Best Art Museums in the US

Best Art Museums in the U.S. – American Art Museums to Explore

The United States is a great place to start if you are looking to explore some of the world’s most prestigious art museums with massive collections! Luckily for you, we have narrowed down the list of the best art museums in the U.S. for you to explore. In this article, we will journey through the best art institutions that America has to offer, as well as what makes these museums the “best of the best”. Read on for more about these world-class museums!



Prominent Art Institutions of the USA: Understanding the Post-Pandemic Nature of Art Museums

With over 35,000 art museums to explore in the United States, it is not hard to see why people find it difficult to narrow down the search for the “best of the best”. The most popular art institutions in America are, in fact, national museums that house artworks, artifacts, and other important pieces of literature and art objects that contribute to the education of the public.

It is first and foremost of importance to anyone invested in the nature and programs of art institutions to develop an understanding of the role of the art museum alongside the location and context it was established in.

Many famous art institutions focus on the research and development of the art collections that they house and are often supported by specialists from other disciplines. Art forms a significant part of the culture and therefore, one will always find some piece of art history in a national museum. The nature of art museums differs according to the population and location to which they cater.

Top Biggest Art Museums in AmericaPostcard featuring an illustration of the Detroit Institute of Arts (between 1930 and 1945); Tichnor Brothers, Publisher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The art collection of a museum is also one of the most important aspects of a museum since it is not only a reflection of the museum’s core principles, but it is also a reflection of the histories it chooses to represent, which sets the tone for the institution’s future. Each year, there are approximately 79.6 million international tourists that visit America and of those 79.6 million, over 3 million are flocking to cities like Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and New York to see the “best of the best” cultural arts institutions. With these figures in mind, it is also ever more so valuable to reframe the context in which attendance for art museums is affected, given the impact of the pandemic on the art sphere and the general discussion of the importance and role of such art institutions in the Contemporary period. Many art museums took a hit during the lockdowns in 2020, which meant that a few doors were closed for up to 200 days.

Some of the art museums that remained popular included the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which its popularity grew by 197% in recovery from 2019, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, which also rose to a 90% growth spurt in popularity. Most of the famous and large art museums in New York also saw a decrease in the number of visitors since 2019, yet still succeeded in recovery after 2020. This brings us back to the importance of the art collection and curatorship when it comes to recovering from external influences. Many art museums rely on their collection to generate foot traffic and thus maintain their popularity.

Other supporting programs such as educational events, public activations, and collaborations with other institutions also help boost an institution’s popularity and recognition. Below, we will dive into some of the best art museums in the U.S. that have the most stunning and intriguing collections known to date.



An Introduction to the Top 15 Best Art Museums in the U.S.

Some of the art museums covered below have not been averse to the occasional controversy surrounding the sourcing, curation, and acquisition of artifacts or art objects. It is important to note the heritage of an institution that shapes a collection and how such institutions curate and organize the individual art histories they house. Below, you will find a list of the top 15 best art museums in the U.S. that are worth the trip! The list also includes some of the biggest art museums in America.

Best and Biggest Art Museums in AmericaInterior view of the National Museum of Art Washington DC; Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UKCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Est. 1870)

LocationNew York City, New York, United States
Date 1870
Founder(s)John Taylor Johnston (1820 – 1893), Eastman Johnson (1824 – 1906), Howard Potter (1826 – 1897), and George Palmer Putnam (1814 – 1872)
Architect(s)Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates
Size m2204,386.6
Visitors Per Year2.11 million

With more than 490,000 artworks sourced from around the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) is one of the best American art museums to date and also tops the list of the biggest art museums in America. The MET’s collection spans more than 5,000 years of art history and was initially founded on the idea of creating an institution that functioned as both an art gallery and a national institution. With tons of art to browse through, the MET is also one of the most visited art museums in New York. Its collection also holds many fascinating paintings, sculptures, drawings, and art objects from the antiquities period, including works by master European artists and a wide collection of Asian art. One could spend a lifetime browsing through the collection alone!

In addition to the diverse collection and ongoing development surrounding the politics of the institution, the museum received up to 2.1 million visitors per year, before the impact of the global pandemic with visitor rates for art museums dropping across America in the years 2020 and 2021.

