When we think about culture one of the first things that come to mind are museums – it is ingrained in our collective consciousness that we need to visit a few museums when vacationing abroad, so we can then feel free to indulge in hedonistic pleasures because we’ve bowed at the altar of culture first. However, not all museums are created equal. While some may have your standard collections of classic artwork, statues and pottery fragments, there are a lot of unconventional and even fairly quirky museums around the world. If you like to travel and want to experience something new and truly unique, to be awed, then be sure to visit some of the following museums on your next vacation.
1. Cancun Underwater Museum
Let’s start off the list with something entirely different. The Cancun Underwater Museum boasts hundreds of beautiful sculptures such as “The Silent Evolution”, a huge crowd of people, and “Inertia”, a fat man sitting on a couch in front of the TV. These sculptures would evoke powerful emotions regardless of their location; however, being situated underwater gives them an air of mysticism and an almost unnerving calm. The marine flora and fauna has already become one with some of the sculptures, making the whole site look like the sunken remnants of an ancient civilization.
2. Paris Sewers Museum
We all admire the grand architecture of famous cities, particularly one as iconic as Paris, the city of romance and art. What people seldom stop to look at is the complex labyrinth that is the Paris sewer system. It is an entire network of tunnels as large as the city itself and it is also a museum that tourists can visit and explored, complete with tour guides. It doesn’t smell as bad as you’d think, so if you ever find yourself in Paris and have about an hour or so of time to kill, this is definitely an interesting option.
3. Franz Kafka Museum in Prague
A man with a dark and near dreamlike vision of the modern world, where bureaucracy, alienation, lack of empathy and human suffering are the order of the day, Franz Kafka is rightfully considered one of the greatest modern writers. The Franz Kafka Museum reflects some of the main themes of the authors works, which Kafka himself wanted his friend to burn after his death, and their unique atmosphere. The weirdest thing about it is probably the sculpture of two men urinating in a pool shaped like the borders of the Czech Republic, which are, for some reason, animatronic and can spell out words in the pool based on SMS messages that people send.
4. Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri
Art has always been very accommodating, allowing artists to choose from a huge range of different mediums and materials from which to create unique designs. That being said, I doubt you’ve ever considered hair as a valid material for creating works of art. Luckily, Leila’s Hair Museum is here to prove you wrong. With thousands of wreaths and various creative jewelry pieces made out of real human hair, which is said to have been popular in the Victorian period. There are multiple pieces containing hair from famous people, including the likes of Queen Victoria.
5. Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in Saint Petersburg
The Kunstkamera houses Russia’s oldest museum, the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, which has exhibits ranging from interesting to bizarre and morbid. Peter the Great reportedly wanted to dispel myths about monsters and mythical creatures among his people, so there are plenty of deformed skeletons, jars with fetuses and rarities like two-headed animals. Some of the exhibits are not for those with a weak stomach, but they are definitely unique and rare.
6. Iceland Phallological Museum in Reykjavík
Iceland is known as “The Land of Ice and Fire”, a small and some would say magical island with a long and proud history. It’s no surprise that it would feature a world renowned museum, but what’s unusual about the Phallological Museum is the fact that it is devoted solely to showcasing penis samples from 93 different animal species – including the 67 inch front tip of a blue whale penis and specimens supposedly belonging to mythical creatures like trolls and elves. It definitely offers a unique experience.
7. Meguro Parasite Museum in Tokyo
Many museums feature animal exhibits, showcasing everything from dinosaur bones and large stuffed land mammals to unusual insects, but rarely does a museum focus solely on parasites. The Meguro Parasite Museum takes humanities worst nightmares, lays them before you and provides plenty of information on each and every one. Their motto is “Try to think about parasites without a feeling of fear, and take the time to learn about their wonderful world of the parasites”, and there really is a lot to learn if you can get over the initial feeling of unease.
8. The Iga Ninja Museum in Mie
Western pop culture has been in love with ninja’s since the 80’s and we have only grown fonder of them with time. If you find this topic intriguing or just want to learn more about the whole ninja phenomenon, then the Iga Ninja Museum is the right place for you. You can see the numerous weapons and tools used by these legendary warriors and enjoy a practical display of some of the traditional techniques and tactics. It is a lot of fun and very informative to boot, great for people of all ages.
