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31 Incredible Museums from around the World

31 Incredible Museums from around the World | CosmosMariners.com

As someone who believes that learning is a lifelong process, I'm a huge fan of discovering new museums on my travels. Gone are the days of stuffy, off-putting museums where the main focus was keeping guests as far away as possible from the items of display. Instead, today's museums are vibrant, lively, and interactive: there's a focus on immersion and what the role of a museum is in today's society. Often, contemporary museums ask as many questions about the visitors as they do about the exhibits (thank you, postmodernism!)

I asked 31 fellow travel bloggers to share their favorite museums and received a wide array of submissions focusing on museums from across the globe. As you go through these, you'll notice what makes these museums so memorable: many are quirky, many delve into difficult subject matter (both in depth and in topic), and many are focused on topics that never would've been seen in museums 50 years ago (hello, comic books and neon lights). 

Add a few of these to your next trip and see how a fantastic museum can help you shape new opinions about the world around you.

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North America

The Mattress Factory // Pittsburg, Pennsylvania
Laura Nalin, Willful and Wildhearted

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The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA, is one of the most unique contemporary art museums I've visited yet. While many tourists flock to the Andy Warhol Museum to pay homage to the town's most beloved artist, this lesser known spot is worth a visit, too. Each room contains perplexing and one-of-a-kind art installations, making for a perfect afternoon rain or shine. My favorite installation is the Infinity Dots in Mirrored Room by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. If you're traveling through town, definitely make it a must-see!

The Getty Center // Los Angeles, California
Penny Sadler, Adventures of a Carry-on

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Perched on a hilltop in the Santa Monica mountains overlooking the City of Angels, the Getty Center represents the best of great architecture, art and nature. Built of white travertine and glass, it perfectly captures the California sunlight and important aspect of the design.

Aside from being a beautiful and inspiring place to visit simply for the location and the architecture, the permanent collection, changing exhibitions and outdoor art on view at the Getty Center, reach across European and American history -- from medieval times to the present.

I never miss a chance to visit the Getty Center. It is one of the most enriching and educational places in the world for me.

International Museum of Surgical Science // Chicago, Illinois
Carol Guttery, Wayfaring Views

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In 1935, the International College of Surgeons was founded with the goal of promoting the “exchange of surgical knowledge." The museum in Chicago was opened in 1954 and is a repository for its collection of historically significant surgical instrumentation, artworks, books and manuscripts. One of the more charming displays in the museum is a replica of a 19th century apothecary. The museum also has displays of surgical instruments, statuary of significant people from the medical field, Ben Franklin’s bi-focal glasses and other curiosities. These exhibits make the museum kind of creepy but it’s also quite earnest. The museum also houses a beautiful library with over 500 feet of shelves and contains 1,000 rare texts.

The Dali Museum // St. Petersburg, Florida
Mary Chong, The Calculated Traveller

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One of my favourite museums is the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg Florida. Home to the largest private collection of Salvador Dali artwork in the world, I love that tours at the Dali Museum, both self-guided audio and docent led, are complimentary. The tours allow the visitor to take full advantage of the Dali experience by helping you to understand the meaning of the images and symbols that he incorporated into each piece of art. Spending time exploring the beauty of the architecture of the museum itself, studying the genius of this surrealist artist's paintings (some are eight feet tall and cover entire walls) and sitting in the sculpture garden on a sunny day is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Metropolitan Museum of Art // New York City, New York
Stephanie Rose, Ginger on the Go

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The Met is well known for its Egyptian Temple, Armor Collection, Greek & Roman sculptures, and many other wonderful artifacts. However, my favorite part of the Met is the less explored rooftop. It can be tricky to navigate and during busy periods there are often long waits for access. Each summer the Met installs a new exhibit on the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden.

Cornelia Parker designed Psycho Barn for the summer of 2016 with influences from Edward Hopper's painting and the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho. This sculpture is 30 feet high and sits on the Met's rooftop with Central Park and the Manhattan skyline in the background. They have lovely parties on the roof in summer, making it the perfect place to meet friends and enjoy the culture of the city.


