Five Attractions I Didn’t Plan To Visit (Because I Didn’t Know About Them)
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There seems to be this idea that if you travel you fall into one of two categories. You either a.) plan everything well in advance or b.) show up with no itinerary and just see what happens. Rarely can people fit into just one of two boxes, although I generally tend toward more of the travel planner side of things. However, I’ve never been one to plan every part of a trip. There are always some attractions I come across at my destination that I didn’t know about beforehand. Here are a few of them (in no particular order).
Witness History Museum in Dublin, Ireland
Before I moved to Dublin I did next to no research on its tourist attractions, mostly because I knew I’d be living there for a while and would have time to visit them at some point. There were a few big attractions I knew about, like the Guinness Storehouse and the Book of Kells at Trinity College. What I didn’t know about was the General Post Office (GPO) and how it’s a very important site in Ireland’s history. Actually, I knew next to nothing about Irish history before I got to Ireland. My first day in Dublin (August 12, 2016) I was walking on O’Connell Street and I saw all these posters about “Remember 1916” and I was pretty confused (again almost no knowledge of Irish history).
What I soon learned is that back in 1916 during Easter week (April 24-29) there was a rising of a Pro-Irish/Republican in Dublin. This was during the time when the entire island of Ireland was under British rule. The General Post Office (a.k.a the GPO) on O’Connell Street in Dublin served as the headquarters for the leaders of the rising. While this rising was short lived and most of its leaders were executed at Kilmainham Gaol (now a fantastic museum worth checking out in Dublin) it reignited the idea of a free independent Ireland at that time. The event of the Easter Rising eventually lead to the formation of the Republic of Ireland. Obviously I glossed over a lot of history (including a Civil War and The Troubles), but the main point is that the GPO in Dublin is a pretty historic site. Today it still serves as a post office where you can buy stamps, mail letters, etc, but there is also a museum on site where you can learn more about the history of the 1916 Easter Rising.
The GPO Museum Witness is history is located on O’Connell Street Lower, North Dublin. The museum is open 10am to 5pm (last admission at 4pm) Tuesday to Saturday. Admission prices range from €7.50 for children to €15 for adults. Check their website for more information about admission and to book admission online. If you’re looking to stay in Dublin you can book your hotel here.
The Coffin Works Museum in Birmingham, England
I went to Birmingham, England just because I was still in Ireland at the time and Ryanair had cheap flights. It was December 2017 and I saw there was a Christmas Market, which I thought would be cool to check out. I didn’t know much about Birmingham or what to do there. I was only there for two days, and on my last day I came across a building that said Coffin Works Museum, and it piqued my interest. I went inside to see if this museum was really about coffins,
Yes, it is, but it’s not some spooky attraction. Instead this museum shows you the history of of coffin making, particularly coffin furniture making which was a big industry in Birmingham from 1894 to 1998. During its heyday this factory produced coffin furniture for the funerals of several historical figures including Sir Winston Churchill, Joseph Chamberlain and for members of the British royal family, including George V, George VI, the Queen Mother and Princess Diana. You can even see some of the machines they used for making coffins, including a stamping machine (which gave me one of the more interesting souvenirs I’ve gotten – a little piece of tin with RIP embossed on it). When I went I got a guided tour, and these are done by volunteers who are passionate about sharing this building’s history with visitors. This is definitely one of the most unexpected museums I’ve come across and I’m very glad I went I for a visit
The Coffin Works Museum is located at 13-15 Fleet Street in Birmingham, United Kingdom. The museum is open 10:45am to 4pm Friday to to Sunday. Admission prices range from £4.95 for children to €£9.35 for adults. Guided tours are only available at 11am (admission for guided tours are £11). It’s advisable to book your tickets online as only 8 slots/day are available for the guided tours. Check their website for more information about admission. If you’re planning to stay in Birmingham book your stay here.
