Tired of crowded museums? Immerse yourself in the quirky, compelling collections at these small museums instead.
Museums can be hit or miss. Visit the big names—Paris’s Louvre, Florence’s Uffizi, or New York’s Met—and you might be shoulder-to-shoulder with hordes of tourists while trying to glimpse the world’s greatest art. But, stray too far off the beaten path and you might find yourself in a small town wishing you hadn’t wasted your time at a museum with a less-than-compelling collection. With these five gems, though, you won’t go too far out of your way, and you’ll find truly captivating stories, histories, and displays. So next time you’re in London, Paris or another major destination, skip the obvious choices and head for these museums instead.
THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE
Set in a 19th century house in Istanbul, this eccentric museum was created by Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk to accompany his novel of the same name. The book follows the budding relationship between Kemal, a wealthy Istanbulite, and his cousin, Füsun, while the museum displays items relating to their (fictional) love story. Arranged chronologically, in line with the book’s chapters, you’ll find 83 displays including clothes, toys, cinema tickets, paintings, and more, all of which bring the world of upper-class Istanbul in the 1970s to life. Read the book before your visit to pick up details you’ll otherwise miss.
THE MOB MUSEUM
This Las Vegas museum delves into the history of organised crime in the US—and what officials did to prevent it. Inside, you’ll get up-close-and-personal with America’s most notorious mobsters with weapons and personal items once owned by the likes of Al Capone, Charlie Luciano, and Frank Rosenthal. Don’t miss the courthouse used in the Kefauver hearing—the first televised mob event—and the brick wall and a 38-calibre Colt Detective revolver from Chicago’s 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre, where Al Capone’s South Side gang murdered seven Moran gang members. Finish with a drink at The Underground, a 1920s Prohibition-style speakeasy with an onsite distillery.
DENNIS SEVER'S HOUSE
This Grade II-listed Georgian terraced house in London’s Spitalfields offers an immersive recreation of what life might have been like for the family of Huguenot silk weavers who once lived here. The 10 rooms here are presented with thoughtful mise-en-scènes that are a time capsule of the 18th and 19th centuries. As you wander, you’ll find flickering candlelight, the smells of food and wax, and half-eaten meals–alongside period furnishings such as four-poster beds and patterned wallpaper—giving the eerie feeling that members of the historical family have just left the room. Visit around Christmas for the best effect.
SHERLOCK HOLMES MUSEUM
Don your deerstalker and head to Meiringen, the setting of Sherlock Holmes’s last novel, “The Last Problem”, where you’ll find this quirky museum. Not to be confused with the museum at 221b Baker Street, London, this iteration, in Switzerland, is set in the basement of an old Anglican church. You’ll find a recreation of Holmes’ parlour alongside objects that recreate the lives of the famed detective and his sidekick, Dr Watson—think the police report about Holmes’s death and Watson’s military uniforms. Fittingly, the Reichenbach Falls—where Holmes supposedly died—sits behind the museum.
MUSÉE DE LA VIE ROMANTIQUE
Tucked away at the foot of Montmartre hill, this Parisian museum was once the home of Dutch painter Ary Scheffer, who hosted popular salons here in the early 19th century—George Sand, Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, and Charles Dickens were frequent visitors. Now, this 1830 hôtel particulier is dedicated to the Romantic movement. Throughout, there are portraits, jewellery and memorabilia once owned by Sand, a plaster cast of Chopin’s right hand, paintings by Scheffer, antique furnishings, sculptures, and more. There are two annual exhibitions held here, along with frequent classical music concerts.