Last Updated on April 12, 2022 by Jim Ferri
In Europe there’s a clutch of small museums well worth going out of your way for…
By Jim Ferri
It’s happened to me more than once, as I’d guess it’s happened to you.
I’ve searched out a much-hyped attraction only to get there and wonder what all the hubbub was about. Sound familiar?
I travel a lot and have spent a fair amount of time in Europe, where I’ve had my share of hubbubs. But I’ve also discovered some fascinating places and extraordinary European Museums that are well worth the raves. The following are some of the latter.
I am sharing them with the caveat that although I really enjoyed all of them, each of us has different tastes, so they all may not be the over-the-top experiences you may be looking for.
All I can tell you is that each of the following opened my eyes and mind in a unique way. Hopefully, they will do the same for you.
Table of contents
- Mainz, Germany – The Gutenberg Museum, a Very Special European Museum
- Oslo, Norway – The Nobel Peace Center, an Incredible Museum
- London, England – The Churchill War Rooms
- Munich, Germany – The Deutsches Museum – Huge But Special
- County Mayo, Ireland – National Museum of Ireland – Country Life
- Stockholm, Sweden – The Vasa Museum – Another Special Museum
- Belfast, Northern Ireland – Titanic Belfast
- Berlin, Germany – The DDR Museum
- Vinci, Italy – The Museo Leonardiano
- Innsbruck, Austria – Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art
Mainz, Germany – The Gutenberg Museum, a Very Special European Museum
This Gutenberg Museum is an exciting experience for anyone who loves books or, in fact, has ever read one. It is located in the city’s old town across from the cathedral.
The museum pays homage to local boy Johannes Gutenberg and his invention – printing with movable metal type – which revolutionized the media world.
You’re first taken into a room that contains an old wooden printing press and given a fascinating explanation and demonstration (including the art of hand-setting type backward) of what it took to operate it at the time.
From there, it’s on to a huge walk-in safe in which are kept two copies of the extremely rare and valuable 42-line Gutenberg Bible. And several more places, if you have the time.
55116 Mainz, Germany
Tel: +49 6131 – 12 2640 / 2644
Open: Tuesday – Saturday 9am – 5pm / Sunday 11am – 5pm / closed Monday
Admission: Adults: €5.00 / €3.00 reduced admission for 63 years+, university students, and invalids.
Oslo, Norway – The Nobel Peace Center, an Incredible Museum
This is one of the special European museums where you’ll likely spend hours.
Norwegians are quite proud of their role as international peacemakers, one of the reasons the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo every year (on December 10). Fittingly, the Norwegian capital is also home to the Nobel Peace Center.
This fascinating small, state-of-the-art museum not only details the history of the Peace Prize but also hosts small exhibits relating to war, peace, and conflict resolution. It also hosts lectures, seminars, and discussions, many in English.
The heart of the Center is the Nobel Field, a “garden” of 1,000 blinking fiber optic lights where all the Peace Prize laureates throughout the years are presented on digital screens, allowing visitors to learn as much, or as little, about the recipient as they desire.
Every Friday at noon, May to October, “The Good News of the Week” is released along with a peace dove. As the dove flies off from the window above the entrance, the John Lennon song “Give Peace a Chance” plays from the bell towers.
Nobel Peace Center
Brynjulf Bulls Plass 1
0250 Oslo, Norway
Tel: + 47 48 30 10 00
Open: Monday to Sunday 11:00am – 5:00pm
Admission: (entrance free with the Oslo Pass) Adult: 120 NOK (approx. $13) / Student & Senior: 90 NOK ($10) / Children 12-18 year 50 NOK ($5.50) / Children under 12 years free / Family: 240 NOK ($26.50)
London, England – The Churchill War Rooms
If you grew up hearing your parents talk about World War II – or even if you’ve just seen a movie about London during the war, for that matter – the Churchill War Rooms in London provide an incredible experience. Located in Whitehall in the British capital, the War Rooms are the secret wartime bunker that sheltered Churchill and his Cabinet.
It’s not a reconstruction, but the original highly secret place from which Churchill ran the British government during the Blitz. It remains exactly as it was found years after Churchill and his staff abandoned it, with a couple of wax figures added for perspective.
It’s a fascinating place, much of it interactive, which will keep you riveted for hours.
Churchill War Rooms
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AQ, UK
Tel: 020 7930 6961
Open: Wednesday to Sunday 9:30am to 6pm (last entry at 5pm)
Admission: Adult: £25 / 65+: £22.50 /Children 5-15 years: £12.50 / Children (under 5): free / Student / Disabled: £24.75
Munich, Germany – The Deutsches Museum – Huge But Special
This is one of the largest and oldest science museums globally, attracting more than 1.5 million visitors every year.
