13 Living History Museums on the East Coast Kids Will Love

| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |

While traditional museums have priceless artifacts and works of art that are important to see (read why here), kids tend to be more engaged when they can get up close to history. One of the best opportunities for kids to engage with live interpreters and engage with tangible artifacts is a living history museum. Living history museums have indoor and outdoor exhibits, interactive displays, and daily programs and informative demonstrations. Many museums even offer summer camps for children. Most museums do close during winter hours (some spots keep indoor exhibits open), so we’re sharing this list now, as everything prepares to open for the 2021 season.  Here are 13 of our favorite spots on the East Coast and two more that are on our 2021 list:

13 Living History Museums Kids Will Love:

1. Minute Man National Military Park (Lexington/Concord, Massachusetts) is the site of the battle of April 19, 1775, when colonial militia fought British troops (called “regulars”) in a battle that began the American Revolution. There are several spots that are part of the park and visitors should begin their exploration at the Visitor Center, which includes Road to Revolution, a 25 minute film that explains much of the history of the sites, and check the daily bulletin for guided tours, demonstrations, and programs.
Highlights: Playing dress up in period costumes and “shooting” wooden muskets at the Jacob Whittemore House, checking out militia uniforms at the North Bridge Visitor Center, walking across the bridge and checking out the Minute Man statue, and earning a Junior Ranger badge.
Other nearby fun: Charlestown Navy Yard and USS Constitution
Read our full blog post here.

2. Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth, Massachusetts) is one of the oldest living history museums, dating back to the 1940s and has seen many additions over the past 70+ years. The complex includes indoor and outdoor exhibits including a village, recreated Mayflower ship, grist mill, and several barns that showcase the story of both the English and Native settlers of the area in the 1600s. 
Highlights: Exploring the Wampanoag Campsite, ducking in and out of the huts in the 17th century village, and making your own creation in the Craft Center.
Other nearby fun: Whydah Pirate Museum

3. Old Sturbridge Village in (Sturbridge, Massachusetts) is the largest outdoor living history museum in the Northeast, covering over 200 acres and encompassing 40+ antique buildings. Dozens of interpreters share stories of what daily life was like during the 1830s and offer visitors plenty of hands on experiences and demonstrations. With each season comes special events and workshops for all ages, so it’s worth visiting Old Sturbridge Village throughout the year. 
Highlights: Watching the blacksmith, cobbler, and beekeepers hard at work and taking a horse drawn carriage ride.
Other nearby fun: Basketball Hall of Fame, Dr. Seuss Museum, and Springfield Armory, 
Read our full blog post
here.

4. Boston Party Tea Party Ship & Museum (Boston, Massachusetts) includes a tour that reenacts the night of December 16, 1773 when 5,000 “Sons and Daughters of Liberty” (or a maximum of 55 tourists) met at the South Meeting House to organize protests against the tea tax. Tours begin with a “meeting” where visitors can take on the role of important figures of the night, board either the Eleanor or the Beaver (recreated ships), and explore the indoor museum exhibits.
Highlights: Learning common 18th century lingo like “hauzzah” and “fie!” and throwing tea overboard
Other nearby fun: Boston National Historical Park, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Massachusetts State House, Museum of Fine Arts, and Isabella Gardner Museum, 
Read our full blog post here.

5. Hancock Shaker Village (Berkshires, Massachusetts) is the oldest working farm in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. The Village was originally home to the Shaker community from the late 1700s until 1959. It then reopened in 1961 as a museum that includes over 22,000 original artifacts and a research library. The 750 acre complex has a 20 acre working farm, 20 buildings with live interpreters, and tons of hiking trails, meadows, and woodlands that abut the Pittsfield State Forest.
Highlights: Seeing all the animals, exploring the Round Stone Barn, and imitating Shakers in the Discovery Barn. 
Other nearby fun: 10 Ways to Have Fun in the Berkshires
Read our full blog post here.

6. Mystic Seaport (Mystic, Connecticut) is the largest maritime museum in the United States, founded in 1929 and spread out over 19 acres. The Seaport recreates 19th century life in a seafaring village with over 60 different exhibits, buildings, boats and areas to explore.
Highlights: Climbing aboard three ships (The LA Dunton, the Joseph Conrad, and the Charles W. Morgan), exploring the Children’s Museum (best suited for children under age 8), Home Port (geared towards children ages 8-12), and The Buckingham-Hall House, which demonstrates open hearth cooking and offers classes for older teenagers.
Other nearby fun: Mystic Aquarium and Mystic City Guide
Read our full blog post here.

