Why you should care

Celebrating the past doesn’t have to be boring.

Museums. For some, the word alone conjures memories of touring musky rooms with school groups, walking though a labyrinth of disintegrating, rusted or not terribly interesting old stuff. But you were a kid then. Now, as a curious and culturally aware adult, museums can be cooler, hipper and just plain weirder. Today, on International Museums Day, we give you five spectacular shrines to the past — from the creepy to the bizarre — to add to your museum must-visit list.

A Grisly Medical Museum

Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, Siriraj Medical Museum, which is actually seven separate ones dotted haphazardly around the sprawling grounds of Thailand’s oldest and largest hospital, is a strange and fascinating celebration of the human body. Its most compelling feature: It’s full of cadavers, many in varying states of decay. Deformed, diseased and conjoined fetuses float in stacked jars of formaldehyde. While you walk through the museum, you may find the creepy feeling hard to shake, but it also prompts a reckoning with mortality that’s borderline spiritual. Really. Admission: About $6.

A Haunted Museum for Vampires

Located on the outskirts of Paris, the Museum of Vampires and Monsters is not easy to find. But once you hunt down this shrine to bloodsuckers, which also claims to have a resident ghost, you’ll find one room about the size of a large American garage stuffed to the teeth with occult artifacts and vampire memorabilia — both highbrow and low. There’s a loaded crossbow (just in case), one of the typewriters used to write Dracula and even a vampire killing kit (just in case). The curator, Jacques Sirgent, has a soft spot for history’s esteemed monsters and is also a diligent student of vampire fighting who will readily engage in monster talk. By appointment only.

The Quirkiest Museum With the Dullest Name

With its sleep-inducing name, Los Angeles’ Center for Land Use Interpretation could easily be mistaken for a government office with power far beyond its public profile. But what lies inside the unassuming small exhibition space is a collection dedicated to the curious and eccentric ways the nation’s land has been used. From pamphlets advertising bizarre attractions across America to architectural studies of Florida outhouses to rotating exhibits that mix familiarity with surreality, the museum is curated with a dry sense of humor — and an appreciation for the quirky. Free admission.

The Museum That Will Blow You Away … Literally

A museum dedicated to wind pumps, you say, perhaps while nodding off? As it turns out, the Fred Turner Museum is the coolest thing to do in tiny Loeriesfontein, South Africa. The display of 31 wind pumps — with names Nimric, Star, Dandy, Hercules, Atlas, Mogul and Beatty Pumper — comes with an important history: making inhabitable parts of the country livable. But they also provide trippy photo ops of flotillas of steel sails navigating cloudless skies (although those are an obvious draw). Best time to go: August and September. Free admission.

The Toilet Museum in Kiev

Looking for some good sh*t in Ukraine? Perched atop a hillside, between a car park and a shopping precinct in a 19th-century fortress, the Toilet Museum may be the oddest attraction in Kiev. Founded in 2007, it houses hundreds of items that curator, hygiene enthusiast and former plumbing salesman Nikolay Bogdanenko has collected for decades. It’s a small celebration of the mighty throne filled with … well, toilets: Victorian toilets, Soviet toilets, even futuristic Japanese toilets. It’s also won an award for having the country’s largest collection of bogs. The admission fee is already a bargain — less than $2 for adults — plus think of all the bathroom jokes that will inevitably ensue.

More Must-See Museums

  • A Museum That Won’t Let Poland Forget: Although dedicated to the memories of generations of Europe’s largest Jewish community and some particularly grim chapters in human history, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw pulsates with life.
  • Museum of Soviet Arcades: Amusements at this Moscow museum dedicated to arcade games range from Gorodki (the arcade version of a Russian skittles game) to Repka, a turnip-pulling strength-o-meter, to good old Donkey Kong.
  • Selfies Encouraged Here: Art in Island is a Manila-based interactive art museum with massive floor-to-ceiling murals that not only surround its visitors with the world’s most renowned masterpieces but also encourage playing with the pieces.
  • Life Behind the Iron Curtain: With its controversial collection of 210,000 strange and authentic everyday objects, the DDR Museum in Berlin provides a glimpse at what life was like for those who lived behind the Iron Curtain — with a sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing approach.

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If you’d want to drink it, eat it, wear it, ride it, drive it; if it’d be cool to see, listen to or do, we’re writing about it.