IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The world's weirdest museums

You've studied the old and acquainted yourself with dinosaurs. Now what? How about weird and wonderful destinations that are off the common tourist circuit?
Image: Cryptozoology Museum
Is that the Loch Ness Monster? The International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, has an unrivaled assortment of evidence, ephemera and art related to the sort of creatures you believed in as a child. International Cryptozoology Museum/Loren Coleman.
/ Source:

You've studied the old masters at the Louvre, contemplated the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum and acquainted yourself with the American Museum of Natural History's dinosaurs. Now what? To aid us in our search for the world's most unusual museums, we turned to Atlas Obscura, an online compendium of weird and wonderful destinations that are off — sometimes far off — the common tourist circuit. From a gallery of parasites in Tokyo to a museum in Florence with Galileo Galilei's mummified middle finger on display, we've uncovered seven curiosity cabinets that you have to see to believe.

1. Meguro Parasitological Museum, Tokyo

Who should go: Hypochondriacs who want to worry about something new

Expect the unexpected: Founded as a scientific facility for parasite research, the Meguro Parasitological Museum is the world's only museum dedicated to the otherworldly creatures that might live inside you.

Curious collection: Of the 45,000 parasite specimens in the museum's collection, 300 are on display in the two-floor exhibition space. Trust us, that's more than enough to make your skin crawl. Our video will give you a sneak peek at the horror show, but you'll have to fly to Tokyo to pick up a tapeworm T-shirt or a parasite key chain (yes, there's a real one inside) from the museum gift shop. The galleries include a 28-foot tapeworm (the world's longest), and photos of human and animal hosts clear up any questions you may have about worst-case scenarios.

Meguro Parasitological Museum
4-1-1 Shimomeguro, Meguro-ku
Tel: 81 3 3716 1264

2. International Friendship Exhibition Hall, Mount Myohyang, North Korea

Who should go: Communist sympathizers; anyone who can get into (and also out of) North Korea

Expect the unexpected: Essentially an elaborate warehouse for over 100,000 gifts given to the late Kim Il-Sung and his son and current leader, Kim Jong Il, North Korea's International Friendship Exhibition Hall aims to prove that "Dear Leader" is beloved the world over.

Curious collection: While there are a few prominently displayed items from democratic states — such as a basketball signed by Michael Jordan and gifted by Madeleine Albright — most of the items in the Kims' collection came from other despotic regimes. While we get the symbolism behind a bronze tank from the USSR, we have to wonder what the Sandinistas of Nicaragua were trying to say with a grinning taxidermy alligator holding a wooden tray of cocktail glasses.

International Friendship Exhibition Hall
Mount Myohyang, North Korea

3. Icelandic Phallological Museum, Húsavik, Iceland

Who should go: Strong-stomached voyeurs; feminists

Expect the unexpected: Prepare for a plethora of mammalian penises, in all shapes and sizes: The Icelandic Phallological Museum's goal is to collect phallic specimens from every mammal in Iceland. The museum, located on the country's northern coast, also bills itself as a resource for the study of the influence of male genitalia on history, art, psychology, and literature — which sounds a bit like buying Playboy for the articles to us.

Curious collection: Curator Sigurdur Hjartarson's phallic hobby started when he obtained a bull's pizzle in 1974. Friends working at a whaling center started bringing him whale penises — supposedly as a joke — and one thing just led to another, as they say. Today, 92 species are represented in the collection of 273 specimens. The biggest is from a sperm whale, the smallest from a hamster. Most curious, however, is the museum's folklore section, which includes the genitalia of the "nasty ghost of Snaefell," the "corpse-eating cat of Thingmuli" and a 17th-century sea monster.

