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The Best Museums You’ve Never Heard Of

When I travel, I always try to find some great little-known gems. Museums are always a favorite of mine and below are a few of the really good ones from off-the-beaten-path. If you have a favorite museum that you never see splashed all over the internet, please share it in the comments.

Musee l’Orangerie: Paris

I’ve been to Paris now four times and have never been to the Louvre.  The sheer magnitude of it always intimidates me and being in Paris, an overwhelmingly large city, I crave the intimate.  My favorite museum is the L’Orangerie.  It hits all my museum marks: it’s approachable, I can see everything in two hours (my limited art-viewing attention span)  and it represents the city itself with artists who lived and painted there:  Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso, and Modigliani.

But the real reason why this is a gem is the unique basement where you can sit in the middle of the room surrounded and consumed by eight of Monet’s large-scaled murals of Water Lilies.   Sitting there, you feel like you could live within his brushstrokes.


City Museum: St. Louis

Housed in an old shoe factory, this museum is rather unique. It’s like Salvador Dali, someone with a “hoarding” problem and building contractor all got together and decided to build the oddest place in the world. There is a life-sized whale you can walk through, hidden tunnels and slides all over the place that connect one floor to another, an aquarium that has a tube that allows you to crawl through a shark tank, the world’s largest pencil, and a 10 story spiral slide taking you from the roof down the basement. I wish my school had gone on a field trip here!

City Museum St Louis

German Emigration Center Museum: Bremerhaven, Germany

As an American, I have heard hundreds of stories of immigrants coming to the USA for a better life. This museum in Bremerhaven, Germany tells the other and equally poignant story… of people leaving their country for the New World.  When you buy your ticket you are given a card about a real-life emigrant and essentially become that person as you follow in their footsteps and learn their story about who they were, when they left, what their journey was, and where they ultimately arrived.  I followed a woman who had nothing left when she lost her husband and then her farm.   Once through the processing room at “Ellis Island,” you’re treated to the heartwarming pictures of the present-day decedents of the brave person who wanted a better life.

German Emigration Center

House of Terror Museum: Budapest, Hungary

Housed in the former Communist Secret Police building, this museum is both shocking and fascinating.  A massive tank in the foyer sets an intimidating tone and creates a bodily chill that will stay with you as you learn about how first the Nazis and then later the Communist Secret Police kept tabs on the Hungarian population and so much more.  It all heads downhill from there, or I should say downstairs and the only way to get downstairs is a suspense-filled elevator ride that opens up into holding cells and interrogation rooms of those who were detained, brutally tortured, and killed.  It feels VERY good when you leave the museum and return to modern-day Budapest!

House of Terror Budapest

What’s your favorite museum that is not very well known?  Share your experience in the comments section.

This Post Has 51 Comments

  1. Carnavalet Museum in Paris/ Located in the Marais. Museum of the history of Paris. Tiny gem of a museum. Explore this museum and then walk to Picasso Museum (also in the Marais). Have lunch in this area. Great shopping-clothes, shoes & galleries.

    1. The Carnavalet Museum in Paris/ Located in the Marais (listed above) is CLOSING October 2016 for approximately three years. Already, some areas are closed, as display material is being stored.

    1. I strongly concur. War Photo Ltd was a remarkable, poignant experience, in a city that is otherwise so beautiful and prosperous that it can be easy to forget troubles in Croatia’s past and ongoing throughout the world. Take the hour away from the rest of Dubrovnik’s charms and experience an amazing collection of some of the world’s most powerful conflict photography.

  2. I love the Steamboat of Arabia Museum in Kansas City, pretty amazing little place that no one has every heard of, but oddly, both of my sisters and I have all been there at different times in our lives and for different reasons, and we live all the way in California!

  3. Also in Paris, the Marmottan. After his death, Monet’s son donated several works to this small museum. It’s set in a lovely residential area to the west of the Eiffel Tower. Very well worth a metro or bus ride out there. Another favorite in Paris is the Rodin, on the left bank. Rodin’s home is filled with many lovely pieces. In St. Petersburg, FL, we love the Salvador Dali and Dale Chihuly collections. Unexpected treasures!

    1. I loved the Marmottan, and the Rodin museum. In the US, the World War 2 museum in New Orleans is really worth a visit.

