When most people think of countries in Europe, they already have ideas about what they want to see and do. Italy? The Colosseum. Germany? What remains of the Berlin Wall. What’s hidden behind these historical giants, however, are lesser known but equally beautiful sites to visit. These locations are full of art and meaning, and are definitely worth checking out to get “off the beaten path.”
Unusual Attractions Worth Visiting In Europe
1. Kaos Temple (“La Iglesia Skate”), Asturias, Spain
Formerly the Church of Santa Barbara built in Asturias in 1912, what is now known as the “Kaos Temple” was abandoned during the Spanish Civil War. The space sat empty for 50 years or more until it was bought by a group called the Church Brigade and turned into a skate park. However, it needed some renovations, and Redbull took on the project. Redbull and the Church Brigade commissioned artist Okuda San Miguel to design colorful cubist, geometric paintings all over the walls. Okuda San Miguel calls it his “Sistine Chapel.” It’s truly a sight to behold and is great for kids! Hours and times aren’t available online, so it’s best to swing by and check it out if you have the chance. It’s located at Calle Principal, 11B, Asturias, Principado de 33428 Spain.
2. Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia
Now located in Zagreb, Croatia, the Museum of Broken Relationships started off as a traveling exhibit and set down roots. It displays donated remnants of past relationships between two people and displayed them for public consumption. Part social voyeurism, part exhibitionism outlet, this museum is truly a peak into the legacy of loves left behind. Current exhibits feature a wedding dress from Berlin, “Divorce Day Mad Dwarf,” fuzzy handcuffs, an “ex axe,” underpants, and many more. This museum is entertaining but probably not a great site for younger children. Summer hours (June 1st-September 30th) are 7 days a week, 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Winter hours (October 1st-May 31st) are 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Admission for adults is 30 Croatian Kuna (around $4.25 US dollars). Discount prices can be found online. The museum is located at Ćirilometodska 2,
10 000 Zagreb, Croatia.
3. Lavenham Crooked Houses, Suffolk, London, United Kingdom
Lavenham, about 70 miles northeast of London in Suffolk, is home to many houses that seem warped, or as if they’re leaning on each other. These homes, built during the population boom that came from a successful wool industry in the 1400s and 1500s, were built quickly and with little regard for long-term structure. The builders used green wood, which bent as it dried out over time. However, neighboring Dutch immigrants soon developed a more desirable, cheaper cloth, and soon the town’s economy went bust. Without the booming wool trade, rebuilding the houses was out of the question, so many were left as they were, which is great for architecture buffs. This is an actual town where people live, so there’s no hours or admission, and it’s great for kids because several scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed here. The De Vere House of Water Street was used as Harry Potter’s house in Godric’s Hollow. Jane Taylor penned Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star here, and the poem A Crooked Little Man is said to be based on this site as well. It’s great for kids and has lots of history.
4. The Rizzi House, Brunswick, Germany
The Rizzi House, also known as “the happiest house on earth,” is an architectural project of late Brooklynite pop artist James Rizzi and architect Konrad Kloster located in Brunswick, Germany. The two-year art project was designed to reclaim the ruined buildings of a former Duke. The structures are bedecked with combinations of neons and gentle pastels, forming cartoonish caricatures that engulf the building. The unusual nature of the architecture was not well-received at first due to its contrast with the surrounding neighborhood, but over time it has become a centerpiece to the community and attracts numerous visitors. Sadly, James Rizzi died in 2011, but his creation continues. There’s no hours or admission as it can only be seen from the outside, but you can find it at Ackerhof 1, 38100 Braunschweig, Germany.
5. Kunsthofpassage Funnel Wall, Dresden, Germany
Located in arts project neighborhood Neustadt Kunsthofpassage in Dresden, Germany, this blue and green house has large funnels and drains attached to the outside that create music when they catch rainfall. Created by Annette Paul, Christoph Rossner, and André Tempel, the house is one of a large collection called the “Courtyard of Elements.” The Courtyard of Elements has several other houses, one of with is covered in yellow foil and the other of which is bright green with giraffes and monkeys. There are 5 artistic courtyards altogether--the Courtyard of Animals, the Courtyard of Light, Courtyard of Mythical Creatures, The Courtyard of Elements, and the Courtyard of Metamorphoses. They are free to view, with no particular hours, so this is a great fun and free activity to do with kids!
6. Upside-Down House, Terfens, Austria
The Upside Down House in Terfens, Austria, is exactly what it sounds like: a house turned quite literally on its head. The furniture is stuck to the ceiling, the garage has a VW Beetle hanging precariously over the heads of visitors, and all of the angles are just slightly off to create a crooked, dizzying feel. This is tons of fun for kids. Adult tickets are €7.50 (around $8.16). Discounts can be found on the website. The house is open all year, Monday-Sunday. In May, June, September, and October, the hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. July and August hours are 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. November to April hours are 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The address is Stublerfeld 1, 6123 Terfens, Austria.