The Deutsches Museum is an incredible museum that will be of interest to anyone – male or female, child or adult – since there are many things here for everyone, much of it experienced through touch screens and hands-on demonstrations.
The overall collection is so huge that two annexes have been created, one to the north of Munich devoted to airplanes, and one at the Theresienhöhe, the grounds of the Oktoberfest, exhibiting all kinds of land transportation.
On an island in the middle of the Isar River, the main building is its newest wing. It’s devoted to nano- and biotechnology. Be aware, however, that this temple of technology is so large it can be overwhelming if you don’t plan on what to see before entering. Even then, you’ll become so immersed you’ll spend hours here.
https://www.deutsches-museum.de/ (German only)
Tel: +49 89 21791
Open: Daily 9am – 5pm
Admission: Adults (18+) years: €14,00 / Children 6 – 17 years: €4,50 / 65+: €8,00 / Family ticket (2 adults and children under 17 years: €20,00 / Disabled €8,00
County Mayo, Ireland – National Museum of Ireland – Country Life
Out west in Ireland, near Castlebar in County Mayo, you’ll find the Museum of Country Life, a collection that shows how the people of Ireland lived in the hundred years between the Great Famine and the end of the 1950s.
While the National Museum of Ireland, Country Life’s parent, describes it as home to the National Folklife Collection, it is much more. Its interactive displays and exhibits herald the ingenuity and self-sufficiency of the Irish in the terrible years following the Great Famine.
You’ll find exhibits on wickerwork, spinning wheels and boat-building, clothing, medicine, and other artifacts, even the giant “man traps” landowners placed on their properties to catch poachers and trespassers.
So if you have a wee drop of Irish blood in your veins, you’ll find this to be one of the unique European museums well worth a visit. You’ll be entranced by the place.
Museum of Country Life
Castlebar, County Mayo
Tel: +353 (0) 94 903 1755
Open: Tuesday – Saturday, 10am to 5pm / Sunday – Monday, 1pm to 5pm
Admission: Entry is free, although you are requested to donate to help the museum in its works. You must also, however, book a timed ticket online.
Note: closed Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day, and Good Friday
Stockholm, Sweden – The Vasa Museum – Another Special Museum
A celebration of the ignominious launch of a warship, there’s no other museum like this anywhere else in the entire world,.
The pride of Sweden when it was launched in 1628, the 130-ton Vasa was more than 225’ long and 160’ tall when it sank in the middle of Stockholm harbor after sailing barely ¾ mile on its maiden voyage.
The ship was finally salvaged in 1961 and painstakingly restored. For 17 years, it was sprayed day and night with a preservative that replaced the water in the wood’s cells and prevented it from drying out and splitting.
Now housed in its own museum on the harbor in Stockholm, one of the top 10 places in Sweden, it looks almost exactly as it was when launched, sans the paint, and is the only almost fully intact 17th-century ship ever salvaged. As a result, it’s the most famous museum in Scandinavia.
115 21 Stockholm, Sweden
Tel: +46 8-519 548 80
Open: Daily 10am -5pm / Wednesdays 10am -8pm
Admission: September – May: Adults 170 SEK (approximately $19) / June – August: Adults 190 SEK (approximately $21) children 18 years and under free at all times.Note: the museum is closed December 23-25 and closes at 3pm on December 31
Belfast, Northern Ireland – Titanic Belfast
When I first visited Titanic Belfast, I was stunned both by the exhibit’s design and the design of the building itself, built right beside the historic site of its construction. I’ve never been so mesmerized by an exhibition of this type.
The exhibit in this incredible special European museum takes you from the ship’s conception right through to its final resting place on the floor of the North Atlantic. It’s a world-class exhibit well worth the price of admission and, possibly for many, the cost to get to Belfast, as well. It is the top attraction in Northern Ireland as well as one of the top attractions on the “island of Ireland.”
Before you enter, stand across the street, and look at the design of the building. You’ll see that each of its sections was designed to look like a ship’s bow.
Titanic Quarter Limited
Belfast BT3 9DT
Tel: +44 (0) 28 9076 6386
Open: times of opening change monthly
Admission: Adult £19.50 (approximately $26) / Senior (60+) [Mon-Fri only] £15.50 ($20.50) / Children (5-15 years £8.75 ($11.50) / Family Pass (2 adults, 2 children) £48.00 ($63) / Family Pass (2 adults, 2 children) / Student £15.50 ($20.50)
Berlin, Germany – The DDR Museum
Privately owned, this popular hands-on DDR Museum documents daily life in the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik, aka East Germany. Although it’s pretty small special European museum, many people find its exhibits mesmerizing.
