A trip to a museum is an ideal way to taste a slice of local history. But not all museums serve up prim display cases filled with demure, carefully curated artifacts. Some are downright weird.
Whether you’re taking a road trip across the U.S. or flying across the ocean, weird museums offer the opportunity to delve into the unusual, bizarre and even the macabre in just a few hours’ time.
American Sign Museum
- Location: Cincinnati
- The price of admission: $15 adults; $10 seniors, students and military; under 12 free with paying adult
Visit this museum, and check off an item on your ultimate bucket list. You’ll find hundreds of signs on display in the 20,000-square-foot American Sign Museum. Discover antiques that go back as far as the late 1800s, or marvel at rooms full of art-deco neon signs that once graced the American landscape. You’ll find plenty of weird signs here too. Snap selfies with “Pinhead,” a 16-foot-tall smiling bowling pin; Kahnie, a 16-foot fiberglass pig; and a 20-foot-tall genie.
Aurora Ice Museum
- Location: Chena Hot Springs, Alaska
- The price of admission: $15, plus $15 for Appletini; $10 ages 6 to 17; 5 and under free with paying adult.
You might’ve known you can stay in an ice hotel, but did you know you can visit an ice museum? Enter a surreal world in the Aurora Ice Museum, where virtually everything is made from ice. Otherworldly lighting illuminates life-sized jousting knights and other fanciful ice sculptures carved by 16-time world champion ice carver Steve Brice and his seven-time world champion wife, Heather.
Snuggle into a parka the museum provides for free, and you won’t be in a hurry to leave. Cozy onto a caribou fur-covered ice stool and belly up to the ice bar. Order a specialty Appletini in advance, and your hosts will serve it in a glass made of ice. There’s even an ice outhouse for answering nature’s call.
- Location: Greenville, Ill.
- The price of admission: Donation
This is one of the best free places you can visit in America. Take the prankster in your family to the DeMoulin Museum, and you might get a little revenge.
The DeMoulin brothers started building prank initiation devices in 1892 for fraternal lodges such as the Odd Fellows. Blindfolded initiates might be asked to ride a bucking goat, which was actually a wool-covered device with horns attached to a pushable tricycle. Another prank had the new members bend over to test their strength — thereby setting off a spanking machine — or blow into a device that blew powder back in their face.
International Cryptozoology Museum
- Location: Portland, Maine
- The price of admission: $10 ages 13-64; $8 ages 65 and older; $5 ages 12 and under
Snap a selfie with a 9-foot-tall Bigfoot at the International Cryptozoology Museum, which is dedicated to the study of hidden or unknown animals. It is the best museum to uncover facts about a wide range of cryptids — animals that are rumored to exist but unverified by science.
See hair samples from an abominable snowman, scat from a Yeti and the “P.T. Barnum” film’s FeeJee Mermaid. Check out recently discovered animals, too, such as coelacanth fish, thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs.
International Spy Museum
- Location: Washington, D.C.
- The price of admission: $21.95 adults; $15,95 seniors, military, veterans, fire and law enforcement; $14.95 ages 7 to 11; free ages 6 and under
Head over to the International Spy Museum to discover gadgets that would impress James Bond. Come face-to-lens with a 1960s-era camera that could reduce a photograph to the size of a punctuation mark and enable it to be shared with others through covert methods. Check out a 1970s Bulgarian umbrella that fired a tiny poison dart to assassinate a foe and guns secreted inside a lipstick tube, flashlight and glove. View a car from the 1964 James Bond thriller “Goldfinger,” or go on your own interactive spy adventure.
Leila’s Hair Museum
- Location: Independence, Mo.
- The price of admission:$15 adults; $7.50 seniors and children
Today, it might seem weird to have a framed ponytail hanging on your wall. But before the days of cameras, it wasn’t uncommon to keep a lock of a loved one’s hair as a memento. The sentiment developed into elaborate pieces of art.
Check out pieces dating back to the 1600s at Leila’s Hair Museum. The museum includes hair wreaths, which often told the story of a family and grew as new members were born. There are also brooches, rings, postcards and paintings made from human hair, as well as a mourning brooch containing the hair of American statesman Daniel Webster, who died in 1852.
The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
- Location: Osaka, Japan
- The price of admission: Free
Want to visit one of the best free museums in the world? Check out the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
If your college diet consisted mainly of ramen, you’re not alone. More than 100 billion servings of instant noodles are eaten around the world annually. The man to thank is Momofuku Ando, who invented Chicken Ramen in 1958 in a shed in his backyard. That’s not all there is to see at the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, dedicated to the instant noodle.
Walk through a tunnel of more than 800 ramen noodle packages recounting the evolution of ramen noodles through the years. Check out personal items that once belonged to Momofuku Ando. Step through a recreation of his chicken ramen shed, see how noodles are made today and buy some from a wall of vending machines to enjoy in the dining room.
