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Hottest museums to see this summer

Jamie Moore

Curators and architects pulled out all the stops in this year's lineup of the world's biggest and best museum debuts. It's hard to decide what gives these museums more "wow factor": the edgy building designs, or the fun new ways visitors are tricked into learning. Either way, no uniformed museum security guard could begin to shush our excitement about the hottest new museums for 2013.


Read on to see how England unveils Henry VIII's favorite warship for the first time, Sweden dresses ABBA fans in fabulous glam-rock style, San Francisco tinkers Exploratorium-style in its new Pier 15 location, and more.

Den Bla Planet, Copenhagen, Denmark
Opened: March 22, 2013

About a mile away from Copenhagen Airport (an easy walk during a layover) is Denmark's new national aquarium, rising up at the edge of the Baltic Sea like a massive swirling white eddy. Den Bla Planet's modern design is a striking sight from the air. Inside, the wavy walls and ceilings emulate an underwater scene, while sweeping views of massive curved tanks add to the effect. See hammerhead sharks, rays, and schools of fish from a clear tunnel that cuts through the aquarium's largest tank. Visit the Amazon-rainforest exhibit during feeding time to observe Europe's largest school of piranhas, or head outside and see the playful sea lions.

US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center
New Orleans
Opened: Jan. 13, 2013

If you're not a history buff, you'd never expect the country's official WWII museum to be located in New Orleans. But this city is actually where the amphibious landing boats used on D-Day were designed, built, and tested. They're on display in the National WWII Museum, but this year the boats are getting upstaged by the museum's new US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. The soaring glass and steel building is part of a $300 million expansion that will quadruple the museum's size when completed in 2015. In it, you'll see massive displays of the American military might that won the war, including the hulky B-17E Flying Fortress and other bombers suspended overhead.

Exploratorium, San Francisco
Opened: April 17, 2013

After nearly 44 years in the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco's well-loved Exploratorium packed up and did what every Bay Area resident longs to do: move into a bigger, greener space on the water. In its new digs on Pier 15, the interactive art and science museum has tripled its space and added 150 new exhibits, including its first outdoor displays. The new space is poised to become the country's largest net-zero-energy museum, thanks to 5,874 solar panels and a high-tech heating and cooling system that uses water from the bay. You can still see the simulated geyser and other old Exploratorium favorites. New exhibits give you the chance to create fog over the bay or grab an umbrella and create your own storm by adjusting the size and velocity of raindrops.

ABBA The Museum,
Stockholm, Sweden
Opened: May 7, 2013

This spring, Sweden is breaking out the bell-bottoms and feathered hair. The traveling ABBA exhibit that has made stops around the world is finally settling into a permanent home in Stockholm. Near where the cruise ships dock on the island of Djurgarden, ABBA The Museum will open as part of the brand-new Swedish Music Hall of Fame. On display are artifacts, concert footage, and the band's glam-rock stage costumes, which you can wear virtually via a projection screen while you dance and sing with holograms of ABBA. Record your rendition of "Dancing Queen" (in Anni-Frid's tiger tunic or Agnetha's cat tunic) and share it on Facebook.

Johnny Cash Museum
Nashville, Tenn.
Opened: Spring 2013

This spring, Music City plots another must-see attraction downtown for music fans. Taking over space in a former upholstery store with exposed brick walls, the Johnny Cash Museum will feature never-before-seen letters, awards, costumes, and instruments. It's billed as the world's largest collection of Cash artifacts and memorabilia. Interactive exhibits and a 250-seat auditorium take visitors through the rise and fall of the Man in Black, a legend honored in the country, rock, and gospel music halls of fame. Browse the museum store for custom guitar-pick necklaces handmade by Johnny's daughter, Tara.

Space Shuttle Atlantis,
Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Opening: June 29, 2013

Two years ago, space shuttle Atlantis and its four-astronaut crew glided home for the last time after a 13-day journey, marking the end of an era in NASA's 30-year Space Shuttle Program. Starting this summer, you can get an up-close look at the retired Atlantis and see the wear of 33 missions on its external tiles. In a new six-story, $100 million exhibit, the shuttle is showcased as if in space, at an angle seen only by astronauts from the International Space Station. Gaze up at the orbiter, which has been elevated 30 feet, then follow a ramp that circles the shuttle to check out the bay doors and robotic arm from only a few feet away.

Mary Rose Museum,
Portsmouth, England
Opening: May 31, 2013

Just 31 years ago, Henry VIII's favorite Tudor warship, the Mary Rose, was raised from the seabed near Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, a 90-minute drive south of London. The new futuristic pod-shaped Mary Rose Museum in the dockyard brings together the mostly intact hull and many artifacts from the ship for the first time since the Mary Rose sank nearly 500 years ago. In the wide-open exhibit space, the hull takes center stage and deck galleries run the length of the hull, each level corresponding to a deck on the ship. Huge bronze cannons, doctor's instruments, drinking tankards, the officers' fine pewterware, and the skeleton of the ship's dog, Hatch, offer a glimpse into daily life onboard.

Butterfly Wonderland,
Scottsdale, Ariz.
Opening: May 25, 2013

Perfectly scheduled for a springtime emergence, Arizona's new Butterfly Wonderland is slated to be the country's largest butterfly pavilion—so watch where you step. The stunning 10,000-square-foot glass atrium encloses a tropical-rainforest habitat where thousands of butterflies from around the world flit past waterfalls, draw nectar from exotic flowers, and land on visitors' fingers. There are museum-like components too, including educational labs and interactive exhibits. A 3-D theater features “Flight of the Butterflies,” the story of the epic migration of these expert navigators.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Reopened: April 13, 2013

A legend among museums, the Rijksmuseum has been around for more than 125 years, but when visitors step into the 19th-century building this year they will experience something completely new. Only Rembrandt's famous “Night Watch” painting remains in its original position at the center of the building. The rest of the 8,000 artifacts and pieces of art that tell the 800-year story of Dutch history are completely reconfigured across the museum's 80 beautifully restored galleries. Here, modern design blends elegantly with the grandeur that has always defined the Rijksmuseum. For the first time, the museum's Cuypers Library, the oldest and largest art library in the Netherlands, is open to the public.

Museu de Arte do Rio,
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Opened: January 4, 2013

As a host city for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio is busy reinventing itself before it returns to the world stage. One of the centerpieces of the downtown port area's $3.8 billion revitalization is the new Museu de Arte do Rio, MAR to locals, which occupies two interconnected buildings, one a classical-style heritage site and the other an adjacent modernist building. The eclectic blend of architectural styles seems an appropriate symbol for what the artwork inside represents: the social fabric of Rio with all of its conflicts and contradictions. There are eight exhibit halls over four floors to explore. Don't miss the images of the hillside slums, or favelas, with homes made of painted terra-cotta bricks.