Stunning automobiles can be found across the globe in some of the best car museums. Here are the stops that need to be on your bucket list!
There’s a rich, century-long history of automobiles to explore. What better way to do that than by walking through museums full of cars, information, eye-catching displays, and interactive learning? It doesn’t matter if you’re in Japan, Germany, the United States, or somewhere else. There are dozens of incredible cars on display at a museum that’s likely within traveling distance of you. Where do you even start?
We created this list of the best car museums to help you out. Planes, trains, and automobiles can be found in a lot of the museums listed here. The classics to concept cars. Bicycles to motorcycles. They’re all represented. Many of these museums have gift shops, assembly lines, and virtual driving experiences, too. Whether you’re an automotive historian or just like to look at cool cars, you’ll enjoy spending some time at these museums.
North America’s largest automobile museum can be found a little over two hours west of Detroit in Hickory Corners, Michigan. The Gilmore Car Museum sits on a 90-acre property with more than 300 antique and classic cars. It was established in 1966 by local businessman and philanthropist Donald Gilmore. Permanent exhibits range from muscle cars like Chevelles and Super Bees to cars of the dirty 30s, like a 1927 Ford Model T.
A motorcycle exhibit features the 1952 Triumph TR5 Trophy, one of the motorcycles ridden by Henry Winkler on Happy Days. A variety of other cars are brought in on a rotational basis. If that’s not enough to lure you to Michigan for a visit, you can visit six other on-site partner museums with their own collections.
This museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky is no ordinary museum. It’s also the location that every Corvette has been produced since 1980. Not only are there exhibits to look at, but there’s a guided factory tour available at the National Corvette Museum. There are only 90 cars displayed in 115,000 square feet, but seeing that many Corvettes in one place is a no brainer for me. The models range from one-of-a-kind prototypes that never went into production to classics that are in mint condition.
An audio tour around the museum is packed with information that any Corvette aficionado would enjoy. As part of the experience, raffle tickets are regularly sold with a chance to win a Corvette. The raffle is limited to 1,500 participants, so there’s a 1 in 1,500 chance you’ll be driving a ‘Vette home.
This Japanese museum is a little over 30 years old, first opening in May 1990. Located in Kochi, the museum started as a private collection that included an Alfa Romeo TZ2 Zagato. After so many requests to see the TZ2 Zagato, the owner decided to open his entire garage to the public. It’s a sizeable collection that includes motorbikes, racecars, and sports cars. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, and DeLorean are some of the names you’ll see there. There’s a Toyota 2000GT, a Ford RS200, a Lamborghini Countach LP400, and several Itasha cars. While this museum is about a 10-hour drive from Tokyo, it’s worth a look. Domestic and international cars are well-maintained and proudly displayed.
It probably would come as no surprise to find out that the British Motor Museum houses the world’s largest collection of historic British cars. Makes sense, right? This museum in Gaydon, Warwick is under an hour southeast of Birmingham, England. It offers insight into the ups and downs of the British motor industry. With over 400 cars in their collection, there’s a variety of eras and brands represented. Some of their displays include a look at how everything about transportation has changed, from the roads to the cars to the fashion.
Prototype vehicles, like the Triumph Lynx and MG EX-E concept car, were never placed into production, but found their way to this museum. An entire section is dedicated to Jaguar. A 1950 Jaguar XK 120, a 1953 Jaguar C-type, and the Le Mans-winning 1988 Jaguar XJR-9 are some famous cars from that automaker. Land Rover is another brand that is well represented at the British Motor Museum. Who can forget about the sports cars? British sports cars made by Morgan, Lotus, Triumph, McLaren, and Aston Martin are all featured here.
As you can surmise from the name of the museum, there’s a heavy focus on Ford as an automaker and Henry Ford as an icon of the automotive industry. You’ll see a Ford GT40 and be able to take a ride in a Model T. There’s more to this museum than that, though. The outdoor Greenfield Village is filled with historical buildings, bicycles, motorcycles, automobiles, trains, planes, and more. This all sits on 80 acres of land. Innovation and invention are seen in the Thomas Edison lab and the Nikola Tesla lab.
Beyond Ford-branded cars, there are a number of restored vehicles that have made marks on history. The city bus that Rosa Parks sat in back in 1955 is one of them. Another restored vehicle is a 1987 Baldwin Locomotive, which now runs throughout Greenfield Village. The 1920 Dayton Wright RB-1, which was one of the first planes built for speed, is another vehicle that was restored. There’s a little bit of something for everyone at the Henry Ford Museum.
