When you mention the word “museum,” most travelers imagine the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the thralls of people trying to sneak a peak of the Mona Lisa at Le Louvre. While art may be the first thing to come to mind, many other subjects can be found enshrined in museums around the world. To help you culture vultures plan ahead, the members and editors of travel website VirtualTourist.com (www.virtualtourist.com) compiled a list of the “Top 5 Non-Art Museums.”
1. National Air & Space Museum – Washington, D.C.
The National Air and Space Museum, part of the Smithsonian, is both the world’s largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft, but also one of the most visited museums in the world. It houses landmark pieces from scientific history, including the original Wright brother’s 1903 Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, and the command module from Apollo 11. It’s also a safe bet that you can get astronaut ice cream here. As with all Smithsonian museums and the zoo in Washington, D.C., admission is free for all.
2. Lower East Side Tenement Museum – New York, N.Y.
Although Ellis Island reveals that immigrants’ hardships continued upon arriving in America, few museums or landmarks illustrate the plight of immigrants in major metropolitan cities. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is such a place. It is housed in an original tenement building that was discovered intact in the late 1980s, and a guided tour through the dark, cramped quarters shows what living conditions could be like in New York City before housing laws were established. Ironically, the Lower East Side is experiencing a great resurgence, due to its proximity to popular Soho and trendy East Village restaurants – the contrast between the inside of 97 Orchard Street and what’s occurring outside the museum’s walls is truly remarkable.
3. The VasaMuseet – Stockholm, Sweden
In 1628, the Vasa commenced her maiden voyage, but heeled over and sank in the middle of Stockholm harbor, sailing less than one nautical mile. After three hundred and thirty-three years underwater, the ship was finally recovered in 1961. Now, the Vasa is safely ashore and on display at the VasaMuseet, the most visited museum in Scandinavia. While a large part of the museum’s focus is on showing visitors the ship, an even greater effort has been expended on the preservation process itself, which visitors can explore through permanent exhibitions.
4. Museo Nacional de Antropologia – Mexico City, Mexico
Many visitors to Mexico walk the ruins at Chichen Itza and Xochicalco, but few realize there is a central location to admire Olmec, Mayan and Aztec relics within Mexico City. The Museo Nacional de Antropologia is considered one of the world’s finest archaeological museums, with an incredible display of pre-Columbian artifacts, including the Piedra del Sol, or the “Stone of the Sun,” the Aztec calendar stone found in Mexico City’s main square.
5. The Globe Museum of the Austrian National Library – Vienna, Austria
Visitors to Vienna are often focused on the city’s musical heritage and magnificent examples of different architectural periods, but the city also has some very unique museums to explore. Adjacent to the Museumplatz, the Austrian National Library houses the Globe Museum, the world’s only institution in which terrestrial and celestial globes are acquired, researched, and presented to the public. Presently, the museum holds more than 650 objects including globes of the earth’s moon and of various planets, as well as instruments linked with globes (armillary spheres) and instruments in which globes serve an important role, like planetaria and lunaria. For anyone who loves travel and maps, this museum is a unique experience and just a few blocks away from the primary museum area of the city.
Whether you want to see how another generation lived or the very craft that changed the way we travel today, these five non-art museums are a great start to an educational experience during your vacation.