As European countries across the continent slowly but surely lift most, if not all of their travel and lockdown restrictions imposed by the threat of the global pandemic, foreigners from across the globe have been flocking in droves to visit some of the most coveted regions the continent has to offer.
Amid a weaker euro, and the increased volume of foreign visitors European airlines have cut back on daily ticket sales to help put a damper on the red-hot travel season. The ongoing activity has already seen some major airports such as Heathrow in London slash their daily passenger capacity to a mere 100,000, well below pre-pandemic figures.
Even as many airports and airline operators look for ways to cope with the surge in domestic and foreign travel, and with two more months of summer left, traveling around the continent has become an increasing challenge in itself.
Amidst the summer travel chaos, from canceled flights to lost baggage, Europe remains one of the many places in the world that offer visitors a taste of its innovation, culture and long shared history with the Jewish community.
There has been a long-standing relationship between Europe and Judaism, and while it’s widely celebrated across the continent, today, there are more than 62 institutions that belong to the Association of Jewish Museums in Europe (AEJM).
In all corners of the continent, from Norway to Spain, Poland, and Italy, you can find a collection of the compelling richness of Jewish life and culture that pulls you through the times and evokes your senses.
For international visitors who are looking for an alternative guide to Europe, whether looking to drive around the Netherlands visiting the famous tulip fields, or taking a walk around the green pastures of beautiful Switzerland, here’s a list of the top 10 must-visit Jewish museum in Europe to help avoid the crowds and chaos.
Museum of the History of Polish Jews - Warsaw, Poland
For more than a decade, stretching from 1995 to 2005, private and institutional investors from Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland worked tirelessly to create an outstanding and modern museum that houses more than 1,000 years of Jewish life in the Polish lands.
Today, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews has become a world-renowned museum with exhibitions, educational programs, conferences, and artistic residences that allows visitors to get a glimpse into the life of Judaism.
The museum in itself has been rated as one of the must-visit destinations in Warsaw, as it creates a vibrant platform that enables visitors to share in dialogue and spread the knowledge of the Jewish people in Poland. POLIN is more than a place of art and history, it’s become an institution respected and celebrated by artists and academics.
The Jewish Museum Berlin - Berlin, Germany
Germany has more than a couple of well-known Jewish institutions and museums, but nothing is perhaps more celebrated than The Jewish Museum in Berlin.
The museum has more than 70,000 items, of which 20,000 are literary scriptures and books all related to the Jewish culture. Besides the thousands of items one can find here, the museum currently holds temporary exhibitions, and collections and operates various event programs throughout the year.
Currently, the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy gives visitors a platform through which they can reflect on the diverse issues of German-Jewish history and culture. The W. Michael Blumenthal Academy also takes a deeper dive through Jewish perspectives on current issues, and those religious and ethnic minorities have faced over the decades.
The captivating exhibitions lure visitors to take a new approach to their understanding and dialogue concerning Judaism in modern-day Germany.
Jewish Museum of Art and History - Paris, France
While Paris is well-known for its love of food, art, and couture, today it’s home to one of Europe’s most distinguished Jewish museums, a palace of collectibles and artifacts that pulls the visitor through the history of Jewish life in one of the world’s most beloved cities.
Locals, and native French speakers refer to it as Musées d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, but you might overhear some Parisiens call it mahJ. At the mahJ, there is no shortage of art, and year-round, museum curators work to source some of the best and most phenomenal art pieces that represent Jewish history and culture.
While its permanent collection and archives house thousands of items, temporary exhibitions such as those by Marcel Proust and Jacques Pérez, among others captivates visitors as it creates dialogues on Jewish life through paint and brush. The Musées d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme has cultivated a strong community of followers right in the heart of Paris.
The Danish Jewish Museum - Copenhagen, Denmark
Opened back in 2004, The Danish Jewish Museum is the only of its kind in Denmark and has become a symbol of hope and collaboration between the Danish people and the Jewish community that resides within the country.
Today, the museum is home to some of the most interesting, and vibrant Jewish artifacts and art that follow the path of the earliest Jewish settlers in Europe and Denmark.
Seeing as the museum is state-subsidized, and an active member of the Association of the European Jewish Museums (AEJM) and The Organization of Danish Museums (ODM), visitors will find within its walls both permanent and temporary exhibitions that elaborate on the life and culture of Danish Jews. Museum director, Janne Laursen is a member of the Danish Delegation to International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Jewish Museum London - London, England
As one of the oldest Jewish museums in London, and perhaps the United Kingdom, the Jewish Museum London was founded back in 1932, and have since moved around London, where in March 2010, the museum through partnerships and fundraising managed to purchase a former piano factory just outside Camden Town.
