5 Hidden Gems: Unique European Museums

Dive into the culture of Europe at lesser-known museums that offer a novel perspective compared with Europe's more renowned museums. 

London: Bank of England Museum

London: Bank of England Museum

You've seen the renowned wonders in Europe's big museums.

"Mona Lisa" at the Louvre in Paris? Check.

The Elgin Marbles at London's British Museum? Check.

The bust of Nefertiti at the Egyptian and Papyrus Collection Berlin? Done that. 

Now what? One answer: You may want to visit one of the hundreds of small museums in Europe. These boutique collections often shed new light onto the culture of a country or city that you thought you knew. Below, suggestions of lesser-known gems.

London: Bank of England Museum
"If you invest your tuppence/Wisely in the bank/Safe and sound/Soon that tuppence/Safely in the bank, will compound." This song lyric from the film "Mary Poppins" could easily serve as a soundtrack to London's Bank of England Museum. Among the artifacts celebrating the 318-year-old institution are coins and banknotes, ledgers, scales and calculators, paintings and photographs — even weapons used to defend the bank's precious contents before the days of high-tech security. In the museum until November 2012 is the exhibition Gold and the Bank of England, which explores the role of gold and finance, and is nothing short of . . . Au-some.

Paris: Musée du Carnavalet

Paris: Musée du Carnavalet
You'll always have Paris — and so will Paris, thanks to the Musée du Carnavalet. Housed in an elegant mansion in the Marais district, the museum is devoted to the City of Light's history and evolution. Whether you're viewing prehistoric artifacts from Paris's earliest inhabitants, an ornate18th-century salon or posters advertising the Folies-Bergères from the 19th century, you'll come away with a complete understanding of la vie parisienne. 

Rome: Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Rome: Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
The word "opulent" hardly does justice to the 17th-century Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome. This residence of the Dorias, one of Italy's oldest and most prominent families, is a study in splendor, with its gilt and marble gallery and damask-draped apartments. But it is the private art collection adorning the walls that really captivates. Reading like a who's who of European art history, it includes works by Caravaggio, Rafael, Claude Lorrain, Bernini, Velázquez, and Titian, whose "Salome with the Head of John the Baptist" is a must-see in the collection here.

Amsterdam: Rembrandt House Museum

Amsterdam: Rembrandt House Museum
After you've studied Rembrandt’s portraits of lace-collared drapers in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, become better acquainted with the man behind the masterpieces at The Rembrandt House Museum. This museum reveals a more personal side of the artist in the very building where he lived from 1639 to 1658. Etchings of his wife, Saskia, etchings of everyday life, wry self portraits and serene Dutch landscapes are among the treasures you'll find here.

Zagreb, Croatia: Museum of Broken Relationships

Zagreb, Croatia: Museum of Broken Relationships
How can you mend a broken heart? By sharing your pain, of course. The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia, is the brainchild of artists Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic, who parted ways and needed an outlet to express their sorrow. The result, which garnered the 2011 European Museum of the Year award, is a collection of keepsakes from around the globe: plush toys given as Valentine's Day presents, a wedding dress, and — yikes — an ax one man used to destroy his ex-lover's furniture. At once poignant and funny, the museum underscores the world's need for love sweet love.

Art lover Nancy Oakley has written for Delta Sky magazine and Savor NC.

Photography by Thinkstock; Amélie Dupont, Paris Tourist Office; Superstock; courtesy of the Rembrandt House Museum; courtesy of the Museum of Broken Relationships

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