Hear the word museum and, odds are, you conjure up an image of portrait halls and sculpture gardens – the traditional home of traditional art. However, the world is a huge, creative and even quirky place, and there are museums around the globe that reflect this diversity of passions. With International Museum Day coming up on May 18, we went in search of collections that celebrate and enshrine some of the most curious slices of heritage and culture. Our top 10 quirky museums is a testament to the belief there is something for everyone.
Leeds Castle Dog Collar Museum, Kent, England
A medieval manor must have dogs. And so, fittingly, Leeds Castle, the former property of six medieval queens, has an outstanding homage to the many hunting and gun dogs, guard mastiffs and house pets that have been part of the storied history of this home.
The castle’s collection of dog collars, the largest of its kind, covers 500 years of canine neckwear from spiked iron collars that protected dogs from the wilds of the forest to highly decorated engraved silver and baroque leatherwork pieces to the padlocked brass rings worn by service dogs during World War II. This display began as a gift to the dog-loving final mistress of the house, Lady Baillie, and continues to grow through the efforts of the Leeds Castle Foundation.
Hours: Castle hours are 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. daily from April to September and 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. daily from October through March. The Castle is closed July 13, November 9 -10 and Christmas Day. Price: £21 for adults and £13.50 for kids 4-15 years old. Each ticket is valid for admission for a year.
International Spy Museum, Washington, D.C., United States
How do you know what happens in the most secretive profession in the world? Visit the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., for a lesson in espionage and intrigue. With a Spy School featuring interactive exhibits on such spycraft activities as disguise and surveillance, and an extensive display of gadgets and weapons from the field as well as history lessons on the secret role of espionage from the Civil War through the Atomic Bomb to the full story behind the film Argo, this museum is on a mission to bring the shadowy world (and impact) of professional spies into the limelight.
While there are more than enough real-life spy stories to fill the museum, the escapades of James Bond are so central to the realm of intrigue that a new exhibit, “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years Of Bond Villains,” connects the dots between fiction and fact.
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily, except holidays. Price: General admission is $19.95 for 12 and older, $14.95 for 7 – 11-year-olds and free for kids younger than 7.
Venustempel Sexmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
A short walk from Central Station in Amsterdam brings you to Venustempel (Venus Temple), the world’s original sex museum. Founded in 1985, this tour through the sensual offers more education than titillation with rooms named for Mata Hari, the Marquis de Sade and Oscar Wilde that offer a glimpse into sex practices and attitudes across decades and around the world.
Of course there is no shortage of erotic displays and so, with no restrictions on photos, the museum also offers endless opportunities for amusing (or embarrassing) souvenir snapshots. Just remember you must be 16 or older to enter.
And while you’re already in Amsterdam, check out these other interesting museums and attractions.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Price: €4.
Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
A once-secret bunker built to house leaders of the Canadian government in the event of a nuclear war, the Diefenbunker is a vast underground history lesson about the cold war era. The four-story, 100,000-square-foot complex, buried under a hillside in the village of Carp, just west of Canada’s capital, was ready to be the operational centre for government.
Equipped with an “Emergency Government Situation Center,” a Cabinet War Room, and a CBC radio station as well as living quarters, a medical room and a mess hall, this bunker brings home just how close leaders felt we were to a nuclear catastrophe. Visitors can walk down the long blast tunnel, see the offices and sit in the seats of power that were all ready and waiting in the event the cold war went hot.
Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily, Price: C$14 ($14) + HST for adults, C$10 ($10) + HST for 6 -18 year olds and free for kids 5 and younger.
Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, New Delhi, India
A museum of toilets and toilet history has its light-hearted moments. After all, potty humour isn’t just for five-year-olds. Still, there are important and interesting lessons to be learned with the study of toilets, and the Sulabh Museum is the place to learn them. The museum recounts more than 4,000 years of history and displays artifacts dating back to 1145 AD.
From the simple and practical to the ornate and innovative, the range of toilets, bidets, chamber pots and more tells a story of evolution. In addition to entertaining and educating visitors, this museum, which is an offshoot of the non-profit organisation Sulabh International, puts the focus on the real challenges of sanitation management that have plagued the world and continue to challenge India and the Indian culture.
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Price: Free, though donations accepted.