Mr. Marvel’s Wondertorium
- Location: Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
- The price of admission: $9 in advance; $12 at the door adults or $11 ages 12 and under
When weird is what you’re looking for, Mr. Marvel’s Wondertorium is the best museum in which to find it. Check out a mummified shell-less turtle or a “snowglobe” filled with bedbugs from around the country. Discover more than 100 oddities that include the Mexican walking fish, shrunken heads and the world’s largest egg.
The weird museum is also a place where scientists and scholars can study skeletons, taxidermies of two-headed animals or other natural anomalies. Take a tour, and learn the story of all the oddities in the museum. Enjoy a sideshow featuring the museum’s founder, Logan Marvel, who was a former circus performer and taught circus classes. Afterwards, check out these other must-sees in Wisconsin.
Museum of Death
- Location: Hollywood, Calif.
- The price of admission: $15
From the time you pass beyond the giant skull on the entry gate at the Museum of Death, you’ll gain ghastly insight to those that have passed beyond this life.
Check out skulls, a coffin collection, pet taxidermy and the world’s largest collection of artwork by serial murderers. Be warned that the Museum of Death might not be appropriate for all family members: There’s a severed head that once belonged atop the Blue Beard of Paris, actual death footage and pictures of Manson Family crime scenes, for example. The self-guided tour means you can shudder your way through for as long as you like — or run screaming into the daylight minutes after arriving
Museum of the Weird
- Location: Austin, Texas
- The price of admission: $12 adults, $7 for ages 7 and under
The city of Austin prides itself on its quirkiness, and the Museum of the Weird is a crown jewel. Marvel at a pickled hand, a one-eyed pig and mummies, for starters. Horror film buffs can see full-sized figures of Frankenstein and other monsters used in movies in the 1960s and 70s.
The Mütter Museum
- Location: Philadelphia
- The price of admission: $18 adults; $16 seniors: $15 military; $13 students and ages 6-17; free ages 5 and under
The Mütter Museum is a must-see for budding medical students or anyone interested in medical history. Check out a woman who turned to soap, Albert Einstein’s brain and an extensive collection of bizarre foreign objects removed from human airways.
The museum is more than a repository for weirdness, however. Trace the history of spinal surgery, and get insight into the solutions of the future. Or, meander the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden to discover healing plants that were once staples in a doctor’s medicine chest. Save $2 on admission when you visit on Monday or Tuesday.
National Museum of Health and Medicine
- Location: Silver Spring, Md.
- The price of admission: Free
Check out a 1660s microscope, a fragment of Abraham Lincoln’s skull, as well as brains, organs and medical anomalies at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. The museum has accrued more than 24 million objects since it started in 1862. Five major collections let you head right to your area of interest.
Can’t wait for the weirdness? Check out some of the museum’s online exhibits, which include one about the effects of a Civil War canister shot on a human skull. While you’re in the Washington, D.C. area, check out more legendary landmarks that are free to visit.
Louisiana’s Old State Capitol
- Location: Baton Rouge, La.
- The price of admission: Free
You might not expect to find ghosts in a museum, but you will at Louisiana’s Old State Capitol. The realistic “Ghost of the Castle” 4D presentation in the castle-like building rolls out eerily real specters to relate to the state’s history. Shadowy figures lurk around the walls, and other high-tech special effects captivate and educate during the 12-minute presentation. There is a $3 fee for the show.
Plan to spend a few hours at the museum. From the Gothic Revival architecture to the cast-iron grand staircase to a fanciful stained glass dome to an array of historic artifacts, there’s plenty to fascinate.
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- Location: Guben, Germany
- The price of admission: $14.31 adults; $11.92 ages 7 to 18; free ages 6 and under
If you’re a fan of Body World exhibits that display cleverly posed silicone polymer-preserved humans and animals to view their muscle and organs, you’ll love the Plastinarium. Visit the project’s world headquarters at the Plastinarium to witness the preservation process. Become a future body donor, and you’ll get free admission to the museum for life.
Southern Food and Beverage Museum
- Location: New Orleans
- The price of admission: $10.50 adults; $5.25 students, military and seniors; free for children under 12 with adult
New Orleans is famous for its cuisine, and there’s no better place to learn all about the cultural cuisine of the Old South than at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Learn fascinating facts like how the first South Carolina settlers brought 12 tons of beer to supply them in the New World. Visit a recreation of an old absinthe bar that once graced Bourbon Street along with the largest collection of absinthe artifacts in the U.S.
Take your appetite to the museum on Mondays and Thursdays, which feature demonstrations of New Orleans Creole, Italian Creole and Louisiana Cajun Cooking for an additional $40 registration fee.
Stark’s Vacuum Museum
- Location: Portland, Ore.
- The price of admission: Free
Vacuuming might not be your favorite chore, but it’s interesting to discover the history of the vacuum cleaner at Stark’s Vacuum Museum. Have a hard time getting your partner to help with the housework? Be thankful you don’t live in the 1800s, when Busy Bee vacuums took two people to operate — one to pump the bellows and one to work the nozzle. Check out a weird cardboard vacuum from the Great Depression that oddly enough works on the same principles as modern models.