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From Opium to Spies: 15 Fascinating Museums for Curious Travelers

Tired of traditional museum fare?

In our travels, we’ve come across some truly thought-provoking and unusual museums. From mummies to opium, spies (and even phalluses!), these fascinating places break the museum mold.

So whether you’re a history buff, a curious traveler or simply a fan of the weird and whimsical, these 15 wonderfully unique museums in the world are sure to amaze you!

How fun! You can snorkel around this unique underwater museum off Cancun, Mexico!
How fun! In Cancun, Mexico, you can snorkel around an underwater museum!

1) International Spy Museum (USA)

Calling all wanna-be 007s!

Want to learn about lipstick pistols, cipher machines and other interesting gadgets used by real life spies? Then Washington, DC’s International Spy Museum is for you! It’s one of the coolest museums in the world!

Uncover secrets and live out your spy dreams at this spy museum (Credit: International Spy Museum)

This isn’t your typical stroll through the history of espionage.  

Each exhibit invites you to step into the shoes of a spy. Test your mettle in interactive challenges – crack codes, dodge lasers and maybe discover you’ve got a knack for the spy game!

The massive 140,000 square foot building houses the world’s largest collection of spy stuff ever on public display. The lives of spies from the U.S., Asia, Europe and the Middle East are all showcased – from Mata Hari (the dancer who spied for the French during WWI) to Morten Storm (who volunteered to spy against Al Qaeda).

If you’re ready to unleash your inner spy, this spy museum is where history meets mystery – and you’re the protagonist.

2) Museum of Enduring Beauty (Malaysia)

Thai woman with brass rings around her neck
At the Museum of Enduring Beauty, you can see pictures like this one of a woman from the Long Neck Karen tribe in Myanmar

The UNESCO-listed city of Malacca (Melaka) in Malaysia is fascinating and exotic in its own right.

Our do-it-yourself day trip in Malacca on a cruise stop took a quirky turn when we took a psychedelic trishaw ride to see the city’s sights.

It’s here you find the small Museum of Enduring Beauty.

It occupies the third floor of the unassuming People’s Museum (which also houses collections showcasing the history of Malacca, the governor’s personal collection of art and a kite museum).

The Beauty Museum peels back the layers of beauty standards through the ages.

With its astonishing displays and photos – from skin tattooing to lip stretching, neck extending, tooth filing, head molding and feet binding – it unveils the lengths to which people have gone in their often painful quest for beauty.

3) Icelandic Phallological Museum (Iceland)

Phallic specimens at the Icelandic Phallological Museum
Phallic specimens of various animals (Credit: Icelandic Phallological Museum)

Yes, this unique museum is exactly about what you think it’s about – the male’s “P-word” member! (But we hesitate to say the word, for fear of Google whipping us with a wet willy and blocking access to this post!)

Anyway, if you ever find yourself in Reykjavik with a penchant for the peculiar, the Icelandic Phallological Museum is a must-visit.

It proudly houses the world’s most extensive collection of phallic specimens – boasting almost 300 penises (oops, we said it!) from nearly every mammal found in Iceland, including those from land, sea and even mythical creatures.

From the teensy hamster member to the sperm whale phallus that’s almost a whopping six feet long, the range is as vast as it is intriguing.

There’s even a human penis. Unfortunately, it quickly decomposed. Apparently, the museum is searching for “a younger and a bigger and better one.”

The museum started modestly but has grown in popularity in recent years, requiring a move to a larger, more interactive space by the harbor.

The spiffy new space also has a phallic-themed bistro where you can ponder on the displays over craft beers (like “Big Cock Ale” and “Moby Dick Pale Ale”) and eats.

Choose your beer! (Credit: Icelandic Phallological Museum)

Far from being a vulgar display, the museum presents its collection with a scientific and educational approach, tastefully arranged and devoid of any off-color overtones.

While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the Icelandic Phallological Museum offers a one-of-a-kind experience – it’s definitely one of the most unusual museums in the world!  

