I never thought I was a museum geek. I like to think that I spend most of my time outside, exploring cities, but compiling this list was way too much fun.
When it comes to history museums, I’m all about ones that focus on World War II and its aftermath. Sport of course is another winner. Sometimes the weirder the museum the better it is – Zoe and I were snowed in whilst visiting Nanjing, and only because we had heaps of time on our hands did we visit the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Museum. What, you say? Exactly. But now I know what it was. Sometimes you need someone to point you in the right direction – this week Paul and I were amazed by Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland, after a recommendation by fellow guide Lynda who once lived in Hamburg. Three hours and around seventy photos later, we emerged outside again.
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10. British Museum, London
It always helps when a museum is free. But this one is probably worth an entrance fee. I describe this place as sort of a historical storage cupboard; the spoils of a long history of colonialism. The Rosetta Stone is its big name, but I also love the huge moai from Easter Island. The building is also pretty impressive, especially the Great Court, designed by my old mate Sir Norman Foster. (I kind of like him a bit if you couldn’t tell already.)
9. Anne Frank Huis, Amsterdam
This museum gets a huge rap and here it is completely justified. Most people are made familiar with the story of Anne Frank at school; I would go so far as to say that she is one of the most well-known women in history. Not only does the museum show the living conditions of the group that went into hiding, but also has a great contemporary section on modern human rights issues such as refugees. Don’t be put off by hearing that the line will be long.
8. Korean National War Memorial and Museum, Seoul
This museum is probably worth a good full day to see it properly. It covers the country’s (both North and South) turbulent history, including its oppression by both China and Japan, World War II, the Korean War and then the country’s division. I was joined by countless Korean soldiers clutching pens and papers – visiting this sobering place must be compulsory for their troops.
7. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh
This museum, housed in a former school which then became a prison, documents the horrible atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge not too long ago. One of the most lasting memories I have of the place is the countless black-and-white photos of their victims; some smiling, some clearly fearful, and one particularly striking one of a woman holding her child.
6. Olympia Museum, Olympia
I am probably one of the only people in the world who love this museum. It has been awfully neglected, but after a couple of weeks in Greece I was able to brush that fact off as just one of those things the Greeks can get away with. But it was full of all sorts of ancient artifacts as well as modern ones too, such as the bowl used to catch the light to make the Olympic torch’s flame. I was in Olympic heaven.
5. The Occupation Museum of Latvia, Riga
I felt terrible that I knew a total of zero facts about Latvia before I visited the country. The only time I’d really ever heard of it was in a Seinfeld episode, when George converted to Latvian Orthodox. (Which I later found out doesn’t even exist – Latvians are mainly Lutherans.) But this museum definitely got me up to speed – it’s a big bulky thing of a building, ugly as hell, smack bang in the middle of an otherwise very pretty square. It’s pretty symbolic of the fact that Latvia has only been a country for about a couple of decades in a millennium – everybody has pushed these little guys around.
4. GAA Museum, Dublin
This museum was the best little surprise packet given at the end of a superb stadium tour. It’s housed in Croke Park, a stadium which is intimately involved with much of Ireland’s struggle for independence over the past century or so. Gaelic football and hurling were two activities the British unsuccessfully tried to stamp out as they were seen as symbols of Irish nationalism. The museum tells these stories beautifully. I even was reading up on great games of the past, father and son combos, games that were washed out… all about a game I hardly knew. I was there for almost a full day.
3. Checkpoint Charlie Haus, Berlin
This museum first opened for visitors all the way back in 1962 – the year after the Berlin Wall went up, so coming in here feels a bit like stepping into a time warp. Some of it still is written as if the Wall is still standing. All of it is positive, however – this museum is all about celebrating the zany ways people successfully escaped East Germany, via either the Wall or the inter-Germany boundary. Trabis are displayed with their fake bonnets, as well as the famous hot air balloon, constructed by a family who spent years sewing bits of silk together. Another bonus? It’s open until ten at night so there’s no risk in being kicked out early, which seems to happen to me quite often.
2. National History Museum, Berlin
Even though Nuremburg has the best Nazi Germany museum, this is the best one covering German history through the ages. It begins from the year dot and is incredibly detailed; I only got up to Napoleon marching through Brandenburg Gate before my time was up. I suppose that I will just have to guess that things turned out all rosy after that.
1. Documentation Centre – Nazi Party Rally Grounds, Nuremberg
The best museum on the history of Nazi Germany isn’t in Berlin at all – it’s in the Bavarian city of Nuremburg. It was here that the Nazis enjoyed their greatest following and therefore they decided to hold their infamous rallies, notably in 1935 to announce their new race laws. The rally grounds were meant to be massive – the rallies were held with only about ten per cent of it completed – but the project was abandoned as soon as war broke out. Today it is left as a modern ruin, with a fascinating museum inside. Beware – if you’re thinking of coming here as a day trip from Munich, leave early. Very early. I spent most of the day here and didn’t see half of what I’d set out to see.