Hakone Open Air Museum // Hakone, Japan
Shobha George, Just Go Places

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One of our favourite museums is the Hakone Open Air Art Museum in the Hakone region of Japan Easily accessible by train from Tokyo, this open air museum is set in the majestic mountain side near Mt. Fuji. The museum contains many famous names of contemporary sculpture from around the world, including Picasso, Henry Moore and Rodin. We also enjoyed its many family-friendly aspects such as the artwork pieces where children are encouraged to climb and touch and the koi pond where you can feed the fish. The Hakone Open Air Art Museum was a welcome respite from the noise and crowds of Tokyo. We were also lucky enough to go in the autumn and the mountain side was starting to break out in a blaze of colour.

Edo-Tokyo Museum // Tokyo, Japan
Rhonda Krouse, Travel Yes Please

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I’m usually not one who visits many museums when I travel but one that captured my imagination was the Edo-Tokyo Museum in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo.

This museum showcases what life was like in Edo and chronicles its transition to modern-day Tokyo. There are large-size replicas of buildings (my favourite was the Kabuki theatre), automated exhibits, scale-model dioramas illustrating life of the townspeople and displays with tiny figurines carefully placed to show people going about their daily errands. There are also some interactive areas and hands-on displays that help make the Edo-Tokyo Museum a fun and engaging place to learn about Tokyo’s past.

Israel Museum // Jerusalem, Israel
Claudia Tavani, My Adventures Across the World

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One of the best museums I have visited recently is the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. A funky looking building with an incredible architectural structure, what makes this museum a place to visit in Jerusalem is the fantastic exhibition of artifact and objects that help get a better understanding of the history and culture of the region. Even more so, on a separate building there is the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept.

These 800 scrolls were found in 1947 and later on in 1956 in various caves in the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea. They have been dated to around AD 132-35 and their importance lies in how much they reveal of the history of the region, and their obvious religious significance.

Osaka Castle Museum // Osaka, Japan
Amanda Kendle, Not a Ballerina

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Osaka Castle Museum has rated as one of my all-time favourites ever since I lived in Osaka fifteen years ago. I would traipse visitor after visitor to the gorgeous Osaka Castle Park - particularly stunning under cherry blossom in spring or coloured leaves in fall - and then catch my breath as we rounded the corner to look up at the imposing Osaka Castle. Once inside, the museum is spread across five floors and you spiral down through the levels after enjoying the vast views over Osaka from the observation deck on top of the castle. The exhibits cover many important aspects of the history of both Osaka and Japan, focusing on the castle’s varied iterations over the centuries, and although they don’t all feature English explanations there’s plenty to explore and learn. I’ve long been particularly taken by the dioramas which light up with holographic people to illustrate Osaka’s history. Recently they’ve added the chance to dress up in samurai outfits and that’s a fun way to really get a feel for Japanese history.

Art Science Museum // Singapore
Mar Pages, Once in a Lifetime Journey

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This iconic building in the Marina Bay area of Singapore is a museum where you can find innovative, creative and modern exhibitions by the likes of Lego or renowned artists like Dali. The building stands out for its incredible architecture, which is very photogenic from the river onboard a river cruise. At night, it is lit magically. Once a month, the museum also has chill out sessions with performances.

Museum of Islamic Art // Doha, Qatar
Bob Ramsak, Piran Café

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Since my first visit to Doha in 2010, I’ve sung the praises of the Museum of Islamic Art to anyone who’ll listen. It’s the finest museum in the Emirate and one that houses the most complete and important collection of Islamic art --both secular and religious-- on the planet. I’ve returned almost every time in my subsequent eight visits to the Qatari capital.

The building itself is monumental, thanks in no small part to architect I.M. Pei, who was coaxed out of retirement by the Emirate to undertake the ambitious project’s design, a center piece of Qatar’s goal to redefine itself as an international cultural center. Pei admitted he knew nothing about Islam and little about the Islamic world, so at 91 he set off on a six-month quest to fill that knowledge gap.

