After Hours optimize

10 geek travel destinations

If you like travel, these ten destinations offer geek-centric fun. Share your own favorite places.

Comic Con 2012
 Credit: PatLoika via Flickr

Although I am probably best known for the work that I have done in the IT industry, my biggest passion in life is travel. I have been fortunate enough to have traveled all over the world and even have my own travel blog at

1: San Diego

There is no way that I could write a list like this and not start off by talking about San Diego, California. San Diego is home to the annual Comic-Con convention.

I have to confess that Comic-Con isn’t really my thing so I have never actually attended Comic-Con. Even so, I have been to San Diego while it was going on. The experience was like no other. In the evenings the streets around the Seaport Village area were filled with people in costume dressed like Zombies, superheroes, and various sci-fi characters. It was really something cool to see. It was kind of like Halloween, except that everyone seemed much more passionate about their costumes.

2: Islands of Adventure

Another destination for comic book geeks is Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. Again, comic books aren’t my thing, but my wife is a big comic book geek. As such, I asked her to join me at Islands of Adventure last year for Microsoft’s TechEd attendee party.

Although most of the people in attendance seemed to flock to the Harry Potter ride (which was admittedly very cool), my wife’s favorite part seemed to be walking around the park looking for super heroes such as Spiderman or Captain America. My favorite attraction was the Incredible Hulk roller coaster.

3: Kennedy Space Center

If you ask any of my friends or family they will all tell you that I am a HUGE space geek. I actually tried to become an astronaut, but things didn’t work out for various reasons (if anybody reading this can make that happen, please contact me).

Given my passion for the American space program, I just had to include the Kennedy Space Center on my list of geek travel destinations. The main visitor center complex is admittedly a bit dated. However, there is a brand new exhibit featuring the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The Saturn V Center is also well worth checking out. For an extra cost you can even take tours of the Vehicle Assembly Building, the launch pads, or mission control.

4: London

London should also rank highly on the must visit list for geeks. It’s one of those places that I never get tired of visiting. Pop culture geeks are sure to appreciate that numerous movies and TV shows have been filmed in London and the surrounding areas (such as Dr. Who and Harry Potter).

turing_machine.jpg
 Credit: Nick Heath
For science and technology geeks the London Science Museum is a must-visit (entry is free but charges may apply to IMAX movies and special exhibits). In addition to the Turing exhibit, I enjoyed the Exploring Space exhibit and interactive gallery. There was also an exhibit called "Making the Modern World," which illustrated the progression of technological innovation from 1750 to 2000. For more on Turing and codebreaking history, you can also visit Bletchley Park.

London is also home to the Nine Worlds Geekfest, which is a multi-genre sci-fi convention. The event is set to take place again from August 8-10, 2014.

History geeks should be sure to check out the British Museum. The British Museum contains a vast collection of historical artifacts, including the Rosetta Stone. Admission to the British Museum is free.

5: Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC is actually made up of a number of different museums, most of which are all located along the National Mall.

I personally enjoy visiting the National Air and Space Museum (including the Udar Hazy Center which is adjacent to Washington Dulles airport). However, there are plenty of other things in the museum’s collection that might appeal to geeks.

If you are into pop culture then you can check out Indiana Jones' hat or an original Kermit the Frog. Those who are into science and technology might enjoy seeing Albert Einstein’s pipe or the Edison light bulb.

6: Panama

I will be the first to admit that Panama probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind with regard to geek travel. Even so, I just had to include it because transiting the Panama Canal is an experience like no other.

The technology used to make the canal work is fascinating, even if it is old school. Huge ships pass through the canal’s locks with only a foot or two of clearance. Railroad cars are used to guide the ships through the lock chambers. The entire process has to be orchestrated perfectly.

The most amazing thing is that the Panama Canal locks work without using electric pumps. The entire operation is made possible by gravity and rain water (from Lake Gatun).

7: San Francisco

San Francisco should definitely go onto the must visit list for both sci-Fi and technology geeks. One attraction that is not to be missed is the life size Yoda fountain at the Lucasfilm headquarters. Some Star Wars fans have reportedly been able to beg and plead with security for a look at the lobby which features a life size Darth Vader, Boba Fett, light sabers, etc.

San Francisco is also located in very close proximity to Silicon Valley. Many leading technology companies have campuses in nearby towns such as San Jose, Palo Alto, and Mountain View. There are plenty of tour companies that offer “nerd tours” of Silicon Valley.

8: Trelew, Argentina

In 2011 I spent some time in Argentina while I was on my way to Antarctica (which is another super cool travel destination). While passing through the city of Trelew, I stopped off at the Museo Paleontologico Egidio Ferugilo. For those who don’t speak Spanish, this is arguably Argentina’s best paleontology museum.

So why did this one make the list? Well, the museum’s extremely impressive collection of dinosaur fossils didn’t hurt. But let’s face it, if you want to see fossils there are easier places in the world to get to.

