• Leslie

50 World Class Museums To Enjoy Online For Free

the Louvre Museum and I.M. Pei Pyramid
the Louvre Museum and I.M. Pei Pyramid

Here's my guide to the best virtual museums you can visit online at home from the comfort of your couch or computer.

Many world class museums have released some or all of their collections online. Or they've partnered with Google Arts & Culture to make collections accessible in high resolution. Some museums have used the technology that powers Google Street View to let you zoom in to see floor plans or specific art works.

50 World Class Museums To Enjoy Online At Home

If you can't travel for any reason, this is a splendid time to travel virtually to a museum of your choice. There's an almost dizzying array of virtual options. It's not quite like walking through a museum. But it has its own strange pleasures.

The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, 1485-86
The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, 1485-86 -- star of Florence's Uffizi Gallery

World Class Museums With Online Collections and Virtual Tours For At Home Viewing

Here's my list of virtual tours for 50 amazing museums:

1. Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy

Art lovers are rushing to the Virtual Uffizi Gallery Facebook page. Launched in 2020, the page already has over 50,000 followers.

The Uffizi is one of Europe's best museums, housing priceless treasures of Italian Renaissance art collected by the powerful Medici family. The Uffizi has the world's best collection of Gothic and Renaissance art.

This is where you can admire Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus and Primavera, Laocoön and his Sons, and Raphael's Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals. Install the Google Arts & Culture App to explore the entire collection.

Click here for my comprehensive guide to the Uffizi Gallery and here for must know tips to prepare for your museum visit.

the British Museum in London
the British Museum in London

2. British Museum, London England

In London's artsy Bloomsbury area is one the world's foremost museums, the British Museum. Opened in 1753, it's a universal museum, holding a massive collection of the world's most important historic artifacts. It seeks to provide a cross cultural understanding of art owned by "humanity."

But it's owned by humanity in name only. Many of the goodies on display date from England's reign as a major world super power. It's utterly amazing how much stuff the Brits gobbled up, with their obsessive fervor for quirky collecting. Like the hotly disputed Elgin Marbles taken from the Pantheon.

The British Museum allows virtual visitors 360 views of the Great Court, the ancient Rosetta Stone, and the Egyptian mummies. You can also find hundreds of artifacts on the museum’s virtual tour that can be enlarged, with links to curator descriptions of the pieces.

the Solomon Guggenheim Musee in NYC
the Solomon Guggenheim Musee in NYC

3. Soloman R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Google’s Street View feature lets visitors virtually tour the Guggenheim’s famous spiral staircase designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. From there, you can see incredible masterpieces from the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Modern, and Contemporary art periods.

Visit the museum's popular online collection. There, you'll find some of the Guggenheim's most famous works, including Vasily Kandinsky's Composition 8 (the most popular piece in 2019), Jackson Pollack's Alchemy, and Edouard Manet's Before the Mirror.

You can also check out the Guggenheim's blog, with in-depth analyses of artists and art works.

Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol, 1875

4. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art is home to some of the most amazing paintings in the world. Plus, as a Smithsonian branch, it's free to visitors.

But since you can't visit right now, the museum features two online exhibits through Google. The first is an exhibit of American fashion from 1740 to 1895. The second is a collection of works from Johannes Vermeer, the famous Dutch Baroque painter.

The museum also has a rotating collection of museum highlights online. The most famous pieces will wow you -- Pablo Picasso's Family of Saltimbanques, da Vinci's Portriat of Ginerva de' Benci, Vincent Van Gogh's Roses, Claude Monet's Woman with a Parasol, and Mary Cassat's The Boating Party.

Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, 1904
Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, 1904

5. Musée d’Orsay, Paris France

Ah, this is one of my favorite museums in Paris, housed in a beautiful converted railway station. You can't visit the beautiful museum right now. But you can virtually see dozens of famous works from French and European artists who toiled in Paris between 1848 and 1914. You'll see artworks from Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, and so many other artists.

In particular, the d'Orsay is a Van Gogh treasure trove. You can inspect his Self Portrait, Starry Night, Dr. Gachet, The Church at Auvers, and The Siesta. Other masterpieces at the d'Orsay include Manet's Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia, Paul Cezanne's Card Players, Claude Monet's Houses of Parliament, and Auguste Renoir's Moulin de la Galette.

Click here for my comprehensive guide to 25 must see masterpieces at the Orsay and here for must know tips for visiting the popular museum.