The result was a five-story 45,000 square meter structure built on a small island constructed at the southern end of Doha Bay, housing 14 centuries of the finest Islamic art and artifacts collected from across the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa. The collection runs the gamut: metalworks, ceramics, jewelry, woodwork, textiles, manuscripts, coins and glass are all included. Protip: prepare yourself for a great lesson in the history and beauty of Arabic script.

Buddha Tooth and Relic Museum // Singapore
Callan Wienburg, Singapore n Beyond

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You may be wondering what the theme of this museum/temple is, but the name actually says it all – this temple is said to house what is claimed to be Buddha’s left canine tooth. It is therefore one of Singapore’s most popular spiritual hubs for Buddhists. It also attracts over 3.6 million visitors from all religions annually looking to learn more about the history, art and culture of Buddhism.

One of the reasons I love this museum, apart from its highly spiritual influence and the free vegetarian meals it provides its visitors, is its mix of old and new. From the outside, the temple looks like a traditional Tang dynasty imperial Chinese building with its slanting bamboo roofs and red wooden beams. On the inside, you’ll see that this $75 million complex built in 2007 enjoys air conditioning, lifts and TV screens. I love the play of old and new, spiritual and materialistic, a true depiction of modernity and the bustling city in which it is housed.

War Remnants Museums // Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Hannah and Adam, Getting Stamped

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Over the past 4 years traveling I’ve been to handful of museums but none stick out to me more than the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. Being an American, I remember learning about the Vietnam War in school and even hearing stories from men who were in it. It was really interesting to walk to through the museum and hear the other side of the story. The museum is really well done with some horrific and graphic photos that show how devastating the war was. It’s not an easy museum to walk through; you’ll more than likely need some tissue listening to some of the audio tapes. I however think it’s one of the most impactful museums and one I walked away with so knowing so much. When picking which Vietnam destinations to visit defiantly make sure to have a few days in Ho Chi Minh City and spend a few hours at the War Remnants museum.

National Museum // Jakarta, Indonesia
Jo, Wander with Jo

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My favorite museum is the national museum in Jakarta, Indonesia. It is a mecca of culture, history royalty and heritage. My favorite piece was the statue of a king, over 4 metres tall, standing on a pile of skulls and, of course, the penis sheaths worn by Papuan men. With gold treasures, monumental statues of kings and ancient Hindu-Buddhist artifacts, this museum has been preserving Indonesian heritage for over 200 years now.

CMP Block Museum of the Arts // Taichung, Taiwan
Nisha Jha, Lemonicks.com

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An old department store, some school buildings and a deserted parking lot were converted into a modern and clean museum in Taichung, Taiwan. It was named CMP Block Museum of Arts. The team spent a lot of effort and turned the whole area into a “living museum”.

The outdoor space has lots of geometrical and intriguing art figures and designs, involving aesthetics in our life. The museum has no boundaries and pedestrians are encouraged to come to the exhibitions which are held throughout the year as per the theme and holiday trends. But the half buried cars, which are my favourite, are a permanent feature.

Slowly the area became very popular with the older and younger generation both. The broken and boring park lanes are converted to Happy Trails, to make the kids play the age old games.

There is a creative market on holidays accompanied with many coffee shops & restaurants nearby. You can pay a visit to all the unique and interesting stores in the building and take a stroll in the park, spend time at the Block Museum.


South Australian Museum // Adelaide, Australia
Tom Stevenson, The Traveling Tom

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I wasn't expecting much when I visited the South Australian museum in Adelaide, however, I was pleasantly surprised. The museum. had a lot of interesting exhibits about the history of the state and Australia in general. A particular favourite was the animal section which showcased a number of great animals, including a giant squid! If you're in Adelaide, you have to check the museum, and the best thing is it's completely free!


