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The World's Most Unusual Museums

17 min read
Published on Jul 18, 2017
Guest Contributor
By Guest Contributor

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 in Paris, or the Uffizi in Florence, 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 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.

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


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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."


The Old Ghan Heritage Railway Museum, Alice Springs

The luxury Ghan train today runs through Central Australia between Darwin and Adelaide, with a stop in Alice Springs. It was named after Afghan camel drivers who had contributed to the development of communication and transport links in inland Australia. The Old Ghan Heritage Railway Museum is housed in a 1930s-style railway station and the exhibits include restored locomotives and carriages, a collection of photographs and a miniature railway which runs around the museum.

The National Dollhouse Gallery, Melbourne

The National Dollhouse Gallery in Melbourne houses the largest private collection of old dollhouses, dioramas, figurines, and miniature furniture, ranging from the 1800s to the present day. Many of the items have been hand-made by very talented miniaturists throughout Australia as well as locally. Dollhouses and dolls are available for purchase.

The Old Umbrella Shop, Launceston, Tasmania

Perhaps not a museum as such but definitely worth investigating on Australia vacations. Built in the 1860s, this unique shop is the last genuine period store in Tasmania and has been operated by the same family since the turn of the 20th century. Umbrellas spanning the last 100 years are on display, and modern "brollies" and souvenirs are for sale.

Kings Bridge over Launceston's Cataract Gorge, Tasmania, Australia
Kings Bridge over Launceston's Cataract Gorge, Tasmania

The Museum of Fire, Perth, Western Australia

This museum in Perth has the world’s largest and most unique collections of fire-fighting equipment and memorabilia. These include fire engines ranging from hand-drawn, horse-drawn, and motorized vehicles from the late 18th century to the 1980s. You can also see uniforms, fire fighting tools, and a children’s section with a play area and interactive computer games.

New Zealand

Clapham’s Clock Museum, Whangarei

Situated in New Zealand’s most northerly city, the Clapham's Clock Museum is home to around 1,500 clocks and timepieces and is the largest collection of clocks in the Southern Hemisphere. It provides a walk through the history of time. The clocks on display range from ancient sun, sand, and water clocks to rare antique clocks and weird and strange clocks. How strange? From clocks that go backwards to antique French dancing girl clocks, and even clocks that make tea!


Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, Osaka

This museum is dedicated to instant noodles and Cup Noodles, plus its creator and founder, Momofuku Ando. It is an interactive educational museum about instant noodles and is practically a historical monument to Japan's food culture. Momofuku Ando believed that, "The power of creation is a human being's greatest asset; invention and discovery are what changed history." He invented instant noodles!


The Hall of Clocks and Watches in the Forbidden City, Beijing

Right in the heart of the Forbidden City, aka the Imperial Palace in Beijing, is an excellent collection of around 200 timepieces from the time of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), one of the largest collections of mechanical timepieces of the 18th and 19th centuries in the world. These clocks and watches were mostly made in Switzerland, England, France, and Japan as gifts to the emperors, with some Chinese made timepieces on display as well. They display various styles and exquisite workmanship and their artistic value makes them very precious.

China Honey Bee Museum, Beijing

China Honey Bee Museum is located in the picturesque Beijing Botanical Gardens and pays homage to these tiny, but extremely useful pollinators. There is a total of 600 bee specimens and there is also a bee-keeping exhibition for anyone who has been thinking about taking it up as a hobby or just wants to learn more about where honey comes from. You can taste many different types of honey here.

The Beijing Diabolo Museum

A diabolo is a Chinese yoyo. This yoyo is shaped like a dumbbell which is spun and tossed on a piece of string tied between two bamboo sticks. The museum has about 400 yoyos and you can watch tricks being performed by experts. There is the opportunity to make your own yoyo with one of the experts.

View of Forbidden City from Jinshan Park, Beijing, China
View of Forbidden City from Jinshan Park, Beijing


The Batcat Museum, Bangkok

This is the largest toy museum in Thailand and will thrill memorabilia collectors and fans of the TV series, Batman. There are 50,000 toys, magazines, games, costumes, all to do with Batman, including high-tec Batmobiles, also Superman, and others. There is an exhibition of famous comic book characters with life-size models. A smaller section is dedicated to Star Wars, Spiderman, and computer graphics from movies such as Pixar: Monsters Inc., Robots, Small Soldiers, and Toy Story.

The House of Museums, Bangkok

This is a fun museum. None of the objects on display has any historical significance. It is a private collection in Bangkok of thousands of daily objects and goods dating from the 1960s onwards. There is a toy room which could bring back happy memories of your own childhood. There is a dentist room which may not. Other exhibits include an old-fashioned pharmacy, candies, radios, TVs, a movie theatre showing Charlie Chaplin, a hairdressing salon, plus much more.

Bangkok at Night, Thailand
Bangkok at night


The International Dolls Museum, Delhi

This collection consists of dolls collected from European countries such as UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Middle East, Africa, India, and other Asian countries. The main part of the exhibition is 150 types of Indian costume dolls made by local craftsmen. Other exhibits include replicas of the Queen of England’s doll collection, Samurai dolls from Japan, and Flamenco dancers from Spain. Each doll is handcrafted after meticulous research into the physical attributes, dress, and jewellery of individual characters. The museum also runs a "clinic" for "sick" dolls, where rare deteriorating dolls are restored.


Cat Museum, Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo

Kuching in Malay means "cat", so naturally, the city has a cat museum. Everything and anything to do with this animal can be found here. The Cat Museum is filled with articles, paintings, posters, toys, and figurines of cats. There are four galleries containing over 4,000 artifacts relating to these felines. Exhibits include a mummified cat from ancient Egypt, a gallery of feline-related advertising, movies featuring cats, and the five species of wild cats found in Borneo. Cat lovers will love this cat museum.

Sunset View At Kuching City, Capital of Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
Sunset view at Kuching City, capital of Sarawak, Borneo


We live in a sometimes difficult world. Isn’t it nice to know that we can escape while learning and enjoying something unusual and often fun? There are many other unusual museums around the world which fall into the same category, and perhaps, on your travels, you may come across them.

By Robert Glazier

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New Zealand
Australia & New Zealand
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