Two of America’s oldest art museums are also filled with character, and of course great art.

I’ve explored lots of art museums during my downtime while traveling for work — it’s a great way to get a quick feel for a city. Sometimes though, museum experiences can start to feel a little monotonous. This can be especially true of the impressively large, but bland modern types. The kind with giant white walls featuring art under perfect lighting. At a certain point I start to zone out.

Instead, I love to find art museums that have a little bit more history and character in the building itself.

But art museums in old buildings can be harder to find, especially in the US. These are two favorites that I’ve discovered during layovers on the East Coast:

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Hartford, Connecticut.

The Wadsworth is located in the heart of Hartford and it’s one of the countries oldest art museums. It was built in 1842 and its very Romantic. The building itself looks kind of like a fortified abbey done in a Gothic Revival style, and the art inside is incredible.

Photo via Cliff

It’s an excellent collection covering a wide assortment of styles and time periods from antiquities to Baroque classics like Carravaggio and contemporaries like Kara Walker. The sheer variety is the Wadsworth’s greatest strength. There’s something for everyone: European art, American art, textiles, decorative arts, and contemporary art. My personal favorites are the Art Nouveau ceramics and furniture as well as the Hudson River School paintings.

The Art Nouveau room.

The other big draw for the Wadsworth is its low crowds, especially when compared to art museums in larger/more touristy cities.

Cost: $15 for adults, but you can also catch a small glimpse while visiting their excellent library filled with rare books that is free and open to the public.  Read more about the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, Massachusetts.

The Isabella Museum is also old. It was built to house Isabella’s art collection and it was opened up to the public in 1903. It’s a fanciful structure with lots of Moroccan flair.

Isabella Art Museum, Boston

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Even though Boston’s a much larger city, this particular collection is not as large or diverse as the Wadsworth in Hartford, Connecticut. Instead what makes this museum stand out is how it has been perfectly preserved over 100 years to look as it did when Isabella was still alive.

It’s biggest strength is its incredible atmosphere, gorgious grardens, and empty frames where art has been stolen.

Cost $15 for adults. Read more about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Related reading:

Putting the ceramics in Syracuse — Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY

This small museum in Rome is one of the cities best sites — The Borghese Gallery, Rome, Italy

Tips you’ll love for making the most of the Louvre — The Louvre Museum of art, Paris, France

— Laura Rowley


Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.


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