A few of many classics on display at the National Car Museum in France — Photo courtesy of Courtesy National Car Museum, France
While many of us may not know a brake shoe from a catalytic convertor, most people can agree that the beauty of these four-wheeled vehicles can transcend the everyday. Cars are synonymous with freedom, the possibilities of the open road and the exhilaration of speeding into the unknown.
Europe is home to a number of top museums featuring valuable and cherished car collections that attract motorheads from far and wide. Ready to start your engines? Next time you're across the pond, be sure to make a pit stop at these six world-class automotive museums.
Admire classic autos at the National Car Museum in France
This pristine auto is a highlight of the National Car Museum in France — Photo courtesy of Courtesy National Car Museum, France
Situated in southeast France (near the Swiss border), the National Car Museum is home to nearly 500 cars, mostly vintage models. It was created in 1957 by the Schlumpf brothers, who are known throughout the auto world for their prestigious and extensive collection. This exclusive museum is located in a former woolen mill, yet today's refurbished entrance features glass-and-steel elements and showcases several cars suspended in the air.
Visitors learn all about the evolution of the auto industry, while admiring many well-preserved treasures, such as Rolls-Royce, Mercedes and a number of French-made cars — with the famed Bugatti as the shining star. After your visit, enjoy some refreshments, as there’s a counter-service cafe, bar and full-service restaurant on the premises.
Visit a private car collection at the Louwman Museum, Netherlands
The Louwman Museum, in the Netherlands, features some American vintage cars — Photo courtesy of Bim - iStock / Getty Images Plus
Dutch businessman and car aficionado P.W. Louwman established his Dodge and Chrysler import company early in the last century in The Hague, located about an hour southwest of Amsterdam. In 1934, he turned his passion into the Louwman Museum, considered one of the world's oldest private car collections. With three floors of gallery space featuring more than 275 antique and classic autos, the museum displays many recognizable classics, including Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin and Cadillac. The Louwman Museum focuses on the cultural narrative and the importance of sharing the story behind each car. Guests will discover outstanding cars from all eras — from unrestored 19th century models to the current record holder at Le Mans.
There's fun surprises along the way, too, such as the 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe hot rod. Car lovers will appreciate other mechanical eye candy here, including aircraft, offbeat bicycles, posters and other memorabilia. Post-visit, be sure to take a pit stop at the on-site café, a great place to relax.
Who was voted the best?: Best Attraction for Car Lovers (10Best Readers' Choice Awards 2023)
Celebrate custom performance cars at the Museo Mille Miglia in Italy
A row of sporty custom cars shine brightly at Museo Mille Miglia in Italy — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Museo Mille Miglia
This stunning museum pays tribute to the annual Mille Miglia, the popular Italian road rally. Featuring over 400 stunning cars (produced no later than 1957), the rally is a 1000-mile, round-trip ride from Brescia to Rome, passing through several towns and cities, including Siena, Modena and Parma. Created in 1996, the Musee Mille Miglia showcases these gorgeous performance autos made by esteemed automakers, including Ferrari, Lancia, Maserati, Jaguar, Mercedes, Porsche, Fiat, Bugatti and more.
In addition to its famous car collection, this museum is a significant architectural destination, as the structure was formerly an ancient monastery. Car enthusiasts are sure to be impressed with the museum's unique layout, as it recreates the look and feel of the Mille Miglia rally through its exhibits. While most of these exquisite cars on display are Italian-made, there are a few noteworthy exceptions, including a custom 1926 Bentley. Afterwards, don't miss the La Taverna restaurant, as its menu features regional specialties from Brescia.
Cruise over to Autoworld and see vintage roadsters in Belgium
The world-famous Autoworld car museum in Brussels — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Autoworld, Belgium
Belgium’s national car museum is situated in the center of downtown Brussels, a shift from other European auto museums that are located in rural areas or in smaller towns. Opened in 1986, the extensive Autoworld museum was originally built upon the private collection of the Mahy family, known worldwide as automotive industry pioneers. This museum showcases over 250 vintage European and American cars (until the 1970s) and includes a dazzling array of exhibits with antique roadsters, famous race cars, 1960s muscle cars and many more. Additionally, these galleries share the story of this country's automotive heritage, shining a spotlight on locally made models, such as Belga Rise, Minerva, FN and others.
Be sure to save time for some shopping! This museum's gift shop is worth a stop. It features thousands of scale car models that are sure to tantalize the crafty gearhead.
Who was voted the best?: Best Car Show (10Best Readers' Choice Awards 2023)
Gaze at mint-condition luxury cars at Monaco's Top Cars Collection
A stunning gallery in the Royal Monaco Top Cars collection — Photo courtesy of Courtesy Monaco Top Cars Collection
Truly a collection fit for a prince, the Monaco Top Cars Collection was curated during the life of the late Prince Rainier III of Monaco, a classic car aficionado. At this museum, you'll admire a variety of rare, iconic sports cars by manufacturers including Maserati, Lamborghini, Lotus, Ferrari and more. Visitors will also see some historically significant autos, such as the Bugatti Type 35 — the winner of the first Grand Prix in 1929.
Pilgrims visiting this fairytale kingdom to check out Monaco's famous Formula 1 course will truly appreciate this museum. Take advantage of the touch screens throughout the galleries, as they reveal the story behind each car’s history in a variety of languages. You'll also be treated to plenty of Monaco Rally and F1 cars on display. The gift shop is worth visit as well.
Embrace high-octane thrills at France's 24 Hours of Le Mans Museum
The 24 Hour of Le Mans Museum allows guests to tour the track — Photo courtesy of Arand - iStock / Getty Images
The grueling 24 Hour Le Mans race is legendary and considered by many to be the greatest endurance challenge in the world. The 24 hours of Le Mans Museum is an easy day trip from Paris by train and an ideal destination for avid racing fans who wish to be immersed in this iconic race's history. This museum creatively tells the fascinating story of this iconic race, using nearly 150 vehicles, including models by Bentley, Ferrari, Jaguar, Audi, Porsche and other celebrated automakers. There's also a gallery of French automakers that includes Lorraine Dietrich, Bugatti and others. As you tour through the themed permanent and temporary exhibits, you'll learn about these award-winning drivers' backgrounds.
Outside, visitors also have the unique option to do a self-guided tour of the empty circuit and imagine the incredible spectacle — including the roar of the engines (and the crowd) during this annual event.