Preparing for the future means understanding the trials and achievements of the people who lived before us. Artifacts of the past are lessons from our ancestors given physical form. Rather than a dry list of dates and events, museums display history’s remnants as direct sensation: a portal into what past generations felt–and created–in the moments that defined their time. The most beloved museums have earned global renown for their collections of countless invaluable pieces, which offer millions of visitors a unique perspective on the past. Here are a few of the world’s greatest museums.

The British Museum – London, UK

Home to over 8 million historical objects from civilisations around the world, the British Museum in Bloomsburg, London, boasts one of the most extensive art collections ever to exist. Much of its contents were gathered during the era of British colonialism, and its displays recreate the evolution of culture from prehistoric origins to the present. Main attractions include a gallery of over 50,000 paintings and prints containing masterworks from artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo, a large assortment of sculptures, illustrations and objects from ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman cultures, and a multitude of stone age tools.

The National Air and Space Museum – Washington, D.C.

Few moments in history are more iconic than when Neil Armstrong walked the moon in 1969. That event and many other landmark achievements in aviation and spaceflight are memorialized within the National Air and Space Museum. Besides the Apollo 11 landing module, the museum hosts Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, as well as the Bell X-1: the plane that first exceeded the speed of sound, and the invention that started it all: the Wright brothers’ Flyer I.  Nearly all of the famous vehicles showcased by the museum are originals, rather than replicas. These are the aircraft that set the course of history, and the promise of seeing them up close draws 7.5 million visitors to the Air and Space Museum each year.  

The Louvre –  Paris, France
Deep in the heart of Paris, in the courtyard of a palace sits a pyramid of glass. This is the Louvre, a site as intrinsic to French culture as the artistic legacy it houses. Once a home for kings, the Louvre Palace now takes the crown as the world’s most heavily trafficked museum, averaging 15,000 visitors per day. Among the 380,000 objects housed within the Louvre is Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the world’s most famous painting. The Louvre’s collection includes art pieces, sculptures, and antiquities from the civilizations of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as thousands of paintings, prints and decorative objects.