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Susan's Favorite Museums: Great Art and Excellent Visitor Experiences

Why visit museums? Because places like this exist!

For anyone who visits museums regularly, they have their favorites. Some people's lists might be museums in their town. For others the list might be museums around the world. For others, their favorite museums might be all natural history museums, or all historic house museums. This is my list of favorite museums as of now. This is not a list of best museums, just one's I like with notes as to why. As I visit new museums, I may need to create a new list.

by Susan Marie Ward

Interior of the National Museum of Korea. A museum to spark curiosity!
National Museum of Korea, Seoul, South Korea

1. National Museum of Korea (Seoul, South Korea)

Big, beautiful, professional, and excellent seating! I would go back to Korea just to see this museum!

A grand museum in size and scope! The National Museum of Korea is so big you can't easily get the whole front facade in your photo! It's the size of 56 football fields, spread over three levels. Object labels are written in Korean, English, and Japanese. The museum's collection numbers over 300,00 objects. The outdoor area has ponds, waterfalls, pagodas, and more. And, my favorite part of the museum is the seating! Not only does the museum have benches in the galleries, but tucked away in sunlit corners are small seating groups, just right for taking a break or sitting and chatting with your companions about the museum or your favorite piece of art. A museum that will spark curiosity and improve wellness! (National Museum of Korea)

Purple flowers and greenery, Arts & Crafts design
Design for a woven textile by Lindsay P. Butterfield, c. 1905. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

2. Victoria and Albert Museum (London, U.K.)

Filled with decorative arts (silver, glass, furniture, textiles, etc.), my favorite type of art, and housed in historically varied architecture!

I love London and I love the V&A! Not only am I a lover of decorative arts but I love eclectic spaces. And the V&A is a conglomeration of buildings and additions and stairways and hallways from a multitude of time periods. A delight to wander within! The V&A is described as "the world's largest museum of applied arts, decorative arts and design" and has a collection of over two million objects. (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Tapestry with a unicorn inside a fence, surrounded by flowers and greenery
Unicorn Resting in the Garden. Metropolitan Museum of Art

3. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, USA)

My "second home" while I was in grad school and the museum where I did my internship.

When you spend a lot of time in a museum, you develop a love and fascination! I did my studies for my MA (Museum Studies and European Decorative Arts) in New York. The MMA was just down the street and I wandered through the galleries and spent hours in the Watson Research Library. I was also an intern here cataloguing Annie Albers workbooks and weaving samples. No matter what you're interested in or intrigued to learn more about, you'll find it at the Met. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Back facade of the largest historic house in America.
Biltmore House, back facade. Asheville, North Carolina.

4. Biltmore Estate (Asheville, North Carolina, USA)

I was curator here and continue to feel connected to the House, the collection, and the historic stories about the property.

Being curator of the largest historic house in America, even if it was years ago, means you love the place! And, Biltmore House provides excellent hospitality! Biltmore is the 19th century home of George Vanderbilt. This 250-room home is filled with the original furnishings and art and is spectacular! In annual planning meetings we use to jokingly debate if the marketing tag line should be, "A big damn house!" Unlike nearly all other museums, it's a for-profit organization with its mission, “The preservation of Biltmore as a privately-owned, profitable, working estate.” I have an annual pass and while my favorite visit it to the house, sometimes I just stop in to wander in the gardens or the grounds. (Biltmore Estate)

Interior of Musee d'Orsay, originally an old train station
Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Photo by Krzysztof Mizera, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Musée d'Orsay (Paris, France)

My favorite time period is late 19th and early 20th century and that's what the Musée d'Orsay is filled with! And I do love that it's in a magnificent old train station!

If you love Impressionists artists, this museum is for you! The museum, right along the River Seine, is filled with art by Monet, Renoir, Manet, Degas, van Gogh, and more. The exhibit spaces range from dramatic open areas, to large rooms, to steel walkways. The architecture is as worthy of contemplation as the art. (Musée d'Orsay)

Dramatic glass entranceway to the Taubman Museum of Art
Entrance to the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Virginia

6. Taubman Museum (Roanoke, Virginia, USA)

I loved happening upon this friendly, creative, intriguing museum in the rather small town of Roanoke, Virginia. An art museum with beauty and fun blended together!

The dramatic, award-winning architecture houses art, a cafe with an outdoor patio, a hands-on learning gallery called Art Venture, a spectacular entrance space, and it's FREE! The hospitality was both overt--friendly, helpful, smiling staff, along with lots of seating, and subtle--tables in the entrance space where people sat and chatted and a grandfather and grandson played checkers. Loved it! (Taubman Museum of Art)

Front facade of the Detroit Institute of Arts
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan

7. Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)

The first museum I ever visited, being that I grew up in Detroit, means of course that I love the Detroit Institute of Arts!

The DIA has one of the largest and most diverse collections of any museum in the country. Highlights of the DIA include Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry fresco series that dramatically fills a whole room, as well as one of my favorites as a child--Kresge Court, a replica of a medieval Italian courtyard! The collection ranges from art that connects to Detroit like Pewabic pottery to ancient Islamic art. This museum is worth visiting for its art, its hospitality, and the way it will spark curiosity in you! (Detroit Institute of Arts)

Once an old library, now the Western Heritage Center in Billings, Montana
Western Heritage Center, Billings, Montana

8. Western Heritage Center (Billings, Montana, USA)

This museum has stuck with me for 30 years! I need to go back! The Western Heritage Center told excellent stories through their exhibits and the staff was amazingly kind!

This museum is housed in an historic library and "tells the stories of the peoples of the Yellowstone River Valley and the Northern Plains." The museum is small with a small staff but they are award-winning and produce intriguing exhibits. To this day I tell about the exhibit where through oral history videos, replicas of letters, and the recreation of old mail boxes, they told about the women who traveled across the country to create the new families, towns, and cities of the West. I was spellbound! They do good work! (Western Heritage Center)

Everyone has different favorite museums based on different interests. What's your favorite museum and why?


Books About Museums, Travel, Culture, & Wellbeing 

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