Michelangelo, The Rebellious Slave, 1513  -- originally intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II
Michelangelo, The Rebellious Slave, 1513 -- originally intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II

6. Louvre, Paris France

The Louvre is Paris' iconic landmark and the world's most visited museum. This treasure trove of history is closed right now. Unfortunately, it doesn't have an arrangement with Google Arts & Culture.

But the Louvre does offer free virtual tours of some of its important exhibits, like the Egyptian Antiquities, Napoleon's Rooms, the Medieval Louvre, and works by Michelangelo. Via my blog, you can also explore the Louvre's underrated masterpieces or what I think is the best painting in the Louvre, Theodore Gericault's Raft of the Medusa.

If you're a Beyonce fan, her recent music video featured pieces from the Louvre. Now, you can follow the Beyonce Louvre Trail.

READ: Louvre Survival Tips

Paul Cezanne, Portriat of Ambroise Vollard, 1899
Paul Cezanne, Portriat of Ambroise Vollard, 1899

7. Paris Museums Collections

In a collective effort, Paris museums have made 100,000 images of artworks from Paris museum collections freely available to the public. This includes digital downloads of masterpieces by artists including Rembrandt, Gustave Courbet, and Eugène Delacroix.

Here's the digital collections portal.

the Spy Museum in Washington D.C.
the Spy Museum in Washington D.C.

8. The Spy Museum, Washington D.C.

The Spy Museum is always a crowd pleaser. But if you'd like to avoid crowds, you can just visit online.

The Spy Museum gives you 360 degrees views of every room. It's also got an amazing Pinterest account, featuring photos of its precious artifacts. The Spy Museum even has a list online of the 10 most important pieces in its collection, including the Enigma Machine that Germany used in WWII to secretly communicate.

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509 -- in the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican Museums
Raphael, School of Athens, 1509 -- in the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican Museums

9. The Vatican Museums, Vatican City

I recently visited the Vatican Museums twice during a trip to Rome. The Vatican Museums are the public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican City complex. The works in the Vatican are invaluable crowning glories of Western art. They tell stories of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the history of the Catholic Church, and the birth of the Renaissance.

You can take an online virtual tour of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, the Pio Clementino Museum, and the Raphael Rooms.

I've also written a lengthy piece on 18 of the the Vatican's must see masterpieces. And a piece on Michelangelo's Last Judgment, which is on the Sistine Chapel altar wall.

the Dali Theater and Museum in Figueres Spain. The building looks like it has goosebumps.
the Dali Theater and Museum in Figueres Spain. The building looks like it has goosebumps.

10. The Dali Theater Museum, Figueres Spain

This is a delightfully eccentric single artist museum in Salvador Dali's hometown of Figueres Spain. Designed by Dali himself, the pink bread encrusted museum is a surrealistic object itself.

I've written a complete guide to the Dali Museum. But you can also see some of its most famous pieces online.

Check out the Mae West Room, the Labyrinth, the Rain Taxi, the courtyard of golden Oscar statues, and the painting of Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea (a clever double image).

Van Gogh, Almond Blossom, 1890
Van Gogh, Almond Blossom, 1890

11. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam Netherlands

The Van Gogh Museum boasts the largest collection of paintings by the Post-Impressions master Vincent Van Gogh, who's known for his colorful sunflowers, vivid landscapes, and searing portraits. Online, you can see panoramic views of the museum rooms.

The museum offers almost 1500 images of paintings to inspect. There's also a 360 virtual tour of its Sunflower Gallery, with paintings from five international museums.

Rembrandt, The Night Watch, 1642
Rembrandt, The Night Watch, 1642

12. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Netherlands

If you love Dutch art, this is your chance to check out the preeminent source. The Rijksmuseum is well represented on Google Arts & Culture, with 150,000 items on display.

You'll find masterpieces by Rembrandt (The Night Watch, The Jewish Bride), Vermeer (The Milk Maid), and Franz Hals (The Wedding Portrait) on their virtual tours. There's also a Google Streets View of its grounds.

Van Gogh, Irises, 1889
Van Gogh, Irises, 1889

13. J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, Los Angeles US

Designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Richard Meier, the world famous Getty Center in southern California opened to the public in 1997.

The Getty Museum has an outstanding online virtual tour with Google Arts & Culture. It even has an outdoor virtual tour, which uses photography and time-lapse videos to enliven the experience.

