Best Ways to Get Weird in Europe’s Tiny City-States
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because in this article, we teach you a new word.
By Fiona Zublin
Let me guess, you scheduled a trip to Europe and thought “Liechtenstein. Let’s cross that off the life list.” And now you’ve got a day in Liechtenstein and no plan, no direction. Or Vatican City. You thought you’d need two days, but you’ve gone through St. Peter’s Basilica and seen the Swiss Guard — now what? You can only take so many rolling hills before you need a dose of weirdness (you’re the one who clicked on this article, don’t get all up in my face for being judgmental when you’re the one who’s self-selecting). Anyway, here are the weirdest, best ways to spend your spare afternoons in Europe’s tiny kingdoms.
Let’s begin with a giant underground maze filled with dead bodies. Unlike the off-limits Vatican bathroom filled with erotic frescoes, you can actually view the Necropolis, as long as you’re over 15 years old and one of the lucky 250 visitors a day allowed down there (via a request to Vatican authorities either in person, by email or on the phone). Once underground, you can see thousands of years of Vatican history, ruins… and the alleged grave of St. Peter.
Fee: €13 ($16). Last guided tour leaves by 3:30 p.m. daily, closed Sundays. Wear respectful clothes.
Monaco is mostly for people who want to live a really long time or race really fast cars, but there is one elephant in the room. It’s actually a mammoth, which has lived at Monaco’s oldest museum, the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology, since 2014. Museum researcher Elena Rossoni-Notter explains that Monaco’s Prince Albert I was an amateur archaeologist: “When he was young, he began to excavate the Grimaldi caves,” she says, “and when he became Prince of Monaco, he founded the museum to help archaeological researchers.” Those caves, where 25,000-year-old skeletons now on display in the museum were found, are also open to the public, one of several active prehistoric archaeological fieldwork sites in Monaco.
Fee: €3.80-€7.20 ($5-$9). Open daily, hours vary by time of year.
This little country, otherwise known as “the micronation where the pope doesn’t live,” has a crown jewel: The three huge tower peaks, each with a castle, are so famous they’re featured on the San Marino flag, and each is different. The smallest isn’t open to the public, but the so-called Second Tower contains a museum of weaponry that’ll teach you the word “hoplology” (you’re welcome), and the First Tower, which was used as a prison up until 1970, features graffiti left from prisoners who scribbled all over the walls.
Fee: €3-€4.50 ($4-$6). Open daily, hours vary by time of year.
This principality — which boasts the richest royal in Europe, Prince Hans-Adam II — is full of museums of early life in Liechtenstein or that re-create villages of days gone by. But some are forward-looking, like the Museum of Electricity, which is full of electrical devices and appliances from the last 108 years, kind of like your uncle’s garage if he was also really conscientious about labeling stuff. Located in the city of Triesen, it’s free for visitors — but it’s only open for four hours the last Sunday of the month, and only for seven months of the year.
Free. Open the last Sunday of each month, 1 p.m.-5 p.m., except in July, November, December, January, February.
While Andorra also has a museum of electricity, there’s more choice in this tiny nation between France and Spain, which is technically ruled by two co-monarchs: a Spanish bishop and whoever’s currently president of France. The cream of the crop is the Perfume Museum, where you can create your own scents and learn about the history of perfume in the 20th century while actually admiring case after case of pretty, colorful bottles.
Fee: €2.50-€5 ($3-$6), children and seniors free. Open Tuesday-Sunday, hours vary.
Luxembourg has among the finest collections of weird museums in the world, with galleries devoted to the history of playing cards, the police and brewing, but make sure to check out the National Mining Museum, which displays tools and timelines over two centuries of the country’s mining industry, alongside fossils and archival photographs. Much of the collection is housed underground, as is right. Individuals and groups can take 90-minute guided tours, which involve a train ride into the mine and a lengthy walk through the tunnels, leaving hourly in the afternoons.
Fee: €5-€9 ($6-$11). Hours vary widely by time of year, closed Mondays.