Rodin Museum // Paris, France
Sher, Sher She Goes

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The Rodin Museum is one my favorites, because it’s not so much a traditionally, stuffy museum but more a beautifully curated house and garden dotted with some of Auguste Rodin’s most famous sculptures. A walk into a room here, a stroll through the garden path: every couple of feet, a new work awaits! Paris actually has two museums dedicated to Rodin- the Hotel Biron in central Paris and just outside Paris at Rodin’s old home, the Villa des Brillants at Meudon. The Hotel Biron was Rodin’s workshop and where he subsequently donated his entire collection of sculptures to the French state. Here, you’ll find some of his most famous works, including the The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell. I especially love The Thinker; it's located in the garden on the right hand side in a beautiful little circle surrounded by carefully sculpted bushes and flowers.

Russian Central Airforce Museum // Monimo, Russia
Jordan Adkins-Bakker, Inspired by Maps

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My favourite museum is the Russian Central Airforce museum in Monino, and is a must see! Not far outside Moscow it's the largest aviation museum in Russia and the largest collection of Russian aircraft in the world ...outside the current Russian military!!. Fields of rusting Soviet airpower you can't see anywhere else in the world. Rows upon rows of fighter jets through to supersonic bombers, I gaurantee you didnt know half these aircraft even existed! The American’s sure didn’t at the time. A Russian knock off of the Concorde and the largest helicopter ever built are just a couple of the many highlights. Some of these aircraft were the backbone of the Russian airforce during the Cold War while there are others that are still in service. My favourite aircraft? The Sukhoi T-4, which is an experimental bomber from the 70's. Able to reach speeds three times the speed of sounds, four were originally built but now only one remains....plus it looks a little bit like Snoopy! A must visit for anyone with even a passing interest in aviation history when in Moscow!

11/07/95 // Sarajevo, Bosnia
Gemma Armit, Two Scots Abroad

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It almost sounds off describing 11/07/95 in Sarajevo as my favourite museum considering it educates visitors about the 100, 000 deaths caused by the four-year conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 11/07/95 is a room which displays images taken during the war and projects videos of interviews from survivors and footage of the heartbreaking tragedy on two large screens. The videos discuss the Sarajevo Siege, where citizens lived under gunfire and the risk of being shot at from the mountains every time they left their homes, as well as the atrocities which occurred at the United Nations 'safe area' Srebrenica. Here, 8000 Muslim boys and men were slaughtered, the greatest impact of genocide that the country felt. The museum offers guided tours for those looking for more information about the film still images on the walls too. Sarajevo itself is a walking museum: check out our guide for more tips on what not to miss (did you know it's where WWI started?).

Stromness Museum // Orkney Islands, Scotland
Helena, Through an Aussie's Eyes
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You may not have heard of the Orkney Islands in Scotland but you may have heard of such famous places as Scapa Flow, Skara Brae and the Ness of Brodger. You can find artifacts from these places at the Stromness Museum that date right back to the Neolithic Age. This little Museum lets you step through the history of the Orkney Islands. You can explore the Ness of Brodger’s artifacts, learn about whaling, the Hudson’s Bay Company (they recruited Stromness workers to go to Canada for the fur trading outposts) and the German Fleet in Scapa Flow (area of conflict in both WWI and WWII). The current exhibition is looking into the loss of HMS Hampshire and the death of Lord Kitchener, England’s Secretary of State for War. The Stromness Museum is rich with history and you will get a great understanding of Orkney Island life.

Comic Strip Center // Brussels, Belgium
Olga Rabo, The Russian Abroad

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Upon my first visit to Belgium, I was surprised to find out that comics - yes, the comics that eventually lied the road to Superman, Batman, famous Marvel heroes and so on - actually originated in the Waffle-land (aka Belgium itself). I always thought that all comics came from the US or Canada, which decided to exploit the movement to the fullest in the film industry. But apparently, Belgium was home to the first comic series in the world -- such as The Adventures of Tinin or The Smurfs. The Comic Strip Center in Brussels is a huge gallery featuring early sketches and famous figures that walk you through the history of comics. As geeky as this sounds, surprisingly, it's more interesting that it seems.

Cinquantenaire Museum // Brussels, Belgium
Alison Cornford-Matheson, CheeseWeb

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From the outside, the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels, Belgium doesn’t look that large, particularly since it is dwarfed by the towering Cinquantenaire triumphal arch. Don’t let appearances fool you; inside is a warren of art and artefacts from all over the world. The exhibits are organised loosely by region and you’ll find displays dedicated to global cultures from the First Nations of Canada to ancient Egypt to Iran and India.