4) The Museum of Bad Art (USA)

Would you decorate your home with these pieces? (Credit: The Museum of Bad Art)

The Louvre, it isn’t! It’s the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Boston, and this art museum proudly celebrates artists whose works might never see the light of day elsewhere.

Here, the idea of “good” art doesn’t exist. From artworks that look like third-grade projects to those that leave you scratching your head, MOBA is a treasure trove of “art too bad to be ignored.”

Take “Picnic in the Swamp” by Ted Cate Jr., for example. This piece defies all conventional picnic expectations with flat expressionless faces of a couple in green Hazmat suits, set against a swampy backdrop.

Other highlights include a desert still life featuring a woman’s head replaced by a pheasant, and an Oriental dancer awkwardly holding a cane. MOBA is the perfect place to revel in the joy of bad art and find humor in the unexpected.

5) Mummy Museum of Guanajuato (Mexico)

We travel to Mexico a lot and have discovered amazing things to do at every turn. This museum is one of the most haunting attractions we’ve visited.

The Mummy Museum of Guanajuato displays more than 100 mummified bodies, each with their own silent story to tell.

Guanajuato mummy in a coffin
One of the mummies we saw at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum (this one displayed in a coffin)

These aren’t ancient mummies, like the ones found in Egypt.

They’re bodies of once-buried people, dug up back in the 1800s. They were disinterred when their families couldn’t afford to pay a tax to keep them buried.

Naturally preserved by the arid and mineral-rich soil of the region, these bodies had begun to attract curious onlookers. As visitors started to break off pieces of the mummies as macabre souvenirs, the local authorities eventually created a museum to house the mummies.

The museum is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Mexican colonial town of Guanajuato.

One particularly unnerving mummy we saw is of a woman believed to have been buried alive – her arm is crossed over her face, frozen in a scream. The museum also includes the “world’s smallest mummy” – a fetus from a cholera victim.

Reflecting on our visit, we were reminded of how deeply cultural attitudes towards death can vary. In Mexico, death is woven into the fabric of life, and their culture is more accepting of death than, say, North American and European cultures.

Our visit to the museum was a stark lesson in humanity and the inevitable dance with death. We were quite relieved and happy to return to the sunshine and bustling life outside!  

Read our article: Screaming Mummies of Guanajuato: Mexico’s Death Museum

6) Museum of Broken Relationships (Croatia)

Museum of Broken Relationships
Poignant displays of love lost at this heartbreak museum (Credit: Museum of Broken Relationships)

Devoted to stories of heartbreak, the Museum of Broken Relationships occupies a former Baroque palace in Zagreb, Croatia.

Founded by a couple of Croatian artists after their own split, it offers a poignant exploration of love and loss – and it might just be the most bittersweet spot in Croatia! (And, no, they didn’t get back together.)

Artifacts include relics of lost love donated from around the globe.

You’ll find teddy bears and letters. But there’s also a garden gnome hurled in anger during a particularly heated divorce, a bra from a woman marking the end of her relationship (with her breasts) post-mastectomy and a tiny bottle filled with a woman’s tears.

Perhaps the strangest offering is a prosthetic leg left behind after a relationship-partner hopped away.

Don’t forget to pen your thoughts in the guest book at the end of your visit – facing a mirror that compels you to reflect, quite literally, as you write.

7) The Canadian Potato Museum (Canada)

Canadian Potato Museum
Spud-tacular! This Canadian museum celebrates the humble potato in all its glory (Credit: The Canadian Potato Museum)

Seeing as we’re Canadian, we have to tell you about The Canadian Potato Museum.

A shrine to spuds? Indeed. As these humble tubers are one of Prince Edward Island’s biggest claims to fame, it’s only natural there’s a museum dedicated to them in Charlottetown, the “potato capital of Canada.”

This quirky museum serves up a heap of history with exhibits covering the potato’s past.

You can see a large collection of potato-related farm machinery and antique agricultural equipment. Wander through period photos, learn about traditional harvesting techniques and of course, pose with the world’s largest potato sculpture!

