You’d be forgiven for conjuring up images of grand buildings full of major artifacts when you hear the word museum; conventional museums are most often dedicated to the kinds of things imbued with ‘real’ cultural’ significance, high-brow art, and objects of scientific or historical significance.
But, even for the most enthusiastic culture vulture, there’s only so many conventional museums we can visit before the word induces a yawn. So, what about unconventional museums, those collections of unusual items and archives of oddities that celebrate the less mundane intricacies of culture and society – well, there’s plenty of strange around the world that will make your travel agenda a little less ordinary!
Here are six of our favorite strange and unusual museums in Europe that we hope will inspire you to enjoy to wackier side of life.
1. Clown’s Gallery & Museum – London
Source: Flickr - Garry Knight CC 2.0
The 2017 feature film IT, based on Stephen King’s original 1986 novel, may have ignited coulrophobia (that is, a fear of clowns) among a whole new generation, but the Clown’s gallery & museum in East London is not a scary place; eccentric, perhaps, but ultimately, it’s quite the endearing place to visit.
A legacy of the Circus Clowns Club, formed in 1946 and now known as Clown’s International, the gallery & museum houses an intriguing collection of artifacts from the world of clowning.
Among the fascinating costumes, props and grossly over-sized shoes lies a rather unexpected archive – clown eggs! Yes, you read that right; the charming, or slightly unsettling, collection – depending on your disposition towards clowns – is a truly egg-stradinary (sorry, couldn’t resist) assembly of painted eggs depicting nearly 250 unique representations of actual clown’s faces.
Complete with wig and costume snippets, the eggs were a means for clowns to register their individual look, distinctive painted-face designs and character.
You’ll find the Clown’s gallery & museum at 2 Cumberland Cl, London E8 3TF, round the back of Holy Trinity Church, and is open on the first Friday of the month, noon to 17:00.
2. Museum of Broken Relationships - Zagreb
Source: Flickr - Jorge Franganillo CC 2.0
The Museum of broken relationships in Zagreb, Croatia, is an amalgamation of artifacts in recognition of the trials and tribulations of failed relationships. This museum might sound a little bleak at first, but is quite an endearing insight to the concept of relationships, heartbreak, and failed romance – and, in that sense, is relatable for many people and reflects the human condition in a unique and interesting way.
The collection, to a degree, also satisfies our curiosity and any tendency for voyeurism one might be partial to as the exhibits exist entirely of objects donated from real people around the world, along with accompanying notes from the donors giving insight to the origin of the objects and their relevance to a specific failed relationship.
From the kind of items you might expect - stuffed toys, mixtapes, postcards and the like - to more unique items such as a twenty-seven year old crust from an ex’s motorcycle-accident wound, a packet of gastritis tablets, and a Galileo thermometer, the museum of broken relationships is equal parts utterly intriguing, heart-wrenching and hilarious.
Open daily from 9:00 (to 22:30 in summer, 21:00 in winter), entrance costs 40 kn (about €5) for adults, and 30 kn (€4) for students and you’ll find the museum in the exquisite Kulmer palace located at Ćirilometodska 2, 10000, in the historic Upper Town.
3. Sex Machine Museum – Prague
Erotic miniature castle. Source: Zoq-Fot-Pik CC 4.0
From failed romance to the perpetual pursuit of pleasure now; this is our second unusual museum in Prague and the only one in the world dedicated to sex machines. A collection of over three hundred exhibits, the Prague sex machine museum takes you on an eye-opening, and at times eye-watering, journey through the history of sexual curiosity, perversion, and pleasure.
With elaborate and imaginative, albeit mainly antiquated, devices on show, the museum is a fascinating insight to the timeless preoccupation throughout human history with erotica and our desire to enhance sexual pleasure by creative means and innovative design.
From the imaginative ‘sex-toys’ of the 16th
Century to a steam-powered vibrator dating from 1869, right up to more modern devices, the sex machines museum is a thoroughly fascinating account of human sexuality through the ages.