The reason why I chose to include this particular museum on the list is because the museum operates its own labs, which are accessible to museum visitors (behind glass). You can actually watch scientists extracting fossils from the rocks or studying specimens under a microscope. The museum’s labs were absolutely fascinating.

9: Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is easily one of the best museums in the entire country. I think that the thing that makes this museum so fascinating is that you can get an up close look at the technology used in industries that you might normally be exposed to. For example, you can take a ride through a coal mine beneath the museum or take a look at some of the technology used for modern farming. There are also exhibits dedicated to things like genetic engineering and physics. The centerpiece of the museum’s collection is a U-505 submarine, the only German submarine in the United States.

10: Nantes, France

Nantes, France is home to one of the biggest sci-fi conventions in Europe – Utopiales. This convention covers a little bit of everything, including literature, fine arts, role playing games, and of course film and comic books. The festival attracts about 20,000 people each year.

And…

Honorary Mention: New York

I know that this is supposed to be a top ten list, but I had to throw in New York City as a bonus destination. The biggest draw for Geeks is probably the New York Comic Con, but there are plenty of other things for geeks to check out as well. Countless movies have been filmed in New York, and the city is filled with places that you are sure to recognize from your sci-fi favorites, such as the firehouse from Ghost Busters.

Another thing to check out if you are in New York is the Intrepid Museum. Some of the museum’s high points include the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the Concorde, and an SR-71 Blackbird.

What are your favorite geek-centric travel locations?


35 comments
mheartwood
mheartwood

You forgot to mention the Expolitorium in San Francisco. Another geek reason to visit the city.

gkjones1
gkjones1

I'd recommend Los Alamos and Roswell, NM In April or October when the Trinity Site is open for visitors. Just checked (http://www.wsmr.army.mil/PAO/Trinity/Pages/default.aspx) and it looks like next April will be the next time. See the museum in Los Alamos. Then do some trout fishing and the San Juan River near Farmersville!


Graham

kwjpc
kwjpc

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.  Great timekeeping museum, telescope, and you can get a picture of yourself straddling the Prime Meridian.

markwms
markwms

How about The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, WA? As a bonus you get The Experience Music Project Museum.

coolhand99
coolhand99

NicNielsen mentioned The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Caflfornia. The Computer History Museum, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, has an extensive collection of "PC's" as well as older mechanical computing devices.  Even a casual visit will take a day and if you are a real computer geek, 2 or 3 days would be a good start.  Take a peek at http://www.computerhistory.org/.

rickt
rickt

See Sue at the Field Museum in Chicago. 

Hogsbreath
Hogsbreath

Huntsville, AL. The Space and Rocket Center home to Space Camp!

ProfessorLarry
ProfessorLarry

Indeed you did missed Boston, where the MIT Museum also has a collection related to famous hacks. One of these from the 1960s was the inspiration for the Lior Samson novel, Bashert (Gesher Press, 2010) that began the whole Homeland Connection series.

cybershooters
cybershooters

Museum of Palaeontology (Royal Tyrrell Museum) in Drumheller, Alberta.  Largest museum of its kind in the world.  You really need to go on a quiet day though because there is so much stuff in there.

Garden Gnome
Garden Gnome

While you are in London, don't forget Kew Steam Museum: http://www.kbsm.org/

Check to see if it has a special event due. It might be a cyberpunk convention, the steam engines actually working, the Meccano day (European equivalent of Erectorset). From there, you could cross the river, to go to Kew Gardens: not exactly geeky, but ...

And there is also http://www.londonbrewers.org/ if you want to find a brewery that accepts visitors. That's geeky enough for me! 

tcfranks
tcfranks

If you like codebreaking and are in the DC area, the NSA/CSS has the National Cryptologic Museum on the grounds of Fort Meade, http://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic_heritage/museum/ . You can get your hands on WWII Enigma machines as well as other items that cover the history of code-making/breaking.

hamild
hamild

If you go out of your way to visit any of the destinations in Scotland then you might as well go to the Falkirk Wheel - it's an elevator for boats at the junction of two canals at very different heights.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eryvq5nQtwo

gelfandnm
gelfandnm

NYC has the Museum of Math. Very good.

BobRouseAtl
BobRouseAtl

If visiting the Smithsonian in DC, do NOT forget the UDVAR/HAZY Smithsonian at Dulles Airport. It contains the Discovery space shuttle, as well as other great aviation-related exhibits, like actual computers from the 60s from flight control rooms. 

It's been a long time since I've been there, but the Ontario Science Center in Toronto is (was) amazing as well. It was one of the first interactive science museums, and is (was) organized by science discipline. 

jevans4949
jevans4949

If travelling from London to Paris, or vice versa, use the Eurostar train service through the Channel Tunnel. From city centre to city centre, probably faster than by air - and much less hassle. 

kgc
kgc

Bletchley Park is about 45 miles north of London (take the train from Euston to Milton Keynes) and houses the Computer Museum, with a working reconstruction of Colossus, the world's first ever programmable computer as well as  the worlds's oldest working computer the Witch.  This is in addition to the fascinating Bletchley park code breaking exhibitions.

