Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on February 29, 2024.
Want to learn more about our wonderful state and have fun doing it? Look no further than these amazing museums in North Carolina.
Since we’ve visited more than a few, it’s time that we shared some of our favorites from all over. All of these places appeal to our little ones, but also to us. That’s because we’re curious about the place we call home, too.
If you’re searching for specific museums in North Carolina, we’ve organized this post into the following sections:
Read More: The NC Bucket List
Museums in North Carolina (Western)
Asheville Art Museum
Inside, you’ll find an awesome contemporary art collection and thought-provoking special exhibits.
Asheville Pinball Museum
At the Asheville Pinball Museum, there’s no need for a pocket full of quarters. Why? Because admission grants you unlimited access to over 80 classic games!
With a limited number of occupancy, plan your visit accordingly and understand that there might be a wait, especially on rainy days in Asheville.
Biltmore Estate (Asheville)
Biltmore Estate was built by George Vanderbilt’s family and things haven’t really changed since its completion.
The house is still family-owned, as Vanderbilt’s descendants remain involved in the day-to-day operations. Be sure to tour the house, gardens, and also stop off at the winery!
Read More: How to Enjoy Christmas at Biltmore
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site (Flat Rock)
Sandburg spent the last two decades of his life at Connemara and you can learn about it, the historic goats, and take in the beautiful surroundings.
Earl Scruggs Center (Shelby)
The Earl Scruggs Center honors the Cleveland County native and the cultural and historic traditions of the Shelby area. Permanent exhibits mix with rotating ones to explore Scruggs’s life, career, and more topics that will keep you coming back for more.
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Museum of the Cherokee People (Cherokee)
Witness the retelling of 11,000-plus years of history at the Museum of the Cherokee People. With multiple permanent and rotating exhibits, this building in Cherokee is one you should visit if you want to find a “Model for Museums.”
Read More: Mingo Falls in Cherokee
NC Glass Center (Asheville)
Demos and classes are available every day except for Tuesdays and kids aged seven and up can participate in NC Glass Center workshops.
Read More: Children’s Museums in North Carolina
Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center (Franklin)
Franklin’s Scottish Tartan Museum and Heritage Center has served as a public information source about Scottish Highland Dress traditions.
The museum also has exhibits that cover Scottish immigration to the region and visitors can learn even more with a volunteer-led guided tour.
Read More: Wayah Bald Tower (and the Best Views in Franklin)
Smoky Mountains Train Museum (Bryson City)
While you wait to ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad from Bryson City, check out the Smoky Mountains Train Museum. Admission is free with a train ticket and you’ll have access to a collection of 7,000 Lionel engines, a children’s activity center, and more.
The Wheels Through Time Museum (Maggie Valley)
The Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum in Maggie Valley draws motorcyclists (and people who like fun and fast bikes) nationwide. We once sat across from Jason Momoa at BearWaters Brewing while he was in Maggie Valley to check it out!
Home to the world’s best collection of rare American motorcycles and memorabilia, this amazing museum in Western NC is a memorable experience for advanced riders and motorcycle newbies.
Wilson Center for Nature Discovery (Grandfather Mountain)
While enjoying Grandfather Mountain’s paths and Mile-high Swinging Bridge, take a moment and check out the Nature Museum inside the park.
You’ll find exhibits dedicated to the natural history of this mountain near Boone and its surroundings. There are also wildlife habitats nearby with black bears, bald eagles, and more wonderful animals.
Read More: Things to Do in Blowing Rock
Central North Carolina Museums
Ava Gardner Museum (Smithfield)
Smithfield’s Ava Gardner Museum recognizes one of Hollywood’s most famous actress/singers who just so happens to be a Johnston County native. Visitors can check out Gardner’s costumes, awards, rare movie posters, and much more.
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art (Charlotte)
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art was only the second in the country designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta. This Charlotte museum includes works by some of the most important artists of the mid 20th century, including Giacometti, Picasso, Warhol, Hepworth, and more.
From the four-story glass atrium to the bold and dramatic fourth-floor gallery, the exterior of this art gallery is just as impressive as the works inside of it.
Read More Things to do in Charlotte
Bennett Place (Durham)
Many folks might not know that Bennett Place in Durham is where Joseph E. Johnston met with William T. Sherman as part of the largest surrender of the American Civil War. That’s what prompted Robert E. Lee’s surrender in Appomattox just 17 days later, ending the Civil War.
Learn about this moment in history at the visitor center or attend one of the living history programs.
Read More: Things to Do in Durham
The Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh (CAM) lives up to its name thanks to a constantly rotating exhibit lineup.
