I’ve only really begun appreciating museums and galleries in the past 5 or 6 years, but in that time I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some of the world’s best and most famous, as well as some less obvious gems. While I certainly don’t claim to know a lot about art, I do believe I can recognise a world class collection. And as far as museums go, I think even though many range in quality, it is always the subjective worth the somebody gains from having visited that counts most. So, here are my favourites (in no particular order):

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The Tate Modern, London

The Tate Modern’s most definable feature when I visited was the long Shibboleth titled crack in the floor of the Turbine Hall. Art? I guess. Interesting and original? Definitely. It changes every six months, meaning something new to gawk at each time you visit. The collections themselves won’t be to everyone’s tastes (it’s often been said that a brick can get in the Tate) but in my opinion they are mostly excellent. If in London why not wander in? It’s free.

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The Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

Tucked away between Circular Quay and the Rocks district, this quiet building certainly isn’t the most obvious thing that tourists might stumble upon when visiting Sydney. It is, however, a wonderful way to while away any afternoon. The poignancy and sheer oddity of many of it’s exhibitions is striking, and it was this mix of shock and astonishment that impressed me. Again, it’s free.

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The State Hermitage, St.Petersburg

The State Hermitage can be found within the green painted half of Palace Square. Inside, lavishly decorated halls display exquisite works of art. Grand archways and red carpet staircases complement the ornamental floors and ceiling high windows. For interior architecture alone, no where comes close to the sparkling chandeliers, luxurious rooms and rich displays of eminence that is contained within the State Hermitage Museum. Entry is 350 rubles.

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British Museum, London

The British Museum astounds from the moment you walk in the front door. Immediately you are faced with the immaculate sight of the Great Court and it’s uniquely angled glass roof. There’s a large wide circular reading room in the centre which is almost absent of outside noise. Then there are the  many interesting collections. Every corner of the world has it’s own exhibition hall or in some cases, entire wing. It’s just a fascinating place to visit. And free, too.

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The Pergamon, Berlin

The Pergamon Museum is really quite remarkable. The first thing your eyes meet upon entering is the dramatic Ancient Greek Altar of the same name – a relic  often included in Wonders of the World lists. Further in you’ll find a compilation of precious Islāmic and Middle Eastern artifacts that were essentially dredged up and dragged to Germany in the early 1900’s – one of the most famous examples being the Ishtar Gate of Babylon.

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The Vatican Museums, Rome

Located inside the walls to the Vatican City, many people rush through here on their way to the more famed Sistine Chapel. But it’s worth slowing down and taking a look around because few other displays in the entire world come even slightly close to the grandiose, rich, lavish, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, bountiful, spiritual beauty of this place. The sculptures, paintings, murals, and fresco’s are otherworldly, dreamlike and beyond comprehension. It would take years to study each, let alone create. So don’t just walk past it all.

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The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

I wouldn’t say the Uffizi was disappointing. I would just say three hours waiting in a queue does tend to dampen ones enthusiasm. Nonetheless the Uffizi does have one of the world’s best collections, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael (i’ll resist the obvious). If in Florence, it is a must. Just be sure to buy tickets in advance.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Having come off the back of visiting quite a number of museums and art galleries by the time I’d got to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I expected to be seasoned to the experience. Instead I was blown away. Even for non art lovers, it’s a place worth visiting – if not for the exhibits then at least for the architecture of the main hall and glass roof indoor courtyard at the back. Both are ideal places to have an intellectual discussion with a stranger, or simply watch the world go by. The collections are, of course, also spectacular, meaning this is definitely a “must not overlook” spot in New York.

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The Edo-Tokyo Museum, Tokyo

While our prime motivation for visiting this museum was admittedly a certain Osamu Tezuka exhibition (which itself was awesome), the rest did prove stimulating in it’s own right. A large portion of the museum is essentially a mini reconstruction of Edo (the former name of Tokyo), including scale models of buildings from that period. Off to the side there’s also a nice collection of older Japanese art. Not a requisite visit if you’ve not seen much of modern day Tokyo, but a pleasing escape if you already have.

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The National Gallery, London

Unfortunately my time around the National Gallery was rather rushed. It was also extremely crowded, something which made appreciating the vast accumulation of paintings  challenging to say the least. I did however see enough not only to warrant the visit, but also to encourage me to return someday and have a proper rummage (maybe without the implied touching).

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The Neues Museum, Berlin

The Neues Museum stands on the aptly named Museum Island – a UN World Heritage Site right in the middle of Berlin. There is an eccentric and rather offbeat assortment of sculptures in the grassy area in front of the main building. The theme – large, naked people. The museum itself houses an impressive collection of Egyptian Artifacts, including the  iconic ‘bust’ of Nefertiti. Maybe not essential if you’ve limited time in Berlin, but certainly a worthwhile stop if you’ve a few hours spare.

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The Science Museum, Hong Kong

A slightly offbeat inclusion it may be, but any less worthy of a visit it is not. A simple fact: Hong Kong is humid and hot. Everybody, even locals, need to escape the heat sometimes and be entertained in the process. That’s where the Science Museum comes in. It’s centrally located (in Kowloon), it’s cheap, and it’s a whole afternoon of guaranteed enjoyment (if you are OK competing with scrums of hyper children that is). 80% of exhibitions are interactive. These include contorting mirrors, puzzles, science experiments and even plastic food. Yes, it’s all a bit random and crazy. But certainly a lot of fun.

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The Palazzo Pitti, Florence

Far less popular than the Uffizi, but probably no less deserving of a visit, the Palazzo Pitti (located inside the Pitti Palace, on the other side of the River Arno), is host to an exquisite assembly of Renaissance paintings as well as some modern art and sculptures. The sheer detail and eloquence of what’s on display is more than deserving of it’s reputation.

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The Science Museum, London

This really is what a Science Museum should be like. Five floors of copious displays, engrossing exhibitions and a cool gift shop. The interactivity and engagement is second to none. Probably one of the best museums of it’s kind.

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The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

A wonderful place to escape the wind, rain or cold, this also happens to be Scotland’s most popular art gallery and museum. It’s exhibitions are very wide ranging, from contemporary and fine art pieces, to life size fossil displays and exhibits on life in the natural world (as well as homegrown corners for the people of Glasgow). It really has something to keep any age or area of interest happy on a blowy winter afternoon.

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The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi

The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is home to many artifacts, as well as a large area of outdoor historical displays. It may be a rather outlandish choice for inclusion, but it is surprisingly interesting and engaging, not to mention the best museum (apparently) in all of IndoChina. They even have indigenous water puppet shows going on outside when there are enough visitors.

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More to follow…

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