9. Bran Castle near Braşov in Transylvania
The name might not sound familiar at first, but the geographical location kind of gives it away – yes, this is the castle of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Count Dracula from the Bram Stalker novel and world-famous horror character. Bran Castle is the only Transylvanian castle that perfectly fits Stokers description of the world’s most famous vampire’s castle and has thus been dubbed Dracula’s Castle. It has been turned into a museum which every horror fan is welcome to visit and explore.
10. Malacca Museum of Enduring Beauty
The nature of beauty is a topic that has troubled mankind for millennia. Aesthetic preferences and sensibilities have been very different in different regions and at different times, and as fashions changed so too did people try to change themselves to conform to the various ideals of beauty. The Museum of Enduring Beauty showcases the numerous traditions and the jewelry, tools and practices used by peoples the world over to try and make themselves as beautiful as possible. Practices such as foot binding, neck elongation, inserting huge discs into the lips and many others are explained in detail, which gives us an insight into our nature, and perhaps motivates us to see the current standards of beauty for what they really are – an artificially created set of desirable features based on a subjective interpretation of beauty.
11. The Museum of Human Disease in Sydney
Doctors spend years and years in medical school for a good reason – there are a lot of diseases that can plague humans. Some of these are more serious than others, but each one is interesting from a scientific standpoint. The Museum of Human Disease catalogs a huge variety of diseases and their effects on the human body, including the most common causes of death. You can participate in dissection workshops or explore some of the large number of vital organs on display. It is a real eye-opener and highly educational, if somewhat morbid and unusual.
12. Museum of Medieval Torture Devices in Amsterdam
There are, of course, some parts of our history that we are not exactly proud of, and this includes wars and atrocities like torture. However, it is interesting to see just how creative people of the past centuries have been when it came to thinking up different ways of inflicting pain to fellow humans. If you’ve got a morbid curiosity for this sort of thing, the Museum of Medieval Torture Devices in Amsterdam has a lot to offer you. There are plenty of weird torture devices, complete with images and even sculptures, depicting the various torture methods that were in use, and the courteous staff is more than happy to answer any questions.
13. The Skull Tower of Niš
The Balkans region has had a very turbulent history, particularly in the past few centuries. In the nineteenth century, as Serbians sought to free themselves from their Ottoman oppressors, many battles raged, and one of the most famous was certainly the Battle of Čegar. When the tides of war changed and it became clear that the Turks would win, Serbian commander Stevan Sinđelić sacrificed himself and the remaining Serbian forces in an unprecedented act of bravery, blowing up the gunpowder storage and taking out thousands of enemy soldiers in the process. In order to silence the rebellion and frighten the people, Hurshid Pasha had a ten foot tower built using over 900 skulls of the fallen Serbian soldiers. The original Skull Tower suffered some structural damage over time, and now only 58 skulls remain in the wall, one which is said to belong to Sinđelić himself and is encased in glass. It is a fairly frightening, yet awe inspiring site.
14. Funeral Carriage Museum in Barcelona
Funerals are still somewhat of a taboo topic and it’s certainly something you’d mention in polite society. This is really a shame, since there are plenty of wonderful rituals that have been built around escorting the departed on his way to the afterlife. The vehicles used to transport the deceased have always had a somber tone, but where not without a hint of grandeur, as you can witness by exploring the Funeral Carriage Museum in Barcelona. The exhibit consists of 13 beautiful funeral carriages and six coaches that were used to transport departed citizens to their eternal resting place.
15. Siriraj Medical Museum in Bangkok
The word “medical” in the name of this museum has surely tipped you off that you are in for something morbid and unusual. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it has a lot to offer. Also known as “The Museum of Death”, you can see everything from the mummified remains of a serial killer and cannibal to a large variety of human skulls and different preserved body parts. There are plenty of interesting examples of fatal injuries in the Forensic wing of the museum, and there is enough material to keep you occupied for several afternoons, if you aren’t squeamish.
It is good to sometimes break from the mold and look for something a bit more thrilling and unusual than rusted bits of ancient swords, broken pottery and pieces of jewelry. These museums may be a bit weird, morbid or even spooky, but they will not disappoint. If you are an adventurous soul, be sure to check them out.
Featured photo credit: Ćele Kula (Skull Tower)/Timothy Byford via timothybyford.com