethnique museum The World of Hat in UNESCO-crowned Riga is home to one of the largest collections of traditional and ethnic headwear in the world. From Thai hats covered in coins to bonnets made from human hair, it’s one of the more unusual things to do in Europe and makes for a perfect photo opportunity: lots of the headgear can be tried on.
Where to stay: Conveniently located in the centre of Riga is Metropole, a 19th-century bolthole with world-class service and forward-thinking facilities.
Cats Museum, Kotor
From tabbies to tortoiseshells, the curious Cats Museum is dedicated to the furry residents of Kotor’s Old Town. Back in 168 BC, felines flooded the town after being left behind by trading ships. The museum itself it small, but it’s stuffed with everything from cat coins to cat writings to cat postcards from WW1. Art-wise, you’ll see cats rescuing humans, cats selling Rolex watches… even cats breaking the sound barrier. Added bonus - your entry fee (one euro) will go towards the lovely feline locals themselves.
Where to stay: You’ll have the Bay of Kotor as your backdrop at Hotel Cattaro - a perfectly genteel retreat that makes the ideal base for the city’s plentiful sightseeing spots and museums.
National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon
Once a former palace, National Museum of Ancient Art provides a riveting insight into history from the Middle Ages, right through to the 19th century. Ponder Portugal through the years, stare deeply into religious paintings and gaze in wonder at the palatial art stash within. If you only have time for one piece, make it the Panels of St. Vincent, six astonishing paintings by Nuno Gonçalves.
Where to stay: Designed by famous Portuguese modernist architect Cassiano Branco, Hotel Britania is a work of art in itself. Capturing the glamour of the 1940’s, a stay here is like stepping back in time to the spirit and soul of the era. From the cork floors in bedrooms to the Portuguese artworks adorning the bar, every detail surprises, delights, and makes you feel right at home. In alternative, Solar Do Castelo is a pocket of old-world charm among fast-paced Lisbon life. It sits the walls of São Jorge Castle, where the old kitchens of Alcaçova Palace once stood. Expect 18th-century elegance blended into 21st-century luxe… and the odd peacock.
Berardo Museum, Lisbon
A city break to Lisbon will no doubt include a gallery trip or two. Berardo Museum is a stunning experience, with over 900 contemporary works to discover including pop art-style painter Valerio Adami, Irish artist Francis Bacon and American minimalist Carl Andre. As well as a remarkable permanent collection, the gallery regularly hosts exhibitions from both national and international artists.
Where to stay: Once you’ve filled up on modern art musings, head east along the Lisbon coastline to Solar Do Castelo. Within the walls of São Jorge Castle, the boutique hotel is built on the site of a 17th-century palace – bringing luxurious romance to the historic heart of Lisbon.
National Gallery, Ljubljana
There are lots of reasons to visit the vibrant capital of Slovenia, and the National Gallery is certainly one of them. Most recently renovated in 2016, this well-kept institution contains artwork from the 1200s to the modern day, and thanks to its range of events and projects, appeals to art lovers of all ages. Plan your visit around their calendar to attend lectures, concerts and other events, and take advantage of the several tour options the museum offers to gain expert knowledge on its fascinating exhibitions.
Where to stay: Make sure that the small but mighty Antiq Palace is waiting to welcome you, after. This boutique property offers twenty-four hour concierge service, three lounge bars and several handy facilities, ensuring your stay is comfortable from start to finish. The building has great historical significance, too, having first been mentioned in records dating back to the sixteenth century.
Zürich’s Kunsthaus should be next on your list. This museum makes it a priority to teach you everything it can about art as you make your way through its various exhibitions, in which modern art scholarship sits alongside their cultural and historic displays. Grab some tickets and get a taste of what you’re in for by checking out their interactive tours.
Where to stay: Marktgasse Hotel is one of the jewels of the city’s old town, particularly if you consider yourself a foodie. The hotel’s restaurant, IGNIV, takes an untraditional approach to fine dining centred around the concept of sharing: an exclusive culinary experience you won’t want to skip. Peppered throughout the hotel are, also, cosy and intimate lounge areas, including a library and salon: perfect for winding down in after an energised day in the city