In 2010, the museum formally opened to the public, and in 2015, the Jewish Museum London partnered with the Jewish Military Museum. The partnership meant that visitors now have access to both locations, allowing them an extraordinary experience and a behind-the-scenes look at the history of Jewish society in greater Britain, and the impact Jewish culture had on the country’s military operations.
The Jewish Military Museum has a permanent collection of artifacts and an archive that runs learning and education programs year-round. Both these museums, although not situated in one building, are a must-visit for any war and military enthusiast.
Jewish Museum of Greece - Athens, Greece
Right in the heart of old-town Athens is the Jewish Museum of Greece, situated in a neoclassical building that houses textiles, manuscripts, books, letters, paintings, and artifacts related to the history and life of the Jewish community in Greece.
Perhaps considered one of the most established Jewish museums in Greece, the museum first opened in 1977, as a small one-floor exhibition next to the synagogue in Athens. After two decades of hard work, dedication, and collaborative efforts, coming from both abroad and domestically, the current Jewish Museum of Greece opened its doors to the public in 1997.
Though the museum has an elaborate history, just like most of Greece and the city in which it can be found, it’s truly a magnificent experience visiting a place that was founded and built on the premise of friendship, fellowship, and community.
The Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna - Vienna, Austria
Though considered the first ever Jewish museum in the world, The Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna was founded back in 1895 when the very first artifacts were donated by a group of Viennese Jewish citizens.
Since its founding, the museum has managed to outlive the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and temporary closure due to the Second World War. During its closure in 1938, the museum listed roughly 6,474 objects in its inventory, but sadly, a majority thereof have never been returned to the museum since.
Although its inventory list has been able to increase over time, the Austrian government, alongside the local Jewish community, has taken great care and pride in the preservation of artifacts and collections housed in the museum. The current and permanent location of the museum is situated in Palais Eskeles at Dorotheergasse.
Jewish Historical Museum - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Situated in what is known as The Jewish Cultural Quarter, a square mile of city land is dedicated to celebrating the life, history, and culture of the Dutch Jewish community.
The Jewish Historical Museum is among other well-known Jewish museums visitors can look forward to. The Jewish Museum junior, the Portuguese Synagogue, the Hollandsche Schouwburg, and the National Holocaust Museum are all other prominent museums found within the Jewish Cultural Quarter.
The museum, in partnership with local and state authorities, has established a superior collection of exhibitions and artwork. Today, visitors can view the thousands of temporary exhibitions and partake in one of several education programs offered throughout the year.
The Dutch government prides itself on being purveyors of Jewish history and culture, as local authorities have been working alongside the Jewish society and communities to restore, maintain and grow their collection of Jewish artifacts.
The Jewish Museum of Switzerland - Basel, Switzerland
Known as the first Jewish museum to open in the German-speaking world in the post-World War II era, the Jewish Museum of Switzerland in Basel opened its doors in 1966.
The museum came to life after members of Espérance visited Cologne to view the Monumenta Judaica exhibition in 1963/64. They, later on, discovered that some of the artifacts they witnessed came from Basel Judaica, and managed to establish a long-lasting collection of objects in the Jewish Museum in Basel.
Though the museum currently runs some long-term exhibitions, there is also a wide selection of online collections available which can be viewed from any device and anywhere in the world. The in-house collections span more than 2,000 years of history and include various objects that range from the 18th to the 21st century.
Oslo Jewish Museum - Oslo, Norway
Although less celebrated than others, we’ve decided to include the Oslo Jewish Museum (OJM) on our list of must-visit Jewish museums in Europe.
The museum is relatively smaller than those already mentioned and houses just over 2,000 objects stemming from various periods. The museum has and is currently located on the first floor of an old synagogue. After decades of neglect, local authorities managed to restore most of the building, and retrieve artifacts that have gone lost or forgotten.
Various influences, stemming from both Jewish and Norwegian culture have contributed to the existence of OJM, and although not so widely popular, visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves in the beauty, and history the museum has to offer.
For history enthusiasts, the Oslo Jewish Museum holds various artifacts and objects that date as far back as the 19th century. There are also various annual programs and educational activities available to individuals and school groups.
While there is already so much to see and do in Europe, a visit to one of these Jewish museums is something that should be right at the top of your holiday itinerary. Although we only got to mention ten of the most coveted Jewish museums, have a look at whether the city you’re traveling to is home to a museum that will help give you a better and more insightful view of the Jewish history and culture in continental Europe.