Eight Paintings Every Traveler Should See (And Where to See Them)

Many travelers have a bucket list of places they want to go before they, well, kick the bucket. They want to see new sights, scale soaring mountains and tap their toes in exotic seas … and slowing down for a museum tour isn’t always high on that list. But sometimes it should be.

Here are eight classic paintings every traveler needs to add to their list before it is too late.

The Mona Lisa in the Musée du Louvre – Paris, France

Some experts speculate that the Mona Lisa is a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci

So maybe you’ve heard Leonardo’s leading lady is a disappointment. The painting is small, it is hard to see and the crowds are overwhelming. Well, it is all true. The painting is small and the crowds are big, but few paintings in the world have stirred as much mystery as this 16th century portrait. And even if she is a tad tiny, the Louvre is the largest national museum in France, the most visited museum in the world and is a 12th century landmark in the City of Lights … it can’t all be disappointing, right?

>>book a hotel in Paris and also read about other Museums in Paris

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Starry Night in the Museum of Modern Art – New York City, New York, USA

Don McLean’s song “Starry, Starry Night” is based on this painting

Although he only sold one painting in his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh is a big star in the artistic world. Arguably his most famous painting, Starry Night is one of the most replicated prints in the world and is a must-see masterpiece for vacationers heading to the Big Apple. Located in Midtown Manhattan, The Museum of Modern Art has been called the most influential museum of modern art in the world.

>>book a flight to New York City and plan your three days itinerary in New York

Guernica in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía – Madrid, Spain

The painting revealed Picasso’s horror at Nazi soldiers in Spain

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica painting depicts the bombing of Guernica, Spain by German and Italian planes during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. The mural was commissioned by the Spanish Republican government to adorn the Spanish Pavilion during the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. It is currently on display at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid where it serves as global reminder of the sobering catastrophes of war.

>>book airfare to Spain and read about free things to do in Madrid

The Birth of Venus in the Uffizi Gallery – Florence, Italy

Botticelli’s political connections saved his painting from fires that destroyed other “pagan” art

The Italian Renaissance was born in Florence and thus, it is only fitting one of the most famous Italian paintings, the Birth of Venus, is housed in Florence’s oldest, and most famous, museum-The Uffizi Gallery. There is much speculation in the art world as to when and why Sandro Botticelli created his masterpiece-which depicts Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, emerging from a seashell and being handed a flowered cloak by the Horae, the goddesses of the seasons. However, there is no denying The Birth of Venus should be added to every art-loving traveler’s list of must-see paintings.

>>read about how to find cheap airfare to Florance and plan your 4 days itinerary in Florance

The Kiss in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere – Vienna, Austria

Klimt liked closeness-similarly nestled couples appear in two of his other paintings

Gustav Klimt’s Der Kuss, or The Kiss, shows a couple in varying hues of gold mosaic-like colors sharing … that’s right, a kiss. Painted during Klimt’s golden period, The Kiss is considered his most famous painting and it is believed that Klimt himself, along with his longtime partner, Emilie Flöge, modeled for the painting. In 2003, a €100 Painting Coin, was issued with The Kiss on one side and a studio-bound Klimt on the reverse. The painting is currently housed in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna.

>>book airfare to Vienna and read our Vienna Travel Guide

The Scream in The Munch Museum – Oslo, Norway

This painting has also been referred to as “The Cry”

If one is good, then four is better … or at least Norway-native Edvard Munch thought so. He created not one, but four versions of his most-famous painting, The Scream, which portrays a tormented sexless figure against a blood-red landscape of Oslofjord. One version of the painting is housed in the National Gallery in Oslo, another is owned by Norwegian billionaire, Petter Olsen and the remaining two paintings are property of the Munch Museum. However, one of the most famous versions, a 32 inch X 30 inch tempera on cardboard, was stolen from the museum in 2004 and has yet to be returned. Now that is something to scream about.

>>find cheap flights to Oslo and read our Oslo Travel Guide

American Gothic in the Art Institute of Chicago – Chicago, Illinois, USA

Notice how the pitchfork is echoed in the farmer’s overalls

Every traveler has seen a parody of this painting in some form or another, whether it was Kermit and Piggy, Mickey and Minnie or Homer and Marge. But Grant Wood’s original American Gothic masterpiece-who was modeled by his spinster sister and his dentist is proudly displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago. Interestingly enough, this famous Iowan couple never modeled together for the painting and neither of them ever stood in front of the Carpenter Gothic house that sits in the background.

>>find airfare to Chicago and read about Museums in Chicago

Water Lilies in the Musée Marmottan – Paris France

Monet suffered from cataracts when he completed many of the Water Lilies paintings

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies series is a compilation of 250 oil paintings from the flower gardens at his home in Giverny, in northern France. The paintings are dispersed throughout the world in major museums in France, the United States and Japan. The largest collection of Monet’s work is housed in a 19th Century mansion, the Museè Marmottan, that was the beneficiary of more than 130 paintings, watercolors, pastels and drawings when Monet’s son left them to the museum in his will.