There are 15,000 paintings and artifacts to see with accompanying audio explanations. Check out the Getty's most famous pieces -- Van Gogh's Irises and Rembrandt Laughing, Renoir's La Promenade, and the Lansdowne Herakles sculpture from Roman antiquity.

Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory, 1931
Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory, 1931

14. Museum of Modern Art, New York City US

The venerable MOMA was the first museum solely dedicated to modern art. It has 84,000 pieces art on display online.

It's seminal masterpieces include works by Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, and the ever popular Impressionists. MOMA's most famous piece is Van Gogh's Starry Night.

The Marilyn Diptich, Andy Warhol, 1962
The Marilyn Diptich, Andy Warhol, 1962

15. Tate Modern, London England

The Tate Modern is my favorite museum in London, a city overflowing with marvelous free museums. Opened in 2000, it's housed in the former Bankside Power Station. The industrial look seems fitting for its cutting edge art.

Among other modern art masterpieces, you can clap your eyes on Andy Warhol's Marilyn Diptych, Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, Amadeo Modigliani's Peasant Boy, Pablo Picasso's Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, Georgio de Chirico's the Uncertainty of the Poet, and Henri Matisse's The Snail, and Salvador Dali's Lobster Telephone.

You can navigate the Tate Modern via Google Street View or explore its digitized masterpieces online. The Tate is to launch free online film tours of Andy Warhol (April 6) and Aubrey Beardsley (April 13) exhibitions on their YouTube channel.

Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin of the Rocks, 1483
Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin of the Rocks, 1483

16. National Gallery, London England

London's National Gallery is an incredibly diverse museum, featuring 2,000 European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries. You'll find familiar names like Rembrandt, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, J.M.W. Turner, Monet, and Van Gogh.

READ: The Monet Guide To Paris

The most famous painting on display is Leonardo da Vinci's The Virgin of the Rocks. But Van Gogh's Sunflowers also draws hordes of admirers. Wherever you are, you can take a virtual tour.

the Velázquez entrance of the Prado Museum in Madrid Spain
the Velázquez entrance of the Prado Museum in Madrid Spain

17. The Prado Museum, Madrid Spain

The Prado Museum in Madrid is Spain's cultural jewel. It boasts one of Europe's finest and most sensuous painting collections. The artistic anchors of the Prado are Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, and Peter Paul Rubens. But there are also masterpieces by Titian, Bosch, and El Greco. Here's my complete guide to visting the Prado.

Now you can Prado in your PJs. If you want to take a virtual tour of the Prado, you can. The Prado recently broadcast a live video in which its director, Miguel Falomir, gave a 20 minute talk on Tintoretto’s famed Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet.

The Prado also has a 360 virtual tour of its Rubens exhibition and an impressive online collection of over 10,000 works of art. Smarthistory has a large cache of YouTube videos exploring many of the Prado's best works. The Prado also does a live one hour show on Instagram, also posted on Facebook, every morning at 10:00 am.

courtyard of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, with a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture
courtyard of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, with a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture

18. The Reina Sofia, Madrid Spain

Opened in 1992, the Reina Sofia is Madrid’s modern art museum. Its collection is comprised entirely of art work from 1900 to the present.

There's a special focus on Spain's favorite sons, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, and their respective schools of Cubism and Surrealism. The star of the Reina Sofia is Guernica, Picasso’s grim depiction of the seemingly casual Nazi bombing of Guernica Spain in 1937.

The Reina Sofia recently tweeted a video showing the array of content it has online.

a famous portrait of England's most notorious king  -- Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of King Henry VIII of England, 1537
Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of King Henry VIII of England

19. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid Spain

Housed in the Villahermosa Palace, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is named after art collector Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza.

The museum covers every major period in Western art, from 13th century Italian Renaissance to 20th century Pop Art. It also has an important collection of 19th century American paintings not found elsewhere in Europe.

The museum offers virtual visits to both its permanent collection and temporary exhibits. You can also browse through thematic tours that center on fashion, food, love, and wine.

READ: Best Art Museums in Spain

head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the Museum of Natural History
head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the Museum of Natural History

20. Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. US

Washington D.C.’s Museum of Natural History is one of the most visited museums in the world. You can inspect some of its wonderful treasures with an online virtual tour of the entire grounds.

Viewers head into its rotunda and receive a comprehensive 360 room by room walking tour of its most exceptional exhibits, including the Hall of Mammals, Insect Zoo, and Dinosaurs and Hall of Paleobiology.