Despite its size, if you remember East Germany, you’ll find the DDR Museum one of the unique European museums well worth a visit. For starters, you’ll learn about the living conditions of the East Germans, their occupations, education, and income.
You’ll also learn interesting facts such as how children were indoctrinated by the state (learning arithmetic by counting tanks in kindergarten, for example) and see the Prime Minister’s Volvo, with its curtained windows and blue upholstery. You’ll find it on the Spree, opposite the Berlin Cathedral.
10178 Berlin, Germany
Tel: +49 30 847123731
Open: open every day of the year, 9am – 9pm; On December 24 and 31, 9am – 4pm.
Admission: Adults: €9.80 (approximately $11) / Children 6+ years €6.00 ($7), under 6 years free.
Vinci, Italy – The Museo Leonardiano
Yes, that Vinci, the home of Leonardo. This special European museum is located in Tuscany, about halfway between Pisa and Florence. And although it’s a bit off the beaten track, if you have a car, this unique European museum is well worth a half-day visit.
Vinci is a pretty little Tuscan hilltop town where the locals pay homage to their famous native son in the Museo Leonardiano, set in a 13th-century castle.
Here you’ll find models of many of Leonardo’s inventions, most based on drawings from his notebooks. You are guaranteed to be wowed by his conceptions of a bicycle, an armored tank, and many other things, all conceived by him long before they became part of modern life.
While you can visit different museums dedicated to Leonardo – there is one in Florence, for example – at this one, at least you’ll know you’re at the source.
Piazza dei Guidi
50059 Vinci FI, Italy
Tel: 057 1933285
Open: daily 10am – 6pm (the ticket office closes at 5:15pm)
Admission: there are many different combinations of tickets. Review them here.
Innsbruck, Austria – Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art
Described by Lonely Planet as “a fascinating romp through Tyrolean folk art,” the Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art focuses on arts and crafts and the applied arts, home industries, masks, and traditional dresses of the Tyrol area of Autria. It makes you appreciate the beauty of everyday items crafted centuries ago.
I found the most interesting part of the museum to be on the third floor, where there are exhibits of beautiful folk furniture and interiors of old Tyrolean houses. There is also an exhibit showing how people dressed, played, and interacted with one another.
Just studying the faces of the dozens of life-size manikins in the exhibit was intriguing. It’s located next to the Hofkirche, across from the Hofburg in the old town center.
Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art
6020 Innsbruck, Austria
Tel: +43 512 59489510
Open: daily 9am – 5pm
Admission: (combined ticket for 5 Tyrolean State Museums) – € 12.00 (approximately $13.50) / seniors and students (up to 27 years) / free admission under 19 years / free access with the Innsbruck Card and the Freizeitticket Tirol.
Note: On December 24, all exhibitions are open only until 1 pm; from 1 pm to 4 pm, only the crib exhibition is open.
You may also enjoy: The Incredible Churchill War Rooms / 10 Really Interesting American Small Museums / 10 Small Countries That Score Big With Travelers
Stan McGahey says
Hi Jim, When I first bummed around Europe in 1970-71, I visited lots of museums. The funny thing was I never visited museums in the USA, but all of a sudden in Europe, they were always on my agenda of must see sights. I remember the Vasa Museum when it was like a sauna. I’ve visited a fair share of museums, but mostly I look for festivals, large and small, and get a real kick out of those, especially before overtourism when I would be the only foreigner at a local festival and everyone there was thrilled and made sure I had a grand time. Sadly, those days may be gone for good. Museums and festivals both showcase what a community is most proud of and wants to share with others. Thanks for the list.
Happy Holidays Jim and thanks for the ride through Yugoslavia back in May of 1971!
Cheers – Stan
Jim Ferri says
It’s good to hear from you! For readers, I picked Stan up when he was hitchhiking in Yugoslavia so many years ago. I just realized that was 50 years ago! We should at least get together for a celebratory drink! Back then he also authored a book on European festivals.
Happy Holidays to you also, Stan. Let me know where in the world you are these days.
Jim Ferri says
It’s good to hear from you after so long! For readers, I picked Stan up when he was hitchhiking in Yugoslavia so many years ago. I just realized that was 50 years ago! We should at least get together for a celebratory drink! Back then he also authored a book on European festivals.
Happy Holidays to you also, Stan. Let me know where in the world you are these days.