This museum of civilisations is part of the Royal Museums of Art and History gifted to the Belgian people by the royal family, and it is in a constant state of renovation. This means some wings are at the cutting-edge of museum technology, while others are a step back to museums of the past, making for an interesting cultural study in itself.

My favourite hidden away corner of the Cinquantenaire Museum is dedicated to Belgium’s glorious Art Nouveau past. The display features jewellery and decorative items contained inside an entire Art Nouveau shop interior designed by Brussels’ architecture legend Victor Horta.

Olympic Museum // Lausanne, Switzerland
Tamason Gamble, Travelling Book Junkie

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I remember a time when going to a museum meant that you were going to spend time in a stuffy, cluttered building where you were not allowed to touch anything and only look at things through a cabinet of glass, marked by the hundreds of other people that had pushed their faces up against it trying to get a better view.

This is why I loved spending time at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

Nothing on show is trapped behind a glass barrier but out in the open allowing visitors to really see everything.  From the Olympic torches to the outfits worn by Torvill and Dean during their Olympic gold winning performance, you can get up close with it all.

It is also the most interactive museum we have ever visited.  From trying to beat Usain Bolt’s world record 100m time to completing cross-country running tracks and competing with yourself against a beeping wall of illuminating lights, it is easy to see why people spend hours here.

As soon as you walk up the well-manicured gardens you know this museum is going to be special.  The famous Olympic rings hang high and many famous athletes, now immortalised in stone, have been placed around the grounds.  Once inside you wander up a sweeping slope unable to see what the interior of the museum has in store for you – it is all kept a mystery until you enter into the inner sanctum.

This is a museum that all ages will love.

Museum of Brands, Packaging, and Advertising // London, England
Fiona, Fiona Travels from Asia

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Don’t be put off by the name. This museum is much more than a collection of advertising artifacts and thus caters to a much larger audience than those interested in consumer culture. This evocative museum features an amazing time tunnel where British products, packages and brands from Victoria time until now are exhibited. For British visitors, this tunnel is like a walk down memory lane. Foreign travelers who might not be familiar with British brands still learn a lot about British history and social developments through these artifacts.

I particularly found it fascinating to see women’s magazines in the 19th and early 20th century displayed here. Looking at these made me realize how much women’s roles in the British society have changed in a positive way, although stereotypes such as “home economics is a woman’s business” are still prevalent in many societies nowadays. One more reason to visit this museum is its beautiful café with a view to a stunning courtyard garden. One just can’t stop feeling inspired here.

Helsinki City Museum // Helsinki, Finland
Margherita Ragg, The Crowded Planet

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The Helsinki City Museum is definitely one of the best I've ever seen! It's a very recent addition to the Helsinki museum scene, and it has one major advantage - it's FREE! In a city that is known for being very pricey, it's great that there's a new addition to the list of free things to do in Helsinki. Normally, city museums are quite stuffy and boring, but the Helsinki City Museum includes really cool exhibitions and installations.

At the moment, there's an exhibition called Smell, recreating iconic Helsinki smells, and another called Helsinki Bites presenting sceneries related to the shared past of the city. There's also a children's exhibition, and another called 'Time Machine' that will make you feel as if you travelled back to the early 20th century. When we visited in summer there was also an exhibition from the Museum of Broken Relationships, showcasing objects that tell stories of romantic breakups.

Natural History Museum // London, England
Cory Varga, You Could Travel

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For those of you who don't know, I am a huge David Attenborough fan. He is my main travel inspiration. His documentaries keep me curious and intrigued. There is no wonder that once I saw David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Alive program, I went for a road trip to London, to see the museum's wonders for myself. It was a dark afternoon of December when I first visited the Natural History Museum and I spent close to 5 hours exploring it. Needless to say that this was not enough, hence I allocated another 2 full days to explore all its corners and ensure I get to discover all its secrets. The Natural History Museum in London offers free entry, although a discretionary donation is advisable. I promise the visit won't disappoint, as you will encounter many interactive exhibitions including a journey into the Earth's core, where you can experience our planet's beautiful and forceful side.