In general, the Smithsonian museums have also released 2.8 million images into the public domain. They're searchable, shareable, and downloadable via the museum’s Open Access platform. The Smithsonian will continue to digitize and publish their collections.

the State Hermitage Museum, housed in the Winter Palace of the former Russian Emperors
the State Hermitage Museum, housed in the Winter Palace of the former Russian Emperors

21. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg Russia

The State Hermitage is one of the world's best museums. It's the second largest museum in the world. It's so large that it's impossible to tackle in one real life visit anyway. Instead, you can explore its artsy endless halls with the Google Art Project guide.

Alternatively, check out the Hermitage website, which boasts a large digital archive with very convenient navigation. In the Highlights section, you'll find the Hermitage's most significant pieces: Faberge eggs, sculptures, and jewelry.

Some of its world class paintings include Rembrant's Danae and The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Matisse's Dance, Titian's Danae, and Kandinsky's Composition VI. Other Russian museums with significant online collections can be found here.

Boy Blowing Bubbles, Édouard Manet, 1867, Gulbenkian Museum
Boy Blowing Bubbles, Édouard Manet, 1867, Gulbenkian Museum

22. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon Portugal

If you're pining for Portugal, Lisbon's Calouste Gulbenkian Museum has excellent online viewing options. Thanks to a wealthy oil magnate, this gem of a museum is stuffed with a stunning range of treasures spanning 4,000 years. It's one of the world's largest and best private art collections, compiled over 40 years.

The museum has a 360 tour of the Founder’s Collection and the Modern Collection galleries. It also has an extensive online collection.

READ: 4 Day Itinerary for Lisbon

atrium of the beautiful Tate Britain in London
atrium of the beautiful Tate Britain in London

23. Tate Britain, London England

The Tate Britain may be London's most beautiful museum. It boasts a domed rotunda, beautiful spiral staircase, terrazzo floors, and Victorian details. Built in the late 19th century, the Tate Britain underwent an extensive renovation completed in 2013. The result is an ultra pretty museum experience.

The Tate Britain is home to J. M. W. Turner’s watercolors and Francis Bacon’s abstract religious triptychs and screaming popes. Some of Tate Britain's most famous paintings are here, including Sir John Everett Millais’ Ophelia, John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, and John Constable’s Flatford Mill. Of special note, there are 8 rooms dedicated to Turner, one of Britian's greatest and most famous artists.

And you can enjoy it all online with Google Arts & Culture.

Antonio Canova, Venus Italica, 1822–23
Antonio Canova, Venus Italica, 1822–23

24. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City US

The Met is the largest museum in the United States. It has an extremely good online collection. There are over 200,000 works on Google Arts & Culture.

The Met also offers a 360 tour, consisting of 6 videos. The tour showcases different spaces inside the Met from unique angles.

Check out the Met's best pieces -- Georgia O'Keefe's Cow's Skull, Van Gogh's Self Portrait with a Straw Hat, Monet's Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, Jacques Louis David's The Death of Socrates, and Antonio Canova's famous sculpture Venus Italica.

big chunks of a domineering Emperor Constantine, pieces of the Colossus of Constantine
big chunks of a domineering Emperor Constantine, pieces of the Colossus of Constantine

25. The Capitoline Museums, Rome Italy

If you love ancient Greco-Roman sculpture, the Capitoline Museums have a virtual tour of its floorplans and collections. You can also examine its exhibits on Google Arts & Culture.

The Capitoline Museums is Rome's oldest museum complex, sitting atop a beautiful Michelangelo-designed square, the Piazza dei Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill. It gives you a unique look at Rome's ancient imperial history. If you're a history or archaeology buff, this is a must see site in Rome.

READ: 5 Day Itinerary For Rome

The Capitoline Museum boasts an enormous array of ancient Roman, medieval, and Renaissance art -- statuary, paintings, and relics. The most famous pieces are the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, Dying Gaul, Medusa, Capitoline Venus, Spinario, and Bust of Commodus. Click here for my complete guide to the Capitoline Museums.

Raphael, Self Portrait, 1506
Raphael, Self Portrait, 1506

26. Raffaello Exhibit, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome Italy

2020 marked the 500 year anniversary of Renaissance master Raphael's Death. In honor of the great artist, Rome planned a landmark exhibition. 200 paintings had been gathered from all over Italy, from the Vatican Museums, and on loan from major museums worldwide.