Overlooked Art Museums

Every major cosmopolitan city has its star art museum. And while the Louvre in Paris and the Met in New York have earned their international acclaim, their fame can make visiting these renowned galleries a crowded experience. Fortunately, there are a few places off the beaten track where you can view breathtaking masterpieces in relative quiet:

Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi Vietnam

Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam

You might be surprised to find a capital city’s national art gallery on a list of overlooked museums, but when I visited in May 2018, it was practically empty. In fact, despite being my fourth trip to Hanoi, that was the first time I had even heard of this museum. It rarely appears on the city’s Top 10 lists (like the Temple of Literature across the street does) but it is well worth devoting an entire afternoon to. The massive colonial building was built as a girls’ school in 1933 and now houses powerful paintings and sculptures from feudal times through modern day.

Heide Melbourne
Sculptures at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. Copyright: Nils Versemann 

Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, Melbourne, Australia

The very definition of a passion project, the Heide Museum was commissioned by John and Sunday Reed in 1964 to be a ‘gallery to be lived in’ when their contemporary art collection outgrew its previous space. The building quickly became a modernist architectural icon and was opened to the public in 1981. An elegant blend of nature and art, the gardens and sculpture park are just as much a draw as the impressive collection, which ranges from figurative to abstract, expressionist to realist.

“Evening Shower” by Ikeda Terukata (1916) at the Yamatane Museum of Art, Tokyo

Yamatane Museum of Art, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

I could put together a whole post of overlooked museums in Tokyo alone. The sprawling metropolis is home to inumerable hidden gems, one-room art galleries and tucked-away collections, but the Yamatane Museum will always be #1 for me. The building is nondescript but it’s home to some of the country’s most exquisite Japanese paintings (nihonga), including lacquer screens painted for the Imperial Palace and watercolors on silk.

Ca' Rezzonico (Venice)
Facade of Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice, Italy

Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice, Italy

With no shortage of galleries in Venice, it can be tough to choose where to spend your precious vacation time. Ca’ Rezzonico isn’t as unknown as other mentions on this list but it’s still missed by many visitors despite being ‘a veritable temple of the Venetian 18th century: an age of splendor, dissipation and decadence.’ Every inch of this palace-turned-museum is a treat, from its luxurious ballroom to the frescoed walls and ceilings to the entire apothecary housed on the top floor.

Exterior of Sun Yat-sen Museum, George Town, Penang

Sun Yat-sen Museum, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Devoted to Sun Yat-sen’s extraordinary life, this historic Peranakan home turned museum isn’t strictly an art museum, but the beauty of the house itself earned it a spot on this list. And while it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s often overlooked in favor of the catchier-named Blue Mansion. Plenty of history is crammed into these elegant rooms, giving a rich background to the blackwood Straits Chinese furniture, gorgeous tiled floors, and ornately carved wooden screens on display.


StraitsJourneys is a place for travelers to find and book deep travel experiences tailored to specific interests. The experiences are presented by carefully selected local experts. Click here to register your interest in StraitsJourneys and be the first to receive our stories, updates and offers.

An Irish-American residing in Singapore, Laura Jane O’Gorman Schwartz is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Shanghai Literary Review.

Unless otherwise noted, all images are licensed under Wikimedia Commons.

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