Museums—whether they celebrate art, history, science, popular culture, or just stuff in general—remain among the most popular attractions in cities around the world.  There’s no mystery as to why:

  • Many top museums offer free or low-cost admission and are much more economical than, for example, a theme park.
  • For art in particular, the only place to truly experience the most famous works is live, in person, at the museums that house them.
  • The best museums are professionally curated—every exhibit is a learning experience.
  • Many museums have compelling mobile apps that guide visitors in multiple languages and offer additional information and activities that you can’t get just by walking around the museum.

And of course, museums are popular for tourists and locals alike. Here, in no particular order, are some of the most-visited museums in the world:

The Louvre

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No surprise here: Any museum that’s home to the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo is going to draw a crowd. With over 8.5 million visitors per year, the Louvre in Paris consistently ranks number one on any list of popular museums. Tracing its origins as a museum to the French Revolution, the Louvre is also among the oldest museums in the world.

Fun fact: Prior to the Nazi occupation of France in 1940, almost every item in the Louvre’s collection was packed up and sent into hiding in various locations throughout France, returning after France’s liberation in 1945.

National Museum of China

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Right behind the Louvre in annual visitors is China’s National Museum in Beijing, the product of the 2003 merger of the National Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, both located in Tiananmen Square. At over 2 million square feet, the museum is also one of the largest in the world.

Fun fact: The National Museum also houses some of the oldest anthropological artifacts in the world, including fossils from the Yuanmou Man, dating back 1.7 million years.

National Air and Space Museum

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Taken together, the various museums under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., would smother all other museums in the world in terms of annual visitors, but most rankings separate the individual museums. Top among them is the National Air and Space Museum at over 7 million visitors per year.

Fun fact: The National Air and Space Museum houses not only real aircraft and spacecraft but the model of the starship Enterprise used in the original Star Trek television series.

British Museum

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No list of museums would be complete without London's venerable British Museum, founded in 1753 as the world’s first public national museum. Among its most famous pieces is the Rosetta stone, the key that unlocked the mystery of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Fun fact: If you spent one minute looking at each item in the British Museum’s permanent collection, it would take over 15 years of nonstop viewing to see everything.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

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“The Met,” as it is popularly known, sees over 7 million people come through its doors each year. They come to see the New York City museum’s extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities, paintings by European masters, and the vast American Wing, among many others.

Fun fact: Among the most popular features of the Met is its collection of over 375,000 digitized images of public-domain works in the museum’s collection, made available on the museum’s web site.

Vatican Museums

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Enjoying a resurgence in popularity since the election of Pope Francis, the Vatican Museums host over 6 million visitors every year. Its collections include ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts; works of art from ancient to modern; and of course the Sistine Chapel, whose ceiling was painted by Michelangelo.

Fun fact: The Vatican Museums got their start with a single piece of Greek sculpture (“Laocoön and His Sons”), purchased by Pope Julius II upon its discovery in 1506 and promptly put on public display.

This, of course, is only a brief sampling of the most popular of the many thousands of museums around the world. There seems to be a museum for just about everything, from the nerdy Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. to the risqué Museum of Eroticism in Paris. Whatever your taste and wherever you travel, there’s bound to be a museum that interests you, whether as a primary attraction or as a “plan B” to while away a rainy afternoon.