World’s Best Museums: My Top 5

world's best museums
You’ve come to the right place.

You know I’m not really going to tell you that my Top 5 list is the sole authority on the world’s best museums. This is just a snapshot of what I like … and I want to hear your responses. To compile my list, I considered a few factors: Weirdness, content and different perspectives just to name a few. So, now I’ll get on with the list. These are in no particular order.

Iceland Phallological Museum – Reykjavik, Iceland
This museum just about 30 miles from the Arctic Circle stood in a league of its own during my visit. It has since moved back to Reykjavik, which makes it easier for more people to reach. As a curated collection of detached members, it ranks high in oddball street cred. And it appeals to my dirty sense of humor. You’ll find penises that were attached to mind-boggling array of creatures – watch out for the taxidermied whale willies. Some of them just far enough from the wall to poke the unwary. My original blog post offers a more lengthy, penetrating review. Oops, I’ve built it up and now you’re going to be disappointed.

world's best museums
That’s creative use of crashed airplanes.

Vietnamese Military Museum Hanoi, Vietnam
This museum is packed full of memorabilia and information from thousands of years of conflict. As you might expect, it devotes a good percentage of its space to Vietnam’s more-modern conflicts with France and the United States. I was actually surprised that much of the content was more neutral than I expected. I only saw phrases like “imperialist aggressors” and “puppet government” a few times. Gear from captured U.S. personnel have a chilling power that I can’t explain. And there’s a magnificent sculpture crafted from parts of crashed aircraft. Added bonus: The museum is in a beautiful part of Hanoi.

List of museums in Washington, D.C.
List of museums in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

International Spy Museum – Washington, DC
“My name is Gary Wozniak. I’m a schoolteacher from Edmonton. I’m travelling for pleasure.” This was my cover nearly 10 years ago when I visited the International Spy Museum. And I’ve stuck to it like Chuck Bartowski sticks to his Charles Carmichael alias. This monument to Cold War espionage will make you shake your head in disbelief while totally roping you in with the random checks of your cover story (too much fun!). It really does need an exhibit called “Amazing Things Spies Have Stuck Up Their Butts,” though. Umm, reproductions would be fine for that exhibit. Fun factor and fascination make it a definite entry on my world’s best museums list.

world's best museums
The light, airy, photo-friendly Museum of Flight

Museum of Flight – Seattle, Washington
Let me get something out of the way: The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has some awesome exhibits. There is nothing like seeing an actual Soyuz, Mercury or Gemini spacecraft. But the Smithsonian’s main location in D.C. is painfully dated, like Walt Disney’s 1960s vision of 1997 (Walt did not foresee nu metal, I promise you).

The Museum of Flight, on the other hand, uses natural light that flatters its also-magnificent aircraft collection. You’ve got everything from rickety bundles of twigs and canvas to supersonic fighters. And they’re laid out in photo-friendly fashion, for the most part. You have a few darker rooms … but most of it is bright and airy. Perfect for aircraft. Perfect for making my world’s best museums list.

Titan Missile Museum Green Valley, Arizona
I have never been in a museum as effective as the Titan Missile Museum. Between a cavernous interior that seems to suck up sound and tour guides who worked in similar installations, it’s less a museum and more of a time machine. You go in now, and shoot straight back to 1969. Need proof that it works? I went in to the museum with a bunch of tweens – and I doubted they would get it. But I soon overheard them saying stuff like “I can’t believe it was really like this!” Our tour guide got them involved by seating them in the control seats and running through the business end of the launch sequence.

The only way I could love this museum more is if the Titan missile itself was a bit more photo-friendly from the top. But still, it handily makes my list of the world’s best museums. It might even top it if this list went in order.

So, what makes your list of the world’s best museums?

Titan Missile Museum Tour Taps Cold War Memories

Titan Missile Museum Tour
You’ll get a good look at a Cold War relic during the Titan Missile Museum tour.


