Millions of people trek to famous museums like the Louvre in Paris and Tate Modern in London. But what you’ll find in Oslo and Riga might also be worth a visit.

An exhibit of brains in jars at the Rīga Stradiņš University Anatomy Museum, Riga, Latvia.

An exhibit of brains in jars at the Rīga Stradiņš University Anatomy Museum, Riga, Latvia. (Photo by Sabīne Bērziņa)

More than nine million people troop through the Louvre in Paris each year, most of them to see the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile. Another eight million go to the National History Museum in Washington, D.C. where they see dinosaurs and the famously cursed Hope Diamond.

But the most visited city for museums by far is London, where almost 30 million people go to just six museums: The British Museum, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, Tate Modern, The Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The chart of the most visited museums, compiled by the European Museums Networks, lists a rather small number of cities: Besides Paris, Washington and London are New York, Vatican City, Madrid, Beijing and Taipei.

Here at News Decoder, we are all about finding important stories in underreported places. And we feel that museums are important places to learn about history, art, science and culture.

We felt compelled to ferret out museums worth visiting in less visited locales. “While the masterpieces in museums like the Louvre in Paris or the Met in New York are absolutely worth seeing, cities are full of lesser-known treasures that can be an adventure to find,” said Lori Zimmer, co-author with News Decoder Managing Director Maria Krasinski of “Art Hiding in New York” and “Art Hiding in Paris.”

We surveyed our staff, who collectively have lived in Taiwan, Malaysia, France, Ireland, Latvia, Sweden, Switzerland, Serbia, Spain, Australia, Denmark, Belgium, England, Georgia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United States, and who have traveled all over the world.

Lesser known museums worth visiting:

The Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway. In this age of anxiety, it is worth taking some time out to appreciate the art of Edvard Munch, the Norwegian painter who depicted grief, loneliness, anxiety and fear in his masterpieces, including the famous painting, “The Scream.” The museum has a collection of 26,724 of his works, the single largest collection by a museum of a single artist.

The São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand Art Museum (MASP), São Paulo, Brazil. There are two reasons, besides the art itself, that the MASP is on this list. First, the building is designed by Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, with a design intended to communicate that a museum isn’t only for the wealthy. And inside, paintings are suspended on crystal “easels” with the idea of eliminating barriers between people and the art they come to see.

The Museum of Old and New (MONA), Tasmania, Australia. To Amina McCauley, News Decoder Program Manager for the EYES Project, the MONA is more than just a bizarre, modern museum run by a someone who funded the project through his history of gambling. “It has also become a cultural institution, where in both spring and summer the major cities of Tasmania fill the city with concerts, installations, exhibitions and markets designed by the museum,” McCauley said. Did we say we like out-of-the-way places? After traveling all the way down under to Hobart, the MONA is still a ferry ride away.

Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia. The museum describes itself as: “a physical and virtual public space created with the sole purpose of treasuring and sharing your heartbreak stories and symbolic possessions. It is a museum about you, about us, about the ways we love and lose.” Note to Taylor Swift — next time you perform in this part of the globe, you might want to check it out.

International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, Switzerland. This pick by News Decoder Schools Program Manager Joyce Yang explores humanitarian actions throughout the world and history. But perhaps most compelling is a collection of items made by prisoners and gifted to Red Cross and Red Crescent visitors to prisons in conflict zones. Among them a tissue box decorated with beads.

The Rīga Stradiņš University Anatomy Museum, Riga, Latvia.  For people who have ever wondered what their liver, brains or kidney would look like in a jar. “All that is accompanied with some interesting art which gives it a very particular feel,” said Sabīne Bērziņa News Decoder’s User Experience Manager, for the ProMS Project.

The Bardo National Museum, Tunis, Tunisia. The building itself is a 19th-century Beylic palace. The museum has the world’s largest collection of mosaics and houses the Blue Quran, one of the most famous examples of Islamic calligraphy.

Ferragamo Museum, Florence, Italy. Art doesn’t have to hang on your walls, it can be on your feet. If you have a fetish for outrageously expensive shoes, this is the place for you. It takes you through the life of Salvatore Ferragamo, a man who rose from poverty to designing thousand dollar loafers for princes and seriously high heels for seriously rich heiresses.

Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Buffalo, New York. Krasinski, who signs my paycheck, and Nelson Graves, who founded News Decoder and hired me, both hail from Buffalo, so how could we not include this in our list? Krasinski calls it an “unexpected gem.” It has a large collection of paintings by abstract expressionist Clyfford Still.

Three questions to consider:

  1. Why is it valuable to visit lesser-known museums?
  2. Is there a lesser-known museum you’ve visited that you would recommend to others?
  3. Which museum on this list would you most like to visit?

Marcy Burstiner is the educational news director for News Decoder. She is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and professor emeritus of journalism and mass communication at the California Polytechnic University, Humboldt in California. She is the author of the book Investigative Reporting: From premise to publication.

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