While the foodie heads straight to Michelin-starred restaurants and the shopaholic makes the beeline to upmarket malls, a lesser catered-for breed of traveller – the petrolhead – hoons over to the car museum. If you fall within that latter category and are out of ideas for a day trip on your next holiday, here are our picks of the world’s greatest temples to the automobile that every self-respecting motoring enthusiast should visit at least once in their lives.
01: BMW Welt
As the marque most famous for its sporty cars celebrates its centenary, it is hosting a special showcase of 100 artefacts that best illustrates the company’s innovation and enterprise over the years. Yet the Welt – or “world” in German – encompasses more than that.
There is the showroom area, where all the latest products from BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce are on display for all to touch and feel; the museum, where historic models (do not miss the cute 1950s Isetta microcar!) and futuristic prototypes commingle; the delivery area, where new owners drive off with their pride and joy as you watch; and the adjacent plant, where new 3-series and 5-series BMW cars are still being produced.
Architecture buffs will also be pleased to know that the BMW Welt was designed by renowned firm Coop Himmelb(l)au according to the concept of a tornado and floating cloud. Within the same complex, but not open to the public, is the carmaker’s iconic headquarters, the BMW-Vierzylinder, so-called because of its four-cylinder-engine shape.
How to get there: about six kilometres north of the city centre, the site is easily accessible by car or U-Bahn. For the latter, stop at the Olympiazentrum subway station.
Normally reserved for customers, tours of Bentley’s factory are occasionally open to the public. The two-hour sojourn starts at the Lineage Exhibition. This houses some of the most pivotal vehicles in the luxury British carmaker’s history, like the 1919 EXP2, the oldest surviving Bentley, and a smattering of 3 Litre and 4½ Litre models that were raced to great success in the company’s fledgling days.
You are then walked through the production facilities, where you can take a gander at craftsmen working on wood and leather, deftly putting together the gorgeous interiors of the new Bentayga sport utility vehicle. On your way out, stop by CW1 House – named after the facility’s post code – to check out the myriad personalisation options available to lucky customers at this showroom. How does a hundred-over paint choices and different types of chillers tailored for people depending on whether they prefer whisky or champagne sound?
How to get there: take the Virgin train from London’s Euston station to Crewe. From there, it is a quick 10-minute taxi ride.
If a solitary getaway is not possible, here is something that may interest the kids as well. Apart from the exhibitions that cover the gamut from Mercedes-Benz’s forays into Formula-One motorsports to its compact collection of heritage cars – including a replica of the first motorcar ever made – a plethora of family-friendly activities are also on offer. As long as their feet can reach the pedals, under-17s who may otherwise not be licenced to operate a car can scoot around on a closed circuit under the watchful eyes of an instructor.
If G-forces are your family’s thing, the entire household can enjoy hot laps in an AMG-powered Benz. Should you prefer to be more hands-on though, there are a number of “driving experiences” in which you can partake, including one that requires you to navigate a mud course in a new GLE 4×4. If time permits, the Brooklands Museum next door, with its amazing compendium of classic vehicles including race cars and a complete Concorde aircraft, is worth a visit.
How to get there: an hour by car from London with easy access from the M25 and A3 motorways.
Fans of the Prancing Horse making the pilgrimage have two museums to visit, one dedicated to the company founder and his life’s work, and the other focused on the carmaker itself. Start at the former to discover Enzo Ferrari’s story through a biopic screened in a massive pillar-free hall. See the rooms of the house where Enzo was born in 1898, then peruse the painstakingly renovated workshop where his father used to work. Later, hop onto the shuttle bus that takes you to nearby Maranello to view the most important Formula 1 and road cars in Ferrari history. Here, you can also sign up for a tour of the factory, as well as the legendary Fiorano test track on which the company’s cars are frequently tested.
How to get there: take the train to Modena train station. A special shuttle service makes the loop between the two museums and the station.
05: Toyota Mega Web
More automotive theme park than museum – but hey, this is Tokyo after all – this facility in the heart of the Odaiba entertainment district comprises four parts. Drop the children off at the Ride Studio where they can drive miniaturised cars before walking over to the History Garage to peek at how actual mechanics restore classic cars and ogle at Toyota’s historic collection. The latter not only contains its own products like the Toyota Corolla Levin GTV AE86 (made famous by the film Initial D), but also important models from other carmakers, such as the original Nissan Skyline and the De Lorean DMC-12. You may skip the Toyota City Showcase – essentially a massive showroom – and head straight to the Ride One attraction, which allows you to pick many current models to test on a circuit. You might even have a chance to drive the Toyota Century, an ultra-rare, V12-power limousine preferred by company chairmen and diplomats.
How to get there: the closest train stations are Tokyo Teleport (JR Saikyo Line) and Aomi (Yarikamome subway line)