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Miniature model people in a museum
11 May, 20205 minute read

10 unusual museums of the world

From the Hermitage in St Petersburg to New York’s ‘Met’, the world is full of amazing museums housing priceless art collections and ancient treasures, but there are many more which are dedicated to, shall we say, more specialised areas of interest. Some are quirky and eccentric, others downright bizarre, but if you find yourself with time on your hands on your next Titan holiday, you might consider dropping into one of these more unexpected institutions.

National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin, Ireland

If you’re not lucky enough to experience a personal encounter with the elusive ‘little people’ when you’re in Ireland, you can still learn all about them at this enchanting museum in Dublin. Here you will discover the magical world of Irish myth and folklore through engaging storytelling and performances, including adults-only evening shows, and displays on the history of the leprechauns, from the first human sightings more than a thousand years ago, to their place in modern-day popular culture. You can even get to see our world from the wee folks’ perspective, and clamber upon gigantic chairs!

Close-up of four-leaf clovers

Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia

Croatia’s stately capital city is an increasingly popular destination in its own right, and one of Zagreb’s most intriguing and innovative attractions is this awardwinning museum dedicated to ‘failed relationships.’ It began as a travelling exhibition but now has a permanent location in the 18th century Kulmer Palace, displaying donations from around the world: ordinary objects, personal mementoes left behind by former lovers and estranged relatives, from a discarded wedding album and unwanted gifts to a cheating girlfriend’s hat, all accompanied by poignant, funny and sometimes heart-breaking anecdotes.

An 'ex axe' displayed at the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia

Musée Mécanique, San Francisco, USA

The world’s biggest privately-owned collection of early 20th century ‘penny arcade’ games and other vintage slot-machines and curiosities is on show at the absorbing ‘Mechanical Museum’ in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Inside you’ll find over 300 exhibits, including mechanical music boxes and pianos, antique pinball machines, cheeky ‘peep-shows’, ‘fortunetellers’ and automatons, as well as more recent amusement arcade video games. This is very much a ‘hands on’ museum, and you are more than welcome to try out all the coin operated machines for yourself, starting from just one cent!

A close-up of a casino slot machine

National Transport & Toy Museum, Wanaka, New Zealand

There are probably very few museums in the world which house both a Russian MiG fighter jet and a collection of 500 Barbie dolls, but this is one of them. Located just outside the small town of Wanaka, on New Zealand’s South Island, it’s a vast and eclectic collection, and among the several hundred vehicles are vintage cars, motorbikes, fire engines, tractors, tanks and aircraft. There are also some 50,000 nostalgic playthings on display, from dolls and teddy bears to antique wind-up toys. On the same site you’ll find Wanaka Beerworks, the town’s boutique brewery, which offers daily tours.

An old Soviet fighter jet sits on the grass surrounded by trees

Katten Kabinet, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

If you like cats, you’ll love this curious little museum in Amsterdam, which is filled with feline artworks. Housed in an elegant canal-side townhouse, dating from the 17th century, the ‘Cat Cabinet’ was founded in 1990 by businessman Bob Meijer, in memory of his late pet cat, called J P Morgan, with the aim of chronicling the role of the cat in art and popular culture. The owner, and J P Morgan’s successors, still live on the upper floor. Paintings, drawings, posters and sculptures of cats adorn the rooms inside, including works by Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec.

A black cat looks out of a window in Amsterdam

The DDR Museum, Berlin, Germany

If you’ve wondered what life might have been like back in the GDR, make a visit to this interactive museum and learn about the daily lives of ordinary citizens of the former East Germany – the Deutsche Demokratische Republik – before the Wall came down. What you’re presented with is an objective overview of a now defunct society. Visit a recreation of a typical apartment, a shop and a secret police cell and browse through the countless personal belongings and everyday items which have been donated. You can even take a ‘virtual ride’ through a Berlin housing estate in a vintage Trabant and watch socialist-era documentaries in the cinema.

A vintage Trabant car in pale blue

Frietmuseum, Bruges, Belgium

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the only museum in the world dedicated to potato fries. The Belgians are just as fond of chips (perhaps even more so) than the British, and this small museum, housed in a 15th century building in the heart of the medieval city of Bruges is testament to that passion. Here, you can learn about the history of the potato, and the potato fry – invented in Belgium – and, as a bonus, there’s an exhibition of vintage potato peelers, and an onsite café, where potato fries are most definitely on the menu.

Close-up of French fries

International Spy Museum, Washington DC, USA

Investigate the shadowy world of espionage at this absorbing museum, with its collection of ingenious, and sometimes chilling, artefacts used by intelligence operatives from around the world. Miniature pistols concealed in everything from tobacco pipes to lipstick holders, cipher machines, hidden cameras and many other innovative tools of the trade offer a rare insight into the murky history of the secret agent, alongside video interview with real-life spies recounting their hair-raising exploits. James Bond and other fictional spies make an appearance, and you can try out your own surveillance and codecracking skills in one of the museum’s immersive ‘interactive spy experiences’.

A decryption device used in the Cold War era

The Museum of Innocence, Istanbul, Turkey

Winner of the 2014 European Museum of the Year Award, this singular collection was assembled by the Nobel laureate author Orhan Pamuk to complement his novel of the same name. Displays, presented by chapters, are made up of various objects associated with the book’s characters, things they used, wore, saw and dreamed of. At the same time, it’s also a museum chronicling the social history of Istanbul during the second half of the 20th century so, even if you haven’t read the book, it offers a unique, and slightly surreal, peek into the life of the city.

Whirling dervishes dance in traditional costume

Napoleon Museum, Havana, Cuba

Originally founded in 1961, and reopened after a major renovation in 2011, this museum, occupying an elegant Renaissance-style mansion in the Cuban capital, is an unexpected repository for the largest collection of French revolutionary and Napoleonic artefacts outside Europe. Most of the exhibits belonged to the wealthy sugar tycoon Julio Lobo, who fled into exile in 1960. Among the thousands of pieces on show is Napoleon’s death-mask and telescope, brought to Cuba by the former emperor’s doctor, as well as Bonaparte’s bed and numerous paintings, sculptures, weapons, clothing and Empire-period furniture.

A painting of Napoleon on horseback
Image of blog author Nicola James

Nicola considers herself very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit a number of places around the world and these experiences usually involve searching for as many kinds of wildlife as possible. Recent highlights include penguins in Antarctica, bears and whales in Canada and Alaska and sea otters in California - but there are always more animals to search for.

Nicola | About the author

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