Famous American Art MuseumsThe Metropolitan Museum of Art; Hugo Schneider, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The Philadelphia Museum of Art (Est. 1876)

LocationPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Date 1876
Founder(s)William L. Elkins (1832 – 1903) and John Howard McFadden (1850 – 1921)
Architect(s)Julian Abele (1881 – 1950) and Howell Lewis Shay (1884 – 1975)
Size m2Over 92,903
Visitors Per Year437,348 (2021) with up to 800,000 (2017)

In 1876, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is one of the most iconic American art museums, was established and is currently regarded as one of the biggest art museums in America. The institution has its roots in the late 19th century and was formerly identified as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. The museum then evolved with the contributions and efforts of John Howard McFadden and William Elkins, who donated their massive collection of Western art to establish a formal institution to house them.

Historical American Art MuseumsPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, USA; dconvertini, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are a fan of the iconic Sylvester Stallone and his fictional movie character Rocky Balboa, you will love the treasured landmark and bronze Rocky Statue (1980) by Thomas Schomberg, situated adjacent to the iconic Rocky Balboa steps. In addition to the popular statue, the museum’s collection holds over 200,000 artworks that showcase Philadelphia’s culture and history, including a selection of pottery, textile artworks, and embroidery that accentuate the collection.


The Art Institute of Chicago (Est. 1879)

LocationChicago, Illinois, United States
Date 1879
Founder Charles L. Hutchinson (1854 – 1924)
ArchitectRenzo Piano (1937 – Present)
Size m252,200
Visitors Per YearAround 1.4 million

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and top art museums in the U.S., which hosts just over 1.4 million visitors per year. The museum was established in 1879 and was home to a fine arts school. The building’s current history is founded on the traditional homelands of “the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples”, also known as “the council of three fires” and boasts a wide collection of more than 300,000 artworks from Chicago-based collectors and global artists.

Today, the museum, along with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is recognized as two of the United States’ leading fine arts institutions dedicated to the ongoing contextualization of the present.

Find American Art MuseumsArt Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA; Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The Cincinnati Art Museum (Est. 1881)

LocationCincinnati, Ohio, United States
Date 1881
Founder Charles West (major donor) (1810 – 1887)
ArchitectJames W. McLaughlin (1834 – 1923)
Size m21,700
Visitors Per YearUp to 346,000 (2019)

This Globally-renowned art museum is among the best of the best when it comes to showcasing its collection of over 67,000 artworks spread across six millennia. The Cincinnati Art Museum was established in 1881 and holds on its walls a diverse collection of art from Egypt, Asia, Africa, Greece, Europe, and the Americas. The museum is also famous for its collection of decorative artworks, which further solidifies the museum’s reputation as one of the most famous art museums with a comprehensive collection.

Top American Art MuseumsThe front facade of the Cincinnati Art Museum in the Eden Park neighbourhood of Cincinnati, Ohio; Jason Zhang, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The decorative arts and design department alone contain more than 7,000 artworks by talented figures such as Kitaro Shirayamadani and Paul de Lamerie. The establishment was first built on state tax funds to boost economic growth in the area and promote cultural development in Ohio. Today, the Cincinnati Art Museum is considered to be one of the oldest art museums in the U.S. The museum is highly rated by visitors and is famously known to carry works by European masters such as Sandro Botticelli, Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Jorge Ingles, Vincent van Gogh, and many other pioneers of painting in art history.


Minneapolis Institute of Art (Est. 1883)

LocationMinneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Date 1883
Founder DeWitt Clinton Morrison (1842 – 1913)
Architect(s)Kenzō Tange (1913 – 2005) and Michael Graves (1934 – 2015)
Size m210,498
Visitors Per YearOver 500,000

The Minneapolis Institute of Art is one of the top art museums in the U.S., established in 1883 as an extension of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts. The museum officially opened its doors in 1915 when it held its first exhibition with around 450 artworks, which were on loan for the opening. Since then, the museum has garnered a collection that spans an estimated 20,000 years with artwork from all corners of the globe.

The collection currently stands at over 89,000 artworks and even hosts some of the best Contemporary special exhibitions that discuss themes from popular culture and film to politics and art from deep history.

Top Art Museums in the US HistoryMinneapolis Institute of Arts HDR; Alvintrusty, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum is Minnesota’s best art museum that is dedicated to the development, collection, and preservation of art for the community. The museum’s seven curatorial departments encourage visitors to explore more than American art and introduce visitors to art from Asia as well as Africa and new media. Some of the most praised works include art by Do Ho Suh, Nick Cave, and Vincent van Gogh. In addition to the amazing collection and its dynamic Contemporary exhibitions, the museum is also invested in promoting child-friendly programs and performances to boost the experience of young art lovers.