7. Maine Maritime Museum (Bath, Maine) showcases the history of the ship building, boating, fishing, and lobstering industries. The complex is spread over 20 acres on the banks of the Kennebec River, one mile away from Bath Iron Works. There are several indoor exhibits with thousands of artifacts and hands on demonstrations, including a blacksmith, sawmill workers, and lobstermen. 
Highlights: Climbing aboard the Mary E Schooner, the last of the 850 Bath–built fleet of Schooners, for a sail; climbing all over the Pirate Play Ship and pretending to set sail. 
Other nearby fun: The Samoset Resort in Rockport
Read our full blog post here.

8. Independence National Historic Park (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is run by the National Park Service and includes over 12 locations and several gardens visited by over one million people each year. Several of the homes and gardens are seasonal, so check online for schedules and hours. Start in the Visitor Center (don’t forget to collect NPS Passport stamps) and leave time for the popular Liberty Bell Center, Independence Square, Liberty Square, and Declaration House. 
Highlights: Standing in the same room where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were debated and signed; exploring Congress Hall: the House of Representatives Chamber is located on the first floor and the Senate Chambers and Senate meeting rooms are located on the second floor; earning a Junior Ranger badge.
Other nearby fun: 10 Free Things to Do in Philadelphia
Read our full blog post here (#6)

9. Colonial Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Virginia) is the largest living history museum in the world. Recreating life in the 1770s, the 300 acre complex includes over 40 historic trade shops, homes, community space, and taverns. The complex is one mile long and a half mile wide and is divided into four key areas: The Visitor Center, Palace Green, Capitol, and Market Square. Palace Green, Capitol, and Market Square areas include historic sites, trades buildings, as well as lodging, shopping, and dining options. 
Highlights: Visiting over 30 trade shops and learning about common jobs, participating in the Fife and Drum parade, shopping for period reproductions in Merchants Square, and taking a horse drawn carriage ride.
Other nearby fun: Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Read our full blog post
here.

10. American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (Yorktown, Virginia) brings to life one of the most consequential battles of the American Revolution.  The museum includes indoor and outdoor exhibits, classrooms, media rooms, a large gift shop, and cafe. Most exhibits are interactive, whether they invite visitors to touch artifacts, take a quiz and check answers by sliding screens, touch screens that encourage guessing or hypothesizing, or with telephones that play recorded narratives  Be sure to leave plenty of time to explore the reproduction farm- there are several interpreters who will engage and include visitors in various demonstrations. 
Highlights: The Outdoor Continental Army Encampment and Outdoor Reproduction Farm (the home of Edward Moss, a local farmer during the Revolutionary War who probate inventory after his death lists the possessions reproduced for the farm)
Other nearby fun: Jamestowne Settlement (see below)
Read our full blog post
here.

11. Jamestowne Settlement (Jamestown, Virginia), named in honor of King James of England, is a living history museum that includes a museum, Indian village, three reproduction ships, and a fort, all with interpreters offering stories and experiences from 1607, when 104 colonists created the first permanent English settlement in North America.
Highlights: The Powhatan Indian Village, which includes five recreated reed covered huts and a ceremonial circle; reproductions of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, the three ships of the Virginia Company which brought the first permanent English colonists to Jamestown in 1607; the James Fort, which recreates life during the early 1600s
Other nearby fun: American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (see above)
Read our full blog post
here.

12. Historic Jamestowne (Jamestown, Virginia), is part of Colonial National Historical Park (one of the first historic parks, created in 1930) and honors the British Colonist experience in North America. The park includes a 23 mile scenic parkway that connects Yorktown Battlefield and Historic Jamestowne. Historic Jamestown also includes archaeological sites, churches, and monuments honoring important historical figures
Highlights: exploring the 1607 fort and the 1907 memorial church, checking out hundreds of artifacts in the Archaerium Museum, and participating in a family program, earning a Junior Ranger badge.
Other nearby fun: 10 Ways to Explore Historic Yorktown
Read our full blog post here.

