Museums aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they can be a great way to learn more about a place you’re visiting, explore different facets of human life, or teach you things about your own home town. Whole vacations can be built around museum-hopping, and sometimes a museum visit is just a nice way to while away a cold, rainy afternoon.
In addition to housing art and artifacts, museums and museum-like spaces address a wide range of interests: science and industry, specific professions, or natural history. Other places, such as archives and libraries, can also reveal the history of a place or people.
Let’s also not forget those strange little museums that seem to hide out in city side-streets, remote villages, or what appears to be the middle of nowhere. These treasure troves of curious and occasionally grotesque relics can be the most enjoyable of all.
Whatever you’re into, there’s probably a museum (or three) out there for you. We’ve put together some suggestions for how to get the most out of a day of museum-hopping, and have created a list of museums around the world that may be under your radar but could be worth exploring.
Book admission to popular destinations online whenever possible. Although you may have to reserve a particular day and/or time, this method allows you to bypass the line of people waiting for admission at the door.
Familiarize yourself with the museum layout. This is especially useful if you are planning to visit many sites in one day, or if you’re with kids or companions with limited patience and attention spans: you can go directly to the exhibits you most want to see, and anything else after that is just a bonus.
Similarly, scope out the area immediately around the museum: where’s the closest cafe, bus stop, or route to your next destination?
Plan breaks, whether it’s time in the park, a sandwich and coffee, or a few minutes on a bench watching the autumn leaves swirl around. Knowing that you’ll be taking breaks—and, ideally, where these breaks will be—will help preserve your good mood, allow you to refresh your body and mind, and give you time to process everything you’ve just seen and experienced.
The Bag Check:
Many museums require visitors to check bags that exceed a certain size. Depending on the rules, you may also have to check items like outerwear, umbrellas, cameras, and food/drink.
If you have only a few items to carry, use the smallest bag you can: for instance, a Luminary or Daylight Briefcase or Backpack (the Backpack will draw less attention if you pack lightly, fold it, and carry it in under your arm). Bags like the Small Cafe Bag and Packing Cube Shoulder Bag can often pass as purses, and, if it’s packed lightly, the Aeronaut 30 Packing Cube Backpack can give you backpack comfort when you’re walking between museums and then fold up into a convenient shoulder or hip bag when you’re inside.
If you need a larger day bag, it’s handy to have a way to keep a few valuables on your person in case you must relinquish it. Most museums—even those that require all bags to be checked—will allow a purse, so it’s a good idea to stash your money and other essentials in a Side Kick or Side Effect, which you can carry by a strap or loop (you can also wear them around your waist if desired). If you’re at the museum to draw, tuck some supplies into the Field Journal Notebook.
More minimal carrying options include the 3D Organizer Cube and Cubelet, which can be carried by a loop, or packing cubes (like those for the Mini Yeoman Duffel or Night Flight Travel Duffel), which have a carry handle built in. Or, slip your passport and credit cards into an RFID Passport Pouch and wear it around your neck and beneath your clothes.
- Water in a closed container and wrapped snacks for breaks
- Journal or sketchbook and related supplies
- A light layer in case it’s super cold inside
- An envelope or flat pouch (like the Clear Organizer Pouch) to keep tickets, brochures, admissions stickers, and other ephemera—all items that can enliven your vacation scrapbook or photo album
- A small first aid kit, including painkillers and ample supplies of moleskin for blisters
Just a Few Museums and Libraries
We haven’t been to all of these places (we wish!) so we can’t guarantee you’ll have an unbelievably good time if you go, but hopefully this list will contain a gem or two that piques your interest. This list is not exhaustive, by any means: it focuses on just a few categories in the interest of space; we also left off most of the biggest/most famous museums. Please let us know your favorite museums and museum-like spaces in the comments.
- Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia
- Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
- Beneski Museum of Natural History, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
- Francisco P. Moreno Museum of Patagonia, San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
- Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Singapore
- McGregor Museum, Kimberley, South Africa
- Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, Santiago, Chile
- Museo Paleontológico en Tocuila, Texcoco, Mexico
- Museum of the North, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
- Museum of Tropical Queensland, Townsville, Queensland, Australia
- Natural History Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, Netherlands
- Palangos Gintaro Muziejus, Palanga, Lithuania
- Beitou Branch, Taipei Public Library, Taiwan
- Biblioteca Joanina, Portugal
- Bibliotheca Alexandria, Egypt
- Central Library of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
- Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland
- Chicago Public Library, Illinois, USA
George Peabody Library, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
- Halifax Library, Nova Scotia, Canada
- Real Gabinete Portogues da Leitura, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Seattle Public Library (Central Branch), Washington, USA
- State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Children’s Museums (most are good for adults too)
- Children’s Museum Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
- City Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
- Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany
- Discover Children’s Story Centre, London, England
- Exploratorium, San Francisco, California, USA
- The Ghibli Museum, Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan
- Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois, USA
- The International Spy Museum, Washington, DC, USA
- National Science and Technology Museum, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan
- The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Great Missenden, England
- Science Centre Nemo, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- The Strong National Museum of Play, Rochester, New York, USA
- Universeum, Göteborg, Sweden
Museums of Curiosities and the Bizarre
- Cancun Underwater Museum, Cancun, Mexico
- Iga Ninja Museum, Iga, Mie, Japan
- Icelandic Phallological Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland
- Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, Ikeda, Osaka, Japan (not to be confused with Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, also in Japan)
- Museum of Bad Art, Somerville, Massachusetts, USA
- Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia
- Museum of Human Disease, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia
Museum of Jurassic Technology, Los Angeles, California, USA
- Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments, Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Mütter Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
- National Mustard Museum, Middleton, Wisconsin, USA
- Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, Delhi, India