From Van Gogh’s post-impressionist masterpieces to Rodin’s iconic sculptures, art museums in America house some of the world’s most cherished works of art. As a result, visiting them promises a cultural experience that lets you bask in the beauty of human creativity and expression.
Yet with so many excellent museums available, knowing where to go first can be challenging! To help, we’ve compiled a list of 7 of the best art museums in the U.S. So, whether you’re a seasoned art enthusiast or a curious newcomer, read on to discover which American art museums are truly worth traveling to and visiting.
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7 Best Art Museums in the U.S.
1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York City, NY
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (NYC) is known as “The Met.” It is a remarkable venue that houses one of the planet’s largest and most comprehensive art collections. Visitors can explore 17 curatorial collections and over 2 million objects spanning five millennia of art history.
You’ll see famous paintings by European masters, peruse an American Wing full of works by renowned U.S. artists, and witness ancient sculptures from Egypt, Greece, and Italy. Prefer modern and contemporary pieces? Don’t worry. The Met has an entire department devoted to them. Combine those attributes with its grand architecture and stunning galleries, and you have an unmissable museum for any self-respecting art enthusiast. During your next trip to NYC, spend a day in The Met and you won’t regret it.
2. The Art Institute of Chicago – Chicago, Illinois
Head to downtown Chicago to visit another world-renowned art museum with a vast and diverse collection. Founded in 1879 as a museum and fine arts school, The Art Institute of Chicago has long been a haven for creatives. With 300,000 pieces on display, you could spend days here and only scratch the surface of what’s available.
The Institute has everything from Chinese bronzes and Japanese prints to a Modern Wing full of modern and contemporary pieces. It’s also the permanent home of numerous notorious paintings, such as Van Gogh’s The Bedroom, Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. All things considered, this art museum in the Midwest is hard to beat.
3. The Getty Center – Los Angeles, California
With its hilltop setting and an architectural design fit for the villain in a James Bond movie, the $1.3 billion Getty Center is one of America’s most iconic art museums.
It’s popular, too. Approximately 1.8 million visitors walk through its doors each year to enjoy the unique architecture, beautiful fountain-filled grounds, and panoramic views – not to mention its extensive collection of European paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, photographs, and other notable works. The tram visitors take from the parking lot to the top adds extra fun to proceedings, topping off a memorable museum experience any art lover is sure to relish.
4. The Philadelphia Museum of Art – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Welcome to one of the oldest art museums in America. Located in the heart of Philly, the Philadelphia Museum of Art dates back to 1876 and has become a beloved cultural landmark with an impressive collection of over 240,000 objects.
With a focus on American, European, and East Asian Art, the museum is home to countless iconic pieces, such as Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés and Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Visitors can also admire its collection of arms and armor and its costumes, textiles, and decorative arts. With its neoclassical architecture, stunning galleries, and vibrant exhibitions, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a cultural hotspot in the Northeast and another of the best art museums in the US.
5. The Menil Collection – Houston, Texas
The Menil Collection offers world-renowned art in a serene and intimate setting. Founded by art collectors John and Dominique de Menil, it features over 17,000 works from around the world, with incredible catalogs of Surrealist, Modern, and Contemporary art, among many others.
Indeed, Visitors can explore everything from Medieval relics and Indigenous art to contemporary installations, all housed in a tranquil space that encourages quiet contemplation. With its minimalist design, thoughtful curation, and commitment to providing an immersive art experience, the Menil Collection isn’t just one of the best art museums in the US – it’s a hidden gem that begs to be explored.
6. SFMOMA – San Francisco, California
Located in the bustling SoMa district of San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – SFMOMA, for short – is a vast and dynamic museum that houses one of the planet’s most extensive collections of modern and contemporary art.
With over seven floors of exhibits and over 36,000 works, it features everything from paintings and sculptures to photography and multimedia installations. Likewise, visitors will enjoy works by famous artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Andy Warhol, as well as up-and-coming creators from diverse backgrounds. Combine that with its sleek architecture, engaging programs, and commitment to innovative art, and SFMOMA is a must for any art lover.
7. The National Gallery of Art – Washington, DC
No list of the best art museums in the U.S. is complete without Washington’s National Gallery of Art. Established in 1937 by an act of Congress, it houses a collection of over 150,000 works spanning from the Middle Ages to the present day.
You can visit the Gallery’s West and East buildings for free all year round to peruse their paintings, prints, sculptures, photos, and decorative arts, among many other wonderful works. Highlights include Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci, Raphael’s The Alba Madonna, and Edouard Manet’s The Railways. However, depending on when you go, you may also find special exhibitions, concerts, film screenings, and educational programs to enjoy.
Visit the Best Art Museums in the U.S. Today
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to the National Gallery in Washington, the best art museums in the U.S. offer a unique opportunity to see some of the finest artwork ever made. So, whether you’re a long-time art lover or it’s only just piqued your interest, make your budget, and plan your trip. You won’t regret visiting one or all of the options on this list.
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Danny Newman is a digital nomad, blogger, and content writer from the UK. A passionate traveler with a perpetual itch in his feet, he’s always on the hunt for the next big adventure.