Unusual Museums of the World (Part 1)

People & Culture

Handsome Man Holding a Guide Inside a Museum

If you like to do something different while on your travels, don’t just take in the usual sights and sites. There are many alternatives awaiting you in Goway’s world of travel, including unusual museums of the world. 

The creative mind is alive and well and can be experienced in many unusual and different museums around the world. These museums are definitely not in the same category as the Louvre or the Uffizi, but they do serve a purpose and can be very entertaining. My first encounter with an unusual exhibition was at the Tate Gallery in London some years ago. It included items that had been dredged from the River Thames over time and put on display. Initially, I thought this bizarre as the collection included everything from false teeth to jewellery. But on reflection, I decided this exhibition was an imaginative idea on the part of the gallery. This set me off looking for other museums offering the strange, the quirky, and the unusual. Here are some museums which may appeal to you, some whimsical, others with an educational bent.

United Kingdom

Perhaps we should expect something bordering on the eccentric where the British are concerned. They have succeeded. So, on your next trip to England, consider these museums.

The Cumberland Pencil Museum, Keswick, Cumbria (Lake District)
This Cumberland Pencil Museum shows the history of pencil making, and on display are pencils of every kind imaginable. It seems there are at least 72 different colours of pencil and most of these are available for purchase. You can view the world’s biggest pencil at 8 metres/26 inches in length. However, you may decide this museum to be pointless!

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle, Cornwall
The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic has the world’s largest collection of witchcraft-related artifacts. These are seen through displays, temporary exhibitions, and events. The collection has over 3000 objects and over 7000 books devoted to the subject. I mention events. Want to become a witch? You can attend a workshop given by a witch who has practiced the “art” for over 30 years.

Traditional Cornish village of Boscastle, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom (UK)
Traditional Cornish village of Boscastle

The Fan Museum, Greenwich, London
The Fan Museum has a large collection of fans from all over the world, from the 12th century to modern day. However, it seems fans have been around since 3000 BC according to the museum. Did you know fans were once reserved for royalty and the nobility and were regarded as a status symbol?  There is a fan-shaped design by Paul Gauguin on display here. If interested in fans, there are monthly workshops on how to make one.

The Magic Circle Museum, London
The Magic Circle Museum is dedicated to the promotion and advancement of the art of magic. You can watch magic shows together with music, glittering costumes, and sparkling lights. There are exhibits of artifacts used by illusionists and magicians which include magic tricks, photos, props, and toys. One can become a member of the Magic Circle as a bona fide magician. Interestingly, after the introduction to the world of Harry Potter, the membership in this museum increased considerably.

The Dog Collar Museum, Near Maidstone, Kent
Oh, go on, you have always wanted to go to a Dog Collar Museum! This collection is housed in Leeds Castle and shows you some of the fanciest and most intriguing dog collars ever manufactured. You can learn the history and development of this article through history, from medieval times to the Victorian era, with a total of 100 collars. Believe it or not, the museum is visited by more than 500,000 dog enthusiasts every year.

Leeds Castle, Kent, England, UK
Leeds Castle, Kent

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
Sir John Soane’s Museum is dedicated to the architect, Sir John Soane (1753-1837). In his former home is a vast architectural and archaeological collection of his personal effects. It seems he had exquisite but eccentric tastes which can be seen through paintings by Canaletto, drawings by Sir Christopher Wren, and cartoons by William Hogarth. Among the more unusual items are the sarcophagus of an Egyptian pharaoh and a replica of a monk’s cell. The house itself is worth seeing.

The British Lawnmower Museum, Southport, Lancashire
Only the British would dare to open a museum devoted to lawnmowers and expect people to come. The British Lawnmower Museum contains everything from vintage lawnmowers to those owned by the rich and famous, including Prince Charles (I’ll bet you didn’t expect him to mow the lawn). You can book a tour and learn about the history of the garden machine industry. After a visit here, you might be more inspired to get out your own lawnmower and get to work.

France

France is not all about sitting at a sidewalk café drinking coffee and watching the world go by. There are many museums and art galleries to consider on your next France vacation. However, when you have exhausted the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, try one of these off-beat museums on one of your trips to France.

Paris Sewers, France
Paris sewers

The Sewer Museum, Paris
Don’t hold your nose at visiting this popular museum. First, The Sewer Museum doesn’t smell, and secondly, it gives a fascinating glimpse into the underworld of the city. This network of sewers extends some 2100 kilometres/1310 miles in total. The museum also offers an interesting perspective on the history of Paris including the fact that Napoleon introduced covered sewers to the city. Where is this museum? It’s under the ground and you get to see what a real sewer looks like.

Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creatures, Paris
The Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creatures can only be visited by appointment (unless you are a vampire). It is full of vampire-related items including books, paintings, movie posters, and spooky fine-arts objects. There are autographs by almost every actor who has ever played Dracula in a Hollywood movie. You can learn about the history of vampires, their folkloric origins, and their place in French history. There are plastic bats and genuine human remains attached to trees. Perhaps not for the faint of heart?

