From the tombs of the popes to a burnt-out firetruck, from Michael Jackson’s glove to the front pages of newspapers from around the world, these collections will have you rethinking your idea of museums.
You might spot the owners’ swish cars in the garage as you enter this palazzo home in central Rome – that’s the first hint this riches-filled museum is something different.
Back in 1655, Pope Innocent X’s incredible art collection was left to his family on the basis it would never be broken up or sold.
Three centuries later, a princess who’d inherited the palace and collection married a British commoner but had no heirs, until they plucked a boy and girl from an English orphanage to become prince and princess.
That young prince, Jonathan Pamphilj, is now an adult who lives in the art-filled palace with his male partner and their two children, and he narrates the excellent audio tour.
Sadly, he and his adopted sister became estranged, though they still live in separate halves of the palazzo.
None of that comes through on the tour, but knowing it makes the Pamphilj – one of Europe’s most treasure-filled private palaces – more extraordinary.
And … among the Caravaggios, Raphaels and old masters look for the Velasquez portrait of Pope Innocent X, which the subject thought “too real”. It’s considered a masterpiece of portraitry.
Stunning to look at as well as to look into, Stockholm’s 1906, waterfront, formerly-industrial Art Nouveau photography museum is a massive showcase for contemporary work by photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, David LaChapelle, and Nick Brandt.
Revolving major and minor exhibitions often court controversy, and the gallery store is irresistible.
A permanent collection showcases Swedish and international photography, andrevolving exhibits change four or five times each year.
And … the restaurants, one outdoor and one indoor, offer excellent food, much of it plant-based.
We may be biased towards a museum devoted to our business – the news – but TripAdvisor users regularly rate this DC museum among America’s best.
Its many interactive exhibitions cover everything from cartooning to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, crime reporting (peek inside the Unabomber’s cabin) to Camelot (photographs of the Kennedys).
See front pages from around the world and from history, watch videos of major events.
And linger before the world’s greatest press photographs.
But don’t delay – the museum’s patchy financial history means there is a question mark over its long-term future.
And … The museum’s elegant Source restaurant is overseen by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.
On the bucolic outskirts of Rome along a road constructed around 300 BC, nearly half a million early Christians were once buried in two massive catacombs covering around 35 hectares.
In the Catacombs of San Callisto, up to 16 popes were once interred.
All the remains have been removed, so only the tombs remain.
Young and trainee priests offer half-hour tours that descend below the peaceful field into the underground cemeteries, and their enthusiasm is contagious.
So is their knowledge – the catacombs are a maze of nearly 20 kilometres of tunnels.
Though early travellers once explored them by candlelight, it would take courage to tackle them without a guide.
And … though you are underground, the spaces aren’t too confining. Some passages are narrow, but the ceilings generally high.
From the Beatles to Barry Manilow, the red carpet to the recording studios, mono to surround sound, (with demonstrations of how they all evolved), the Grammy Museum is a music buff’s paradise, crammed with music to listen to and interactive exhibits.
You might spot Yo Yo Ma’s cello or Michael Jackson’s glove, learn how a hit song came to be, or see the outfits worn by performers like Katy Perry.
And … check the website for performances, screenings and one-off events.
Poignant, touching and a tribute to the victims and survivors of the worst terrorist attack on American soil, this subterranean museum beneath the site of the twin towers contains the buildings’ remains as well as remembrances and photographs of those caught up in the attacks.
Among the memorabilia is the “survivors staircase” which allowed some workers to flee, a burnt-out firetruck, and the final steel column that remained until the end of the salvage operation – covered with the photographs, scrawled messages and memories of those lost at the site.
This is a museum that will powerfully put you alongside the workers in the towers, the passengers on the hijacked planes, the brave first-responders who ran into the crumbling towers.
And … the museum is large but it’s easiest to avoid crowds by coming late afternoon or early evening.