The Titan Missile Museum tour is perfect those of us who have forgotten – and for those of us who never knew – the Cold War. Some of us (not me!) will recall the "is this the end?" tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis. People my age will think back to Regan-era rhetoric, the Star Wars missile program and countless other NATO versus Soviet mini-conflicts that could’ve spiraled out of control.

Some people on the Titan Missile Museum tour, like the tweens in my one-hour tour group, will realize that people in America had a legitimate fear of nuclear annihilation. It seemed to be their first exposure to the notion, and their reaction was far stronger than I expected. I was impressed that they felt the gravity of the situation.

Maybe it’s because the Titan Missile Museum near Tucson, Ariz., has an unmistakable end-of-days vibe with its foam-green paint and steel construction. Maybe it’s because Hap, our tour guide, had served in a Titan missile installation and was able to relate first-hand knowledge in plain English, with just the right mix of technical jargon tossed in. His knowledge and delivery elevated the $9.50 entry fee from “good deal” to “cheaper than it should be.” Consider that the entry fee to the Desert Botanical Museum in Phoenix is $22, and you see what you get with the one-of-a-kind Titan Missile Museum tour.

I really don’t want to tell you too much about what you’ll learn and see during the Titan Missile Museum tour. Why spoil your trip by revealing some of the most-interesting facts? I’ll just walk you through what to expect from the one-hour tour -- and I’ll add that there’s a five-hour tour that I definitely mean to take in the future.

Step One – Watch the Video

The one-hour Titan Missile Museum tour starts with a video. It’s about 15 minutes long, and frames what you can expect once you descend into the missile complex. It also gives a hint of the the concepts and conflicts that fueled the Cold War. If you’re tall like me, you’ll have to pick up a hard hat after the video; trust me, it’ll come in handy.

Titan Missile Museum Tour
The Titan Missile Museum tour concludes on the surface, where you can get a look at the engine nozzles.

Step Two – Into the Silo

This is where the Titan Missile Museum tour takes you to the launch control center. You’ll also get a good look at the silo and the missile itself. The size and scope impressed me, and I wondered what it would be like to be down there alone for a length of time (OK, here’s my lone semi-spoiler: Crews served a 24-hour rotation.).

Something about the walls below seem to drink in sound and light, which adds to the somewhat creepy atmosphere. I could spend days lurking about and poking my nose into every corner of the silo. If you have a tour guide as good as Hap, you’re going to find out some astounding facts about life in the center -- and about exactly how much punishment it can withstand.

Step Three – Back Topside
You’ll return to the surface and get a look around the site. You’ll be able to look down into the silo, which brings me to one of my few gripes about the Titan Missile Museum tour: It’s hard to get a good photo of the missile. There’s a Plexiglass barrier that reflects, and the upper reaches of the silo are well-shadowed.

You’ll also get to see the engine nozzles topside, which adds a pretty interesting perspective.

Titan Missile Museum tour
You’ll see the business end – the warhead – before you begin the Titan Missile Museum tour.

Final Thoughts

Since the Titan Missile Museum tour take you through the the last Titan II missile silo in existence, you might feel like the world is a whole lot safer in regard to nuclear weapons. Well, let’s remember the successors to the Titan II missile program: the nuclear ICBM-carrying submarine. There were 50 Titan II installations during the Cold War – today, there are 18 missile submarines in the US Navy, each carrying 24 missiles.

There’s something else that makes me scratch my head: Missile technology in World War II mostly consisted of the German V2, which could barely hit targets in England with much accuracy. Twenty years later, the Titan II could strike within one mile of a target 6,000 miles away. Bringing it forward today, public perception is the NASA is, at best, stuck in neutral. It hasn’t scored a major win in the public eye. That’s somewhat unfair considering the Mars rovers and many other space probes and an avalanche of technological derivatives we use every day.

But by the measuring stick of human spaceflight, all the nations seem to have regressed. The Titan Missile Museum tour sticks that point home for me. Add this to your “to do” list the next time you’re near Tucson.

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