When traveling, museums can be especially exhausting; spending several hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Louvre hardly makes a dent in seeing all that’s on display. It can leave you feeling weary and overwhelmed.
You can’t skip the classics — but why not give yourself a break and try a museum that’s more manageable?
A stop at a smaller, quirkier museum is a wonderful opportunity to get away from large crowds, endless lines and high ticket prices, while learning about compellingly strange, niche topics. Little museums specialize instead of generalize, allowing you to learn a tremendous amount about a very specific subject.
Here are 15 odd little museums from around the world, where you can enjoy underwater art, ponder the development of toilets and sewers, or learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about pencils.
Museum of Bad Art
The slogan of this museum in a Boston suburb says it all: “Art so bad it can’t be ignored.”
This is a small museum with a strong presence, dedicated to displaying 40 to 50 truly remarkably bad artworks at a time. The tongue-in-cheek explanations about how the pieces came to be, and why they’re so terrible, are well worth the $5 price of admission. Get ready to view paintings depicting people with neon-colored faces, landscapes colored in puke-green hues and...Jesus hanging out with an organist?
Oh, and be sure to check out the museum’s Nudes selection. Warning: This art can’t be unseen.
Cup Noodles Museum
Located in Osaka, Japan, this museum celebrates the beloved cuisine of dorm rooms everywhere. Owned by parent company Nissin Foods, it heralds Momofuku Ando and his greatest invention, instant noodles — not to mention his follow-up, Cup Noodles, which allowed instant noodles to become a global favorite.
In the museum, there’s a factory where you can make your own instant noodles, a selfie-ready “tunnel of noodles” lined with packages from all over the world, and — most importantly — a tasting room.
Underwater Museum of Art
The Cancun-Isla Mujures Marine Park is the setting for this memorable museum, best seen via snorkeling, diving or glass-bottomed boat — all its art is on the ocean floor.
The museum blends artistic expression and environmental science; 500 sculptures are fixed to the seabed and contain special materials to sustain a living coral reef. Several artists created the provocative life-sized works, easy to appreciate from just above or in the water.
Museum of Neon Art
The vivid colors of neon signs glow in the windows of this Glendale, California museum, where neon and electric work is considered from both an artistic and a scientific perspective. You’ll learn about how neon was developed and why it works, then have the opportunity to see dozens of applications of the technology in vintage and modern art. Signs for clubs and diners blink from every corner of the building.
Join the museum for a “neon cruise” on Saturday nights — a bus tour to see some of Los Angeles’ most memorable signage.
Sulabh International Museum of Toilets
This museum in New Dehli, India, may seem like nothing more than an opportunity for a selfie by the entrance sign, but in fact, it provides a fascinating opportunity to consider a technology all of us are very grateful exists.
It’s surprisingly intriguing to learn about how toilets have changed from medieval times to the present. As the exhibits here make clear, toilets bring dignity and privacy to people all over the world.
Don't miss the museum's collection of toilet-related cartoons and jokes. We won't judge if you laugh.
Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum
In Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, the world’s only museum dedicated to ventriloquism showcases dozens of dummies. Whether you find the displays of slack-jawed dolls waiting to be given a voice intriguing, a little terrifying, or both, you’ll want to schedule a tour (the only way to see the exhibits) to learn more about this classic American art.
Make sure to schedule your visit between May and September; the museum is otherwise closed.
Museum of Bags and Purses
Located in a lovely 17th century canal house in a historic part of Amsterdam, this museum has made purses its, um, bag. Along with changing current exhibits — including one on the bags brought by refugees when fleeing to new countries — the museum displays a permanent selection of more than 5,000 bags throughout history, including those once used by high-profile figures like Margaret Thatcher and Madonna.
While the works are displayed beautifully, the museum is not just eye candy, as information about history, designers and innovations are provided. Don’t miss the high tea, served in the museum’s sophisticated period rooms.
Museum of Broken Relationships
As this museum makes clear, broken hearts are universal. Crowd-sourced exhibits explore the complex way we “love and lose,” with stories attached to items like used shirts and dolls. If you feel so compelled, you can even send in your own object and story about an ended relationship.
The museum, which boasts permanent outposts in Los Angeles and Zagreb, Croatia, is an ideal place for sparking emotional conversations with your travel companions.
Paris Sewer Museum
A good companion to the Museum of Toilets, this museum provides an opportunity to tour an actual sewer pipe below the 7th Arrondissement, not far from the Eiffel Tower.
Paris’s sewer system, so memorably part of the plot of “Les Miserables,” is truly a wonder, built in 1850 to prevent the spread of disease from improperly handled waste. It’s a system of tunnels that mirrors the streets above. You may or may not hum “I Dreamed a Dream” while you explore.
International Cryptozoology Museum
Big fan of Bigfoot? Interested in Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster? This museum in Portland, Maine, is for you.
Cryptozoology is the study of “hidden or unknown” animals, which means you’ll find in-depth exhibits about real, if obscure, creatures, as well as animals we probably just wish were real. The tone of the museum is respectful and curious, interested in the possibilities of life forms beyond what we know already.
An exhibit on the coelacanth, a type of fish so rare that only two extant species exist, is worth as much time as the deep dive into Yeti lore.
American Visionary Art Museum
Artists whose works are featured in this museum near Federal Hill in Baltimore are self-taught and deeply intuitive, often working with found materials like gum wrappers and tin cans. Most of the artists here lacked formal training, so the museum has a delightfully homemade feel; you might even be inspired to start creating an artwork in your basement when you get home.
In the permanent collection, you’ll see works by artists as well-known as the Rev. Howard Finster, an outsider whose work graced the covers of albums by R.E.M. and the Talking Heads. But the real delight is viewing a piece by a little-known artist that you find beautiful, comic, haunting or terrifying, sometimes all at once.
Enjoy the chance to marvel at the spirit that drives artists to create, often without any sort of acknowledgement or praise.
Suburban Pittsburgh is home to this mansion-turned-museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of music boxes and other automated musical machines. Tours must be scheduled in order to see the collection here, featuring contraptions like historic player pianos and automated organs.
The museum is worth the price of admission just to see the man-made cave on the home’s bottom floor. Visits conclude with an opportunity to hear from a selection of the automated players on display.
Volcano Museum of Iceland
West Iceland is widely agreed to be one of the most beautiful areas on Earth, and at this museum, the volcanos that helped to shape it into existence are celebrated. Geologists are often on site to explain how volcanoes impact their surrounding landscape. You’ll also be able to appreciate a wide selection of art about volcanoes, from primitive folk pieces to works by Andy Warhol.
The showstopping exhibit, though, is a real Icelandic cottage nearly destroyed by lava, but preserved by the ash that enveloped it.
While you’re in the area, you might also want to check out the nearby Library of Water, a stunning repository of water samples from around the world.
Derwent Pencil Museum
Much like sewers and toilets, pencils seem so ordinary to us that we forget they once did not exist. At this museum in Cumbria, England, you enter through a replica graphite mine, a reminder that pencils had to be invented, then laboriously made from hard-to-find materials.
Along with the history of the pencil’s development, you’ll learn about how pencils have influenced human history, including how maps were hidden in pencils during World War II.
European Bread Museum
This museum in Ulm, Germany, covers an astounding 8,000 years of bread-making history, telling the winding tale of how bread developed into one of our most stalwart foodstuffs.
You can also enjoy exhibits about bread in art or tour two historic mills, as well as gardens growing herbs and grains. You’ll leave with a greater appreciation for why we call bread the staff of life...as well as the desire to consume an entire loaf by yourself.