The world’s weirdest museums

30/01/2019 10:04

Written by Bradt Travel Guides

Icelandic Phallological Museum

Reykjavík, Iceland

Icelandic Phallological Museum Rekyjavil Iceland by Wikimedia Commons© Wikimedia Commons

With nearly 200 phallic specimens on display, visitors can contemplate the male organs of a seal, walrus, polar bear, a few whale species and a lot of very small rodents, as well as a number of more fanciful depictions in art and sculpture. What seeks to be edgy, scientific or humorous actually comes across as a little creepy and eccentric, especially the lampshades made out of sheep scrotums and bullwhips made from a bull’s penis.

Museum of Broken Relationships

Zagreb, Croatia

Museum of Broken Relationships Zagreb Croatia by Robert Nyman Wikimedia Commons© Robert Nyman, Wikimedia Commons

When the Museum of Broken Relationships opened in Zagreb in 2010, it instantly became the most talked about museum in the capital, attracting more international attention than perhaps any other. Physical fragments of people’s past, failed relationships are displayed alongside the story of that relationship’s demise, written by one of the former couple. At turns fascinating, hilarious and deeply touching, this is unlike any other museum you are ever likely to visit. Highly recommended.

Land of Lost Content

Shropshire, UK

Land of Lost Content Shropshire UK © Land of Lost Content

There are two things about the Land of Lost Content museum of British popular culture that I find moving. Firstly, the floor-to-ceiling memorabilia from ordinary British life over the past 100 years is a wistful reminder that time ticks on. Distilled in a broken doll; a packet for a discontinued sweet; the mocked-up trousseaus of pre- and post-war brides (seemingly filled with equal parts hope and nylon) is the powerful sense that the world changes, tastes change, children grow out of their toys, grow up and grow old. Curator Stella Mitchell borrowed the museum’s name from A E Housman’s elegy to the past. Secondly, it’s Stella’s passion. She and her husband Dave built the collection from scratch without funding, and have kept the museum going on ‘a web of shoestrings’. I love Stella’s handwritten museum notes which manage to be simultaneously literary, reflective and cynical. A music licence means your journey through the decades always has an appropriate soundtrack. ICONS café on the first floor offers refreshments paid for via an honesty box. 

Pitt Rivers Museum

Oxford, UK

To get to Pitt Rivers, you go through the first Natural History Museum (which itself features some spectacularly good carvings). It is one of those collections of obsessive eccentrics, and the building’s pretty odd too, with each pillar of a different stone, that kind of detail. The general angle is anthropology, but where else will you find: shrunken heads; a magnificent Tahitian mourner’s costume collected during Captain Cook’s Second Voyage; Hawaiian feather cloaks in brilliant shades of red and yellow; ivories from the Kingdom of Benin; wonderful ancient masks worn by Japanese Noh actors; mummified people; a witch in a bottle; sculpture from all over the world in wood, pottery, metal and stone; whole boats, ranging from full-sized sailing craft to model canoes somehow stuffed on the walls and ceilings; and American Indian skin shirts decorated with porcupine quills?

Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford UK by Einsamer Schütze Wikimedia Commons© Einsamer Schütze, Wikimedia Commons

The place is crammed and many of the items are still labelled in the handwriting of the original curator. Pull open a drawer (under the display cases) and there may be magic objects including: amulets and charms; an intriguing collection of locks and keys; tools and weapons; voodoo dolls; weird musical instruments, mummified toads; or severed fingers. I was lost in reverie at all these unlikely magical wonders and suddenly realised where I seemed to be – in the shop in Knockturn Alley in Harry Potter where the hero buys his magic wands, etc. Note the opening hours at the time of writing are limited (noon–4.30pm) and they run some really good free events aimed at children, usually on the first Saturday of each month.

Museo de la Silla de Asunción (MUSA) (Museum of Chairs)

Asunción, Paraguay

Museo de la Silla de Asuncion Paraguay South America by Marco Muscara

Go to this new and little-known Museum of Chairs if you possibly can: it is a circular tower with five floors of some 400 innovative and amusingly designed chairs. The collection has been put together by Argentine architect Jorge Nicolas Jury, who has lived in Paraguay for 37 years, and it is housed in a striking modern building of his own design. There is everything from the apyka of the Guarani indigenous to the barber’s chair sat in by astronaut Neil Armstrong; from a child-size Chippendale-inspired gem to a 4m-high copy of a ladder-back chair by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (19th-century Scottish pioneer of industrial design); from a 120-year-old German school desk with the pupil’s name carved into the top to the Zig Zag chair of Gerrit Rietveld; from a polished wooden hand large enough to sit in to an antique chair with a wonderful carved back, on sale for US$1,300. The Paraguayan artists Carlos Colombino, Ricardo Migliorisi and the two sons of Hermann Guggiari – Sebastian and Javier – are represented here, with useful biographical details. An international library of books on design is planned for the future.

Dried Fish Museum

Lofoten, Norway

Dried Fish Museum Lofoten Norway Lapland by Ernst Furuhatt, www.nordnorge.com© Ernst Furuhatt, www.nordnorge.com

The bizarre Tørrfiskmuseum (Stockfish Museum) is a real oddity. Proudly boasting to be the only stockfish museum in the world, the museum fishes out every last detail of the production of stockfish (dried fish), highlighting such oddball facts as 16 million kilograms of cod is hung out to dry every year in Lofoten and that during the drying process the fish loses 80% of its weight. Various forms of the fish are then sent for export to Portugal, Italy and Nigeria. Having perused the various gutting benches, rasps, forks and other exhibits, be sure to catch the film shown upstairs (which was shown on German television and extensively features the museum’s dynamic curator) that is arguably the most illuminating element of the exhibition.

Museo della Merda

Gragnano Trebbiense, Emilia-Romagna

Founded in 2015, the ‘Shit Museum’ is the brainchild of Gianantonio Locatelli, owner of a dairy farm producing Grano Padano cheese – and 100,000kg of manure every day. The tour takes in the farm’s ecological biomechanical works and the nearby methane-heated castle, featuring poop-inspired exhibitions including bioluminescent installations, dung beetles (the symbol of the museum) and art and household items made from ‘Merdacotta’, Castelbosco’s answer to terracotta, which are also on sale in the museum’s Shit Shop.

Discover more of Shropshire's treasures in our Slow Travel guide: 

Shropshire the Bradt Guide

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