8 Unique Museums Around the World

Rohan Vasa, Writer

museum of islamic art

A world without art would be a world without beauty. In honor of the original Art Basel (you know, the original event held in Basel, Switzerland) that’s coming up, we have a list of museums for you. Yes, we went outside the box for this one. We would go as far as to say that these unique art museums from around the world are a destination unto themselves.

There are some museums that attract thousands of people a month and for good reason. We’re talking about places like The Met in New York City, The Louvre in Paris, and The Uffizi in Florence. These places have such extensive art and culture that their names alone are synonymous with influence. But, instead of revisiting these cultural institutions again and again (which you should) we are bringing you something different. Our list goes into eight unique museums from eight different regions around the globe. After all, museums that may be lesser known, can also have jaw-dropping collections. We would go as far as to say that these museums alone are reason enough to book a flight. These unique museums are filled with both the beauty and complexity of different cultures and civilizations. So without further adieu, here’s our list of eight unique museums around the world.

Region: North America

City: Houston, Texas

Museum: The Menil Collection

The Menil Collection isn’t in New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago – it’s in Houston, Texas. It’s no surprise that some of the biggest art collectors are based in Texas, so accordingly, they have a world-class museum. This unique museum is actually a neighborhood of art, as a collection of multiple buildings set on thirty acres of land. These five buildings house the collection of co-founders John and Dominique de Menil. The works, collected between the 1940s and 90s, have several types of art from specific areas of history. For example, their collection spans from Medieval and Byzantine to Modern and Contemporary.

They also venture into Surrealism and the Ancient World, including artworks and artifacts from disparate parts of the globe. In fact, this unique museum also has a conservation department that helps provide scholarship, research, and restoration for multiple iconic works.

Region: Central America

Museum: Museo Nacional de Antropología

City: Mexico City, Mexico

You can’t visit Mexico City without spending a day at the Museo Nacional de Antropología. The museum is dedicated to conserving, restoring, exhibiting, and understanding the vast and complex history of the nation. Firstly, it uncovers some of the most important archeological artifacts for all to see. By doing this, the Museo Nacional de Antropología has created a link between present-day Mexico and its past. Secondly, it houses the indigenous heritage of Mexico through a collection that expands both knowledge and tradition. Finally, you can get a sense of the museum’s 45,000 square meter immensity by getting lost in its halls and outdoor displays.

Region: South America

City: Bogotá, Columbia

Museum: Museo del Oro

The Museo del Oro is one of the most famous and fascinating museums in South America. The museum features over 55,000 pieces of gold across multiple artifacts collected from pre-Hispanic Columbia. In fact, this is its claim to fame, and why its name literally translates to “Museum of Gold.” The three floors of the Museo del Orzo depict the role of gold within Columbia’s different indigenous groups. Broken down by region and use, artifacts on display include descriptions in both Spanish and English. Walking through the museum you see different animals rendered in gold from jaguars to eagles. In fact, some of these objects were used for worship and rituals. The point is to show visitors the importance of these artifacts held within different communities. In addition to their collection of gold, there are also objects made from pottery, stone, wood, shells, and textiles.

Region: Africa

City: Cape Town, South Africa

Museum: Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art

Many people visit Northern Africa for the Pyramids and Southern Africa for the safaris to get up close and personal with nature. However, what often gets overlooked is Africa’s present and, more importantly, its future. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art aims to change that. Set in a reimagined silo complex in Cape Town, this iconic building puts African Art at center stage. This unique museum collects, conserves, and exhibits contemporary art from the continent and the African diaspora.

In addition to the permanent collection, there are rotation exhibitions, project spaces, a center for moving images, and educational programs. Moreover, it is a place where Africans can share their own story through modes that are authentic to their identity.

Region: Europe

City: Porto, Portugal

Museum: Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves

Portugal’s neighbors, France and Italy, are widely known for their extraordinary art. But you also find compelling art in Portugal. It’s also not just in Lisbon either, but also in the coastal city of Porto. Here, the winding cobblestone streets and the Douro River transport you back in time. One of the city’s most breathtaking sites is the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves. Designed by award-winning architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, the museum has a sleek minimalist space with fourteen galleries. The Museum is also set in Parque de Serralves and neighbors the Casa de Serralves. Consequently, this creates a dialogue between these three components and makes for a rich experience.

Casa de Serralves is a stunning historic site that has been restored and preserved in its originality. And the park is a sprawling eighteen hectares of scenic paths, groomed gardens, and tons of outdoor sculptures.

Region: The Middle East

City: Doha, Qatar

Museum: Museum of Islamic Art

Qatar is not just the host country of the 2022 Fifa World Cup. It is a modern Arab nation that is worthy of its presence on the world stage. It has the Museum of Islamic Art, one of the biggest collections of Islamic art in the world. This collection comes from three continents, which shows the important role the religion has played across the globe. Some of these artifacts date back almost 1,500 years depicting the history of Islam and its transformation over time. The collection of this unique museum features jewelry, tools, sculptures, textiles, coins, and glass.

It’s interesting that the pieces come from a range of origins right from royal families to common everyday households. Each tells a vital part of the story of Islam and documents the diversity found in its heritage. Additionally, the museum’s iconic waterfront building is art itself; it was designed by the famous architect, I.M. Pei.

Region: Asia

City: Naoshima Island, Japan

Museum: Chichu Art Museum

Off Japan’s southern coast are a series of islands whose whole existence is to exhibit art installations, galleries, and museums. The most famous among them is Naoshima Island. This unique museum occupies a whole island, with a series of art spaces that includes multiple important museums and houses. A number of these buildings were designed by the famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The Chichu Art Museum in particular is an architectural marvel. It is rendered in a brutalist style that is almost entirely underground. There is a play of light and space that creates a tranquil and contemplative atmosphere.

You’ll see a range of prominent artists like James Turell, Walter De Maria, and Claude Monet at the Chichu Art Museum. To visit all of Naoshima you need a few days, so in addition to art, Naoshima has unique hotels as well.

Region: Oceania

City: Wellington, New Zealand

Museum: The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is the national museum of the country. “Te Papa Tongarewa” literally translates to “container of treasures,” and that’s exactly what this is. The collection has five different categories: Art, History, Pacific, Māori, and the Natural Environment. Having all these different categories makes the museum unique and vital to the national history and identity. You can see both ancient artifacts and contemporary artworks all within one space. The museum’s six floors span centuries and have cutting-edge interactive exhibitions and displays.

Additionally, the museum holds the important history and objects of indigenous communities in New Zealand. In fact, in 2003 a formal program began repatriating Māori and Moriori skeletal remains from international institutions. As a result over 600 ancestral remains have been returned making this museum a beacon of New Zealand’s evolution.

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