Housed in the expansive, Greek-cross-shaped building called El Panóptico (designed as a prison by English architect Thomas Reed in 1874), the Museo Nacional explores Colombia's past via archeology, history, ethnology and art. The collection is spread across 17 galleries that will eventually be themed by floor – the museum is undergoing a major modernization that will last through to 2023.
The first two galleries, Memoria y Nación and Tierra como Recurso, are open and present a strikingly modern contrast to the whitewashed walls and dated galleries elsewhere in the museum. On the 3rd floor, room 16 gives the best sense of prison life – with old cells now presenting various exhibits. The first on the right centers on Jorge Gaitán, the populist leader whose 1948 assassination set off the Bogotazo violence – and, coincidentally, delayed the opening of this museum. Afterward, check out the lovely gardens and their pleasant glass Juan Valdez cafe. There are many good eating options on nearby Calle 29bis.