Reader Recs: 10 Quirky Museums Around the World
Think all museums are dusty and stodgy? Think again.
We asked our Nat Geo Travel Facebook fans to share quirky museums from their travels, and their responses included displays of mummies, tow trucks, and much more.
Without further ado, here are ten off-beat museums worth traveling for:
> House on the Rock (near Dodgeville, Wisconsin, USA)
This attraction, inn, and resort located approximately two hours directly west of Milwaukee is “full of this guy’s random collections, ranging from carousels and mannequin parts to musical instruments and dollhouses,” explains Gina K. That guy’s name would be Alex Jordan, Jr., a wealthy eccentric who indulged his passions by building a shrine to the bizarre atop Deer Shelter Rock. Jordan passed away in 1989, but the legend lives on. Exploring the house’s architecturally unique rooms is perhaps the greatest treat for visitors. Earning its name, the “Infinity Room” juts out over a cliff for more than 200 feet without support from below and features more than 300 windows.
> Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford, England)
Lucinda F. recalls the experience of walking through this unique collection of archaeological and ethnographic relics housed in the back of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History: “They didn’t want to have too much lighting [in order to protect] the displays, so we were given wind-up torches (flashlights) to be able to see properly.” There are more than half a million objects at the museum, arranged thematically, which run the gamut from an 18th-century Tahitian mourner’s costume to ornate masks worn in early Japanese Noh dramas. Her favorite? A “case full of shrunken heads.”
> New Orleans Pharmacy Museum (New Orleans, Louisiana, USA)
Ever imagine what it was like when doctors used leeches to treat high blood pressure and mercury to treat, well, pretty much everything else? Head to this museum and see the whacky world of 19th-century medicine come to life in one of America’s most dynamic cities, says Leslie M. In addition to the handmade apothecary jars containing crude drugs, herbs, chemicals, and “gris-gris” potions on display, the pharmacy museum boasts a rare 1855 Italian marble soda fountain, a throwback to an era when the corner drug store constituted the beating heart of the neighborhood.
> Egyptian Museum (Cairo, Egypt)
Patricia W. found many “weird mummies” at this institution, conveniently located on Tahrir Square in Egypt’s capital city. Among the treasures in this collection of Pharaonic antiquities, the world’s largest, visitors will find artifacts associated with Tutankhamen, a mummified child, and a rare group of strikingly modern Fayum portraits, wherein a person’s likeness was painted on a wooden board before and buried with the dead.
> International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum (Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA)
Did you know that it’s a big year for the tow truck? Reader Troy P. did, after visiting this niche nook in southeastern Tennessee. The museum “has its fair share of quirk, but [it’s] also pretty darn informative,” he writes. One of his lesson of the days: The tow truck was actually invented in Chattanooga, in 1916—which means that 2016 marks the wrecker’s 100th anniversary. He adds: “It was nice to interact with a tow truck while not watching it haul away my car because it was in an accident or broke down or parked illegally or…you get the picture.”
> Icelandic Phallological Museum (Reykjavík, Iceland)
Jokes are endless in the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts, yet the collection is impressive. Visitors find one ‘specimen’ from every mammal to be found in Iceland, on land or by sea, including polar bears and walruses. Reader Jill B. sums it up best: “How often do you get to see displays like that?”
> Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum (Farmington Hills, Michigan, USA)
Thousands of fortune-telling devices, arcade games, and mechanical oddities dating back to the early 1900s pack this museum northwest of Detroit. Juliane M. testifies: “It has the weirdest vintage coin-operated machines in its collection—and you can play most of them!” Tip: Don’t forget to bring a pocketful of change along with you.
> National Museum of Health and Medicine (Silver Spring, Maryland, USA)
Charlotte G. recalls a blast from her museum past: “I was an elementary student and there were body parts and premature infants in clear jars ‘preserved’ in formaldehyde and similar exhibits of diseases and deformations.” Sounds gruesome, right? There’s a point to all of it. The museum’s layered history began during the American Civil War, when the nation’s surgeon general proposed studying “specimens of morbid anatomy” in an effort to understand the physical effects of war wounds and disease on the body. Today, the museum continues its mission of preserving, collecting, and interpreting objects, specimens, photographs, and documents chronicling the history and practice of medicine over the centuries. The collection includes assets as varied as a 17th-century Robert Hooke microscope, the leg General Daniel Sickles lost at Gettysburg, and the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
> South Pacific WII Museum (near Port Vila, Vanuatu)
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Vanuatu, make a beeline to what Facebook reader Bon Chic Travels describes as the “tiny, palm-fringed roadside WWII cabin museum” on Espiritu Santo, the largest island in the tropical archipelago. “The owner sells Coca-Cola bottles and other war memorabilia, which he free-dives [for] himself. Truly [a] bizarre experience!”
> Musical Instrument Museum (Phoenix, Arizona, USA)
Chris C.’s biggest takeaway after visiting this quirky museum: “It’s amazing to see how many different cultures arrived at nearly identical means to make music.” Among the 16,000 or so instruments, collected from approximately 200 of the world’s nations and territories, in the museum’s holdings, visitors can find everything from tribal drums from Sub-Saharan Africa and Appalachian dulcimers to one of Taylor Swift’s guitars. The best part? The cutting-edge space, which opened in 2010, boasts an Experience Gallery, where guests are invited to play a few notes of their own.
Christine Blau is an associate producer for National Geographic Travel. Find her on Twitter @Chris_Blau and Instagram @christineblau.
What did we miss? Share your favorite quirky museum with the Nat Geo Travel community in the comments section below.