While there are history museums in every country worth visiting, there are a few that stand above the rest. These encapsulate the history of the places they are located in like no other. They have grand displays of ancient and more recent art, historical artifacts of all kinds, and insights into what life was like in the distant past. In your travels, be sure to stop by local and national history museums: Havana, Cuba’s Museum of the Revolution; the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa; and the Palace Museum in Beijing, China, just to name a few. Those should be on your longer list, but these three historical museums everyone needs to see.

The Acropolis Museum

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This Greek museum in Athens has nearly 4,000 objects on exhibit over an area of 14,000 square meters (150,000 square feet). Its mix of ancient items in a modern facility is an interesting juxtaposition, and it’s consistently rated one of the best museums in the world. It is home to nearly every artifact found on Acropolis, from the Mycenaean times to the Roman and early Christian Athens. The Acropolis Museum has five permanent galleries: The Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis; The Archaic Acropolis Gallery; The Parthenon Gallery; Propylaia, Athena Nike, Erechtheion; and From the 5th c. BC to the 5th c. AD. All are worth an entire day or more to explore.

The Smithsonian Institution

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So, technically, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is a collection of 17 museums (plus three outside of D.C.), art galleries and the National Zoo. You may not “need” to see all of them, but you certainly should go to at least a few while you’re in the nation’s capital. The National Portrait Gallery is a popular favorite, housing the largest collection of presidential portraits aside from the White House. There’s the Smithsonian Institution Building itself, nicknamed The Castle, built in 1855 and today acting as the Smithsonian visitor center. Other notables include the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History, and the National Museum of Natural History. A full list is available at www.si.edu/museums.

The Vatican Museums

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Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, the Vatican Museums have grown to be quite possibly the best collection of history in the world. Despite being in a crowded, noisy room, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is still a show-stopper – a stunning piece of art that’s perhaps the most famous in the world (for good reason). All in all, the museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display. Other notable pieces are the Stanze di Raffaello by Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, and Caravaggio’s Entombment. With more than 6 million visitors annually, the museums are some of the most visited in the world, so be sure to get in line early and be prepared to wait up to several hours to get in if you don’t pre-purchase tickets!