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: Most museums are closed one day a week (unless otherwise stated) and on government holidays. Entry fees and camera fees are applicable too; some museums also levy a fee on mobile cameras; some do not allow entry with mobile phones and cameras. Check before you buy entry tickets. Usually, sale of entry tickets close 30 to 45 minutes before the museum closing time.
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. The galleries are open on all days of the week, except on Mondays and public holidays listed below. The museum offers a guided tour which starts at 10.30am and ends at 1pm. Entry is free. Visitors must pre-register for the tour, via website (www.calicomuseum.org). The maximum number of visitors per tour is restricted to 20.
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, 3pm to 10.30pm.
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.
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 to 5pm, Saturday-Thursday.
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. There is a canteen and two museum shops. Check for camera restrictions before buying ticket.
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.
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.
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; Tuesday-Sunday. There is a museum shop selling books and souvenirs.
Regional Rail Museum (Howrah)
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.
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 – 5.30pm, Thursday-Tuesday. There is a café and a museum shop.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
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. There is a museum shop and cafeteria inside.
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 – 4.45pm); closed on Mondays. The Natural History Museum is open between 10am and 5pm (Wednesday: 1pm to 4.45pm); closed on Monday.