One of the frustrations of being a tourist is often, well, other tourists. They’re everywhere you go; you can’t get away from them, right? (Now imagine how the locals feel.) In places like Florence, the sheer number of extra bodies between Duomo and Uffizi is simply overwhelming.
It’s not news that by traveling off the beaten path, you’ll run into fewer annoying tourists (like yourself). One of the easiest ways to do this, even in the world’s major cities, is to visit less popular (but no less fun) museums. I was inspired by Sheila over at Family Travel, who has a post on 8 Cool European Museums You’ve Never Heard of. After the jump, you can read my additional 8 picks.
Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol. More interesting for its sheer existence rather than its tiny rotating exhibition, this museum inside Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport grants free entry to any and all travelers passing through; it’s located behind passport control (and next to a casino, if memory serves) between terminals E and F.
Berlin: Berliner Mauer Dokumentationszentrum. Most people head to the more well-known (and better located) Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, but the Berlin Wall Documentation Center in Bernauer St. is the real deal when it comes to Berlin Wall history. The Center is part of a hat-trick of Wall memorialization; its tower grants views across the street into a memorial incorporating remaining Wall segments, while kitty-corner the Chapel of the Reconciliation was rebuilt using unearthed remnants from the church destroyed on this site in 1985. The area has an amazing history which, if you speak German, is brought to life in guided tours each Saturday and Sunday. Insider’s tip: if you enter either of the cemeteries opposite the Center, you’ll find further original Wall segments — testament to the controversy surrounding Wall memorialization in this neighborhood.
Krakow: Wieliczka Salt Mine. While the museum presents artifacts from the over 5000 year history of salt mining in this area, most memorable are the elaborate and thematic salt sculptures created by the mine workers over the last century. There is an underground salt cathedral (complete with requisite Polish salt [of the earth] Pope John Paul II) and even live music in the summer months. Remember to bring a coat (yes, summer too) to keep off the chill during the hour-long tour.
Paris: Rodin Museum. The museum is a retreat within the city, located in a beautiful former hotel with a large, lovely garden, allowing you to enjoy Rodin’s sculptures both indoors and en plein air. For your viewing (and photographing) pleasure, you’ll find massive versions of his sculptures Gates of Hell and The Kiss.
Riga: Open-Air Ethnographic Museum. This is a Skansen-type museum, an outdoor park collection of native buildings from across the centuries, generally grouped by geographical area. The Latvian version, however, outdoes the Swedish original by providing more space for the objects, thereby allowing for a more “original” setting. Museums such as these have displays of traditional life in and around the buildings, with exhibitions of various arts, crafts and trades performed in national and regional costume. Always great for children, they are often their best and brightest during folk festivals and holidays, with an assortment of activities and foods which bring the past to life. Insider’s tip: the gift shop here offers a variety of authentic, quality handicrafts at very reasonable prices. Irkutsk‘s Open-Air Ethnographic Museum is also worth a mention.
St. Petersburg: Kunstkamera. Long the favorite museum of Russian schoolchildren, the Kunstkamera gets very little attention from foreign tourists despite its prime location across the Neva from the Hermitage and just next door to the Rostral Columns. Most of the museum is a stuffy, outdated ethnographic exhibition (though they have been slowly updating this over time, so it may be much improved since my last visit); what gets the kids excited is Peter the Great’s collection of scientific oddities. These two-headed sheep, dog and fetal skeletons as well as more disgusting curiosities preserved in jars than you can shake a stick at are enough to keep your mind moving and stomach turning for the rest of your trip.
Stockholm: Vasa Museum. A ship sinks in Stockholm harbor just minutes after its celebrated launch in 1628. Over 300 years later, the ship is raised from the seafloor in near-original condition, then painstakingly preserved and researched. There is something here for everyone: from the physics of ship design to the historical recreation of life on board to the science of preserving the largest artifact in history to the anthropological analysis of the remains of the victims. In the center of the specially-designed museum space is the amazing, gigantic sailing vessel.
Toronto: Bata Shoe Museum. If you guessed this museum is dedicated to footwear, you’ve guessed correctly. It’s a colorful, fun and thoroughly modern museum tracing history and culture through one artifact — the shoe. If you’re not impressed by the collection of heels or simply how much the human foot has grown over time, you’ll probably never forget the exhibition on traditional Chinese foot binding (ouch!).
Please add your picks for under-appreciated and interesting museums in the comments.