The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Est. 1900)

LocationHouston, Texas, United States
Date 1900
Founder William Clifford Hogg (1875 – 1940)
Architect(s)Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 – 1969), Rafael Moneo (1937 – Present), and William Ward Watkin (1886 – 1952)
Size m215,236
Visitors Per Year1.68 million

One cannot mention the best art museums in the U.S. without mentioning the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, abbreviated as MFAH, which was founded in 1900 and has since remained one of the most iconic museums in Texas. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is regarded as the 12th largest art museum in the world and contains an impressive collection of 70,000 artworks, which cover the past 5,000 years. The magnitude of the museum’s collection spans artwork from six continents and prides itself as an institution built on inclusivity and the promotion of diverse global histories that provide an interesting context for the review of art history.

Explore Biggest Art Museums in AmericaThe Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas (United States); Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum was designed by William Ward Watkin in a Neoclassical style, which was an iconic decision since it was also the first museum in Texas. One has plenty of floor space to cover across three buildings: the Audrey Jones Beck, the Caroline Wiess Law, and the Nancy and Rich Kinder buildings. Across these buildings, one can further explore the many wonders of the collection, including select temporary exhibitions across the two decorative arts house museums. Some of the gems from the art collection include works from different art movements and eras, including American art, Pre-Columbian art, European painting, French Impressionism, Modern Latin-American art, Asian art, and Islamic art. On a national basis, the MFAH ranks in the top 10 for attendance.


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Est. 1903)

LocationBoston, Massachusetts, United States
Date 1903
Founder Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840 – 1924)
ArchitectWillard Sears (1837 – 1920) and Renzo Piano (1937 – Present)
Size m26503
Visitors Per YearAround 200,000

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was founded in 1903 and built by Isabella Stewart Gardner who was a famous art collector and philanthropist of the 19th century. The museum is most famous for making headlines as being the site of one of the most notorious art heists in art history and having works by artists such as Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer stolen. The museum’s first major acquisition was a painting by Vermeer called The Concert (c. 1664), which was purchased by Gardner in 1892. Gardner was also the first American to acquire a master painting.

The collection currently stands at more than 7,000 archival objects with over 7,500 paintings, textile artworks, ceramics, and approximately 3,000 rare books that cover the artistic history of 19th century France, the Italian Renaissance, and art from Asia, America, and the Middle East.

Best Art Museums in the USCourtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; Sintakso, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The Cleveland Museum of Art (Est. 1913)

LocationCleveland, Ohio, United States
Date 1913
Founder(s)Jeptha Wade (1811 – 1890) and Horace Kelley (1819 – 1890)
Architect(s)Rafael Viñoly (1944 – Present) and Marcel Breuer (1902 – 1981)
Size m255,000
Visitors Per Year769,000 (2018)

Established in 1913, the Cleveland Museum of Art is among the best art museums in the U.S. that hold works by many popular master’s in art history, including Caravaggio, Goya, Rubens, and the works of post-Impressionists and Modern artists. One of the main prized possessions of the museum’s collection includes a sculpture by the ancient Greek artist Praxiteles of Athens and a Hittite figure dating to 1600 BCE.

Explore American Art MuseumsCleveland Museum of Art; Erik Drost, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Hittites were an Indo-European-speaking culture that migrated to Anatolia around the 3rd millennium BCE and was the first ancient group to utilize iron as a weapon. The basalt Hittite sculpture is considered “exceptionally rare” and is one of the best artworks from the museum’s Near Eastern art collection. Visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art should be more than exciting for any studious learner of ancient Near East sculpture!


The Museum of Modern Art (Est. 1929)

LocationNew York City, New York, United States
Date 1929
Founder Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1874 – 1948), Lillie P. Bliss (1864 – 1931), and Mary Quinn Sullivan (1877 – 1939)
Architect(s)Yoshio Taniguchi (1937 – Present), Edward Durell Stone (1902 – 1978), and Philip Goodwin (1885 – 1958)
Size m265,775.3
Visitors Per YearUp to 7 million

The New York Museum of Modern Art colloquially referred to as the MoMA, is among one of the best art museums in the U.S. that are dedicated to showcasing diversity across social, artistic, and creative spaces. The museum was originally established in 1929 to challenge the traditional 20th-century museum ideals and host an exhibition space that focused on Modern art. The MoMA is praised as one of the world’s “greatest” Modern art museums and is situated in Manhattan. The institution has had many redesigns and refurbishments throughout the 20th century under architects such as Philip Johnson and Cesar Pelli, which increased the building’s capacity to host more visitors and cater to its ever-growing collection of artwork from over 90,000 artists. The MoMA also hosts an incredible library featuring more than 320,000 artist books and individual artist files, which make for a diverse study of the history of Modern and Contemporary art.