We’ve enjoyed walking around during our weekend visits to Oak City, but they’re also open on Thursdays and Fridays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays by appointment.
Read More: Free Things to Do in Raleigh
Children’s Museum of Alamance County (Graham)
If you’ve got little ones, you’ve got to visit the Children’s Museum of Alamance County in Graham. Not only will you find a lot of fun hands-on exhibits for kids, but there’s also something for parents and adults to join the fun, too!
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Discovery Place Science (Charlotte)
At Discovery Place Science, you can tinker, manipulate, observe, and participate. This is THE place for the next generation of scientists and creatives that are going to mold and change our world.
Get creepy crawly in the Bug Lab, hop into a jungle rainforest in World Alive, or get your hands dirty in one of the Explore More labs.
Greensboro Science Center
One of our favorite museums in North Carolina is the Greensboro Science Center. It’s hard to top their aquarium, museum, and zoo. And outside, you’ll find SKYWILD, a treetop adventure park where you can zip, slide, climb, and fly through the trees.
Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture (Charlotte)
The Gantt (short for the Harvey B Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture) is part of the Levine Center for the Arts in Charlotte.
The Gantt’s location and design offers quite a bit of insight into Black history in Charlotte. Today’s museum resides in the razed Brooklyn neighborhood that once was a Black community hub.
The demolished Myers Street School, once the Queen City’s only African-American public school, inspired its outer aesthetic. Inside, you’ll find exhibits dedicated to Black history, art, and culture in North Carolina and beyond.
International Civil Rights Museum (Greensboro)
Greensboro’s International Civil Rights Museum memorializes a courageous moment in our history—the sit-in movement. Today, you can stroll through the museum which remembers the A&T Four and the American Civil Rights Movement through exhibits and videos.
Kaleideum in Winston-Salem recently reopened after constructing a 70000-square-foot building downtown. It is a science-based interactive museum for children of all ages.
We got a hard hat tour of Kaleideum before they opened in Feb. 2024 and cannot wait to check it out now that all five stories are filled with exhibits!
Miriam P. Brenner Children’s Museum (Greensboro)
The first of a few awesome things to do in Greensboro (especially with kids) is the Miriam P. Brenner Children’s Museum, formerly known as the Greensboro Children’s Museum. With more than 20 permanent hands-on exhibits and plenty of outdoor space, this place has tons for you and the little ones to explore.
It’s perfect for children of all ages from infants to big kids! The outdoor section has awesome 30-foot Neptune XXL Climbers for every adventurer.
Museum of Life and Science (Durham)
Have you ever seen baby red wolves or built a tornado with your hands? Durham’s Museum of Life and Science (MLS) is an interactive science museum that’s great for all ages.
Their huge outdoor section has treehouses, butterfly garden, lemurs, and spray ground, which makes it just as impressive as the indoor space. We can go on and do by sharing more things we love about MLS here.
Read More: Things to Do With Kids in Durham
NASCAR Hall of Fame (Charlotte)
If you’ve ever driven through North Carolina, you’ll think it’s only fitting that we also house the NASCAR Hall of Fame! Just 25 minutes away from Charlotte Motor Speedway, The Hall of Fame pays respect to former drivers, crew chiefs, and major contributors to NASCAR.
There’s even a 33-degree banked ramp similar to Talladega Superspeedway, which is filled with 18 different cars, several rotating exhibits, the Hall of Honor, and simulators.
Read More: Things to Do in Concord and Cabarrus County
Marbles Kids Museum (Raleigh)
Right in the middle of downtown Raleigh, Marbles Kids Museum is filled with huge play spaces, an IMAX Theater, cafe, and more. They also have a pretty busy events calendar and offer camps and classes throughout the year.
North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh)
Wear some comfortable walking shoes and visit The Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park trails, which connect to the Capital Area Greenway. We shared more about the museum, its backstory, and why we keep coming back here.
Read More: Date Night in Raleigh
North Carolina Museum of History (Raleigh)
Free and open every day, North Carolina Museum of History has exhibits on the Tar Heel State, NC Sports Hall of Fame and a replica of Raleigh’s 1920s J.C. Brantley Drugstore.
These wonderful exhibits make the museum special on their own, but the temporary and special exhibits boost this one near the top of our favorite museums in North Carolina.
Read More: The Best Museums in Raleigh
NC Museum of Natural Sciences (Raleigh)
The NC Museum of Natural Sciences is easy to recognize by the giant metal globe exterior. On the inside, it is filled with beautifully curated exhibits and houses creatures that live in North Carolina.
And the best part? It’s free! The bucket list-worthy events happening at this museum are another part of the story. Astronomy Days and BugFest are included in our guide to kid-friendly events in North Carolina.