  4. Mrs Meaney’s Cottage Museum in County Kilkenny, Ireland is a wee gem, full of homely items in an authentic traditional cottage, as they would be back in the day. Plus a unique craft shop & homemade cakes-perfect 🙂 Run with love, you can tell!

  5. Got to agree on the interesting perspective of an emigration museum in Europe. We are used to hearing the other side of the story. I’ve been to a similar one, Ballinstadt in Hamburg, Germany.

    That city also offers another odd museum: one dedicated to spices. It’s small, but fascinating.

  6. The Museum of the City of London, near the Barbizon. Nobody I talk to has heard of it, but it is a delightful museum which traces the history of the city from prehistoric times to the present. From the 1600s forward, displays are accompanied by music of the period. Ends with the magnificent Lord Mayor’s coach sitting on blocks in a pool of water, to prevent being touched. Really a wonderful place!

    1. We LOVED this museum and went there on two different visits to London, having been so impressed the first time. And it’s free!

  7. The Walters Art Museum ( and the American Visionary Art Museum ( are great museums in Baltimore, MD. The Walters is a wonderful museum, similar to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY but on a smaller scale. It’s also free. The American Visionary Art Museum exhibits beautiful and very different works of art in various mediums by non-traditional artists (ex, paintings by hospital patients, or works of art created with unusual found objects).

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  9. The Unterlinden Museum in Colmar is small and only moderately visited. It contains many important, regional works, but it’s main attraction is Matthias Grunewald’s Isenheim altar piece. That alone is worth the price of admission.

  10. Stumbled on the Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie, Scotland. Wonderful collection of Pictish stones and other artifacts.

    In Chicago: The International Museum of Surgical Science and the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

    The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA — huge collection of Rodin bronzes and diverse collections of art from all over the world.

  11. My favorite is the Steamship Arabia museum in Kansas City. It’s unbelievably fascinating. Look up the website and you can see what they have on display. A family of plumbers dug up this huge steamship that sunk carrying goods to the pioneer west. Most of the items were preserved in the mud and so you can see a huge inventory of what was going to be sold in the West. And most looks new. It’s a great museum.

  12. The Museum of Invention in Barcelona. Some inventions are funny, some useful, and most have a video showing how they are used. I came across it on a rainy Sunday morning somewhere in teh old city.

    1. I agree with the WWII Museum in New Orleans. A visit there definitely gives you the feeling of those dark days, in the field and on the home front.

  13. Took 3 trips to Paris to see L’ orangerie. First closed for restoration, next closed due to transportation strike ( that time I sat on steps and cried). Finally the joy,the bliss,the satisfaction of seeing the Waterlilies in the place designed for them.
    The Marmottan and The Rodin are gems too.
    Agree with Museum of London, very user friendly.
    The Kelvingrove in Glasgow is unique in that it covers natural history, history of Scotland,architecture, antiquities and fine art. Even has a Salvadore Dali

  14. So what about Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Akansas? It’s truly amazing…always changing and great place for Sunday Brunch, too.

  15. In th British Library a number of books and manuscripts are on display to the general public in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery; open 7 days a week at no charge, FREE people!!

    Some of the manuscripts and original writings in the exhibition include Beowulf, the Lindisfarne Gospels and St Cuthbert Gospel, a Gutenberg Bible, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (King Arthur), Captain Cook’s journal, Jane Austen’s History of England, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and a room devoted solely to Magna Carta, letters from Churchill, song lyrics from the Beatles, scoresheet strong Handel & Bach … FOR FREE

  16. The Iranian jewelry exhibit in a Tehran bank vault has what the Shaw and his peers had to leave behind.
    Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum by the Nile in Cairo had many Impressionist paintings but now closed I think; we arrived early and were the only ones there so the director gave us a private tour.
    A local favorite is the Gardens for Sculpture in Trenton, NJ. 42 acres of realistic sculptures by Seward Johnson, some 3D replicas of Impressionist paintings. Very whimsical with a good restaurant called Rats.

  17. Crystal Bridges in NW Arkansas. The Philbrook and Gilcrease in Tulsa. The Joslyn in Omaha and the Nelson Atkins in Kansas City

  18. Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is incredibly interesting — from the grounds to the Harem to the jewels/artifacts/art to the section dedicated to Mohammed and Islam. Remember, the Turks controlled much of the Middle East until the end of WW1 and brought much back to their capital. If you are a history buff, especially on that part of the world, this is a must stop.

