When you mention the word "museum," most travelers imagine the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the throngs of people trying to sneak a peek at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. While art may be the first thing to come to mind, many other subjects can be found in museums around the world.
To help you culture vultures plan ahead, the members and editors of travel website VirtualTourist.com (www.virtualtourist.com) have compiled a list of the "Top 10 Best Non-Art Museums."
1. The Egyptian Museum - Cairo, Egypt
This museum houses the greatest collection of Egyptian art in the world, including the treasures from the Tomb of King Tutankhamun and the world's largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities. There are over 120,000 artifacts on display, from small statues to the actual mummies of Egyptian royalty, and widely recognized iconic pieces like The Gold Mask of Tutankhamun. VirtualTourist.com members agreed that it was virtually impossible to take in everything in only one visit, so go twice if time permits. Also, no photography is allowed inside the museum; in fact, you must leave your cameras outside the museum.
2. National Air & Space Museum - Washington, D.C., USA
The National Air and Space Museum, part of the Smithsonian, is both the world's largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft, but also one of the most visited museums in the world. It houses landmark pieces from scientific history, including the original Wright brother's 1903 Flyer, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, and the command module from Apollo 11. It's also a safe bet that you can get astronaut ice cream here. As with all Smithsonian museums and the zoo in Washington, D.C., admission is free for all.
3. Lower East Side Tenement Museum - New York City, NY, USA
Although Ellis Island reveals that immigrants' hardships continued upon arriving in America, few museums or landmarks illustrate the plight of immigrants in major metropolitan cities. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is such a place. It is housed in an original tenement building that was discovered intact in the late 1980s. A guided tour through the dark, cramped quarters shows what living conditions could be like in New York City before housing laws were established. Ironically, the Lower East Side is experiencing a great resurgence, due to its proximity to popular Soho and trendy East Village restaurants - the contrast between the inside of 97 Orchard Street and what's occurring outside the museum's walls is truly remarkable.
4. Musical Instrument Museum - Brussels, Belgium
The Musical Instrument Museum (now known as ‘mim') was originally created to show instruments to the students of the adjoining Brussels Royal Music Conservatory. More recently, the museum attracts visitors with both its outstanding collection of instruments and the building which houses it. The Old England building on Montagne de la Cour is an art-nouveau gem, built in 1899 to the design specifications of architect Paul Saintenoy. VirtualTourist.com members noted that the museum's restaurant, located on the top floor and with a terrace around the Old England's dome, is a great place for a quick bite and a spectacular view of Belgium's capital city.
5. The VasaMuseet - Stockholm, Sweden
In 1628, the Vasa commenced her maiden voyage, but heeled over and sank in the middle of Stockholm harbor, sailing less than one nautical mile. After three hundred and thirty-three years underwater, the ship was finally recovered in 1961. Now, the Vasa is safely ashore and on display at the VasaMuseet, the most visited museum in Scandinavia. While a large part of the museum's focus is on showing visitors the ship, an even greater effort has been expended on the preservation process itself, which visitors can explore through permanent exhibitions.
6. Museo Nacional de Antropologiá - Mexico City, Mexico
Many visitors to Mexico walk the ruins at Chichén Itzá and Xochicalco, but few realize there exists a central location to admire Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec relics within Mexico City. The Museo Nacional de Antropologia is considered one of the world's finest archaeological museums, with an incredible display of pre-Columbian artifacts, including the Piedra del Sol, or the "Stone of the Sun," the Aztec calendar stone found in Mexico City's main square.
7. Anne Frank Museum - Amsterdam, Netherlands
The second most visited museum in Amsterdam (to the Van Gogh museum), the Anne Frank Museum is the only literary-focused museum on this list. More importantly, the museum is on the list due to its focus on remembering and acknowledging the Holocaust. Located along a picturesque canal, it is difficult to imagine the original use of this house and the events that took place there. The museum is also very accessible to children, as The Diary of Anne Frank is a commonly -read book for young adults, and a great way to gently expose children to a very important event in world history.
8. The British Museum - London, England
Established in 1753 through an Act of Parliament and a bequeathed gift from a physician's estate, the British Museum does contain art pieces, but it's more famous for its impressive collection of archeological finds. The museum's high profile acquisitions include the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Sculptures, more commonly known as "the Elgin Marbles" after the Ambassador who brought the sculptures back to Britain from Athens. Equally impressive is the museum's architecture - the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, designed by Sir Norman Foster, is the largest covered public square in Europe.
9. Tokyo National Museum - Tokyo, Japan
Located in Tokyo's Ueno Park, the Tokyo National Museum was the first museum established in Japan, curating a collection of Asian art and archaeological objects, with a focus on Japanese artifacts. A complex containing five exhibition buildings, the collection includes traditional archeological finds like samurai swords and armor, as well as decorative objects like screens and sculptures. On March 20 - June 10, 2012, the Tokyo National Museum will be hosting a special exhibition of Japanese Masterpieces on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Mass.
10. The Istanbul Archaeological Museums - Istanbul, Turkey
Few areas have been controlled or inhabited by as many different cultures as the region of modern-day Turkey. Therefore, the Istanbul Archaeological Museums serve an important role: not only do the museums offer a broad sample of the country's archeological treasures, but they also manage to cover the intertwining cultures that share a role in the nation's history. One of the museums' three buildings, the Tiled Kiosk Museum, is pictured here and houses antique Ottoman and Anatolian tiles, along with other Islamic objects. VirtualTourist.com members noted that the museums are conveniently-located in the Sultanahmet area of the city and are very well-organized. They also noted that the museums and the shaded parks around them provided a nice change of pace from the crowds at nearby Topkapi Palace and Istanbul's other crowded landmarks.