Hey, kids, let's go visit a car factory! O.K., maybe a vacation spent next to Volkswagen's main auto plant in the German city of Wolfsburg might seem like a tough sell compared with the Caribbean or Disney World (DIS). But the idea is not as preposterous as it might seem. Volkswagen (VOWG.DE) is one of a growing number of automakers that have tried to turn their factories into tourist attractions, with some success.
Volkswagen's Autostadt, located directly adjacent to the sprawling factory that churns out Golf sedans, may be the most ambitious. In addition to a museum devoted to the history of the Beetle and other company products, the Autostadt (German for "auto city") features 11 restaurants, a Ritz-Carlton (MAR) hotel, and outdoor attractions such as an obstacle course where adults can muddy up VW's Touareg SUV. There's even a course where kids can learn driving basics in miniature Beetles.
History and Romance
Other carmakers haven't gone quite as far down the theme-park road as Volkswagen, but they have long recognized the marketing value of a museum that conveys some of the history and romance of the brand. Porsche has just opened a new museum in Stuttgart, while in 2006 Mercedes moved its collection to a new building at the gates of its plant in the Untertürkheim section of Stuttgart. Other carmakers with museums include BMW (BMWG.DE), Peugeot (PEUP.PA), and Rolls-Royce, which is now owned by BMW.
If you're a fan of sports cars, you also might want to consider a trip to Modena, Italy. There, within a 20-mile radius, are three museums devoted to the giants of Italian racing: Ferrari and Maserati—both now owned by Fiat (FIA.MI)—and Lamborghini, a unit of Volkswagen. You might also want to pick up some balsamic vinegar while you're there.
Check out our slide show for an introduction to some of Europe's top auto museums.