7. Park of the Monsters, Bomarzo, Italy
Parco de Monstri (“Park of Monsters” in English) is located around 60 miles northeast of Rome, Italy in a town called Bomarzo. The park, located in was was once the land holdings of 16th century Italian Prince Pier Francesco Orsini (known as “Vicino”), is peppered with 25 giant statues of mythological beings and animals carved into bedrock. Founded in 1522, the statues were carved by famed Renaissance artist Pirro Ligorio to honor the passing of the prince’s beloved wife Guilia Farnese. Due the passage of time and the ferocity of nature, the garden was forgotten, consumed by the wilderness, until 1954 when the Bettini family bought the garden and restored it to its former glory. Some of the main features are the Villa of Wonders, massive sculptures of Proteus, Orcus, Cereberus, and Aphrodite, a leaning house, large ornaments, Hannibal on an elephant, and many more. The Park of Monsters is open year round, from 8:00 a.m. until sunset, and is great for kids with fantastical imaginations! Adult tickets are €10 ($10.81) and discounted prices can be found online.
8. Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, Bomarzo, Italy
Iceland is well known for some of its more entertaining attractions, and the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft is no exception. Known as “Strandagalur,” the museum documents the history of witchcraft on the island, from detailing rituals and spells to displaying runes, skulls, staves, and “necropants,” or leggings made from human flesh from the waist down that supposedly gave the wearer more money. Men, rather than women, were usually the focus of accusations, and spells ranged from making a person invisible to stealing goat’s milk. Particularly notable is an undead skeleton model that seems to be “crawling” out of the floor. This is probably not the best museum for children, but definitely worth checking out and staying to eat at Restaurant Galdur if there’s time. Adult tickets are 950 Icelandic Króna (around $7.27 US) and discounts can be found online. The hours for the museum and restaurant are 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m., 7 days a week. The address is Strandagaldur ses, Höfðagata 8-10, 510 Hólmavík, Iceland. Other honorable mentions for interesting Icelandic museums include the Museum of Small Exhibits (kid friendly) and the Phallalogical Museum (definitely NOT kid friendly).
9. The Capuchin Catacombs, Rome, Italy
Tucked away in a far corner of the Piazza Barberini in Rome, the Capuchin Crypt is nestled underneath the church Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappucini and the attending museum. It holds the bones of 3,700 Capuchin monks who died between 1527 and 1870. The bones are used to “decorate” the walls of the 6 rooms within the tomb, in a beautifully macabre spectacle (though the Capuchins maintain it is a mere reminder of the ephemeral nature of existence) depicting moral messages or scenes from Jesus’ life. As monks pass away, new bodies are added sans coffin and the oldest ones are used to create new wall patterns. Bodies can spend up to 30 years before the bones are repurposed. The floor is covered with dirt from Jerusalem, and serves as the base for the crypt. It costs around €8 ($8.64) for adults and is open every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the final entrance time at 6:30 p.m. Use discretion when bringing children; it may be scarier for younger kids. Similar attractions include the Capuchin crypt in Palermo, Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic, Capela dos Ossos in Portugal, The Catacombs in Paris, and the Skull Chapel in Poland.
10. The Merry Cemetery of Sapanta, Sapanta, Romania
The Merry Cemetery, located in Sapanta, Romania, has long housed the bodies of the dead. But it didn’t begin to gain notoriety until local folk artist Stan Ioan Patras began personalizing gravestones in 1935. Varying reports say the cemetery contains anywhere between 700-1,000 blue crosses with colorful pictures of the life of the deceased. Since the cemetery is in a small town, Patras often had intimate knowledge of the person, or had heard some gossip, and inscribed a poem in his local dialect on each cross reflecting how this person was in real life, be it positive or negative. (Popular topics include alcoholism and adultery). Families submit a request for crosses, the creation of which has now been taken over by Dumitru Pop Tincu since Patras’ death in 1977, and they are crafted with great intention and symbolism. Colors and certain animals have been assigned different meanings. Most prevalently, blue represents hope, faith, and freedom, which is why it is the base color for all of the grave markers. Interestingly, Patras had enough time to carve his own cross and write his own poem before he died, and it can be seen there as well. Several reports list the entrance between 4-5 Romanian Leu ($1), and the hours are between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is a good experience for older children but might be a bit heavy for the younger set. Another interesting stop in Romania if there’s time is the Sighetul Marmatiei Memorial Museum for Communism Victims.
11. Medieval Crime Museum, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Located in the pristinely preserved medieval Bavarian town Rothenburg ob der Tauber lies the Medieval Crime Museum, or "Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum." Open year round, this attraction features a detailed history of medieval torture practices and disciplines. It started off of a private collection by Karl Albrecht in the late 19th century and has grown ever since. The exhibit is currently located in St. John's Commandery in Burggasse due to a change in ownership, and has expanded to include 1,000 years of Germanic justice and 50,000 exhibits. Hours change from month to month so it’s best to look up the times the museum is open online. Regular adult tickets cost €5 ($5.40), and the last entrance time is 45 minutes before the museum closes. This exhibit is better for older children than younger children.
