Charlotte Davy, Te Papa's Head of Art lists some of her favourite museums around the world.

Here is my A to Z of fabulous museums gleaned from 20 years of travelling in Australasia, Asia, Europe and the US. This isn't a list of the big encyclopaedic museums that have become household names around the world — although museums such as the V&A, MoMA, the Prado, and the Centre Pompidou are a must on any art lover's itinerary — but rather my recommendations for smaller stunning museums that are worth going to see.

Charlotte Davy (right) in Xi'an, China, with Rebecca Rice, curator of Te Papa's Terracotta Warriors exhibition. Photo / Supplied
Charlotte Davy (right) in Xi'an, China, with Rebecca Rice, curator of Te Papa's Terracotta Warriors exhibition. Photo / Supplied

ADAM Brussels Design Museum

Trade Mart Brussels, Belgieplein 1, 1020 Brussels, Belgium

On the edge of Brussels, this museum complex comprises the extraordinary Atomium structure, built for the World Fair Expo 1958. It now houses a mixture of social history exhibits and contemporary art installations, and a design museum t focusing on plastic. I found my heart beating faster at the sight of 1950s balustrades inspired by atom structures, and experienced utter joy viewing the swathes of 60s and 70s plastic design.


Fortuny Museum

San Marco, 3958, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy

This museum and former home of fashion designer Mariano Fortuny can be found in large Gothic palazzo in Campo San Beneto in Venice. Fortuny, although world famous for his work in fashion and textiles design, also worked with photography, lighting and stage design, and painting.

 Fortuny Museum, in Italy. Photo / Supplied
Fortuny Museum, in Italy. Photo / Supplied

For me the defining spaces in this museum are those where Fortuny lived and worked, surrounded by his own work and objects that inspired him. Although small, it is eclectic, dense and deeply satisfying.

Kimbell Art Museum

3333 Camp Bowie Blvd, Fort Worth, Texas, US

The Louis I Kahn building of this art museum is a genuinely profound space where I am happy to float for hours.

It's the kind of architecture that changes you. That may sound like a big claim but it's true. Not only is the architecture sublime but the small art collection is high quality, including the first known painting by Michaelangelo, painted when he was only 12 or 13.

The Kimbell Art Museum. Photo / Supplied
The Kimbell Art Museum. Photo / Supplied

Han Yan Ling Museum

Airport Hwy, Weicheng Qu, Xianyang Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China

I am lucky to have visited Xi'an many times and this is the museum I return to each time I visit. I love tea almost as much as air, and this museum has the oldest archaeological find of tea leaves in the world.


For those of you less tea-inclined, it's better known for the most remarkable smaller-scale terracotta armies from the Han dynasty, several of which Te Papa is borrowing for the upcoming Terracotta Warriors exhibition.


9 Palace Square, 2, Sankt-Peterburg, Russia, 190000

This is the only large-scale museum on this list and I have included it because it really is worth going to St Petersburg if you are in Eastern Europe or Scandinavia, with an easy high-speed train link from Helsinki. The museum is breathtaking in the quality of its collections; the charm of looking at rooms full of Matisse paintings on a summer's day with the warm wind blowing through the often open windows is pure and unparalleled museum magic. But make sure you spend time in the Russian collections too, you will never see anything like it outside Russia.

Visitors at the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, Russia. Photo / Getty Images
Visitors at the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, Russia. Photo / Getty Images

Miho Museum

300 Momodani, Tashiro Shigaraki Koka, Shiga 529-1814, Japan

The Miho museum is the only museum I have visited that doubles as the headquarters for a cult, the Shinji Shumeikai. But don't let that stop you — it is not a doomsday kind of cult — but one that focuses on natural agriculture and the appreciation of beauty.

A short hop by local train from Kyoto, this museum complex was created by the architect I M Pei with no expense spared, and it is stunning in its integration with the surrounding beautiful woodlands. You will see the cult members on your visit working in the cafe and shop, which adds to the slightly dreamlike experience that is Miho.

Peabody Essex Museum

East India Square, 161 Essex St, Salem, MA 01970, US

This museum is in Salem, New England, a place more notorious for its witch trials than its history as the largest trading port in North America. It is the port that lead to the rich abundance of maritime paintings, prints and collections of taonga brought to the US by sea captains who travelled to far-flung places such as New Zealand. Ever a fan of a sea monster print, trade ceramics and stunning pieces of pounamu, I was wowed by this diverse and fascinating blend of art and history.

Te Papa

55 Cable St, Wellington, 6000, New Zealand

My current role is the third time I have worked for Te Papa, an indication of how much I love this collection. I am interested in places and spaces where art crosses over into history, science and technology, and Te Papa is of course our very own interdisciplinary museum.

Not only does it excel at telling the stories of our nation and region using its stunning collections but is friendly, accessible and unpretentious for our many audiences. It is a great privilege to work as part of the team that designs and delivers art for everyone at Te Papa.

Wellcome Collection

183 Euston Rd, London NW1 2BE, UK

Henry Wellcome was an extraordinary man who created a vast collection of material about health and medicine in the 1800s. Although the collection was dispersed after his death, this museums brings back part of the collection in a permanent display that includes everything medical, from Japanese sex aids to Napoleon's toothbrush. It is a fascinating place with a temporary exhibition programme that is focused on using art to explore issues relating to science, wellness and medicine.

Zeppelin Museum

Seestrasse 22, 88045 Friedrichshafen, Germany

This is a very special museum on the edge of picturesque Lake Constance in south Germany that combines technology and art, and holds the largest aviation collection in Europe. It is a powerful collection that had me weeping over the hubris of men while I gazed at the burnt nosecone of the Hindenburg, and held my attention for hours looking at the extraordinary design and art.

Terracotta Warriors

Guardians of Immortality

, is on at Toi Art Te Papa, from December 15 to April 22. For information and tickets, see


Guardians of Immortality, is on at Toi Art Te Papa, from December 15 to April 22.
Guardians of Immortality, is on at Toi Art Te Papa, from December 15 to April 22.