8 cool European museums you’ve never heard of

The magnificent Cloth Hall that houses the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ieper, Belgium.  That's my Dad and I walking in the central square Grote Markt (Scarborough photo; my Mom, Joanne Scarborough, to be precise)Sure, most people know about the Louvre in Paris or seeing the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, but when you travel with kids you sometimes want to avoid the beaten path.

Here is a list of fun places to see in Europe that might have escaped your family’s notice:

** Chocolate Museum/Schokoladenmuseum in Cologne/Köln, Germany. Yeah, OK, this is a no-brainer! On the banks of the Rhine River, not too far from the striking Dom (cathedral) you’ll find a chocolate fountain, exhibits on the history and geography of cacao production and a mini-production line where you can watch workers make goodies like chocolate soccer balls. Yes, there’s a great gift shop, and a nice cafe as well.

** Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. The world’s two best-preserved wooden Viking ships, built in the 9th century, in a lovely building that’s almost church-like. Free admission with your Oslo Pass; a must-see.

** Cluny Museum/Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris, France. I told you that it IS possible to get kids through at least some of the Louvre and not go bonkers, but for a medieval moment, go over to the Left Bank and this museum of the Middle Ages. It has beautiful tapestries (the Lady and the Unicorn) and other artifacts from the time of knights and their ladies, plus with older kids you could attend a concert of period music. Go to this events calendar (in French) and look for concerts du soir at night and L’heure musicale with an ensemble. Wouldn’t your high school or college French teacher be proud!

** Thermenmuseum in Heerlen, the Netherlands. Boy, those Romans got around. They even spent time here in Limburg, the “Dutch Alps,” hanging out at the bathhouse that is now preserved in this museum. This is a very pretty part of the Netherlands that few people ever visit; my daughter went here on a class field trip from her nearby International School.

** In Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper/Ypres, Belgium. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row….” This is a superb museum about the impact of World War One in this part of Belgium and Europe as a whole. The famous poem was written near here by Canadian John McCrae, who was killed not long after he wrote it.

** National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory in Greenwich, UK. “Sea, ships, time and the stars;” that’s what you’ll find in this diverting museum full of nautical exhibits, plus a chance to straddle the 0 degree longitude line and be a part of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT.)

** Foynes Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, Ireland (near Shannon.) Not everyone used to arrive in Europe via the abusive Heathrow airport; beginning with the July 1939 landing of Pan Am’s “Yankee Clipper” flying boat, this was the primary entrance point to northern Europe by air. My family and I enjoyed the exhibits and films, and the parents each sampled the trademark beverage that was supposedly invented here….the Irish coffee.

** Eyeglasses Museum/Brilmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This place is awesome if you’re like me and have worn glasses or contacts forever. I actually felt pretty hip when I left here. There is every sort of vision-correcting device that you can imagine, from many different eras, and I bought some pretty cool Sonia Rykiel frames in their gift shop.

Do you have any favorite lesser-known or offbeat museums in Europe? Please share them with us!

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