Museums are a big part of the travel experience, at least they are for me. And while I almost always enjoy touring a new museum, I’m a little picky about the ones I spend time visiting. My personal interests veer towards history and culture more so than art, and thanks to that natural proclivity I’ve discovered some fairly amazing museums around the world. Any museum, I believe, is to be treasured because it means that someone or a group of people cared so deeply about a subject that they devoted a significant portion of their lives to showcase what makes it so great. That’s to be admired I think, and it makes the museum, almost no matter what the topic, worth at least a short visit. There are almost too many to list, but in this post I want to share just some of those quirky museums around the world that have resonated with me for one reason or another.
Old Ghan Heritage Railway and Museum, Alice Springs Australia
The town of Alice Springs in the heart of Australia’s Outback is a decidedly quirky place. It makes sense then that the tourist offerings are just as odd and one of the best in town is the Ghan Museum. Construction of what we know of today as the Ghan train began in 1878 in Adelaide, South Australia. It wasn’t until the 1920s though that train service extended to Alice Springs, prior to that the final leg of the journey had to be made by camel. The Ghan didn’t extend all the way across the continent to Darwin in the north until the 1980s, when Australia’s railroads were all standardized. For whatever reason, Alice Springs is home to both the Ghan Museum as well as the Road Transport Hall of Fame. The Ghan Museum is housed in a former train station, and is also the final resting spot for strange bits of railroad paraphernalia, from full sized locomotives, to random bits of iron rusting away. The museum itself though was clean, well organized and infinitely interesting. I found myself reading through mid-century travel posters and gazing longingly at proper dinner service sets, a remnant of a more civilized era of travel. The museum isn’t large and is a little dusty in areas, but if you love trains then this is a must visit attraction.
ABBA Museum, Stockholm
I like museums, but they’re not usually the reason why I visit a new city. That being said, the museums in Stockholm actually were a major reason for my visit and one in particular was number one on my to-do list. ABBA: The Museum may not sound like one of the great museums of the world, but believe it or not I soon discovered that it’s one of the best-curated and organized museums I’ve been to in a long time. Whether or not you’re a fan of the music, I find it hard to believe anyone won’t enjoy singing along to “Mamma Mia” in a private recording booth, or dancing with holograms of the musicians themselves on stage. It’s fun, quirky and a must-do activity in Stockholm. Luckily, the ABBA Museum is within walking distance to several other great Stockholm museums making it a convenient stop.
Currywurst Museum, Berlin
I talk about currywurst a lot; an odd love affair for what is admittedly an inelegant snack. But I’m a big fan of regional foods, city-specific snacks that serve as exemplars of their communities. Currywurst had an important role to play in the formation of modern Berlin, from a cheap way to feed the working poor to the tourist food it has become today. Even better than just eating it, head on over to the Currywurst Museum for a look at the snack through the years, where it’s consumed around the world and what it is that makes this unlikely combination of flavors so very popular.
Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton Canada
While it’s a fine gallery, I’m including this one on the list because of the remarkable design of the building itself. Located in downtown Edmonton, it’s hard to miss the Gallery, which seems to be in a constant state of flux thanks to the ribbon of metal encapsulating the building. The 190-meter steel ribbon is meant to be a twisted version of famous landscapes found in the province’s iconic Rocky Mountains region. It’s an interesting take on popular travel photography and how the meaning of seemingly straightforward images can be conceived in an entirely new way. Plus, standing in the lobby of the museum enveloped by the ribbon is an unusual and unexpectedly cool travel experience.
National Atomic Testing Museum, Nevada
My trip to Nevada was all about exploring the more rural side of the state and driving the famous Extraterrestrial Highway. To get ready for the adventure, I stopped off at this small but incredibly informative museum to see a special exhibit they’re currently featuring as well as to tour the larger collection. Since 2011, the National Atomic Testing Museum – located just east of The Strip – has been a national museum affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, making this small site one of just 37 national museums in the country. The extremely well curated exhibits cover the history of the nuclear age, from the first test at the Nevada Test Site through to the modern era. It’s informative, interactive and incredibly engaging and I’m really happy that I spent some time visiting. It’s a place that frankly is easy to drive by, but I think this should be near the top of every visitor’s to-do list. In addition to their main exhibits, they’re also hosting a special collection all about Area 51. Since my drive along the ET Highway included a stop at Area 51, the exhibit was the perfect introduction to better understanding not only the history of this military installation, but the cultural impact that the belief in aliens has had on our country and the world. It’s an interesting, quirky exhibit and a lot of fun to discover.
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