I love a museum and am particularly partial to ones dedicated to a specialist interest, so I was suitably intrigued and enthusiastic when I heard about the National Coach Museum in Lisbon. A museum dedicated solely to state and promenade vehicles from the 16th to the 19th centuries – now, you’re just spoiling me! I was fascinated about how it came about – ‘Ooh you know what’s missing from Lisbon’s cultural landscape’ or ‘we’ve got all these beautiful coaches clogging up our store rooms what shall we do with them?’ In fact, Lisbon opened the world’s first coach museum in 1905 on the then Queen’s initiative (originally just to exhibit the carriages from the Royal House of Portugal) but the collection grew and Lisbon opened its second one in 2015. Yep it has two, less than 5 minutes’ walk away from each other, which just makes it all the more interesting.
The original museum is housed in the Royal Riding school, an antique hall which was modified in 1905 by the Court’s architect to become the exhibition space for the state vehicles and is now currently home to 7 carriages. The second one opened in 2015 and is a huge white contemporary building which looks like it should house a modern art gallery, not 70 horse drawn carriages (without the horses, obviously).
I loved it. I loved them. The carriages are beautifully ornate and opulent and the museum’s knowledge and passion for its specialist area knows no bounds. There’s also a bonus fire engine exhibition just in case what hasn’t been described already isn’t temptation enough!
If you have any suggestions of other niche museums I should visit, especially if you think they may be contenders for the favourites list, then please let me know.
Niche museum’s favourites list – so far, not in any order
- Surgeon’s Hall Museums – Edinburgh, Scotland
I’m scared of most medical things so I have to view this one through my fingers – as well as being very informative it includes a pocketbook said to be made out of the skin of William Burke and well-preserved bits of bodies in jars
- Museum of mechanical art and design – Stratford upon Avon, England
Full of kinetic art & automata, most of it interactive – it’s best not to go with children as they only get in the way of your own fun.
- Mingei International Museum – San Diego, USA
San Diego has over 90 museums so it’s hard to pick one but the Mingei International Museum is dedicated to art of the people (mingei) from all eras and cultures of the world, and is full of historical and contemporary folk art, craft and design. The Model Railroad Museum also in Balboa park in San Diego also nearly made the list- please don’t judge me but I loved it!
- Crystal Cove Historic District – California, USA –
It’s official description really doesn’t do it justice – ‘an enclave of 46 vintage rustic coastal cottages originally built as a seaside colony in the 1930’s & ‘40’s and nestled around the mouth of Los Trancos Creek. It is one of the last remaining examples of early 20th century Southern California coastal development.’ I found it to be a beautifully weird snapshot of local history and it also is a great place to watch a stunning sunset into the sea.
- National Coach Museum – Lisbon, Portugal
Yep, it made the list – just look at it!