12. Electric Ladyland: The First Museum of Fluorescent Art, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Electric Ladyland, or “Museum of Fluorescent Art,” is a museum that was started in 1999 in The Netherlands’ most well known city, Amsterdam. Founded 12 years after the Electric Lady Art Gallery above the museum that inspired its existence, Electric Ladyland is one large room where the visitor enters and becomes part of the exhibit, or what the museum calls “participatory art.” Guided tours offer displays of everyday objects seen under different light wavelengths, bringing out the fluorescence in rocks, minerals, and other paraphernalia. Exhibits include "Common Items that are Fluorescent," “Fluorescent Mineral Artworks from the 1950's,” “Fluorescent Advertisements and Artifacts back to 1932,” and "Fluorescence in Astronomy, Geology, and Oceanography." The museum is open from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., Tuesday – Saturday and costs €5.00 per adult. Kids 12 and under are free. This is an awesome place to take curious, active kids with the whole family! Honorable museum mention goes to the Sex Museum, but as is obvious from the title, it’s not so much for the 18 and under crowd.
13. The Beer Spas, Prague, Czech Republic
The Beer Spas in Prague, Czech Republic are absolutely one of the more inventive experiences but definitely not for those who are under 21 or have allergies to hops, yeast, or proteins. The spa consists of two rooms, Beer Spa and Beer Spa Land. In a one-hour treatment, participants are submerged for 20 minutes in a 1,000 liter (265 gallon) handmade oak tub filled to the brim with hop oil, hops, brewer’s yeast, and malt, the ingredients used to create Czech Krušovice beer. The website claims this treatment benefits the skin due to its high vitamin B and active enzymes, increases metabolism, eases stress, and opens the pores. Once spa-goers are finished with the oak tub, guests are encouraged to lie down on a wheat straw bed for 20 minutes to promote extract absorption. The extra time can be used in the hop sauna, eating homemade beer bread, and drinking either dark or light Krušovice beer. There is a four person limit for each treatment and towels, sheets, blankets and slippers are provided. The spa recommends not showering for several hours after the treatment to give time for absorption and that odor should not be an issue. Beer Spa Land is located in central Prague (known as Prague 1), at Pivní Lázně Spa Beerland, Žitná 658/9, 110 00 Praha 1. Price depends on the amount of people and tubs, but one person in one tub costs 1,600 Czech Koruna or $65 dollars. The hours are 10 am to 10 pm.
14. The Dennis Severs House, Spitalfields, London, United Kingdom
The Dennis Severs house in Spitalfields, London is part historical recreation, part story, part art exhibit. Artist Dennis Severs moved into the Spitalfields, London house from 1979 until his death in 1999 and renovated it slowly into a live-in “still-life drama,” depicting the fictitious lives of the Jervis family, Huguenot silk weavers in the 18th century. The 10-room experience, conducted in silence, spans the time period from 1724 to 1919, and each room portrays a different time period in the Jervis family’s lives. Severs intended each room to look as though one had stepped through a painting and into a scene, as if the Jervis family just left the room. A soundtrack of distant voices can be heard, half-eaten bread can be seen, and even certain smells are manufactured to create a realistic experience. The house is located at 18 Folgate Street, London E1 6BX. Adult tickets are £10.00 ($14.23) with discounted prices online. The house is open on Sundays from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. with the last admission at 3:15 p.m., and the first and third Monday of the month from 12:00 p.m. until 2:00 p.m. The Dennis Severs House is excellent for older children but might not be for younger children as the tour must be completed in silence.
15. Hill of Crosses, Bomarzo, Italy
The Hill of Crosses has great historical and religious meaning for many Lithuanian Catholics. Started in 1831 after a quashed rebellion against the Russian czar, the families of the deceased began the hill as a way to commemorate their family members, as often they had no body to bury. Over the years, crosses of varying sizes accumulated, until the communist regime took over Lithuania. As one of the tenets of communism is atheism, KGB officers were instructed to destroy the hill since it was a symbol of defiance, but pilgrims were so persistent that both attempts were to no avail. The attempt to annihilate the hill was a strong impetus to place more crosses. Lithuanians were liberated from Communism in 1991, and the hill has been growing since. Crosses range in size, and about 200,000 bespeckle the hill now, all written with prayers for family, friends, and miracles. It became so well known that Pope John Paul II visited before his death. It’s free, open year-round all day and night for prayer, with devotions on the last Sunday of July. It’s a bit challenging to access as it’s 4 miles outside of the nearest town Siauliai so plan accordingly.
This article was written by Lindy Tolbert.