Museum of Apiculture, Radovljica, Slovenia
Bee-keeping! That’s the story the Museum of Apiculture tells and in a very charming way. The long-standing practice is a cornerstone of Slovenian culture and the history is captured here. Since opening in 1959 in a 14th-century manor house in the old part of town, the museum has been collecting and keeping records for the region and proudly displays the contributions of local bee-keeping legends Anton Janša and Peter Pavel Glavar as well as the introduction of Slovenian bred bee species.
While hundreds of years of innovation are on display, the most eye-catching collection is the array of painted frontal boards of bee hives. This folk art custom, which is unique to Slovenia, was most popular in the early 1800s and the scenes range from religious to political to historical to everyday living.
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday from May to October. Price: €2.10 for adults, €1.70 for kids, €5 for families.
International UFO Museum and Research Center, Roswell, New Mexico, United States
Roswell, New Mexico, was a sleepy corner of the country until a rancher came upon a crash site just outside of town in July 1947 and the questions began. The search for UFOs (unidentified flying objects) is a passion point for many, and this international museum, which opened in 1992 and has outgrown its first two locations, is the central point for that passion.
In addition to exhibits on the incident in 1947, visitors and researchers have ready access to information on abductions, sightings, crop circles and Area 51. The museum also helps host an annual Roswell UFO Festival each year in the first week of July.
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. Price: $5 for adults, $2 for 5 – 15 year olds and free for kids younger than 5.
Museum of Human Disease, Sydney, Australia
Care to look death in the face? The Museum of Human Disease is your chance! This collection of more than 3,000 specimens, taken from diseased or dead patients, shows what the leading causes of death in Australia really look like. The extensive pathology exhibit (think rows of jars with organs altered by illness, defects and tumours of every kind), housed in the University of New South Wales School of Medical Sciences in Sydney, is carefully catalogued and paired, when possible, with a clinical history that tells the patient’s story.
With specimens dating back more than 100 years, some diseases on display are no longer real health threats. However, the tobacco wall of shame is just one of the ways the museum underscores the control we have over our bodies and our health.
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. weekdays. Price: $10 for adults, $5 for kids.
The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, Osaka, Japan
The annual worldwide consumption of instant noodles hovers around one billion servings. Not bad for a product only invented in 1958. The story of the creation and global takeover of instant noodles is told here at the Instant Ramen Museum, which is centred around a replica of a research shack where Momofuku Ando first created the “Chicken Ramen” that started it all.
Other highlights include a CUPNOODLES theatre, shaped like the just-add-water product Momofuku Ando brought to market in 1971, a display of the “Space Ram” noodles developed for Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to bring on the Space Shuttle Discovery and an exhibit of instant noodles products from around the world.
However, for the complete ramen experience, make sure to leave time (and make a reservation) for the hands-on workshop where visitors stretch, steam and then “flash fry” dry their own noodles. Want to just create your own flavour concoction? Then step into the My Cup Noodle Factory to pick your own soup recipe and bring home a personalised cup of noodles.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Wednesday through Monday; closed from December 24 through January 4 and for National Holidays. Price: Admission is free but noodle making workshops are JPY300 for primary school students and JPY500 for secondary-school students and above. The My Cup Noodle Factory is JPY300.
Vulcan Tourism & Trek Station, Vulcan, Alberta, Canada
Perhaps it’s not a surprise to see a spaceship looming on the horizon of a town named Vulcan. It is certainly a brilliant move on the part of the town’s tourism board. A tribute to the fictional Vulcan, the home of “Star Trek’s” Mr. Spock, the out-of-this-world-shaped Vulcan Tourism and Trek Station is chock full of memorabilia (including a set of ears donated by Leonard Nemoy himself) from the many characters, films and TV shows from this legendary sci-fi franchise.
With greetings written in English, Vulcan and Klingon, a large-scale replica of the Starship Enterprise, floor-to-ceiling space murals and costumes and cut-outs for photo opps, there is plenty for any Treky to love. Add in a chance to sit in Kirk’s chair or go through a Vulcan space adventure mission, and it’s no wonder this museum has succeeded in putting Vulcan on the map.
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily during the summer, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily in the fall and 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10:00 a.m.to 5:00 p.m. Saturdays during the winter. Price: Free.
(Main image: tjsander)