Additionally, the MoMA’s collection holds more than 200,000 paintings, including architectural artwork, performance-based work, sculpture, drawings, and films.

Explore Top Art Museums in the USMuseum of Modern Art; Woland de Ades, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Museum of Modern Art San Francisco (Est. 1935)

LocationSan Francisco, California, United States
Date 1935
Founder Grace L. McCann Morley (1900 – 1985)
Architect(s)Mario Botta (1943 – Present)
Size m216,000
Visitors Per YearUp to 1.2 million (2017)

The Museum of Modern Art San Francisco, also called the SFMOMA, is one of the most visited art museums in the United States and receives up to 1.2 million visitors each year. Its massive floor space of 16,000 m2 will keep you on your toes as you adventure through one of the finest collections of Modern and Contemporary art in America, including the applied arts, photography, design, media, and sculpture. You can find the “best of the best” in the heart of San Francisco, which receives more than 25 million tourists per year alone.

The Biggest Art Museums in AmericaSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California; Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the most loved artworks from the museum’s collection include works by Mark Rothko and Ellsworth Kelly among many other important artists of our time. The Museum of Modern Art San Francisco also hosts many interesting exhibitions spread across several floors of gallery space and is a great place to capture the essence of the arts and culture of San Francisco.


The National Gallery of Art (Est. 1937)

LocationConstitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C, United States
Date 1937
Founder Andrew W. Mellon (1855 – 1937)
Architect(s)I. M. Pei (1917 – 2019) and John Russell Pope (1874 – 1937)
Size m246,369
Visitors Per Year1.71 million

The National Gallery of Art in Washington D. C. is one of the best art museums in the U.S. that holds over 150,000 permanent artworks spanning photography, sculpture, printmaking, painting, and the decorative arts. The museum is also recognized as holding the largest collection of European master art from the Kress collection. In addition to the museum’s impressive collection of Renaissance and Modern art, the museum is ninth on the list of the world’s most visited art museums and only second to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum was established privately in 1937 and has since been one of the top institutions in America that were free of charge to the public.

You can expect to see works by renowned artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Calder, and Rush Harrison Kress.

Best American Art MuseumsEast Building of the National Gallery of Art photographed from the West Building; Difference engine, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (Est. 1939)

LocationNew York City, New York, United States
Date 1939
Founder(s)Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959), Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861 – 1949), and Peggy Guggenheim (1898 – 1979)
ArchitectFrank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959)
Size m232,516
Visitors Per YearUp to 953,925 (2016) with 154,000 (2020)

Perhaps one of the most well-known art museums in not only the U.S. but the world – the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is among the “best of the best”. Founded by Frank Lloyd Wright, Peggy Guggenheim, and Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1939, the 32,516 m2 museum was established on the premise of innovation within the interpretation of Modern and Contemporary art from artists around the world. The mega museum also has many other branches in international waters, which have also produced high-performing fellows, including 220 Pulitzer and 112 Nobel prize winners.

The Top Art Museums in the USInterior of the Guggenheim Museum; H.R. Tsua, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The magnificent spiral building is one that every art lover in New York should visit at least once. Dedicated to the appreciation of the present and recent Modern history, the Guggenheim’s collection holds work by renowned artists that include the likes of  Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, and many other brilliant Modern artists.


The J. Paul Getty Museum (Est. 1953)

LocationLos Angeles, California, United States
Date 1953
Founder Jean Paul Getty Sr. (1892 – 1976)
Architect(s)Richard Meier (1934 – Present)
Size m287,328.8
Visitors Per YearUp to 2 million (2016)

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles’ most loved art museum, harbors artwork from the Middle Ages to the Modern and Contemporary periods. The J. Paul Getty Museum spans two main buildings: the Getty Center and the Getty Villa Museum. The museum was established in 1953 and is one best explored along with one of the museum’s docents. The Getty Museum has also not been one institution free from the clutches of controversy. In the late 20th century, the museum’s former curator was involved in a tax manipulation scheme involving the acquisition of priceless antiquity-era artifacts. The Getty Center can be found in Brentwood and contains the collection’s European art. The Getty Villa Museum will take you back to the past with its Roman architecture and broad collection of ancient Greek and Roman artwork.