Any motoring geeks out there on a visit to England should visit the Coventry Transport Museum, which is free, and has among many other exhibits two world land speed record breaking cars as well as a land speed record simulator.  Nearby (20 miles by road) is the Heritage Motor Centre (not free!!) with hundreds of historic vehicles, which also happens to be  next to the headquarters of Jaguar Land Rover and the Aston Martin factory.  You will not be allowed into the JLR and Aston Martin sites, but the traffic on the roads around the Centre will make your mouth water!

DavyPaul
DavyPaul

Don't forget, if you've come to the UK, come to Cardiff, South Wales on the train!

It's where the BBC make Doctor Who and Torchwood. 

The Dr Who Experience is next door to my office, in Cardiff Bay - and, of course, the Torchwood Headquarters. Plus, my office was used as the office location for "Runaway Bride" Come To Cardiff and visit Comic Guru for your comic book needs! We also have lots of castles  real and fantasy, for the Swords & Sorcery fans!

kjohnson
kjohnson

I suggest Edinburgh Science Festival and The Transport Museum in Glasgow, both in Scotland, and in England the National Railway Museum in York, the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden in London, and the Museum of the Moving Image in London

Trevor Wood
Trevor Wood

I would add

The National Space Centre in Leicester, England. Museum dedicated to space flight, astronomy and space in general.

Duxford Air Museum, Duxford England. Part of the Imperial War Museum has a fantastic collection of historical aircraft, both civilian & military, including Concorde

guy
guy

If you happen to find yourself in South Africa then the Air Museum at Swartkops Air Force base is worth a visit.

Then of course there is Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) near Sutherland in the Northern Cape province. (Even just looking up at the stars with the naked eye on a clear night here is worth the visit)

And watch this space : SKA coming soon to a desert near you!

TBone2k
TBone2k

If you live in the Northwest and can get up to Alberta, Canada, there are two great geek destinations. The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, AB is for the dino fans and also has some great scenery and of course the Star Trek mecca, Vulcan, AB.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

Aren't there any places in Asia that you would recommend? 

Carol Christie
Carol Christie

Some interesting choices here, but I can't say I agree with all of them.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen moderator

Thanks for a great list.

Other suggestions:

- The Computer History Museum in Mountain View and The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose provide perfect excuses to visit Silicon Valley.

- The American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium in New York.  What geek doesn't want the chance of chatting with Neil deGrasse Tyson?

- The Museums of Science and Technology in Syracuse, San Jose, Ottawa, Stockholm, and numerous other cities.

- The Deutsches Museum in Munich.

- I'm kind of an aviation buff, so I'll agree with the National Museum of the USAF, in Dayton Ohio, and add the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL, the American Airpower Heritage Museum in Midland, TX, the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards AFB, CA, any NASA visitors center (if they haven't closed due to lack of funding!  >:-( ), and anywhere listed on this page:  http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/history/HistoricAircraft/where_are/index.html
 

Finally (and you knew they were coming), some quibbles:

In #5, you mention the Air and Space Museum, but the Arts and Industry Building is just as much a geek destination, as is the American History Museum.  In fact, if I remember correctly, Arts & Industry is where you'll find both Kermit AND the fedora.

As for the U-boat you mention in #9, it's a Wor1ld War Two-era Type-IXc Unterseeboot designated U-505.  In short, it's not 'a' U-505, it's "the" U-505.

djbates
djbates

DragonCon in Atlanta, GA!

D2KK
D2KK

The Air Force museum at Wright-Patterson airforce base in Dayton Ohio.

sbc-jjewett
sbc-jjewett

@coolhand99 I completely agree, I was about to say something till I saw your post.  I have visited there three times, each time I find myself finding stuff I missed the previous visits.  It wasn't till my third visit that I realized that they had a functioning Babbage Difference Engine, one of only two in existence.  If you are not excited about that I don't know how would be able to call yourself a true nerd... :)

kjohnson
kjohnson

@jevans4949 If travelling from the Netherlands or Brussels to Britain, go by ferry.

cybershooters
cybershooters

@kgc The Black Country Museum has a lot of interesting stuff as well from the industrial revolution.

kjohnson
kjohnson

I left out London Zoo and Kew Gardens.

kjohnson
kjohnson

@Trevor Wood There is also a Concorde in The Museum of Flight in the village of East Fortune, in south east Scotland. You can walk around it, but you need to book ahead if you want to go on board.

slkwyld
slkwyld

@Suresh Mukhi Agreed. Tokyo (Especially Akihabara) & Seoul seriously needs to be on this list.

localboy
localboy

@slkwyld @Suresh Mukhi Yes - Tokyo is so high tech - first place to see NFC in widespread use.  And don't forget the National Emerging Science Museum in Odaiba with the Honda robot ASIMOV and the new Skytree Tower.