Don’t miss its newly renovated Potato Country Kitchen. Here, you can taste a variety of potato-inspired dishes. Baked potato with savory pulled pork, chili cheese fries or poutine, anyone?

8) Hall of Opium (Thailand)

Opium pipes at Thailand's Hall of Opium
Opium pipes (Credit: Hall of Opium)

Tucked away in the Golden Triangle, where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar, the Hall of Opium is another fascinating and unique museum – this one pulls you deep into the complex world of opium.

Quite frankly, we didn’t expect to find this vast 60,000-square-foot exhibition space in such a remote spot. And it surprised us with the depth and poignancy of its displays.

From the outset, the Hall of Opium strikes a dramatic tone. You enter it by walking through a dim tunnel, adorned by sculptures of tortured souls.

Through multimedia exhibits, you then explore opium’s journey, from its original medicinal usage by ancient civilizations right up to its present-day misuse by addicts.

The Hall of Opium also features a captivating collection of opium pipes, from ornate silver to ivory ones. It even recreates an opium den that almost lures you in for a puff!

What really hits home is the museum’s unflinching look at opium’s darker side.

It cleverly uses a replica British clipper ship to show how Britain’s tea craze fueled opium addiction in China, sparking the Opium Wars and altering history. And there’s film footage on how the CIA supported illegal opium selling in the 1960s.

Yet the museum also offers a nuanced view – how would wounded soldiers have endured amputations in the past without morphine derived from opium?

Your visit ends in the Hall of Reflection, where philosophical quotes encourage a life free from substance abuse.

This is definitely a museum that offers much more than just historical facts; it’s a profound journey through the shadows and stories of opium.

Read our article: Discovering the Power of Poppies at Thailand’s Hall of Opium

9) Museum of the Future (Dubai)

Dubai's Museum of the Future is one of the most unique museums in the world!
This futuristic-looking museum lights up the skyline with its sleek sci-fi vibes (Credit: Museum of the Future)

What do man’s wildest dreams hold?

Take a warp-speed journey into what’s next at Dubai’s Museum of the Future (which opened in 2022).

Each of the seven floors is like a Hollywood blockbuster set, buzzing with storytellers and tech wizards crafting the future right before your eyes. From penguin-shaped drones to elevators that whisk you to a space station 400 miles up, it’s pure sci-fi come alive.

You’ll mingle with cyber-dogs and marvel at under-skin payment chips.

Shaped like an eye with a hollow center, the entire museum building is also a futuristic marvel. On the outside, quotes in Arabic calligraphy say things like “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it and execute it.”

10) Toy Museum (San Miguel de Allende, Mexico)

Frida Kahlo dolls at the San Miguel de Allende Toy Museum
Get in touch with your inner child at this toy museum!

Okay, this isn’t one of the world’s strangest museums. But it is playful – and utterly delightful!

Hidden away in the charming streets of San Miguel de Allende, the Toy Museum (Museo La Esquina) is a burst of childhood joy and creativity.

Imagine over 3,500 handcrafted toys, each echoing the rich cultural tapestry of Mexico. There are miniature figures, Frida Kahlo dolls, colorful trucks, airplanes made from recycled materials and more. Each toy is a marvel of artisanal craftsmanship.

The museum is not just a treat for kids. We too were whisked back to our own childhood days as we browsed the exhibits.

Read our article: Feel Playful at the Mexican Toy Museum in San Miguel de Allende

11) Dog Collar Museum (England)

Dog Collar Museum
Jewel-like dog collars at the Dog Collar Museum (Credit: Leeds Castle)

So how do you make a museum on dog collars interesting? By showcasing centuries of canine couture!

Tucked inside Leeds Castle in Kent, the Dog Collar Museum has been fascinating visitors since 1976 with its eye-catching display of more than 130 dog collars. Some date back as far as 500 years ago.