13. Mount Vernon (Mount Vernon, Virginia) was the home of George and Martha Washington and their family, and is now the most popular home in America- over one million people visit each year. Located twenty minutes outside downtown Washington DC, it was originally a 8,000 complex with five farms. Washington also built a gristmill and distillery on the property, which is on the banks of the Potomac River, with Maryland on the other side of the river. The now 50 acre site includes over two dozen areas to explore. 
Highlights: Pioneer Farm, Reynolds Museum, and the Education Center, which has 15 immersive, multimedia galleries and three theater experiences that engage children to learn about Washington’s beliefs, battles, and the birth of America. 
Other nearby fun: 10 Free things to do in Washington DC
Read our full blog post here.

Two more spots on our 2021 Travel Bucket List:

  1. Coggeshall Farm Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island 

  2. Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire 

Follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Similar Posts

29 Comments

  1. Love your blog. I’m taking my kids to mystic Sunday based on your tips! Mine are younger but still hope to have fun 🙂

  2. Look at all the fun places your kids have gotten to visit! Such sweet smiles on their faces 🙂 throwing the tea overboard at the Boston tea party ship looks like a blast!

  3. Look at all the fun places your kids have gotten to visit! Such sweet smiles on their faces 🙂 throwing the tea overboard at the Boston tea party ship looks like a blast!

  4. Look at all the fun places your kids have gotten to visit! Such sweet smiles on their faces 🙂 throwing the tea overboard at the Boston tea party ship looks like a blast!

  5. I love Hancock Shaker Village and Colonial Williamsburg! Thanks for sharing this list.

  6. I love Hancock Shaker Village and Colonial Williamsburg! Thanks for sharing this list.

  7. These are fantastic options, and I love that you are also a National Park family that makes stamps and Junior Ranger badges a priority 😀

  8. These are fantastic options, and I love that you are also a National Park family that makes stamps and Junior Ranger badges a priority 😀

  9. These are fantastic options, and I love that you are also a National Park family that makes stamps and Junior Ranger badges a priority 😀

  10. I went to Colonial Williamsburg as a child and I loved it! I can still remember so many details and experiences (now 30 years later). I highly recommend it, as it was so interesting and a lot of fun to see everyone dressed up and to talk with the actors!

  11. I went to Colonial Williamsburg as a child and I loved it! I can still remember so many details and experiences (now 30 years later). I highly recommend it, as it was so interesting and a lot of fun to see everyone dressed up and to talk with the actors!

  12. I went to Colonial Williamsburg as a child and I loved it! I can still remember so many details and experiences (now 30 years later). I highly recommend it, as it was so interesting and a lot of fun to see everyone dressed up and to talk with the actors!

  13. Wow ! There is a whole world out there that I’m missing ! Seeing these gave me some ideas of there are other spots to go besides the beach ! Jamestowne looks like awesome and a good place to look into for a trip ! A good fit for our family vacation! Thank you for sharing !

  14. Wow ! There is a whole world out there that I’m missing ! Seeing these gave me some ideas of there are other spots to go besides the beach ! Jamestowne looks like awesome and a good place to look into for a trip ! A good fit for our family vacation! Thank you for sharing !

  15. Wow ! There is a whole world out there that I’m missing ! Seeing these gave me some ideas of there are other spots to go besides the beach ! Jamestowne looks like awesome and a good place to look into for a trip ! A good fit for our family vacation! Thank you for sharing !

  16. We love stopping at museums while on holiday. So much to learn about the area. We haven’t been to the east coast US yet, but on our list for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  17. We love stopping at museums while on holiday. So much to learn about the area. We haven’t been to the east coast US yet, but on our list for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  18. We love stopping at museums while on holiday. So much to learn about the area. We haven’t been to the east coast US yet, but on our list for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  19. These are spectacular, makes me want to plan a trip with the kids right now!

  20. These are spectacular, makes me want to plan a trip with the kids right now!

  21. You have given amazing reviews of all of these and many of them are our children’s favorite places to have visit with our family in the past. Now we and they are enjoying them with our grandchildren. Your information is so complete that it is perfect to address any needs and interests. 👍

  22. Wow, so amazing museums! They seem so interesting, that not only children, but I am sure also adults love them! Really great list! And have fun with your next two museums! 😉

  23. Wow, so amazing museums! They seem so interesting, that not only children, but I am sure also adults love them! Really great list! And have fun with your next two museums! 😉

  24. Wow, so amazing museums! They seem so interesting, that not only children, but I am sure also adults love them! Really great list! And have fun with your next two museums! 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.