Some of the most famous paintings in the museum include works such as Danaë (1623) by Orazio Gentileschi and Vincent van Gogh’s Irises (1889).

Biggest Art Museums in AmericaAn aerial view of the Getty Center museum in Brentwood, Los Angeles; Jelson25, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Est. 1961)

LocationLos Angeles, California, United States
Date 1961
Founder Michael Govan (director) (1963 – Present)
Architect(s)William Pereira (1909 – 1985), Bruce Goff (1904 – 1982), Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (Est. 1967), and Peter Zumthor (1943 – Present)
Size m232,280 and 10,000 gallery space
Visitors Per YearUp to 1.5 million (2016)

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is among the top art museums in the art hub of California. The West Coast is known for its expanse and variety of art, which boasts more than 1,000 art museums in California alone. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is one of the most visited art museums in Los Angeles, which holds an estimated 150,000 artworks from the past and the Contemporary era.

American Art MuseumsLos Angeles County Museum of Art in California; Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The LACMA is also celebrated for its collection of Modern art from the 20th century, including art by artists such as Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse, and Franz Kline. The museum is situated within the Miracle Mile and was first established in 1961 as a separate institution from the LA Museum of History, Science, and Art. By 1965, the museum relocated to its current location in the Wilshire Boulevard complex, which was designed by famous American architect William Leonard Pereira. The museum saw its collection heighten in the 1980s and is currently identified as the largest art institution in the Western U.S.


The Broad (Est. 2015)

LocationLos Angeles, California, United States
Date 2015
Founder(s)Eli Broad (1933 – 2021) and Edythe Broad (1936 – Present)
Architect(s)Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Gensler (Est. 1981)
Size m211,148
Visitors Per YearUp to 900,000 (2019)

Founded by Edythe and Eli Broad, the Broad is one of the most famous art museums in Los Angeles. The museum was founded in 2015 and although it is a recent establishment, the institution has since gained a prominent place among some of the highest-ranking art museums in the United States. The Broad was designed by the architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro and holds more than 2,000 artworks in the collection.

Top Art Museums in the USThe Broad Museum; Eric Garcetti, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The collection may not seem as large compared to other prestigious institutions like the MET, but the Broad is definitely a museum worth visiting for its careful selection of Modern art from the mid-20th century. The museum’s design is also admired for its honeycomb-like structure with more than 300 skylights, thus making the museum’s building a piece of art too! Annually, the Broad receives more than 900,000 visitors who flock to its doors to see works by famous Modern artists like William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu, Roy Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman, and Jeff Koons among many others.


By keeping up with the “best of the best”, you not only get to explore the many creative ways that these institutions and their dynamic departments present art history, but you can also identify trends and insights into different parts of the world through a cultural lens. The next time you are museum hopping, be sure to include these top 15 best art museums in the U.S. on your list! Other top institutions that you can still visit in the U.S. include the M. H. de Young Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Purpose and Function of an Art Museum?

The purpose and function of an art museum are related to the founding and goal of the institution, which is generally aimed at the collection, preservation, and cultural or scholarly development of the collection it houses for the public. An art museum may promote art education through a variety of programs designed for the public, as well as special fellowships or opportunities for academics, researchers, and artists to get involved. The art museum’s main function is to educate its visitors about the collection it holds and offer a cultural experience for the general public, while maintaining and updating its collection and relationships with other institutions.


What Is the Most Visited Art Museum in America?

The most visited art museum in America is the Metropolitan Museum of Art located in New York City, which received over 1.96 million visitors in 2021.


What Is the Largest Art Museum in the United States?

The largest art museum in the United States is New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is made up of an area spanning 58,816.91 m2. The MET is also the fourth-largest art museum in the world.


What Two Cities in the United States Have the Best Art Museums?

The best art museums in the United States can be found in the top two art hub cities: Los Angeles and New York City, which contain some of the U.S.’s best and largest art museums. Los Angeles and New York City are among the highest-ranking cities for exploring art from around the world, including art from Europe, Africa, and Asia, as well as Modern and Contemporary art.


What Are the Top Three Best Art Museums in the United States?

The top three best art museums in the United States include the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago in Illinois. These top three art museums are considered to be popular for their extensive art collections and influence over the art sphere.