The Netherlands

Here are some off-beat suggestions for your next Amsterdam vacation.

The Torture Museum, Amsterdam
The Torture Museum showcases 40 instruments of torture from various parts of Europe, including an Inquisition Chair to racks, thumb screws, and the guillotine. There are 2 torture instruments to every small room with descriptions on how and why they were used. Some of the devices are genuine and antique but many are modern reconstructions derived from old texts or books.

The Sex Museum, Amsterdam
I am not sure if there are other museums of this nature, but the existence of The Sex Museum reflects the broad-minded attitude of the Dutch. This is a serious museum and believe it or not, is the 4th most visited museum in Amsterdam after the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Anne Frank House. Its aim is to illustrate the attitude to sex, from classical antiquity to the Victorian era. It seems the Greeks and Romans were no shrinking violets when it came to this subject. This is all done through displays of paintings, cartoons, photographs, statues, and recordings.

Amsterdam skyline shortly after sunset, the Netherlands
Amsterdam skyline shortly after sunset

Italy

On an Italy vacation, one of the first things to consider is the local cuisine. Why not check out these museums totally devoted to food.

The National Museum of Pasta, Rome
Of course, there’s a pasta museum in Rome, just as there is a sex museum in Amsterdam. This one covers the history, production, and nutritional values of the subject. Its intention is to emphasize Italy’s contribution of pasta to the rest of the world. And like so many other museums, there is a gift shop at the end offering, naturally, pasta for sale.

The Gelato Museum, Bologna
What comes after pasta? Ice cream! The Gelato Museum is dedicated to this in the capital of Italian cuisine, Bologna. You can learn about the invention of ice cream and its history. As a staple, it has been around for 500 years in Italy. There are videos of people expounding enthusiastically on the subject, gelato-making machines, and advertising methods to promote the substance. And yes, of course, at the end of the tour, you get to sample the product which includes sorbets, fruit gelato, soft gelato, and other assorted ice creams. If you pay extra, you can join a short lesson on how to make your own perfect gelato.

Channel River in Bologna, Italy
Channel river in Bologna

Spain

Museum of Funeral Carriages, Barcelona
Despite its sombre name, the Museum of Funeral Carriages has one of the finest collections of funeral carriages and hearses in Europe. It traces the history of funeral customs in Spain over the past few centuries. The collection consists of 13 original carriages, all different in appearance and use. Some were used for the less wealthy and others for the affluent. One of the most striking carriages is the “Black Widow,” a carriage covered entirely in black and which was exclusively used to transport grieving widows. The carriages are displayed in a way that is not just visually pleasing, but they take you back in time to Barcelona’s mid-19th century.

Austria

KunstHausWien, Vienna
The KunstHausWien was designed by the very unusual architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. If you are a fan of the Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi, with his whimsical creative style, then you will enjoy this museum. The whole design is unique with wavy, undulating floors and a notable lack of straight lines. Bright, glaring colours have been used throughout with lots of foliage. There are paintings, lithographs, silk screens, etchings, and woodcuts. It is hard to describe in words but let’s say you will not find anything quite like this museum elsewhere.

Croatia

Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb
The Museum of Broken Relationships is dedicated to romantic liaisons that have failed – exhibited through letters, memorabilia, and photographs – all submitted from jilted lovers around the world. Some of the exhibits are influenced by emotional upsets and others are whimsical in the case of a more philosophically-inclined, jilted person. Here is a quote from an exhibit, “He never bought me flowers because flowers, he said, were for boring people. Instead, I got sausages or new parts for my bicycle. I didn’t mind because I loved him. After four years he turned out to be as cheap and shabby as his presents. He cheated on me with a colleague from the office and dumped me via e-mail.” Definitely a fun museum. You can enjoy it on your next Croatia vacation.

Street View of Medieval Zagreb, Croatia
Street view of medieval Zagreb

Germany

The Museum of Bread Culture, Ulm
Ulm, Germany is the birthplace of Albert Einstein, one of the greatest thinkers who ever lived, so why not a serious museum about bread? We all eat it. The Museum of Bread Culture has 16,000 artifacts and 6000 books about bread, but no actual bread on display. The museum does have a serious message along with its paraphernalia. With food shortages around the world, famine is an issue of real importance to this museum. The foundation looking after the museum helps fund research on nutritional deficits.

Iceland

The Icelandic Phallological Museum
The Icelandic Phallological Museum. How do I explain this museum? Well, it’s a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all types of mammals found in Iceland. The museum states this is a serious study of phallology, an ancient science. Let’s be blunter about the collection. It consists of 215 penises and penile parts of land and sea mammals such as whales, polar bears, seals, and walrus. There are also specimens from human beings. I can fully appreciate that this popular museum is not for everyone. Here is a quote from the guest book, “Absolutely loved this place! Meets all of my fetishes.”

Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik skyline

Next:
Unusual Museums of the World (Part 2)