We’ve all heard of the Smithsonian, the Louvre, and the Museum of Natural History. But there are a plethora of lesser-known weird and wonderful museums around the world that can be equally as fascinating and entertaining. Some even might teach you a thing or two.
It’s always fun to seek out at least one of these off-the-beaten-path collections of the strange or unusual when traveling. Many are intriguing enough to build an entire vacation around.
At the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., for instance, you will adopt a cover identity before you even enter. (After all, any spy worth his or her salt has an alias.) The museum houses interactive exhibits that get you thinking like a spy, as well as the largest collection of international espionage artifacts and memorabilia. Our favorite exhibits featured film clips and artifacts from the 50 years of James Bond films.
New York’s Museum of Sex is located at 233 Fifth Avenue and 27th Street in Manhattan. Its name pretty much says it all. At this museum, you’ll find everything from photography and fine art to history and technology—all about sex. The museum also has costumes, a research library, and a multimedia library. The goal: To preserve the ever-growing collection of sexually related objects.
Alcatraz Island once was home to some of the country’s most notorious prisoners, such as Al Capone and Robert Stroud (a.k.a. “The Birdman of Alcatraz”). Since 1972, however, the island prison has been one of the most visited sites in the National Park Service. When you go, you will get an in-depth look at the history of this infamous prison from its days as a military prison (called Fort Alcatraz), through the period in which it was a federal penitentiary and the time of Indian occupation. The only way for visitors to get to Alcatraz Island is by ferry, which is located near Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco.
The Musée des égouts, or the Sewer Museum, is located between Quai d’Orsay and the Seine in Paris. A 1,600-foot underground tunnel takes you through the history of Parisian sewers from the 19th century through present day. While the Musée des égouts isn’t about to give the Louvre a run for the money, it is interesting nevertheless.
While it’s not easy to out-do a museum about sewers, we’ve tried our best with the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi, India. From fancy to functional, porcelain to solid gold, this museum flushes out all the details you’ll ever want to know about the toilet.
The Paul B. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum in Logan, Ohio, houses a collection of more than 3,400 pencil sharpeners. The collection was started by Paul B. Johnson more than 20 years ago, and is said to be the largest collection of pencil sharpeners in the United States. With every kind of sharpener one could imagine, from presidents to potties, the museum is a nostalgic look at getting to the point (see what we did there?).
The Canadian Potato Museum celebrates the almighty spud with a collection of agricultural and community artifacts. Located on Prince Edward Island, the Canadian Potato Museum has the largest collection of potato-growing and -harvesting farm tools in the world. You also can stroll through the Heritage Chapel, the Long Barn, the Little Red School House, and the Telephone Switchboard office.
Viewfinder Tip: Many small museums change their hours without warning, so call ahead to confirm.
The Frietmuseum, in Bruges, Belgium, is the first and only museum dedicated to potato fries. It is here that you will learn the history of the potato, fries, and the condiments with which we adorn them. If you ever asked yourself “Where does the potato come from?” or “Was the fry really invented in Belgium?” you won’t want to miss this exhibit.
You’ll find the world’s only Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum (boasting more than 20,000 sets) in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The purpose of this museum is threefold. First: To show changes in society (as represented by the shakers) that can be found throughout the decades. Second: To expose the creative side of the shaker industry. Third: To bring together salt and pepper shaker devotees by sparking their fond salt and pepper shaker memories.
Last, but not least, the answer to your sole searching, the Museum of Shoes in Somerset, U.K. Step on in and satisfy your inner Cinderella and view the evolution of the shoe. The museum is home to hundreds of shoes from around the world, as well as the tools and machinery used to make them.
There are hundreds more museums like these around the world. Some are creepy. Some are quaint. All are intriguing. No matter where your travels take you, surely there will be a weird and wonderful museum nearby.
What is the weirdest or most wonderful museum you have visited?