Many of the world’s most admired museums have been off-limits to travelers this year, and to help art and culture enthusiasts access their collections, some have offered virtual tours. Unsurprisingly, looking at the Louvre’s great artwork on a laptop is not as satisfying as walking its superb galleries. To appease the disappointment of those whose plans to travel to Paris, New York City, or London got squashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and who don’t find relief in a virtual visit, check out the online shops of some of the world’s best museums. Museum gift shops cater to every taste, age, and wallet, from fun and tacky key chains to gorgeous art books and games. And you’re sure to create the surprise with thoughtful and unique gifts that will hit the spot for your art- and travel-deprived loved ones.
1. Le Louvre, Paris
The Louvre has a Christmas selection in its online gift shop that will make it easy to find your Secret Santa’s perfect present. Our personal favorite is a reproduction of one of the museum’s most loved pieces: “Hippopotamus.” On display in the Egyptian Antiquities department of the Louvre, the bright blue figurine is extremely popular with both adults and children, not only because of its adorable look but also thanks to its fascinating story as a funerary statuette found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. There are small ($18) and large ($54) ceramic reproductions of the object, and one make-your-own blue hippo kit ($23) that will keep kids and parents entertained for a bit while getting a fun Egyptology lesson.
There’s currently a 20 percent discount for all the items on the Boutique des Musées website where you’ll find the Louvre’s hippopotamus, as well as items from other Paris cultural institutions’ gift shops, such as the Picasso Museum, the Palace of Versailles, or the Musée d’Orsay. Use the code XMAS20 to get the discount.
2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), NYC
Like the Louvre, the MET has a 2020 holiday gift catalog that will help you pick out a great present. There are plenty of beautiful fashion-oriented items available, such as Tiffany-inspired jewelry pieces, scarves, and clutches, as well as a stunning coffee-table book, “Vogue & The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute” ($65), that will captivate lovers of haute couture. For those who want to enjoy a piece of the MET’s collection at home while keeping busy during this very special year, we recommend buying a puzzle reproduction of the famous “The Unicorn Rests in a Garden” ($19.95) from the Unicorn Tapestries on display at the museum, or the 500-piece “Inside the Museum” ($19.95) puzzle, a fun illustration of some of the treasures to be found at the MET. The museum’s puzzles are suitable for children of 12 and up.
3. The British Museum, London
The British Museum is filled with iconic pieces celebrated throughout the world for their cultural, historical, and artistic values, and the museum’s shop reflects perfectly this impressive collection. One of the flagship exhibits in the museum is the Lewis Chessmen, i.e. 82 intricate chess pieces carved into walrus ivory and whale’s teeth in Norway between 1150 and 1200 AD. Discovered in the 19th century on the island of Lewis in Scotland, they have inspired the pieces used in wizards chess in the movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. For fans of mysterious archeological discoveries, Harry Potter, chess, or all three, small ($60) and medium ($265) chess sets featuring replicas of the Lewis chessmen pieces can be purchased. Single replicas ($15) of some of the iconic pieces are also available.
4. The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
If you want to get your children interested in art, check out Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum’s Playmobil collection. There are Playmobil versions of Van Gogh and Rembrandt painting their self-portraits ($7), as well as great sets representing Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” ($7) and Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” ($8,25), probably the two most famous art pieces in the Rijksmuseum. For adults, the museum offers prints of its iconic pieces in a unique format. Instead of the usual poster reproductions, you can purchase block-effect prints (from $94 to $474 depending on the size chosen) that you put together yourself thanks to thick connecting cards. It’s much more modern and original than a paper poster, and the pieces are moisture-resistant, UV-resistant, and can even be washed, so you can display them in your kitchen, bathroom, or anywhere you like.
5. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), NYC
Being a museum of modern art, MoMa has some of the edgiest gift ideas of all the art museums on this list, from beautifully designed homeware like clocks, teapots, furniture, etc. to trendy decorative pieces and clothing. For a truly original present, check out the Only at MoMa section of the online shop. Our favorite items include the Cube Kettle ($55), a flat, cubic, stainless steel kettle made in Japan that will make breakfast and tea time a pleasure; the amazing Kit Cat Clock ($40) that will entertain the kids as much as the adults with its humorous and retro design; and the colorful slip-on sneakers from the MoMa Vans collection ($85) that teenagers will love to wear.
6. The Victoria & Albert Museum, London
As expected, the world’s leading museum of art and design, the Victoria & Albert Museum, has a lot to offer to art lovers in search of a beautiful gift. The jewelry collection has a lot of great options, whether you’re looking for a classic, trendy, retro, or just exceptionally original item. The fabric flower hook earrings ($64) created by textile artist Sachi Manabe are made in Japan and a sure way to please someone looking for a beautiful and unusual piece. For those who want to give a truly British present, the “Strawberry Thief” William Morris cross stitch kit ($47) is perfect for both adults and teenagers eager to learn a new skill and make something beautiful. The V&A also has some of the quirkiest — and designed in London — Christmas decorations found in museums, like a Queen Victoria coronation ornament ($20), or even a red Mini Christmas decoration ($11).
7. Zeitz MOCAA – Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town
The Museum of Contemporary Art Africa opened in 2017 in Cape Town and celebrates contemporary African artists in its galleries and in its shop. For the fashion-obsessed, there are bags, adult and children’s clothing, accessories, and jewelry created by designers, artisans, and craftspeople in South Africa. The mismatched enamel earrings ($162) manufactured in Muizenberg Village on the Southern Coast of Cape Town and the Woodstock Laundry tribal shorts ($34) will please the fashionable crowd. Decorative homewares like colorful ceramic bowls ($19) and bowls made of upcycled telephone wires ($80) are also the work of local potters and craft producers.