Ancient paintings, textiles and armour, mummies from Egypt, fossils, tribal cultures, the natural world, or architecture – there’s a museum for everything in India. So grab your camera, notepad, sketchpad, and head down to one of these.
Note: Keep in mind that many may be shut during the pandemic. Also, most museums have their own schedule of holidays. So do check if you plan to visit on a public holiday.
Calico Museum of Textiles
Managed by the Sarabhai Foundation, the museum is located in the Retreat Complex of the Foundation’s Shahibagh premises. The museum contains a fine collection of antique and modern Indian textile. You have to obtain prior permission to visit the museum. The main textile galleries are housed in the Chauk section; only 20 visitors allowed, who are then taken on a two-hour guided tour, starting at 10.30am. The Haveli section, with its collection of religious art, is open to 10 visitors only, who are then taken on a two-hour guided tour, starting at 3pm. Closed on Wednesdays. Children below 10 years not allowed.
Vechaar Utensils Museum
A unique collection of utensils of various makes, designs and utility, from olden days to modern times makes this museum a must visit. Located within the Vishalla Village Restaurant premises (opposite Vasna Toll Naka), it is open Tuesday to Sunday, 1-3pm and 5-10.30pm. Entry fees applicable.
HAL Heritage Centre and Aerospace Museum
Located on HAL Airport Road and established in 2001, it is managed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Apart from displaying the history of aviation through photographs, the museum also displays motorized cross section of models of aero engines besides some real engines such as Garret (Dornier) Adour (Jaguar) and Orpheus (Kiran). There is a true motion simulator which offers a very realistic feel of flying fighter jets and commercial aircraft. There is also a children’s play area, an orchidarium, herbal garden, a sustainability development park and a souvenir shop. Open on all days, 9am to 5pm. Entry fees applicable.
The museum, which celebrated its centenary in 1951, is located in Egmore. It has 46 galleries spread over six buildings. The galleries include archaeological finds, anthropological exhibits, zoological specimens, wood carvings, bronze items, dolls, Ravi Varma paintings, to name a few. Open 9.30am – 5pm, Saturday-Thursday. Entry and camera fees applicable.
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Located in a corner of Janpath, the National Museum was inaugurated on August 15, 1949. Over the years, it has built a wide range of collections, including archaeological exhibits dating back to the Harappan civilization, Buddhist art, miniature painting, coins, textile, Western art, arms and armour, etc. Open between 10am and 5pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Entry fees applicable. Still cameras allowed, for a fee, for private non-commercial use. Mobile cameras and video cameras not allowed. There is a canteen and two museum shops.
National Rail Museum
Located in Chanakyapuri, the National Rail Museum was opened in 1977. With models of train engines, coaches and related equipment, it offers a comprehensive history of Indian Railways. The star attraction is the steam engine Fairy Queen built in 1855. Open 10am – 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday, the Museum was going through large-scale renovation in 2014 and hence is being opened to public in sections. So please check with the museum regarding timings and displays before visiting. Ph: 011-2688 1816.
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Shankar’s International Dolls Museum
Located in Nehru House on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, it was opened to the public in 1965. The Doll’s Museum has over 6000 dolls from around the world, including India. Open 10am – 6pm. Entry fees applicable.
Salar Jung Museum
Located on the southern bank of Hyderabad’s Musi River, the museum was formally opened to the public in 1951. The huge collection of art objects and antiques are mostly from the personal collection of three generations of Salar Jungs. There are three blocks consisting of 27 galleries in the Indian block, 7 galleries in the Western block and 4 galleries in the Eastern block. A few of the displays have received global fame, such as the Veiled Rebecca—a marble statue acquired from Rome in 1876, the life-size double statue of Mephistopheles (in front) and Margareta (at the back) made from a single block of wood, the Shahnama by Firdausi, the rare Lilavati manuscript—a treatise on mathematics, a fabulous collection of European clocks, etc. Open 10am to 5pm, Saturday to Thursday. Entry and camera fees applicable.
The museum celebrated its 200 years in 2014. Located on Jawaharlal Nehru Road (Chowringhee Road; near Park Street), it has various galleries exhibiting only a part of its total collection—Bharhut gallery, Gandhara gallery, Bengal painting gallery, mask gallery, Egyptian gallery, rock and mineral gallery, bird gallery, etc. Open between 10am and 5pm (March- November; at 4.30pm December to Feruary), Tuesday-Sunday. Entry and camera fees applicable. There is a museum shop as well.
Regional Rail Museum
Located in Howrah (not far from the Howrah railway station), the museum, opened in 2006, is looked after by the Eastern Railway. Among the open-air exhibits, there is a steam engine from the East Pakistan Railways. Besides, there are models of various engines, equipment, copies of old timetables and menus, crockeries, etc. Toy train ride available. Open 1pm -8pm; Thursday closed. Entry fees applicable.
Opened in 1921, the museum housed in the iconic building, houses paintings by Indian and Western masters, the Company School of drawings, sculptures and manuscripts from the British period, etc. The building sits in the middle of a landscaped garden which remains open to the public from 5.30am to 7pm; entry ticket applicable. To enter the museum (10am – 5pm; Tuesday-Sunday), one has to buy separate entry ticket. The museum also runs a sound and light show (currently suspended owing to renovation).
Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum
Opened to the public in 1872 as the Victoria and Albert Museum, it is located in Byculla, adjacent to the Mumbai zoo, within the Veer Mata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan (Rani Baug). The building, renovated some time ago, is an architectural marvel—with a Palladian exterior and High Victorian designed interior. The galleries include industrial art gallery, 19th century paintings gallery, origins of Mumbai gallery, etc. Open 10am – 6pm, Thursday-Tuesday. There is a café and a museum shop.
Located in Hornbill House, BNHS-India’s headquarter in the Fort area, the specimen collection here is an invaluable repository of faunal biodiversity of the Indian subcontinent and beyond. You need to have a prior appointment to see the collection. The extinct Pink-headed Duck is a prized possession. According to the BNHS-India website, the institute has over 1,20,000 specimens, including nearly 20,000 mammals, 29,000 birds, 5,400 bird eggs, 8,500 amphibians and reptiles and 50,000 insects.
The CSMVS, earlier called the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, was opened to the public in 1922. Located within the Kala Ghoda precincts (Fort area) of Mumbai, it is surrounded by several other landmark buildings and institutions such as Jehangir Art Gallery, the NGMA, etc. Few museums in India are as active as the CSMVS in popularising museum visits by the general public. The large and airy galleries contain a vast collection of various forms of art from India, the Far-Eastern states, Nepal and Tibet, and Europe. The museum remains open on all days except select holidays, 10.15am to 6pm. Entry and camera fees applicable. There is a museum shop and cafeterias inside.
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Also known as the Government Art Museum, it is located in the heart of the city and shares its premises with the zoo and the botanical garden. The Indo-Saracenic structure of the building itself is a great appeal. The museum contains archaeological and historical objects, bronze idols, old ornaments, a temple chariot and ivory carvings, etc.
The Natural History Museum is also located in the same premises. The Napier Museum is open between 10am and 4.45pm (Wednesday: 1pm – 5pm); closed on Mondays. The Natural History Museum is open between 10am and 5pm (Wednesday: 1pm to 4.45pm); closed on Monday. Entry fees applicable for both museums.