50 World Class Museums To Enjoy Online For Free
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
24. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City US
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.
25. The Capitoline Museums, Rome Italy
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.
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.
Titled RAFFAELLO, the exhibition was planned to run from March 5th – June 2nd. But it was closed after several days. Fortunately a free virtual tour is now available. It's narrated in Italian. But you can still admire the beauty of the art works.
27. Ara Pacis | Museum of the Altar of Peace, Rome Italy
The Ara Pacis Museum is dedicated to a single item -- an ancient arch dedicated to the gods. The arch was built by soon-to-be emperor Augustus, who had just pacified the barbarians. This victory marked the beginning of the Pax Roman, a 200 year golden age where arts and architecture flourished.
Opened in 2006, the altar-museum is housed in a modern pavilion designed by American architect Richard Meier. Examine all the intricacies of the altar with the museum’s virtual tour here.
28. The Acropolis Museum, Athens Greece
In 2009, Athens opened a gorgeous new museum, the Acropolis Museum.
Designed by French-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, it's a $200 million state of the art rebuttal to the British Museum's claim that Athens had nowhere to properly store and display the Elgin Marbles, disputed statuary from the Parthenon's frieze.
The Acropolis Museum recreated the Parthenon friezes for display. It's also home to 5,0000 year old artifacts excavated from the Acropolis, home to the Parthenon. Both the ruins and the neighboring museum are free to explore virtually on Google Maps.
29. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples Italy
Located in the Capodimonte Palace, the Capodimonte Museum houses a collection of fine and decorative arts mostly from Naples. The core of its collection was compiled by the powerful Farnese and Bourbon families.
The Capodimonte Museum has works by Caravaggio, Masaccio, Titian, Raphael, El Greco, Bruegel, and Sebastiano del Piombo (who also decorated the Villa Farnesina in Rome). The museum's most famous painting is probably The Gypsy Madonna by Correggio. You can visit the museum's online collection here.
Thanks to the museum's collaboration with Google Arts & Culture, the cultural and artistic gems of the Capodimonte Museum can be admired online from home. The online Google Art & Culture platform contains over 536 works of art. The Google Street View tool allows visitors to enjoy 14 themed stories and virtual tours of museum masterpieces.
30. Picasso Museum, Barcelona Spain
Founded in 1963, the Picasso Museum in Barcelona was launched with a donation of 574 works by Picasso’s secretary, Jaime Sabartés. In 1970, Picasso himself donated 800 more pieces to the museum.
In this museum, you'll find one of the most extensive collections of his work, 4000 pieces, certainly the best collection in Spain. The best part of the museum is where it's housed -- in five glorious adjoining medieval palaces.
You can browse the highlights of the museum's online collection here, though the images are rather small. You can take a virtual tour of the palaces here. The palace tour takes you on a private guided tour of the museum's architectural elements.
31. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston MA
Ah, this is one of my favorite museums in the United States. If you're a museum or art lover, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a must see site in Boston Massachusetts. I just adored it.
The museum houses gorgeous paintings from the Italian Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age in an exquisite Venetian-style palazzo. The collection was assembled by Gardner herself, who was a wealthy maverick and avid art collector.
Gardner carefully curated and installed her collection amid the three floors of intimate gallery spaces and the interior courtyard with a skylit roof. Each room is named and sumptuously decorated. In effect, the museum is a total work of art with Gardner as the installation artist. You'll find pieces by John Singer Sargent, Rembrandt, Francisco Zurburan, Titian, and Sandro Botticelli.
Here's my complete guide to the Gardner Museum. You can also take a virtual tour through Google Arts & Culture. If you've never watched the fascinating introductory video on the museum's homepage, now's the perfect time.