Transport Museum // Budapest, Hungary
Cris Puscas, LooknWalk

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I’ve been fascinated by means of transportation since I was a child. After all, mom said I was almost born in the car. Joke (or not) aside, I’ve fell in love with trains in my early childhood. As I started to travel, my love only grew deeper. So when I was asked if I wanted to visit the Transport Museum of Budapest back in 2008, I said Yes. And loved it. The museum is large and covers all means of transportation. I love that you can walk in old, restored train carriages and you can also fly on a simulator (and get a certificate if you did well). I went back in 2013 to find it just as fascinating.

Children under 6 get free admission and youngsters (6-26) get 50% off.

Neon Museum // Warsaw, Poland
Kamila Napora, My Wanderlust

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There are many museums I've visited and consider some of the best in the world but my absolute favourite is Neon Museum in Warsaw. It is located in the Praga district at the grounds of Soho Factory - one of the artistic hubs in the city. The museum itself was founded by my friends Ilona Karwinska and David Hill who had this crazy idea to preserve old neon signs from the cold war times. What started as a passion turned out to be a huge success! The Neon Museum is now known as one of the highlights in Warsaw, welcoming numerous tourists each day.

Every time I visit the museum (and I do it frequently because it's just the best!) I'm overwhelmed by the magic this place has. All the old neon signs got the second chance to shine again and they are as beautiful as ever! The museum constantly welcomes new items in the collection so each visit there is different. When you come to Warsaw, a visit in the Neon Museum is a must!

Blists Hill Victorian Town // Shropshire, England
Jenni Sheldon, Travel to Recovery

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I love the working Victorian museum Blists Hill in Shropshire, UK. The property is interactive: you walk around the town just as you would have in the Victorian period. Visitors can purchase real life products in the shops (including the bakery and fish and chip shop), have a beer in the local and enjoy a sing song, ride a merry-go-round, or visit the pigs on the farm. You're having so much fun you don’t realise you're learning about history at the same time.

Hospital de Sant Pau // Barcelona, Spain
Gabor, Surfing the Planet

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The modernist complex of Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona was designed by the Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and was built during more than two decades at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a functioning hospital for almost a century, and during that time it was probably the most beautiful hospital complex in the world with a beautiful art-nouveau façade that takes your breath away.

The hospital building was declared UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, and after closing its doors in 2009 as a hospital it was converted into a museum and cultural center, which opened in 2014. When you visit the Hospital de Sant Pau, you will see beautiful art-nouveau pavilions decorated with stained glass and mosaic, separated by beautiful gardens. In the museum you can learn a lot about the history of the city as well. This museum is also our personal favorite, because it is in our neighborhood (El Guinardó), and we lived the whole process of how it was converted into a museum from a hospital.

Musée de l'Homme // Paris, France
Elisa, World in Paris

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After being closed for more than five years for renovation works, the much awaited Musée de l’Homme (the Mankind Museum) came back to the Parisian museums scene in style. Inaugurated in 1938, the Musée de l’Homme focuses on the evolution of humans from the anthropological point of view but also with a social and cultural approach.

This description may sound a little bit serious but, actually, this is a great museum to visit with kids, thanks to a winning combination of different experiences (contemplating, touching, listening, smelling, etc.) where all the senses are engaged.  The Musée de l’Homme has three main sections, questioning visitors about our past but also about a sustainable future in this world: "Who Are We?," "Where Do We Come From?," and "Where Do We Head?"

The museum has many hot exhibits. I especially liked the large hanging rail  with 91 plaster busts representing human diversity and the wall-sized world map of the spoken languages, where visitors can stick the mural tongues out to listen to some of these languages. I also enjoyed shaking hands with a chimpanzee, a Neanderthal man and an homo sapiens--all real scale models!

The bonus of the Musée de l’Homme? An amazing view over the Eiffel Tower, with no crowds.


Of the museums you've visited on your travels, which is your favorite?


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