Water Tower in Humboldt, Saskatchewan
I have family in Saskatchewan and when I visit them I tend to go the same route. In 2012 on one of these trips to see family I took a different route than I normally do, which brought me through the small town of Humboldt. I stopped in Humboldt to stretch my legs and snap some photos (the main street has this European kind of kitsch to it and several murals showing the town’s history). Then I noticed a big tower (well big for a small town in the Canadian prairie) and decided to drive toward it.
The tower I was seeing was the historic Humboldt Water Tower, which was first built in 1915. At the time I was there it was being renovated and the hope was to turn it into a lookout point. I was stopped a young kid (probably 14, but anyone younger than 25 looks like a baby to me now) and asked if I would be interested in a tour and learning about the restoration. I think I paid a couple of dollars to be shown around. The lookout point at that time wasn’t open, but on the website I see it is now. At some point when I’m back in Saskatchewan I might take this detour to Humboldt and go to the lookout at the top of the Water Tower.
The Humboldt Water is located at 407 3rd Ave in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. The museum and lookout tower is by guided tour only. These run in the summer from July 3 to August 24 on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 1:30am to 4:30pm. Admission is $5/adult or $3/kids under 18. Admission is cash only. Check their website to contact the museum about admission in the off-season. Note: the lookout requires climbing 140 step and an elevator is not available. Humboldt is a small town so I’d suggest booking a hotel in Saskatoon (about 120km away) and driving to Humboldt in the late morning.
St Cecilia’s Hall – Concert Room & Music Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland
When I went to Edinburgh in August 2017 it was mainly to check out The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and check out some sites. The afternoon I arrived I wandered around and found myself in front of a sign pointing to a free musical instrument museum. I’d enjoyed the Musical Instrument Museum I’d visited in Brussels a couple months prior, and if this museum was free then I was going to check it out.
St. Cecilia’s Hall is run by The University of Edinburgh. It’s concert room is oldest purpose built concert hall in Scotland, and it has a small musical instrument museum attached to it as well. The museum has a variety of instruments (not just bagpipes, but keyboard, percussive, woodwind, and brass instruments). It’s a smaller museum, but I still probably spent about an hour looking around (I love seeing those ornate pianos and harpsichords). The next time I’m in Edinburgh I’d love to go back to visit this museum and see a concert at the St. Cecilia’s Hall as well.
St. Cecilia’s Hall is located at 50 Nidry Street in Edinburgh, Scotland. The museum is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10:00am to 4:30pm. Hours may vary during the holiday. Admission to the museum is free (charges will apply if you want to see a concert). Check their website for further information about admission and events. If you’re looking to stay in Edinburgh you can book your hotel here.
Degas House Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana
I went to New Orleans twice in 2012 (first trip was planned, second was because I won a contest). On my first visit in June I was walking down Esplanade to the French Quarter when I came across a beautiful house. I mean in New Orleans there are lots of beautiful homes, but I noticed this one had a sign on it saying Edgar Degas Historic Home & Museum. I soon learned this was a bed and breakfast, but also a historic home where French Impressionist Painter lived for a few months (his mother had been born in New Orleans and he had family in the cit).
Although I don’t know much about art, I’d seen some of Degas’s work at a traveling exhibit my local art gallery had a year before. I decided to book the breakfast tour, where you go for breakfast and get a tour of the house. The tour when I was there was led by Degas’s great grand-niece who was able to provide lots of interesting details about Degas and his family that I didn’t know before. This museum is the only one in the world where you can visit a home or studio where Degas lived. This was an unexpected find for me in New Orleans, but one I’m really glad I visited.
The Degas House Museum is located at 2306 Esplanade Ave in New Orleans. The museum is open by guided tour only. The breakfast tour I did is $50 and includes breakfast and a tour. It starts at 9:00am and lasts 2 hours and 15 minutes. There is also the Edgar Degas House Creole Impressionist Tour (no breakfast included) which is $29 and runs daily at 10:30am and 1:30pm. Visit their website to book a tour or to learn more about the painting classes that are offered. If you wish to stay at the Bed and Breakfast onsite (in a separate house from the museum) you can book your stay at The Degas House here.
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What unexpected attractions have you come across during your travels?