Read More: Winter Things to Do in Raleigh
NC Transportation Museum (Spencer)
60 acres of trains, automobiles, tractors, and fun await you at the NC Transportation Museum! Located in Spencer, this place commemorates Spencer Shops, once the Southern Railroad’s large steam locomotive repair facility on the east coast.
There, you can go on a train ride or attend the Fire Truck Festival, Days out with Thomas, or The Polar Express Train Ride!
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Old Salem Museum and Gardens (Winston-Salem)
One can easily spend a day or more visiting the various shops, historic buildings, gardens, and everything else that makes up the place.
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Pope House Museum (Raleigh)
The Pope House Museum is North Carolina’s only African-American house museum, but that’s not the only thing that makes this place special.
Dr Manassa Thomas Pope is the person who built this free Raleigh attraction. He was also the only African-American male to run for mayor in a Southern capital city during the Jim Crow era.
Today, you can tour his former home, where you’ll find original family furnishings, historic artifacts, and more inside.
Reynolda House Museum of American Art (Winston-Salem)
Reynolda House is an American Art Museum and exhibition house designed and decorated by the Reynolds family in 1917. Complete with a bowling alley, squash court, indoor pool, and luxurious interior design, you can transport yourself back in time.
The nearby gardens have some cool designs and are a great spot for throwing down a blanket and relaxing for a while.
Read More: Museums in Winston-Salem
Eastern North Carolina Museums
Most folks head to the Coast to check out the water, but there are also some pretty fun museums found here!
Battleship North Carolina (Wilmington)
Fort Fisher Historic Site (Kure Beach)
One might not realize as they walk the scenic trail at Fort Fisher that this site was the Civil War’s largest amphibious battle. The Visitors Center offers education and recreations of the battle as well as artifacts recovered from sunken ships.
Parts of the fort remains can be seen along the trail and divers can grab a dive map and explore the wreckage of the blockade runner Condor just 700 yards off the beach.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum (Hatteras)
At the bottom of Hatteras Island, you’ll find the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Here, you’ll find a commemoration of the 2,000-plus shipwrecks sunk off the Outer Banks.
That’s how the area got the name Graveyard of the Atlantic. There are also exhibits that touch upon maritime culture, history, wars, ghost ships, and more.
Graveyard of the Atlantic is housed under the North Carolina Maritime Museums.
Read More: Things to Do in Beaufort
NC Aquariums (Various)
Operating for over 40 years, NC Aquariums offer education, resources for rehabilitation, and research for marine creatures. Locations include the following:
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Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum (Wilson)
Of all the museums in North Carolina, Wilson’s Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum might be the most unique building. Inside the “Roundhouse,” you’ll find a museum that offers insight into African-American life and contributions to the Wilson community, from slavery through today.
You’ll also find examples of work by the man who the house is named for. Freeman’s work accentuates this amazing museum in one of our favorite small towns.
Read More: Things to Do in Wilson
Tryon Palace (Palace)
Today, visitors can come and learn about its place in history, as well as tour the gardens and other historic buildings after starting at the North Carolina History Center.
Read More: Things to do in New Bern
Underground Railroad Museum (Washington)
At the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum, you can learn about Washington and Beaufort County’s history of slavery. It’s probably the smallest of our museums in North Carolina, housed in a caboose, but there is plenty to discover inside.
The museum shares the story of enslaved people in the area including those who sought freedom from slavery.
As part of the National Parks Service’s “Underground Railroad Network to Freedom,” we think this is easily one of the most important places to learn about Black history in North Carolina.
US Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum (Fayetteville)
You can easily spend an entire morning (or longer) at the US Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville. With plenty to do inside and out, the main exhibit starts with the history of airborne and special operations from the 1940s to current units.
Spend a moment at Iron Mike, the 3,235-pound statue dedicated to all past, present, and future paratroopers or pause at Constant Vigilance, the first memorial for K9 soldiers killed in action.
Read More: Things to Do in Fayetteville
Wright Brothers National Memorial (Kill Devil Hills)
If you ever wondered why North Carolina license plates read “First in Flight,” the Wright Brothers National Memorial will show you why.
Here, you’ll learn about the two brothers who changed the way we travel. You can also see all the steps and crashes it took to finally reach the sky in the Outer Banks town of Kill Devil Hills.
Read More: The Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks
Got Any Museums in North Carolina to Add?
Since you’ve gone through our favorite museums in North Carolina, we’d love to know which one you love the most.
Also, did we leave out one of your favorite museums in North Carolina?
We’d love to know more about it and might even try to visit really soon since we’re a bit addicted to learning about our state.