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Great Museums You’ve Never Heard Of

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You don’t have to fight the crowds at the Met or the Louvre to soak up the art, culture and history of some of the world’s great museums. There are wonderful museums that receive much less attention—and much more modest crowds. Here are relatively obscure museums in a dozen cities around the world that are definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area…

Museums in the US

New York City: New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, the oldest museum in New York City, explores the history of America and its largest metropolis. Current exhibitions include hand-drawn American maps from when this nation was young and an exploration of Greenwich Village in the early-20th century, when the neighborhood was starting to take shape as an art and counterculture hub. The museum also houses a notable collection of Tiffany glass. (Louis Comfort Tiffany’s studio was in New York City.) Admission: $21 adults, $16 seniors, $13 students, $6 ages five to 13. NYHistory.org

Also in New York City: The Tenement Museum offers a moving look at the lives of immigrants on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 19th and 20th centuries. For many Americans, this offers a way to explore what life was like for their ancestors when they arrived in the US. Admission (includes guided tour): $25 adults, $20 students and ages 65 and up. ­Tenement.org

Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society Museum, located right next to Independence Hall, is the oldest “learned society” in America—it was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743. It houses a wonderful collection of early inventions and scientific instruments…rare books and prints…specimens collected by Lewis and Clark…and items that originally belonged to Benjamin Franklin. Admission: $2 adults, free for ages 18 and under. Amphilsoc.org

Washington, DC: The National Building Museum celebrates architecture and engineering. Its engaging exhibits range from the history of the house to the science of erecting buildings that can survive earthquakes to the “secret cities” constructed for the Manhattan Project, the World War II program to build the first nuclear bombs. The Building ­Museum’s own building is noteworthy—the stunning 19th-century great hall has 75-foot-tall Corinthian columns and is one of the great public spaces in DC. Admission: $10 adults, $7 ages 60 and up and three to 17. NBM.org

Also in DC: Smithsonian National Postal Museum is one of least visited of the Smithsonian museums, but it’s fascinating. The history of the postal system offers a surprisingly interesting window into the history of the country. And the century-old planes on display from the early days of airmail rival the old planes you would have to fight the crowds to see at the National Air and Space Museum. Admission: Free. PostalMuseum.si.edu

Chicago: The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Money Museum offers interesting exhibits about rare and historical US currency…the challenges in detecting counterfeit bills…and Alexander Hamilton, who helped create America’s financial system and who is enjoying a posthumous return to prominence, thanks to the hit Broadway show named for him. And though this museum is all about money, admission is free (valid, government-issued photo ID required for adults ages 18 and up). ChicagoFed.org

St. Louis: The City Museum is among the most distinctive museum spaces in the US. Sculptor Bob Cassilly led a team that used repurposed salvage items, including old fighter jets, school buses and a life-size fiberglass whale, to convert a 10-story shoe factory into an unforgettable wonderland. The space is the main attraction in this museum, and guests don’t just view Cassilly’s work—they walk and climb through it. It’s a great place to bring children—the whole place functions as a giant jungle gym, complete with hundreds of feet of tunnels and stories-high slides. Admission: $12 ages three and up (valid ID required for adults ages 18 and up). CityMuseum.org

Cody, Wyoming: Buffalo Bill Center of the West is five museums related to the American West, all located 50 miles from Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance. There’s the Whitney Western Art Museum, which houses one of the world’s best collections of the art of the American West, with works by Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell and many more…Cody Firearms Museum, which displays guns from around the world dating as far back as the 16th century, including an extensive collection of Winchesters…Plains Indians Museum, which tells the story of these Native Americans of the American West…Draper Natural History Museum, which focuses on the unique ecosystem of the Yellowstone region…and the flagship Buffalo Bill Museum, which celebrates William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, one of the most famous Americans of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, whose traveling show helped shape the legends of the American West. Admission: $19.50 adults, $18.50 ages 65 and up, $18 students ages 18 and up with student ID, $13 ages six to 17. A $1 discount applies if you buy tickets online CenterOfTheWest.org

Los Angeles: The Huntington Library in San Marino, just west of Los ­Angeles, might be called a “library,” but it also houses a world-class collection of European and American art, including Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and works by Edward Hopper and Mary Cassatt. The Huntington also has extensive botanical gardens that are worth a trip on their own. Admission: $25 adults ($29 weekends), $21 ages 65 and up, students ages 12 to 18 ($24 weekends), $13 ages four to 11. ­Huntington.org

Foreign Museums

Lesser known but memorable museums around the globe…

London: The Wellcome Collection is focused on medical history. If that sounds too dry for your tastes, don’t worry—this collection is fascinating and often frightening…and full of questionable health-care devices and medical oddities. There also are historical curios such as Napoleon’s toothbrush and Florence Nightingale’s moccasins. Admission: Free. WellcomeCollection.org

Paris: Musée du quai Branly—Jacques Chirac is in the heart of Paris, a city known for its art and culture—but this fabulous museum instead celebrates the indigenous art and culture of Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania. Its extensive collections are among the best in the world in these areas. Admission: 10 euros (about $12) adults, free for children under 18. QuaiBranly.fr/en

Near Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Royal Tyrrell Museum, located four miles northwest of Drumheller, 85 miles from Calgary, is among the best ­places in the world to see dinosaurs. Its ­Dinosaur Hall displays more than 40 mounted dinosaur skeletons, including examples of Tyrannosaurus rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops. There are plenty of other fossils as well, including the world’s largest known marine reptile—it lived more than 220 million years ago and was nearly 70 feet long. The museum’s reef exhibit shows the underwater world of 375 million years ago, complete with models of thousands of sea creatures that existed during the Devonian ­Period, which is sometimes called the “Age of ­Fishes” for its incredible diversity of sea life. Admission: $18C (about $14 US) adults, $14C (about $11) ages 65 and up, $10C (about $8) ages seven to 17. TyrrellMuseum.com

Curitiba, Brazil: Oscar Niemeyer Museum is a museum of modern art, architecture and design housed in a remarkable piece of ­architecture—one of the galleries is a massive eye-shape ­creation perched atop a 60-foot pillar that seems to gaze out over a reflecting pool. The exhibits feature rotating works by Brazilian and foreign artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, plus a permanent exhibit of the works of Niemeyer, possibly Brazil’s most famous architect. Admission: $16 adults…$8 students with identification…free for ages 60 and up or under age 12. MuseuOscarNiemeyer.org.br

Yokohama, Japan: Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum is dedicated to ramen, Japan’s beloved noodle-and-broth meal. That might not sound like an obvious draw for the typical American tourist, but this museum does not just celebrate ramen, it dishes it out—there are numerous small ­ramen stands where you can purchase different versions of this dish from different parts of Japan. Admission: 310 yen (about $3) ages 13 to 59…100 yen ($.89) ages 60 and up or ages six to 12…free for children less than six years old. Raumen.co.jp/english

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Source: Julia Kennedy, who is part of the audience-development team at Museum Hack, a company that offers independent museum tours in more than a dozen US ­museums, New York City. MuseumHack.com Date: February 15, 2018
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