The world's strangest museums

What happens when obsessions become collections? In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Experiences, we explore 10 of the more eccentric arrays to make it behind the glass.

1. Paris Sewer Museum, France

Prepare yourself: the 'galleries' of the Musée des Egouts de Paris are actually disused sections of Paris' sewerage system (fans of Hugo's Les Misérables will know what to expect). The smell is unbelievable and let that be a warning – you can't completely eradicate over 100 years of crap. Exhibits include photographs, maps and stuffed sewer rats. As a bonus, you can actually walk around on walkways a few metres above flowing, flushing waste from the stinky Parisians above ground. There's a souvenir shop, too, that sells...ah...

It's open Saturday to Wednesday; Paris Museum pass holders get in for free.

2. Meguro Parasitological Museum, Japan

Truly, this really takes the cake – coloured beakers and test tubes lines the walls, each containing a different human or animal parasite. Yes, that's right: tapeworms, hookworms, larvae. Plus detailed anatomical maps showing the life cycles of parasites in the abdomen and nether regions, and gruesome medical photos showing the real-life consequences of infection. If that doesn't satisfy, the souvenir shop can sell you parasite-themed T-shirts and key rings. This Tokyo museum's publicity claims it's the perfect place for lovers on a date – if you're dating David Cronenberg, perhaps.

Admission is free but donations are gratefully accepted. The nearest train station is Meguro; take the west exit and walk about 15 minutes.

3. Icelandic Phallogical Museum, Iceland

You'll be cock-a-hoop after visiting this place, with its collection of phalluses from animals and humans; the museum claims that 'phallology is an ancient science', something that a chap like John Holmes would certainly agree with. From the outside this museum in Husavik is dainty and old-fashioned, but inside is a world beyond belief, with over 150 penises and penile parts of all sizes mounted, stuck and glued to the walls, hanging from the ceiling, and illuminated in glaring light. Be careful: some of these could have your eye out. Needless to say, no touching is allowed.

This museum is only open Tuesday and Saturday; entry is ISK400.

4. Grutas Park Druskininkai, Lithuania

Also known as 'Stalin World', Grutas Park in Druskininkai is a blackly humorous, deeply ironic museum-cum-theme park dedicated to the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, featuring a sculpture garden with statues of former Soviet identities, plus recreations of Gulags including electrified fencing and wooden guard towers. There were plans to herd visitors in via a cattle truck on a railway track, but this was defeated after fierce public disapproval. There are occasional reenactments in which, according to the Guardian, 'Soviet pioneers sing paeans to the dignity of work; Stalin waves his pipe and delivers tedious speeches; and Lenin sits on a bank fishing'.

Entry is LTL20 but the audio guide is worth the extra LTL46. Visit www.grutoparkas.lt for information, including how to get there.

5. Museum of Bad Art, USA

With the motto, 'Art too bad to be ignored', this Massachusetts museum holds a collection of over 250 pieces, including paintings and sculptures with grossly misaligned perspectives, bodies with arms that look more like thighs, and the most garish colours this side of Ken Done. As the museum promises, this is truly 'exuberant art by people who sometimes don't have a clue what they’re doing'. Some of this stuff has been donated, some of it has been fished out of garbage cans, but all of it stinks to high heaven. Find it below the Dedham Community Theatre, 8 miles south of Boston.

It's open until 9pm or 10pm; for more information and a free newsletter see www.museumofbadart.org.

6. Hair Museum, Turkey

Galip Körükçü is a Turkish potter who decided to collect as much hair as he could from women all over the world and open a hair museum. The idea was to raise awareness for his ceramics course by dreaming up the most hair-brained scheme imaginable so that people would remember his name. Housed in a cave in Avanos and featuring over 16,000 samples of women's hair hanging from the walls and roof, this hair lair resembles a serial killer's den more than anything, especially when Mr Körükçü puts on his apron and gets his scissors out (predictably, he has a full head of hair).

Stay at Calip's guesthouse. Also book in for ceramics, weaving, dance and music classes; see www.chez-galip.com.

7. International Towing Hall of Fame & Museum, USA

Towing is a serious business indeed. This museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is proof, too, with its mission statement to 'preserve the history of the towing and recovery industry, to educate the children of the world, and all of society, about said industry, and to honor those individuals who have made significant changes, and have dedicated precious time throughout our industry'. Anyone'd think there was a war on or something. Come and see all the trucks and tow bars you can handle.

Pay your respects at the Wall of the Fallen, commemorating those involved in towing-related fatalities. See www.internationaltowingmuseum.org.

8. British Lawnmower Museum, England

Some say the quality of Qualcast hand mowers will never be matched by another unpowered mower, let alone any of the fancy powered ones; others swear blind by the Allen Scythe TS with its smooth Villiers Mk25 four-stroke 256cc engine; and then there are those who can only get off on the sight of a mighty Dennis 1-2633 Bradbury four-stroke 500cc mower in full fl ight. Rub shoulders with all these enthusiasts at the British Lawnmower Museum in Southport, Lancashire, where the exhibits include Lawnmowers of the Rich and Famous (including Prince Charles'), the Fastest Mowers in the World and the world's first solar-powered robot mower.

The museum is open 9am–5.30pm year round. The entry fee includes a free audio tour; visit www.lawnmowerworld .co.uk for more grass-cutting fun.

9. Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, India

Commodes, the john, the throne, dunnies, the porcelain bus… it's all here and more, with numerous exhibits detailing toilet design all over the world, from squat-and-poop styles to more regal gold-plated numbers. 'Join the sanitation crusade', this New Delhi museum exhorts. See if you could hold on while attempting to follow the numerous steps required in the 'code for married people: an elaborate drill for defecation prescribed in the most respected Aryan scripture Manusmriti Vishnupuran'. Remember to wash your hands afterwards.

It's based in Dabri Marg, New Delhi, and open Monday to Saturday. Go to www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org for all the details you need to find the loo collection.

10. Museum of Crutches, Azerbaijan

The renowned health resort town of Naphthalan is known for its healing qualities – oil extracted from the land is supposed to cure all manner of ills. Accordingly, Naphthalan boasts the world's only museum devoted to old crutches. All were supposedly left behind by sick people who came here and were suddenly cured, Monty Python–style, therefore requiring their aids no longer. Take the test: break your leg before visiting, bathe in the oil, and then see what happens.

From Gorenby city take bus 4AZN to the end of the line; this is Naphthalan. Any local should be able to point you to the museum.

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