There’s nothing like delving into a quirky museum to stimulate the mind and reignite your sense of wonder. From neo-classical statues to an astonishing display of puppets and the world’s longest love poem, Europe has no shortage of offbeat museums to spice up your travels. So turn off your phone and forget the outside world as you immerse yourself in historical curiosities, fantastical fakes and elusive illusions. Prepare to be intrigued…
1. Puppet Museum – Palermo, Italy
Theatre and museum culture combine at The Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum. Founded in 1975 by the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions, it contains over 5,000 items, including marionettes, hand puppets and shadow puppets from around the world: helping to preserve the art of puppetry, in all of its forms. In this spirit, the museum hosts events throughout the year to highlight its collections, too, including the Festival di Morgana, which features puppet performances and exhibits from international artists. A great pick for your International Museum Day adventures.
Where to stay: Follow up this unique spot of sightseeing with a night or two at Villa Lampedusa. Only twenty minutes by car from the heart of Palermo, there’s plenty to admire about this country mansion, from its stunning frescoes to huge glass observatory. What could be more romantic than stargazing in the Italian countryside..?
2. 3D Museum – Brugges, Belgium
View some of the characters from Europe’s best-loved art in a completely new way, including those from the world-famous ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymous Bosch, at Bruges’ 3D Museum. Here, painted people that were once confined to the canvas have been made ‘real’, transformed into sculptures by expert visual artists from all around the world.
Where to stay: Afterwards, spend the night at Flanders Hotel. Based in the historic heart of the city, this property is brilliantly-placed to enjoy all of Bruges’ most marvellous sights. It’s also lovely within, and boasts a beautiful garden and contemporary rooms. It’s no wonder it’s been voted as one of the Top 15 Hotels in Belgium in Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards for eight years running.
3. Gipsoteca di Antonio Canova – Possagno, Italy
Another one of Italy’s most astonishing museums resides in Asolo: the Gipsoteca di Antonio Canova-Possagno. This museum centres around the work of the famous Neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova. Explore some of his magnificent masterpieces, and see where he was born and artistically inspired during your visit. Take special note of the Gypsotheca, which contains the original plaster cast models of some of his most famous works.
Where to stay: Accommodation-wise, you can’t get much better than Villa Cipriani. This five-star hotel is filled with luxuries to make your trip feel extra special. Book a room with a terrace to enjoy panoramic views of the stunning valley, enjoy a Turkish bath, take a dip in their outdoor pool and much more. You’ll want to stay forever.
4. Hunt Museum – Limerick, Ireland
Out of all of the museums in Europe, the Hunt Museum arguably has one of the most unique origin stories. It was founded by a couple of antique dealers and advisors, John and Gertrude Hunt, who over the course of their lifetime collected around 2,000 works of art and antiquities. Wanting to preserve their life’s work, they campaigned tirelessly to create the Hunt Museum as we know it today. Now, its eclectic collections – which feature everything from paintings to artefacts from Greece, Rome and Egypt – are a testament to the founders’ wide-ranging historic interests, as well as their passion and grit.
Where to stay: No.1 Pery Square Hotel and Spa peeks out from behind the trees at People’s Park. Considered one of the country’s most characterful hotels, it contains fourteen bespoke bedrooms that have been individually named after Irish poets and writers. You’ll also find a spa in the basement vaults… quite the serene (and singular!) experience.
5. The Museum of Art Fakes – Vienna, Austria
The Museum of Art Fakes is stuffed with replicas made by famous forgers across decades, including by the likes of Han Van Meegeren, Tom Keating and Elmyr de Hory. Wander the history-packed walls of this unique spot and learn all about the lives of these notorious figures and more – exciting stories that mirror the plots of your favourite crime novels, featuring everything from murder to gasp-inducing double-crosses. Described as ‘the only real counterfeiting museum’ around, it’s (ironically) completely one-of-a-kind – and you can’t miss it, either, being based just across the street from the rainbow-painted Hundertwasser House.
Where to stay: We consider Hotel Stefanie the best hotel in Austria’s capital… after all, they’ve had a lot of practice! The oldest hotel in the city, it’s been treating guests to top-class service since the year 1600. Nowadays, its owners take special care to keep a traditional atmosphere alive, and you’ll find each corner of the property filled with fascinating antiques – peppering your moments of repose with echoes of the past.
6. Cats Museum – Kotor, Montenegro
From tabbies to tortoiseshells, the curious Cats Museum is dedicated to the furry residents of Kotor’s Old Town. Back in 168 BC, felines flooded the town after being left behind by trading ships. The museum itself it small, but it’s stuffed with everything from cat coins to cat writings to cat postcards from WW1. Art-wise, you’ll see cats rescuing humans, cats selling Rolex watches… even cats breaking the sound barrier. Added bonus – your entry fee (one euro) will go towards the lovely feline locals themselves.
Where to stay: You’ll have the Bay of Kotor as your backdrop at Hotel Cattaro – a perfectly genteel retreat that makes the ideal base for the city’s plentiful sightseeing spots and museums. It’s a treat for the eyes, too, composed of three exceptional historic buildings: a city guard tower, the ‘Prince’s palace’ – where royalty used to gather – and the eye-catching Napoleon’s theatre. Captivating culture and a cerulean coastline… what more could you want?
7. ‘LOVE BANK’ Museum – Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia
Head to ‘the only love vault in the world’ within Slovakia’s LOVE BANK: a museum made to commemorate the longest love poem in the world, MARÍNA. See the original manuscript up close, walk under the ‘sky of love’ and pass through the LOVE VAULT, where you can leave your own romantic notes, musings and letters. (You can even try and write the new longest love poem, if you’d like, though we wouldn’t recommend it. MARÍNA is 2,900 verses long!)
Where to stay: For an elegant getaway, you need look no further than Hotel Royal Palace. Pampering is just part of the package, here, and there’s seemingly no end to the luxurious ways you can unwind: from sampling the finest dishes in the exceptional Sissi Restaurant, to relaxing in their sumptuous spa, which actually incorporates gold into several of its treatments. You’ll feel reborn.
8. The House of Illusions – Ljubljana, Slovenia
Enter a realm where nothing is as it seems at the House of Illusions, where across 40 exhibits, you’ll have your sense of reality stretched to the limit. In the Anti-Gravity Room, the laws of gravity appear not to apply. Elsewhere, in the Infinity Disco Room, a colourful party atmosphere seems to morph into an infinite dancefloor. There’s so much to see… though you won’t believe what you’re seeing! Crammed with interactive ways to push the boundaries of your imagination, this fascinating locale is bound to be a highlight of your Slovenian holiday.
Where to stay: The small but mighty Antiq Palace is right in the heart of Ljubljana: based just moments away from several of its finest landmarks, such as the castle and river, as well as many of its best eateries and shops. Beyond its excellent location, the hotel itself exudes appeal, decorated thoughtfully with furnishings that reflect its past as the residential palace of noble families. Characterful and quaint, there’s nothing not to love.