From medieval sorcery in Iceland to forensics in Bangkok, enjoy a sampling of some of the world’s most oddly fascinating museums.
From the National Geographic book Secret Journeys of a Lifetime
1. Museum of Bad Art, Massachusetts
MOBA’s curators search thrift stores and Dumpsters for art that transcends the merely incompetent in order to bring the “worst of art to the widest of audiences.” The museum’s main location—outside the men’s room in the basement of a movie theater in Dedham, southwest of Boston—helps keep the collection in the obscurity it deserves.
Planning: Entrance is free, but the museum playfully also offers “steep discounts” to students, seniors, and many others.
2. Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, Tennessee
Concentrated kitsch in the form of a mind-blowing display of more than 20,000 salt and pepper shakers crowds yard after yard of illuminated shelving in this museum in the mountain resort town of Gatlinburg. There is every shape from pandas to Easter Island moai and others that must be seen to be believed.
Planning: The $3 admission fee earns an equivalent discount at the gift shop, enticing visitors to start competing collections.
3. Erimo Wind Museum, Hokkaido, Japan
Lying on the eastern side of northern Japan’s Hokkaido island, Erimo is famous for its nearly perpetual windiness. The smart underground museum features music and light displays driven by windmills and, on rare calm days, a wind tunnel to produce a 56-mph (90 km/h) gale. You can also enjoy wind-free views down to seals basking in the sea below.
Planning: Reaching remote Erimo from better-populated western Hokkaido requires a train and two buses.
4. Beijing Taxation Museum, China
The magnificent 350-year-old Pudu Temple contains very early tax documents with heavy red seals and spidery calligraphy. Dusty old documents of surprising beauty sometimes carry commentary in the vermilion ink reserved for the emperor.
Planning: The museum is reached by a pleasant winding walk through recently reconstructed traditional hutong (alleys).
5. Songkran Niyomsane Museum, Thailand
Of six medical museums housed in Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital, the Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum is by far the most macabre. It offers such attractions as the corpse of a cannibal, the remains of accident victims, and the evidence gathered from murder scenes. Not for the squeamish.
Planning: The Siriraj Hospital is on the west side of the Chao Phraya River. www.si.mahidol.ac.th
6. National Museum, Nuuk, Greenland
Collections of Inuit and Norse items dating back 4,500 years show the resourcefulness needed to survive in a remote and unforgiving environment. There are displays of kayaks and dogsleds, of clothing and food, and on the harsh lives of the inhabitants both before and after European colonization.
Planning: Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, is most commonly reached on Arctic cruises or package tours from the Danish capital, Copenhagen.
7. Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, Iceland
At Hólmavík, about 155 miles (250 km) north of Reykjavík, find out about the wildly inventive sorcery of medieval Iceland. Potions mixing human blood and the brains of ravens were thought to make you invisible. To become rich you needed enchantments that involved catching sea creatures with a net woven from virgins’ hair. Or you could wear necropants—made by skinning a dead man from the waist down. Haunting.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Planning: Icelandair’s transatlantic links are economically priced and often include a stopover with free hotel accommodations in the capital, Reykjavík.
8. Lumina Domestica, Bruges, Belgium
The exhibits in this museum of interior lighting fill an elegant 15th-century mansion in the picturesque city of Bruges. The collection contains more than 6,000 assorted devices telling the 400,000-year history of domestic illumination, from the crudest Neanderthal cave-lamp to the arrival of electric light.
Planning: Also make time for Bruges museums devoted to chocolate, lace, and crossbows.
9. Museu de Carrosses Fúnebres, Spain
Barcelona’s museum of funeral carriages is difficult to find but worth tracking down for its well-lit displays of ornate horsedrawn and motor hearses. Colors range from black to the less obvious white, reserved for children and virgins, all attended by life-sized costumed figures and horses in gloomy harness.
Planning: The museum is free and lies at Carrer Sancho de Avila 2, near Metro stop Marina.