Icelandic Phallological Museum
3a Hedinsbraut
Húsavik, Iceland
Tel: 354 868 7966

4. Museo Galileo, Florence, Italy

Who should go: Science nerds who want to be flicked off by Galileo

Expect the unexpected: Among the five centuries' worth of scientific instruments — 17th-century globes, barometers, compound microscopes and more than 1,000 other objects — housed in Florence's Museo Galileo is one acquisition worth pointing out: Galileo Galilei's mummified middle finger displayed in a gold and glass reliquary (pointing skyward, of course).

Curious collection: Three fingers, a tooth and a vertebra were nabbed from the astronomer's body when it was exhumed 95 years after his death. The spinal segment ended up at the University of Padua (where Galileo taught), and the middle finger "changed hands" several times before it came to rest in the Museo Galileo's collection. The tooth and other fingers were thought lost until they unexpectedly showed up at auction last year. In June 2010, the missing bits and pieces were reunited with the middle digit, as well as the astronomer's telescopes, the objective lens he used to discover Jupiter's moons and the rest of his surviving scientific instruments.

Museo Galileo
1 Piazza dei Giudici
Florence, Italy
Tel: 39 055 265 311

5. International Cryptozoology Museum, Portland, Maine

Who should go: Conspiracy theorists who wish "The X Files" was still on the air

Expect the unexpected: Starting in 1960, Loren Coleman, the founder of the International Cryptozoology Museum, began amassing an unrivaled assortment of evidence, ephemera and art related to the sort of creatures you believed in as a child.

Curious collection: If you feel the need to examine hair samples, foot casts, and fecal matter from the supposed Crookston Bigfoot — or to have your picture taken in front of a hairy, 8-foot model of the creature — Coleman's museum is the place to do it. While lake monsters, abominable snowmen and other yet-to-be-discovered animals are the main event here, there are also movie props, notable fakes (such as P. T. Barnum's Feejee Mermaid, made from a monkey and a fish sewn together) and replicas of peculiar creatures (like the coelacanth and megamouth shark) that really do exist.

International Cryptozoology Museum
661 Congress St.
Portland, Maine
Tel: 207 518 9496

6. The American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore

Who should go: Closeted artists who work secretly in the attic; museumgoers tired of the crowds at MoMA

Expect the unexpected: Is a 16-foot model of the Lusitania made entirely from toothpicks art? Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum thinks so. As long as it's a wholly individual, spontaneous creation, the outsider art of everyone from farmers to housewives to the homeless gets equal billing here.

Curious collection: Visitors to the AVAM are greeted by the Giant Whirligig: a vibrantly colored, wind-powered kinetic sculpture that stands 55 feet tall. Vollis Simpson, the 91-year-old World War II veteran and former mechanic who built it out of salvaged machine parts and found objects, made his first whirligig to power a washing machine during the war; the contraptions later became his retirement hobby. The Tall Sculpture Barn holds oversize art, such as a life-size chess set that pits angels against aliens; this past summer, the museum's main exhibit, Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness, explored human rights through the work of 86 artists, including the "last surviving descendant of the Tsars of Russia" and illegal immigrants.

American Visionary Art Museum
800 Key Highway
Baltimore, Md.
Tel: 410 244 1900

7. The Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, Cornwall, England

Who should go: Wannabe witches and warlocks; English history buffs

Expect the unexpected: On a mission to dispel the stereotype of an old woman in a pointy hat riding a broomstick, the Museum of Witchcraft, in Cornwall, holds the world's largest collection of artifacts related to witchcraft and the occult.

Curious collection: The museum covers topics from healing herbs to charms and spells to shape-shifting; its library (by appointment only) holds over 3,000 books; and objects in the collection include mirrors used to summon magical forces, carved mandrake roots and devices used to torture accused witches. Some of the curses on display came from Cecil Williamson, the museum's founder. Williamson didn't follow the common "harm none" ethic of witchcraft and doled out curses as he saw fit, which probably didn't help garner public support for the museum in its early days: The museum was all but chased out of three previous locations by residents, and in one town, it was set ablaze.

Museum of Witchcraft
Boscastle, England
Tel: 44 1840 250111