You’ll find this unusual museum at Melantrichova 18 - 11000 Praha 1, it’s opening hours are 10:00 to 23:00 daily, entrance costs 250 czk (just under €10) and you must be over 18 to visit.
4. The Icelandic Phallological Museum - Reykjavík
Penises in jars. Source: CGP Grey - Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0
It’d be easy to dismiss this museum as a load of bollocks, but the Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavík, though strange and unusual, is surprisingly interesting and worthwhile.
Home to the largest collection of penises, penile parts, and even ‘penile crafts’, here is where you can satisfy any curiosity you may have had about different species’ members – from a tiny hamster penis to a frickin’ massive blue whale penis, the almost-300 exhibits on display, which even includes a human penis, makes for a fascinating insight to the field of phallology while also being, without doubt, one of the strangest museums in Europe, if not the world.
Visit this unusual museum at Laugavegur 116, 105 Reykjavik, between 10:00 & 18:00 every day; entrance costs 1700 isk, which is about €12.50. That might sound expensive for seeing a bunch of old dicks, but Iceland is an expensive place to visit, so this is actually one of the more affordable things to do in Reykjavik.
5. The Flipper Museum – Budapest
And from penises to balls now, pinball to be precise; the Flipper Museum in Budapest is an unusual museum dedicated to pinball machines. We featured this wonderful place in our recent top ten non-touristy things to do in Budapest
list, but it certainly deserves its place among our favorite unconventional museums too.
The fun, nostalgia, and joy that the rattle & dings and flashing lights of the near 150 pinball machines & arcade games provide for visitors to this underground cellar is but a part of this interactive museum experience.
It also tells an intriguing story, not only about the history of pinball – told through the early vintage bagatelle machines of the 1800s right up to the more modern, themed pinball machines such as the Indiana Jones, Batman, and Simpsons classics – but this museum, though it feels less like a museum and more like a trip back to a retro arcade of the 80’s & early 90’s, tells a rather fascinating story of pop-culture and youth culture during incredibly turbulent periods, particularly during the Cold-War era of the 50s.
This is something which you can learn more about on our excellent free walking tours of Budapest
You can visit the fantastic flipper museum in Budapest at Radnóti Miklós utca 18., Budapest, Hungary, 1137 between 16:00 and midnight, Wednesday to Friday inclusive, 14:00 and midnight on Saturday and 10:00 to 22:00 on Sunday. Entrance costs under €10 for adults and just €5 for students.
6. Museum of Miniatures – Prague
Source: Flickr - Graham C99 CC 2.0
There’s an undeniable fascination with the micro-world and seeing everyday things in tiny scale, the nearly three million followers of Miniature Space YouTube channel can attest to that, and if you find yourself enthralled by the microscopic and teeny-tiny works of incredible art, this strangest of museums in Prague is your mecca.
You won’t see much with the naked eye at the museum of miniatures, here the collections feature on fine strands of hair, in the eyes of needles, and even on single seeds and grains of rice – appreciated through high-powered microscopes and magnifying glasses.
A caravan of ten camels traversing through a desert in the eye of a needle, the Eiffel Tower crafted out of a cherry seed, a train pulling carriages along a single hair, and a flee wearing intricate golden shoes are just some of the exquisite wonders of the small world that await you.
This unusual museum is located on the grounds of Strahov Monastery, 118 00, Praha 1, is open 9:00 to 17:00 daily and costs just €5 or €2.70 for students.
And you don’t need to sacrifice getting to grips with the city’s remarkable history and culture if you’re avoiding the conventional museums and galleries, just join our unbeatable daily free walking tours in Prague with us lovely local guides for unrivaled insight to the Czech capital.
There you have it, curious travellers. We hope that our little list of our favorite strange and unconventional museums inspires you to seek out the quirky attractions, less mundane things to do in Europe, and revel in the more unusual museums for a unique insight to social culture and humanity on your travels. Let us know below if you’ve been to any of the featured places, or tell us what is your favorite strange or unusual museum to visit?