Winning tip: Computerspielemuseum, Berlin
About a 15-minute walk from Berlin Ostbahnhof is the Computerspielemuseum (€9/€6), which is a haven for old and young who grew up playing computer games. There are loads of consoles there to play on, old and contemporary. Even games like Pong and Space Invaders can be sampled. They have a couple of re-creations of teenagers’ rooms from days gone by to add to the atmosphere. There was also a rather random interactive representation of the flames from the Back to the Future DeLorean projected on to the floor. It amused my gamer daughter to think her mum played some of these games, and we had a chance to exchange our experiences and challenge each other. The gift shop was cool too, with T-shirts and bags with retro designs.
Mauritshuis museum: the Hague
An afternoon to kill in the Hague? Just a 10-minute walk from Den Haag Centraal station is the Mauritshuis museum (adult €15.50, under-19s free), home to Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. A friendly man at the station information desk suggested it and I’m so glad he did. The painting seems to glow: the Girl’s face and the earring appear luminous. It was a real moment of joy, standing there looking at her. I enjoyed the walk to the Mauritshuis too: it’s surrounded by many grand buildings and squares, including the Plein, with its statue of William of Orange, where you can sit and have a gin and tonic (just a suggestion).
Gucci Garden Galleria, Florence
Fifteen minutes’ walk from Florence station is the free-to-enter Gucci Garden Galleria in the Palazzo della Mercanzia. The fashion label’s three-storey museum, laid out by Gucci designer Alessandro Michele, contains room after room filled with a visual history of the brand through the decades. Marvel at beautifully crafted trunks, vanity cases and accessories from the 1930s. Then gasp at the beautifully bejewelled gowns and leather handbags. Take in classic prints, including the Grace Kelly-inspired Flora scarves, and the wonderfully retro collection of 1970s knitwear. On the ground floor is the gift store, selling fashion-related books and stylish magazines. The Gucci Osteria on the ground floor terrace mixes sartorial style with beautiful food.
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From Vienna’s Westbahnhof it’s a 10-minute walk to the Imperial Furniture Collection (€10.50/€6.50). One of the largest collections of furniture in the world, it is a fascinating and well-curated collection of clutter, including imperial travelling thrones, commodes and washstands. No Marie Kondo here – only Maria Theresa. The station itself is a gem with its glass-fronted mid-century design, its unassuming monument to children of the Kindertransport and being the first port of call for many during the 2015 migrant crisis.
The Kiasma museum of modern art (€15/under-18s free), right behind the main railway station in Helsinki, is amazing – not only because you get to see the most beautiful railway station in Finland, designed by Eliel Saarinen. When I was a nanny in Helsinki I used to take the girls I looked after for a day out there all the time. Not only can you enjoy the changing exhibitions, but the architecture of the building and the area blow you away: you can even see a glimpse of the parliament house from the front yard.
Museum for Arts and Crafts, Hamburg
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Museum for Arts and Crafts, entry €12/€8) is an ideal spot to stretch your legs between long train rides to Scandinavia, set in parkland behind Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. It’s in a wonderful building, with a huge collection of antiquities, including ancient artefacts from all the major religions. There are collections of pianos, graphic art, art nouveau and Bauhaus, all of world significance. There are seven current exhibitions, which often focus on modern design; at the moment these include designers Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh’s exploration of beauty. There’s a lovely cafe too.
The Museum of the Second World War, Gdansk
A 15-minute stroll from Gdansk Glowny, this daunting sounding museum (£3 entry) proved a fascinating visit. The main exhibition is one of the largest in the world - but even a dash between train connections is worthwhile despite the size. The first shots of the second world war were fired here and the focus is on the tragic experience of Poland. The exhibition looks at how the war started, victims, perpetrators, and ordinary people in Poland. The way the story is told is of a very high quality and immerses the visitor in an emotional and thought-provoking experience. We went because the hostel we stayed in recommended it, and it was one of the highlights of our journey round Poland.
Jewish Museum, Copenhagen
Copenhagen’s many museums are full of art, design, and colonial loot, but the object that stays with me most is a Yiddish typewriter from the small Danish Jewish Museum (£6.75/£5.60). Tucked away in the idyllic Christiansborg Palace gardens, a 15-minute walk from Copenhagen station, exhibits here tell the incredible story of how most Danish Jews survived the Holocaust after evacuation by the Danish resistance. But escape is only one part of centuries of history, as the other displays reflect. Objects range from the sacred (beautiful embroidered 1750s Torah binders) to the charmingly profane (1930s wedding menus).
South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Bolzano
On a line running down from Munich towards the heart of Italy, Bolzano is known as a gateway to the Dolomites but it’s well worth pausing at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (€9/€7) before heading into the peaks. The permanent exhibition centres on Ötzi the iceman, preserved within a glacier for over 5,000 years at the top of a mountain pass. Details of the research performed and what was learned about how he lived and eventually died were fascinating, and seeing his clothes, weapons, and other possessions up close brought me out in goosebumps.
Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork
A quarter-of-an-hour stroll along the river from the train station in Cork is Crawford Municipal Art Gallery (free). It’s a small but perfectly formed art collection that showcases the work of Irish artists such as Seán Keating, Dorothy Cross, Norah McGuinness and many more. Its compact size means you get to really engage with the art, and my two-year-old daughter was treated like a welcome art appreciator rather than a hindrance. A lovely award-winning cafe is the icing (literally) on the cake. The art blew us away and has stayed with us ever since.
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