Best Architectural Museum

On the heels of Curbed’s round up of the best museums and libraries in the United States, it’s time to cue the wanderlust and turn our eyes abroad.

Although our country boasts some of the finest art in the world—all housed in seriously amazing buildings—there are a number of stunning museums around the globe.

From historic palaces in Russia to modern marvels in Mexico City, the world’s museums are shining examples of how architecture can enhance (or even rival) the art. Buildings like the Guggenheim Bilbao or Paris’s Pompidou Center are tourist destinations in their own right, captivating visitors and providing a unique architectural experience that’s distinct from the art inside.

The Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum in Brazil

Built in 1996 and designed by the renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in collaboration with structural engineer Bruno Contarini, the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum is located in the city of Niteroi, just outside Rio de Janeiro.

The saucer-shaped structure perches on a cliffside above Guanabara Bay, and offers visitors panoramic views. The building is an example of Niemeyer’s affinity for curves; the architect wanted the structure to look like it was growing from the ground like a flower from rocks.

A reflection pool surrounds the museum and the public accesses the building via a swirling, red-carpeted ramp.

The Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain

Located in Spain’s Basque Country on the edge of the Nervión River, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was designed by American architect Frank Gehry as a swirling, sculptural icon made with titanium, limestone, and glass.

Gehry’s twisting design has been likened to everything from a bouquet of flowers to a boat, and the museum’s now-famous architecture had an immediate impact. After opening in 1997, the museum boosted Bilbao’s tourism economy and revitalized Bilbao’s industrial port area.

The success has been well documented as “The Bilbao Effect:” when a struggling post-industrial city hires a star architect to design a famous museum and transforms a city in the process.

The Hermitage Museum in Russia

In a sea of modern museums—many of them white or gray—the teal and gold Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg wows visitors and locals alike. Founded in 1754 by Catherine the Great and open to the public since 1852, the museum sits on the banks of the Neva River and boasts 2.7 million works of art.

And don’t let the over-the-top, Baroque-style exterior fool you, the interiors are just as beautiful. In the Malachite Room, a “Russian mosaic” technique is used to create intricate patterns, and the room’s teal columns and gold accents match the building’s elaborate exterior.

The Louis Vuitton Foundation in France

Located in the Bois du Boulogne on the west side of Paris, the Louis Vuitton Foundation is a museum and cultural center created to support the contemporary arts. The building—which opened in 2014

Gehry sought inspiration in cloud-like forms, designing the Louis Vuitton building to defy gravity and “provoke visual ruptures that reinterpret perspectives.” The museum also pays homage to the city’s other huge glass structures, most notably the Grand Palais. In all, the Louis Vuitton Foundation is two stories high and boasts 11 galleries of different sizes.

The Museum Soumaya in Mexico

Founded by Carlos Slim—one of the wealthiest men in the world—the Museo Soumaya museum in Mexico City originally opened in 1994 and boasts a vast array of art from Mexico and Europe. It’s also known for having the largest casts of sculptures by Rodin outside of France.

Mexican architect Fernando Romero designed Plaza Carso at the Museo Soumaya, an avant-garde, “silvery asymmetric structure whose molded forms recall the sculptural works of Rodin.” The 6-story building’s exterior is made of 16,000 hexagonal aluminum plates, often giving observers the impression that it is sparkling.

The building—which was added to the museum complex in 2011—also features a semitransparent roof which allows the upper floor to be illuminated by direct sunlight.