Europe's most famous museums are not just among the continent's greatest attractions, they are also works of art in their own right.

Called into life to safeguard the cultural and artistic patrimony of a richly creative continent, Europe’s finest museums are in reality monumental palaces that house the finest collection of art in the world. No wonder the Louvre, Prado, National Gallery, Uffizi and Rijksmuseum are among the most popular and venerated attractions in their respective cities, nay all of Europe.

Musée du Louvre Paris

The world’s largest museum is also one of its most famous and refined. Set within the Palais du Louvre, a former fortress rebuilt as a royal palace in the 16th century and subsequently added to, its more than 73,000 square metres of display space contains over 35,000 works of art dating from prehistory to the present day and it is ranked as the number one museum in the world.

The beautiful complex bordering the Tuileries Gardens is a fine example of classical French architecture and one of the most important monuments in Paris. With over nine million visitors a year, the Louvre is the second most visited museum in the world, a status assured by a collection that includes such iconic pieces as the Venus de Milo and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The venue and the art evoke the classical elegance of royal France, and even the modern extension designed by Chinese American architect I. M. Pei is a study in refined solutions, for the glass pyramid situated in the grand Cour Napoléon square has become an iconic part of the Louvre, which blends wonderfully well with the beautiful classical architecture of the original Palais Royal.

Museo del Prado Madrid

Established not long after the conclusion of the Peninsular Wars to showcase the flower of Spanish art and prove that the country is on a par with other cultural leaders, the Prado is a treasure trove of art and culture that ranks among an international elite. The Spanish Royal Collection formed the basis of what is now one of the best displays of art in the world, and Spanish art in particular.

The museum features 7,600 paintings, 4,800 prints, 8,200 drawings, 1,000 sculptures and hundreds of historic documents. Even though many of these are sent to exhibitions around the world, it takes the better part of a day to take it all in, and much longer to really come to grips with what is one of the finest collections of European art. This must be why many among the almost 2.5 million visitors per year keep coming back, to admire masterpieces by Velázquez, El Greco, Goya, Rubens and Hieronymus Bosch, to name a few. Goya’s Las Meninas is arguably the most iconic piece in the museum, which is located in a beautifully stylish building looking out upon a grand avenue in the elegant heart of the city.

The National Gallery London

Of course, London could not fall behind, and so the National Gallery was established in 1824, some years after the Louvre and the Prado. The grand neoclassical façade of the National Gallery dominates Trafalgar Square in the heart of London. Behind its columns are over 2,300 paintings from the medieval period up to the present, illuminating the story of western art in marble halls visited by almost six million people a year. Here you will find works by the likes of Titian, Van Eyck and Holbein, with special attention for British masters such as Turner and Constable, who’s emblematic The Hay Wain is perhaps the most famous piece on display.

Admission is free, making the National Gallery one of the most popular attractions in the British capital as well as an internationally recognisable listed building of great classical beauty, especially inside, where its grand marble staircases, archways and inlaid ceilings and stained glass evoke the feeling of a palace, as is the case at the Prado and the Louvre. It provides a wonderful setting in which to escape the London rain and spend time among inspiring works of art by some of the most famous masters of all time.

The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

One of the most popular sights in a city renowned as a tourist centre, the Rijksmuseum was founded in 1800 but moved from The Hague to Amsterdam in 1808 to eventually occupy the graceful red brick complex designed by Pierre Cuypers. Though the red brick creates a 19th century British feel, this elegant building also contains strong elements of the French Neo-Renaissance school and even Dutch Neo-Gothic features, adding all the more to a perfect environment in which to display, celebrate and simply enjoy art.

The museum receives almost 2.5 million visitors per year, necessitating an expansion programme that was inaugurated in 2013 and drew its inspiration from Pei’s graceful solutions for the Louvre. With many famous painters being of Dutch origin, it is not surprising that The Netherlands is well-represented on this list, so the Rijksmuseum is the natural home for works of Vermeer, Frans Hals and Rembrandt, whose The Night Watch is a large, awe-inspiring masterpiece almost synonymous with this classic museum. In all, there are over 8,000 works on art on display at the Rijksmuseum, with over one million objects of various kinds on view, under restoration and archived.

Uffizi Florence

The fact that this prominent art history collection, which calls itself a gallery, is housed in the iconic 16th century Piazzale degli Uffizi – an erstwhile office complex from which the museum takes its name – is typically Italian. That Italy’s most famous art museum is housed here and not in a grand palace is, however, down to the fact the Uffizi was first founded in 1581, before the era of bestowing such buildings upon museums. Now it finds itself in the heart of what is sometimes called an open-air museum city, surrounded by the profusion of works that make this country the glorious centre of the art world. The narrow courtyard between the Uffizi’s two wings provides a study in perspective that trains the eye along the architectural detail of the palace towards the Arno River.

Inside, the elegant structure abounds in fine decorative detail that provides a backdrop for the creations of the Italian Renaissance. Look out for sculptures not just on display in the halls but also set into alcoves in the building itself. This is Italy, and though a wonder of the Renaissance, the Uffizi still evokes a somewhat Roman feeling among the more than two million annual visitors.