Menacing spiked collars designed to protect hunting dogs from predators? Ornate baroque pieces adorned with noble crests? These collars show how our four-legged friends have strutted through history, decked out in style.

We bet today’s Fido, with his simple nylon band, would be jealous if he saw some of these intricate collars!

12) International Cryptozoology Museum (USA)

Weird creature in the International Cryptozoology Museum
What’s this weird creature? (Credit: International Cryptozoology Museum)

Are sasquatches real? Visit this unusual museum and you might leave a believer.

Located in Portland, Maine, the International Cryptozoology Museum is a treasure trove for anyone intrigued by the mysterious and unexplained.

It’s dedicated to the study of cryptozoology – unsubstantiated and mythical creatures like Bigfoot, cryptids and the Yeti.

Created in 2003 by Loren Coleman, the world’s leading cryptozoologist, the two-story museum holds over 10,000 items.

Whether you’re examining hair samples from “Abominable Snowmen” or poring over artifacts linked to the Loch Ness Monster, it promises an experience that blurs the line between myth and reality.

13) Cup Noodles Museum

Slurp into history at Japan's Cup Noodles Museum!
Slurp into history at Japan’s Cup Noodles Museum! (Credit: Cup Noodles Museum)

Japan is home to some of the world’s weirdest museums – including the Meguro Parasitological Museum (specializing in parasites), The Sand Museum (the world’s only indoor museum on sand sculptures and sand castles) and a sewage museum.

But the museum that grabs our attention the most is the Cup Noodles Museum.

Actually, there are two such Japanese museums – one in Yokohama and one in Osaka.

They’re interactive playgrounds that honor Momofuku Ando, the ingenious inventor of this iconic quick meal.

Design your own cup noodles packages, engage in noodle-making workshops and explore exhibits that tell the story of ramen’s rise from post-war sustenance to global staple.

These museums are perfect if you’re looking to add a pinch of playful innovation to your Japanese adventure!

14) Sulabh International Toilet Museum (India)

Fancy toilets on display at the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets
Fancy toilets! (Credit: Sulabh International Museum of Toilets)

The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi is indeed all about loos.

It’s a quirky place showcasing the interesting history of toilets and a plethora of potties. Ancient loos from civilizations like Egypt, Babylon, and Greece, medieval commodes, you name it – they have it. They’ve even got thrones used by royalty and a model of the largest toilet complex in the world.

One highlight is a replica of King Louis XIV’s toilet, which he used during court sessions to avoid stepping away. There’s also an extravagant gold and silver toilet, perfect for someone who fancied sitting on their treasure!

Interestingly, this isn’t the world’s only museum on toilets. There are also toilet museums in Germany, Japan (the Toto Museum) and Spain.

15) Cancun Underwater Museum of Art (Mexico)

Statues stand silently in the clear waters of the Cancun Underwater Museum.
Statues stand silently in the clear waters of the Cancun Underwater Museum

Can you think of a more fun and interesting museum for snorkelers and divers?

You actually dive down to see the spectacle of the Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA or Museo Subacuatico de Arte)! Here, just off the coast of Cancun, over 500 life-sized sculptures await on the ocean floor. Most are at depths of 30 feet.

Created by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor and five Mexican sculptors, these striking underwater artworks double as a sanctuary for marine life and help protect coral reefs – the three separate clusters of sculptures provide alternative dive and snorkeling sites.

The most famous exhibit is “The Silent Evolution” – an eerie representation of 450 human figures frozen in time, slowly claimed by the sea, merging art with conservation in a fascinating way.

Extraordinary enough for you?

Exploring these fascinating museums is an adventure filled with surprises and laughter. So unleash your curiosity, and when in Rome (or Mexico, Croatia, Iceland…), open your mind to some of the most unique museums in the world!

Let us know if you’ve visited any of these museums – or if there’s an unconventional or fun museum you’ve enjoyed that’s not on our list! You can share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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15 of the Most Unique Museums in the the World

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Photo credits: 11, 18, 20 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

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