Museums are perfect for learning about the history and culture of a country, region, or city.
Modern museums have evolved from being repositories of dusty collections to state-of-the-art buildings that feature socially significant artifacts. Some museums even provide immersive experiences so you can see a historical event unfold before your eyes.
Travelers and locals alike have been visiting museums since Babylonian times. The oldest surviving museum is the Capitoline complex in Rome. It was established in 1471 and opened to the public in 1734. In the United States, the museum of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia dates back to 1743, making it the oldest museum in the United States.
Meanwhile, the Charleston Museum in South Carolina was established in 1773, the first museum in the Southern United States. It has been open to the public since 1824.
Immerse Yourself in the Treasures of the Big Apple
According to TripAdvisor, the most popular museums in America include New York City’s Metropolitan Museum and the American Museum of Natural History. The 145-year-old Metropolitan (known as “The Met”) features everything from Ancient Egypt’s tombs, mummies, and artifacts to modern art collections. The Costume Institute at The Met showcases 33,000 costumes spanning seven centuries of fashionable clothing.
Just a bus ride away and still a part of The Met, The Cloisters is devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. The building incorporates elements of medieval architecture and combines both ecclesiastical and secular spaces in perfect harmony. The exterior of the building looks like a monastery, while the interior boasts a cloister filled with herbs and flowers. Meanwhile, gleaming suits of armor and medieval stained glass windows take us back into the past. The museum overlooks the Hudson River and is a pleasant escape from the city.
The American Museum of Natural History is perfect for dinosaur lovers. You’ll see a giant T-Rex skeleton above a major hall. However, the museum also displays more than dinosaur bones. Often called “A Field Guide to the Planet,” it shows wildlife from all over the world in dioramas of their native habitats. The Cosmic Pathway is a 360-foot long walk through the 13 billion year history of the universe. Each step along the walk is said to represent millions of years.
Headed to the Windy City?
The Art Institute of Chicago has a wing dedicated to modern and contemporary art, including the works of Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. The Old Masters are well represented as well as Impressionists like Monet and Van Gogh. The museum is located next to Chicago’s famous Millennium Park. You may enjoy taking a stroll in the park after your time at the museum.
Of Chicago’s many museums, two outstanding ones aren’t featured on the TripAdvisor list. Therefore, you will likely avoid large crowds. The Richard H. Driehaus Museum at 40 East Erie Street is a 1880s mansion that features the art and architecture of the Gilded Age. Furnishings from the period decorate every room in the mansion. Visitors can also venture downstairs to see how the servants lived. The museum has an extensive collection of Tiffany glass covering the glassmaker’s sixty years of artistry.
The Chicago History Museum at 1601 N. Clark Street shares stories of the Windy City through exhibitions, programs, publications, and digital media. A room of dioramas illustrates the city from its founding through the Great Chicago Fire and beyond. Here, you can find the definitive example of a Chicago hot dog (hold the catsup), climb aboard an L car, visit a jazz club, window shop long-ago fashions in a Marshall Field’s store window, and learn what makes Chicago one of the world’s greatest cities.
Experience a Museum the New Way
Today, many museums are experiential in nature, where visitors become immersed in the cultural scenes of the era portrayed. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, is one of the first and finest examples of this type of museum. It combines scholarship and showmanship to connect visitors to Abraham Lincoln’s life and times. Interactive exhibits and sound effects give visitors a feeling of immediacy. Meanwhile, a Holavision presentation portrays the ghosts of historical figures interacting with live actors.
In Memphis, Tennessee, The National Civil Rights Museum4 at 50 Mulberry Street presents a complete picture of slavery from the Triangle Trade through the Civil Rights Movement. You can crouch into the crowded spaces allocated to captured slaves on their ocean journey to America.
You can also visit the church where children were murdered at the height of the Civil Rights protests. Sit at the back of the bus and imagine what Rosa Parks must have felt prior to the Civil Rights era. Perhaps the most significant area is Martin Luther King Jr.’s room at the Lorraine Motel, which looks exactly as it did when he was murdered — right down to plates of half-eaten chicken and overflowing ashtrays.
You’ll see a few cars from the late ’60s in the parking lot outside of the hotel room. Across the street, you can visit the assassin’s room and peer out the window.
Information About Special Exhibits
Special exhibits are often a museum’s greatest draw, so check the museum’s website before your visit. In this way, you’ll get advance notice when a particular artist or era in history is being featured. Before visiting a city or a region, see what museums are nearby. TripAdvisor has insightful information about many locations, and you can also post questions there. Meanwhile, Art Geek is an excellent online resource for museums and historic homes and gardens. You can search by city or state.