Peabody Essex Museum

Top choice in Massachusetts

All of the art, artifacts and curiosities that Salem merchants brought back from the Far East were the foundation for this museum. Founded in 1799, it is the country’s oldest museum in continuous operation. The building itself is impressive, with a light-filled atrium, and it's a wonderful setting for the vast collections, which focus on New England decorative arts and maritime history.

Predictably, the Peabody Essex is particularly strong on Asian art, including pieces from China, Japan, Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia. The collection from preindustrial Japan is rated as the best in the world. Yin Yu Tang is a Chinese house that was shipped to the museum from China's southeastern Huizhou region.

The interactive Art & Nature Center has games and exhibits specifically designed for children, while age-specific 'Gallery Discovery Kits' make the other exhibits intriguing for little ones.