From the Rijksmuseum to the Pompidou Centre, the Louvre to the Tate Modern; Europe is certainly not short of museums, stocked with history’s finest artistic achievements and technological advances. And these amazing sites continue to grow in popularity with people flocking to the leading museums, galleries and exhibitions in their millions every year.
But for every traditional and revered museum in Europe, featuring the works of da Vinci, Michelangelo or Hockney, there are dozens dedicated to more niche subjects. As a continent, we love to celebrate the weird and the wonderful, and this is best reflected in the quirky museums which have popped up throughout Europe.
Some of these quirky museums are amazing, and some are just plain bonkers – but they all deserve celebrating for their own unique collections and personalities. Some may not appear in the tourism brochures, but each one adds to the personality of the local culture and their home cities are certainly richer for their presence.
Whilst we’d love to celebrate each and every one of the weird exhibitions on the continent, there simply isn’t room on the net, so we’ve just picked out the best of a brilliant bunch. Here are our seven favourite quirky museums found in Europe.
KattenKabinet – Amsterdam
Where else to start on a tour of quirky Europe than the Dutch capital, Amsterdam? The incredibly liberal city is blessed with its fair share of oddities, but perhaps the most charming of them all is KattenKabinet, a canal-side museum dedicated to cats. With the literal translation, Cat Cabinet, the museum is home to paintings, drawings, sculptures and much more celebrating the feline form.
The list of names featured in the museum are mightily impressive, with works of art from Picasso and Rembrandt among those gracing the hallways of KattenKabinet. Situated in a lovingly restored 350-year-old house, KattenKabinet feels like a fitting display for one of the more graceful members of the animal planet, as ornate walls and ceilings are dotted with incredible pieces of artwork and regal décor.
And you can even find the real thing here, KattenKabinet is home to a number of cats who (as cats are wont to do) stroll around as though they own the place. The real owner of the building still lives on the second floor of the museum with his family, so you may be lucky enough to enjoy a guided tour from the man himself.
The Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum – Budapest
With a history dating back to the 19th century, the Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum in Budapest is a wonderful collection of pharmaceutical and alchemy oddities. With exhibitions such as sperm whale vomit (used for easing the colds of lean, thin and emaciated persons, of course) and powdered mummies (the Egyptian sort); there’s a huge selection of items you wouldn’t find in your local Boots.
This small museum possesses a truly eerie atmosphere, with ancient potions and pills lining the walls in antiquated bottles. Not for the faint of heart, these displays are punctuated by the presence of slightly terrifying skulls.
House of the Good Shepherd Clock Museum – Bratislava
Housed in one of Bratislava’s oldest surviving buildings, the Clock Museum documents the history of clockmaking from the late 17th century until the 1900s. Mobile sundials, portable clocks, wall clocks and early examples of alarm clocks and wrist watches can all be found within the Rococo walls of the House of the Good Shepherd.
Bratislava has a proud clockmaking history, and the vast majority of the exhibitions found in the museum have been signed by the master clockmakers of the city. Set over three floors, the museum takes you back in time through the history of the Slovakian capital and its strong horology heritage.
SchokoMuseum – Vienna
Few cities on the planet entice those with a sweet tooth quite like Vienna. The Austrian capital boasts pastries, confectionary and chocolates to rival Paris and Brussels, and is home to SchokoMuseum, the Austrian museum of chocolate.
Great for visitors of all ages, SchokoMuseum takes you on a tour of chocolate production, from the history of the cocoa bean to the production of Viennese favourites such as Sissi Taler and Mozart Hearts. Of course, the tour provides plenty of opportunities to sample the chocolate treats as you make your way around the museum.
For visitors looking to channel their inner chocolatier, there are workshops available, giving you the chance to experiment with chocolates. After discovering how multifunctional chocolate can be, and delving into the world of choco production, you’ll then be treated to a confectionary buffet and a glass or two of sparkling wine.
Musée Gadagne – Lyon
The Musée Gadagne is located in Lyon’s historic Hôtel Gadagne, and is split into two very distinct parts. The first part is the Museum of Lyon History – which is fascinating, but not particularly quirky. We’re more interested in the museum’s second part, the Museum of World Puppets, a collection of more than 2,000 puppets, props, posters and programmes.
Puppets from all around the world have come together in this collection, from the traditional Lyonnais Guignol puppet to more contemporary designs. Puppetry has long been an important part of life in Lyon, with the Guignol representing the silk workers of the city, and generation after generation of local children have been entertained by the city’s leading puppet masters.
Much more than a collection of toys, the Museum of World Puppets offers audio-visual accompaniments to the exhibitions, and also hosts performances in its own little theatre.
National Tile Museum – Lisbon
The entire city of Lisbon feels like an homage to beautiful tiling, with colourful mosaics and ceramic patterns adorning many of the city’s walls. Colourful, patterned tiles have long been an architectural must-have in the Portuguese capital, and they have been charming the locals and visitors for a few hundred years.
The National Tile Museum is a celebration of more than 500 years of azulejo (the Portuguese name for beautiful tiles) history. Despite its location slightly out of the city centre, the museum is certainly worth a visit for those charmed by the city’s beautiful architecture.
Among the absolute glut of exhibitions, the museum’s undoubted highlight is the 1,300-tile-strong mosaic of the Lisbon cityscape. This amazing piece of art was created in 1738, before the Great Earthquake of Lisbon, and is perhaps the most beautiful depiction of the lost city.
Farina Fragrance Museum – Cologne
Cologne’s perfumery heritage is unmatched by any other city in the world, with a history stretching back more than 300 years. Today, visitors looking to explore the history and heritage of Eau de Cologne can visit the oldest fragrance factory in the city, Farina House, which dates back to 1709.
The Farina Fragrance Museum is part factory, part exhibition, showcasing the ancient distillation processes which have helped develop some of the world’s best-loved perfumes. The museum is still in operation today, so you might catch a glimpse of a sweet-smelling batch being rustled up in front of your eyes.
And the one thing all of these unique and quirky museums have in common? They can all be visited during an Emerald Waterways river cruise.
For a full selection of Emerald Waterways river cruises, visiting some of the most enchanting cities on the planet, click here or call our friendly sales team on 0808 301 4705.
Image credits: Andy Maguire, weisserstier, voyagevixen2