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Best Historical Museums in the U.S.

September 13, 2023 By CityPASS

People and cultures have seen and experienced so much throughout history, including in the United States. From its early beginnings to its westward expansion and rising cultural significance, the U.S. has become a top destination and beacon of hope for people worldwide.

America's blend of opportunity and inventiveness has led to a history of incredible moments, setting the stage for you to experience the best historical museums in the U.S.

Best History Museums in the United States

The best museums in America teach you about how others lived. They might focus on one person, one moment in time, or one location. They might also show you the changing culture or how an institution or event shaped society.

Regardless of their mission, the following history museums are some of the top places to experience in the United States.

9/11 Memorial & Museum: A Tribute at the World Trade Center

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is a meeting place for remembering the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Nearly 3,000 people died on that day in 2001, and the museum and memorial pay homage to their memory.

Through oral histories, permanent collection artifacts, and interactive displays, the museum shares the experiences of those who died and those who survived. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum also seeks to help people understand the path forward.

George W. Bush Presidential Museum: A Presidential Legacy

The George W. Bush Presidential Museum in Dallas, Texas, brings important presidential documents, experiences, and historical facts to the public sphere. This museum has a life-size replica of the Oval Office and a unique Situation Room Experience that immerses visitors of all ages in the challenge of quick decisions. It is one of only two presidential museums in the United States that contain key rooms from the original White House Situation Room complex.

The museum also contains an extensive collection of nearly 43,000 artifacts that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) oversees. Many of these artifacts are international and domestic gifts, along with items the former president received or used during his presidency. For U.S. presidential history buffs, the George W. Bush Presidential Museum provides an incredible look at the life and legacy of the 43rd president of the United States.

History Colorado Center: In-Depth Look at Colorado's Rich History

The History Colorado Center showcases views of the past and how they shape the present and future. This museum takes you back to both the ancient and not-so-distant past. Spotlighting Colorado and surrounding areas, the History Colorado Center is part art museum and part artifact museum, showing this region's changing faces, cultures, and landscapes.

Many of the exhibits are temporary, so you might see displays focused on the experience of Native American nations, a snapshot of Denver, nostalgic overviews of key city regions, a collection of arts and photography, local narratives, and how nature and people interact. The History Colorado Center also has many interactive exhibits to engage visitors of all ages.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights: Shining a Light on Civil Rights

An Atlanta destination, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights spotlights the importance of social justice and respect for all people. This museum opened in 2014 and is one of the top museums in the U.S. for mixing artifacts with educational programs and group discussions. The museum hosts regular performances and conversations as part of its Campaign for Equal Dignity.

The exhibits range from temporary to permanent, with permanent collections of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s papers and other artifacts. Other National Center for Civil and Human Rights exhibits showcase photographs, interactive displays, audio recordings, and videos detailing the civil and human rights experience in America and worldwide.

Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum: A Testament to Resilience

Another of the best history museums in the U.S., the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum features comprehensive collections of Holocaust artifacts, recordings, and other documents. This vital museum seeks to engage the community in understanding injustice and prejudice, offering numerous permanent exhibits that combine audio and visual displays.

The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum illustrates the horrors of the Holocaust to later generations while showing how the United States became a refuge for many survivors. It is a sobering but inspirational museum that highlights human perseverance and determination.

Eastern State Penitentiary: The Dark Side of Incarceration

Once heralded as a reform-focused prison, Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary opened in the 19th century and remained operational until 1971. It focused on the separate system, where inmates remained in solitary confinement to repent for their crimes. But instead of affecting their bodies, this confinement affected their minds.

Today, the Eastern State Penitentiary serves as a ruined-state museum to show you the dark side of incarceration. You can explore the cell blocks, halls, and guard towers as you contemplate how solitary confinement changed the lives and minds of those within its walls.

National Constitution Center: Celebrate the Constitution

One of the largest museums in Philadelphia, the National Constitution Center focuses on the U.S. Constitution — from its inception to how it shapes life today. This American history museum features the Kimmel Theater with multimedia displays, different galleries dedicated to American history from the 17th century to the present, military history, voting rights, and original documents ranging from the Bill of Rights to Abraham Lincoln's speech for the Emancipation Proclamation.

The National Constitution Center is considered one of the best historical museums in the U.S., paying homage to many leadership visions, including George Washington's honor for the greater good. Opened in 2003, it features interactive elements for encouraging civil engagement and has a large room with bronze statues of the Founding Fathers. Visitors are invited to take pictures, learn more about the Constitution in this top museum in USA history, and keep the conversation going.

Museum of Pop Culture: Live the Pop Culture Paradise

The Museum of Pop Culture, or MoPOP, is our final example of the best history museums in the U.S. Located in Seattle next to the Space Needle, this expansive museum is dedicated to contemporary pop culture and shows how creativity and expression can shape the world.

MoPOP opened in 2000 and features Science Fiction and Fantasy Halls and permanent collections that span film, theater, music, and other pop culture forms. In the Jimi Hendrix collection, you'll find the star's original lyrics, letters, guitars, and clothing. In the Guitar collection, you'll find an eye-popping array of electric and acoustic guitars, some formerly owned by pop culture icons.

Immerse Yourself in American History

The next time you're headed to a big city, take time to explore some of the best historical museums in the U.S. From military or legal history to cultural history or social justice, museums bring profound stories and events to life.

Save big with CityPASS® tickets, which let you bundle your top attractions with others and get discounted admission rates.

Header Image Photo by Jin S. Lee / 9/11 Memorial

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