>>book a flight to Paris and read about free things to do in Paris

Read about author Cherrye Moore and check out her other BootsnAll articles

Read more about visiting museums:

Additional photo credits:
Picasso by Mark Berry on Flickr, Botticelli by MrOmega on Flickr, American Gothic by Opacity on Flickr


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Older comments on Eight Paintings Every Traveler Should See (And Where to See Them)

12 October 2009

Okay, i hate to be the first to kick up an argument, but WHY should everyone see these eight famous paintings? Okay, it’s true that for general culture one should be able to see that one has seen these. But in terms of personal enrichment and experience, there are two problems with this list. (1) art is a personal experience; i may not really be enriched by seeing the mona lisa in person. And (2) all of these works are so frequently reproduced that our reaction to them is programmed by previous knowledge. Yes, go to the world’s great museums, but GO BEYOND the famous things; stop in front of something that you’ve never heard of, that seems obscure, that grabs YOU.

12 October 2009

I agree with the above poster. Yes these 8 pintings are quite famous, but it’s always inadvisable to start an article by saying every traveller in the world needs to see this or that.

My taste in art is quite selective, I don’t much like modern art forms such as impressionism. Of those 8 listed the Mona Lisa is the only one I can say I really like. That is not to say the other 7 are bad paintings, but they are not really my cup of tea.

Texas Lebenskunstler
12 October 2009

Both of you are missing the point, and yet you get the point. I love lists like these. For me, they are both a check list and a to-do list. Nice work, Cherrye.

First, go see the paintings. You just might be blown away by how much better the original is than the “frequently reproduced” versions that you think you really know. When you are there, standing in front of the Mona Lisa, and you see how small and fabulous the original is, you can then “go beyond the famous things” and see all the other works of the artist (plus a few other artists.)

At the Picasso museum in Barcelona, I went into the building thinking that Pablo was just some crazy guy who did a few too many mushrooms. My predjudice toward his art was quickly squelched when I saw the extent to which he was a phenominal master. His early works left me speechless and a little embarrased. Then, after experiencing more of his works mixed in with his biography, a much deeper understanding and appreciation of his art.

By the way, there is a reason why so many people wait in line to see pieces of art like the Mona Lisa or David or the Sistine Chapel or any other,… they are breathtaking. There is such a huge difference between looking at a sunset on tv or in a picture versus actually experiencing one live.

If you believe that you will have a “programmed response” to something, why travel at all?

jim humberd
12 October 2009

We think the reproduction of the “Last Supper,” carved in salt, full size, in the historic Salt Mine in Wieliczka, Poland, is almost more of an artistic achievement than the original in Milan.

The best painting in the Louvre is the Marriage at Cana.

Most of the ones shown here are kindergarten junk. Not considered good art, just an excuse to make fun of the “Normal” people, by claiming something that no one likes is the greatest, and to make sure the “Normal” people do not feel in common with the lefty nuts.

Susan Benford
13 October 2009


I agree that these famous paintings are all iconic images in Western art, and well worth a major detour to see!

I was curious to learn what famous artwork is deemed “the best” by art historians, and undertook a rather exhaustive research project to find out. This “Famous Paintings ebook” lists these 250 paintings; the list can be sorted by the city in which the works are located — so when you ARE in Paris or New York, for instance, you can come prepared with an itinerary of what to see in the city’s numerous art museums. I had too many experiences of visiting one of the grand art museums, not wanting to miss any masterpieces, but not having a clear idea of where to start. Enjoy!


13 October 2009

@ TL, I don’t see why you have to go and see something just because its famous. I have seen enough impressionism to know I don’t like the genre, simply knowing it is famous won’t make me like it any better. In my view it is better to focus on the type of art you like.

If I dislike Guernica when I see it in a reproduction photo then I doubt seeing the real copy will suddenly convert me.

13 October 2009

If you like Van Gogh wouldn’t it be more fun to visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam than to see one picture in New York?
For that matter, many great works of art are in traveling exhibits that go from city to city so if you wait a while some of the most important works of art (to you) might come to your city.
If you are headed to these museums anyway, by all means check out the paintings but you can see other paintings from the same artist/style at many other venues.

Wendy Anderson
19 October 2009

Everyone is hitting the mark by missing it! Art is subjective, it elicits a viseral response from the viewer and each one is different. Go ANYPLACE you can to view art something, famous or not will touch you, everyone becomes a winner but you gotta let you soul and your heart free to enjoy~

29 October 2009

Anyway it’s a good list – take it or leave it. Love that you have The Scream on it.