“I see we’ve hit peak bullshit,” Ben announced when we walked into the 3rd floor of the Guggenheim. We were both very hungover and tired, and neither of us are modern art fans. We’d already wandered through video installations we didn’t understand and heard telephones ringing which really isn’t good for a hangover. This room was the ‘blue square on a blank canvas’ type of modern art, and we’d had enough.
I’ve done my fair share of looking at oil paintings of rich men and seen the innumerable Naval uniforms in various maritime museums. They have a place, and history is obviously very important, but I’ve picked out some of my favourite, quirky museums that I think really tell the story of a place.
The Hoosesagg Museum, Basel
The old part of Basel is a twisted maze of narrow streets and cute buildings with shuttered windows. The adorable lanes are an obvious hit with visitors, but one homeowner got so annoyed with people staring through his little window that he turned it into a display cabinet. It’s now Switzerland’s smallest museum, and the display changes every few weeks. When I visited it was full of stereotypical souvenirs from different parts of the world.
A museum that is born of being passive aggressive is a hit for me.
National museums that have spent huge sums of money on interactive displays have their place, but I love a good provincial museum that’s been put together on a budget by passionate local people. Wymondham (pronounced Wind-ham), is a small town in Norfolk, UK about 10 miles from where I live in Norwich.
When Ben and I visited, we asked a group of old men at a beer festival when the next train to Norwich would be. One said, “I don’t know, I’ve never been.” Never been to the closest city! Wymondham has everything he needs, so why leave?
But never fear! This small town has a rich history and was once the brush-making centre of Europe! Yep, completely inane and something I’d never thought of but there’s a working brush-making machine and a full history of the industry.
The outside of the Guggenheim
I know, I know, I’m trying to list places that are less well known, but I really loved the displays outside the Guggenheim. Obviously, the building itself is an architectural masterpiece and instantly recognisable. There’s also a giant puppy made of flowers, luminous metal tulips outside as well as the creepy, shadow-making spider.
My favourite part though, was the fog sculpture by Fujiko Nakaya. If you stand around the back of the museum by the river, fog will rise up and surround you. It creates an eerie atmosphere where the outline of the building shifts and appears to move around you. People are enveloped in the fog and disappear. You’re no longer in the centre of a city, but moved to a distant land of trolls, witches and ogres.
It’s creepy, a bit scary but an exceptional experience. And it’s free!
Bilbao makes a great city break, read more about it in Alternative City Breaks.
The world’s largest model railway! But it’s so much more than that. There’s roads with model Hoyer tankers delivering chemicals, there’s hot air balloons, little towns, famous landmarks, a conspiratorial meeting of leaders to plot the world’s demise, a pop concert…
There’s an airport with actual flying planes!
And, I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but there’s a day and night cycle so every 10 minutes or so the lights dim and the worlds change to their overnight activities.
It’s €15 for an adult ticket, and I’d recommend buying in advance as it’s really popular and the queues get quite long.
Amsterdam, the home of Rembrandt, canals and the red light district. As a city, it also has a wicked sense of humour.
I went to the sex museum with some of my closest friends on a hen party and it was hilarious. It’s full of small rooms with different themes, each displaying art, photos and statues that explore human sexuality. There’s also piped sound effects. Some of it is thought provoking, and some of it is comedy.
It’s one of the best quirky museums because it’s a microcosm of why so many people fall in love with the Netherlands: it’s open, honest, funny and doesn’t mind challenging you to think differently.
The Bat Jungle, Monteverde
I’m not sure what constitutes a museum rather than a wildlife sanctuary, but this small rescue centre for bats is focussed on getting visitors to understand bats and their importance for the ecosystem. To me, that makes it a place of learning, therefore a museum!
The Bat Jungle is owned by a couple who are passionate about saving the bat population in Monteverde, Costa Rica. You book a set time to enter, and the tour starts with a description of the different types of bat, what they eat and how they live. It describes what they add to the environment and dispels myths about them harming livestock or being vampires!
Then you enter their sanctuary, which is kept dark during the day so that visitors can see them flying around. They are mostly fruit bats, and when Ben & I visited we were lucky enough to see some baby bats as well. It’s really fascinating to see them fly around in a natural-style environment.
I’ve rated it one of the best quirky museums because it demonstrates why I love Costa Rica: it’s set up by passionate people who want to improve and enrich their local community. Pura vida!