Last Updated on March 29, 2021
Last Updated on March 29, 2021
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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 one, 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:
- Western North Carolina Museums
- Central North Carolina Museums
- Eastern North Carolina Museums
These North Carolina museums are great throughout the year, and many of them appear in our NC Bucket List.
They also feature in our Winter Things to Do in North Carolina!
Museums in North Carolina
Western North Carolina Museums
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 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!
We loved our time at Biltmore Estate in at least a dozen ways, which you can read about here.
NC Glass Center
Inside Asheville’s River Arts District, the NC Glass Center allows visitors to see artists in action, with educational opportunities offered throughout most of the week.
Demos and classes are available every day except for Tuesdays and kids aged seven and up can participate in NC Glass Center workshops.
Smoky Mountains Train Museum
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.
Museum of the Cherokee Indian
Witness the retelling of 11,000-plus years of history at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. With multiple permanent and rotating exhibits, this building is one you should visit if you want to find a “Model for Museums.”
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
Walk in the shoes of one of America’s most famous poets at the Carl Sandburg Home in 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.
Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center
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.
Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum
You’ll find exhibits dedicated to the natural history of the mountain and its surroundings. There are also wildlife habitats nearby with black bears, bald eagles, and more wonderful animals.
Earl Scruggs Center
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.
The Earl Scruggs Center is also included in our guide to a weekend in Cleveland County!
Central North Carolina Museums
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
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.
Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture
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 offer quite a bit of insight into Black history in Charlotte. Today’s musuem 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.
Discovery Place Science
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.
Discovery Place Science and other kid-friendly places are also mentioned in our guide to children’s museums in North Carolina!
NASCAR Hall of Fame
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.
We mentioned these fun North Carolina museums among our favorite things to do in Charlotte!
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.
Museum of Life and Science
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.
Hanging out at MLS is also one of our favorite things to do in Durham!
Children’s Museum of Alamance County
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!
Greensboro Children’s Museum
The first of a few awesome things to do in Greensboro (especially with kids) is the Greensboro Children’s Museum. With more than 20 permanent hands-on exhibits and an outdoor space, this place has tons for you and the little ones to explore.
It’s perfect for children of all ages from infant to big kid! The outdoor section has an awesome 30-foot Neptune XXL Climbers for every adventurer.
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.
International Civil Rights Museum
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.
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.
CAM and a few more of these Oak City favorites feature in our guide to free things to do in Raleigh, too!
Marbles Kids Museum
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
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 keep coming back here.
North Carolina Museum of History
Free and open every day, North Carolina Museum of History has exhibits on the tar heel state, NC Sports Hall of Fame, North Carolina & World War I, as well as a replica of Raleigh’s 1920s J.C. Brantley Drugstore.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
North Carolina 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.
These are a few of the best museums in Raleigh. We’ve also mentioned them in our guides covering things to do in Raleigh (especially with kids!), along with winter things to do in Raleigh and day date ideas in Oak City!
Pope House Museum
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.
Ava Gardner Museum
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.
NC Transportation Museum
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!
Head to Star in Montgomery County and you’ll find one of the state’s most interesting artist-led business communities, known as STARWorks.
You can get your hands dirty by partaking in classes and workshops dedicated to ceramics, glass, and clay. One of our favorite events is the STARWorks-hosted Annual Glass Pumpkin Patch in the fall.
Both feature interactive exhibits and Downtown has a very fun recreation of Krispy Kreme that our daughter just didn’t want to leave. Kaleideum North has a planetarium, nature trails, live animals, and more.
Fun Tidbit: If you purchase a ticket at one Kaleideum location, you get in FREE to the other if you visit on the same day!
Old Salem Museum and Gardens
One can easily spend a day or more visiting the various shops, historic buildings, gardens, and everything else that makes up the place.
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.
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!
Operating for over 40 years, NC Aquariums offer education, resources for rehabilitation, and research for marine creatures. Locations include the following:
US Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum
Spend an entire morning strolling Fayetteville’s US Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum. 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.
Kill Devil Hills
Wright Brothers National Memorial
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.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
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.
Fort Fisher Historic Site
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.
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.
Underground Railroad Museum
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.
Battleship North Carolina
Battleship North Carolina is one of our favorite things to do in Wilmington and a big part of why we consider it among the best winter getaways! If you’re searching for places to stay, check out these cool Airbnbs in Wilmington and its beach surroundings.
Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum
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.
A visit to the Roundhouse is one of the best things to do in Wilson!
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.