Over 250 vintage European and American cars can be found at Autoworld, in the heart of downtown Brussels. The Belgium museum houses a variety of cars from the late 19th century onward. Most of the vehicles come from the Mahy Collection, which included about 1,000 vehicles. Ghislain Mahy, a well-known manufacturer of steam boilers, was fascinated by technology so he started collecting cars upon cars.
The museum, which opened in 1986, features cars like the Alfa Romeo 8C, Dodge Viper SRT, BMW 3000 CS, Ferrari Testarossa, and Porsche 911 slant nose. A number of Belgian manufacturers have a spot in the museum. That includes Belga Rise, Germain, Imperia, Minerva, and FN. Concept cars can also be found there. Autoworld is a great place to learn about automotive history through their permanent and limited-time-only exhibits. It’s undergone several renovations over the past decade, leading to even more space and more interactive features than before.
More than 160 vehicles can be found in the Mercedes-Benz Museum, ranging from some of the oldest automobiles ever built to concept cars that are electric, autonomous and digitally connected. Located in Stuttgart, Germany, the museum focuses on automotive history, popular culture, and future technology. The vehicles are housed in a 6,500 square meter space that makes up twelve rooms of a 9-level building.
One display looks at Rudolf Caracciola, one of the most successful German racers of the 1930s. He, of course, was behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz for his races. Other cars include an 1886 Daimler motorized carriage, a Vision EQ Silver Arrow concept car, and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. There’s even a seat and steering wheel set up so that visitors can experience the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system with intuitive and adaptive technology.
If you can think of a car brand, it’s probably going to be represented in some way at America’s Car Museum. More than 250 vehicles can be found there, about an hour south of Seattle in Tacoma, Washington. Cars on display from the 1930s include models by Duesenberg, Packard, Lincoln, and Mercedes-Benz. An exhibit of automobiles from the 1960s features Jaguars, Mini Coopers and Austin-Healeys. There’s also a significant number of Alfa Romeos on display.
A history of NASCAR exhibit showcases Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 Chevrolet Monte Carlo #3 car. It also educates museum-goers on the technology that gets the vehicles up to NASCAR speeds. There’s a rotating exhibit on Route 66 that includes cars like a 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe and a 1969 Ford Thunderbird Landau sedan. On top of that, there are about 100 additional vehicles from private collectors that are loaned to the museum at any given time. Currently, the museum houses the impressive collection of James Hetfield, the front man for Metallica.
Mulhouse, France is the home to Cité de l’Atomobile, which translates to ‘Automobile City.’ It houses one of the largest car collections in the world with 520 cars from 98 different automakers. Alongside the world’s largest collection of Bugattis (123 of them to be exact), you’ll find a variety of F-1s and rally cars. Also in the mix is a variety of vehicles built between 1900 and 1920. The reason for the large focus on Bugattis is because they come from the personal collection of Hans and Fritz Schlumpf, two textile entrepreneurs who collected Bugatti vehicles as a hobby. It became such a costly endeavor that they had to sell off their company and let go of their collection.
This museum was named after famous auto publisher and 2013 Motorsports Hall of Fame of America inductee Robert E. Petersen. There are only about 150 cars at the museum, but it’s one of the largest there is, with 25 separate galleries filling about 300,000 square feet. The Petersen Museum is located in the heart of Los Angeles, so it stands to reason that they have a ‘Hollywood Gallery’ showcasing cars of the movies like the 1989 Batmobile, the 1981 DMC Delorean from Back to the Future, and an entire James Bond collection.
Permanent and rotating exhibits at the Petersen Museum feature celebrity-owned vehicles, historic Ford GT 40 Le Mans racecars, and preserved historic cars. Ford GT 40 Le Mans cars can be found there. So can a 1938 Ferrari 400i convertible previously owned by Rod Stewart. A Forza Motorsport racing experience exhibit allows visitors to get behind the wheel and experience the feeling of racing dynamic vehicles on tracks like the Daytona International Speedway, the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and Circuit of the Americas. In the Cars Mechanical Institute, inspired by the animated Cars movies, is a chance for visitors to paint and personalize virtual cars. The Petersen Museum offers a full-on experience for the entire family.
Some other museums that didn’t make the list but are worth checking out are the California Auto Museum in Sacramento, the Toyota Automobile Museum in Aichi, the Mullin Museum in California, and the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Florida. There’s also the National Automobile Museum in Nevada and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum in Indiana.
There are so many car museums to wander through! When you’re booking that next vacation or need a place to stop and stretch your legs during a road trip, do a quick search to find out if one of these museums is near you. They’re impressive places to see.