  19. We went to a pretty cool museum in Bergen, Norway all about waste and sewage and how it was dealt with throughout history. More interesting than you would think.

  20. Maritzhuis in den Haag (The Hague, NL) is a 2-story gem with, oh, just a a few masterpieces like a dozen or so Rembrandts and Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” at the top of the stairs.

  21. Museo Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, Italy. It is recently redone and just lovely. It tells the story of the Ospedale, displays beautiful art, and shares the history and architecture from Renaissance times to the present by luring the visitor from one room to the next. The basis for the museum is the “Hospital of the Innocents”, the hospitality given to the unwanted children of Florence starting in the 1400s. I loved the art and the restoration that went into the medallions which were on the outside of the porticos, but my favorite was the room of little boxes where visitors can see the names of children left at the Ostedale and the items that were left with them as an identity piece. It brought the place alive (I took the time to open every box!). If you visit Florence, this museum is on the Florence Pass (which I suggest purchasing at the Bargello for no line and another little know but WONDERFUL museum), you should go!

  22. Toronto, Ontario, Canada has a few gems each worthy of a full day of exploration:
    1. Downtown – Art Gallery of Ontario – beautiful collection of paintings housed within a beautfully piece of architecture.
    2. Downtown – Royal Ontario Museum – permamnet collection of dinosaur bones and totem poles, but also boosts a variety of interesting collections on a temporary basis.
    3. North York – Science Centre – amazing building where you take one escalator after another as you tumble down into a ravine to reach a variety of diffenet hands on displays. Great for kids who like to be active! Also has an IMAX theatre with differnt movies showing.
    4. North York (close to Science Centre) – Aga Khan Museum – collection of Islamic art and artifacts to help better understand the history of Middle East

    And just outside of Torotno
    1, McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinburg – houses numerous Group of Seven paintings – within a rustic, naturalist setting surrounded by woodland forests.

  23. Culloden Battlefield near Inverness, scotland. There are two time lines you follow through learning about each sid, British and the Scottish rebels. It culminates in a room where you are surrounded by a 360 degree reenactment video of the battle with surround sound. ….very moving and sad. After exploring the museum take an audio walking tour of the battle field.

  24. In Paris, the Picasso Museum is definitely worth a visit if you enjoy his work; in New Orleans, the Pharmacy Museum is a little gem and has quite interesting artifacts & history; and in Kinsale, Ireland, the Museum of Wine is a must for any wine lover.

  25. Rome: Galleria Borghese, set in a large, beautiful garden in Rome. This property comes with an interesting family story. For entrance, you must pre-order a timed ticket, so book in advance!

    Oslo: Vigeland Park, the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist, Gustav Vigeland. Amazing outdoor grounds with loads of fountains- and it’s free entry! The statues actually beckon for interaction, and unlike most museums you are encouraged to play with the artwork. Tons of fun photo ops!

    Philadelphia: The Barnes Foundation for impressionists, impressionists, impressionists! This once private collection is estimated to be worth about 25 billion. Turbulent history that warranted its own documentary as seen on Netflix, The Art of the Steal.

    Manhattan: The Frick Collection, former residence and private collection of Henry Clay Frick not far from the MET museum on the Upper East Side. There are six well laid out galleries, originally curated by Frick himself as he always intended for this home to become a museum one day.

  26. Philadelphia: The brand new Museum of the American Revolution presents a multi faceted and balanced view of the emerging US. Also, the Mutter Museum’s slightly macabre; but, fascinating medical displays are worth a visit (great place to take your pre-teens and teens)

  27. The Museo del Virreinato in Tepotzotlán, outside Mexico City. Its an impressively restored Jesuit seminar, with religous art and artifacts from the time of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, hence its name.

  28. The Morse Museum in Winter Park, FL (Orlando area) has the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass, art glass, drawings, pottery, and other remarkable pieces. You could spend hours here just marveling at the beauty of the massive stained glass pieces alone. A hidden treasure for anyone needing a break from the parks.

  29. The B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi is a fabulous way to experience the history and culture of the civil rights era through the wonderful world of music. You are educated and entertained, and thankful to everyone who made this jewel of a museum possible.

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The Best Museums You've Never Heard Of
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