Best History & Specialty Museums

TripSavvy Editors' Choice Awards 2018

Natural History Museum of Utah

 Natural History Museum of Utah

Museums preserve the stories of humankind's most important struggles, and most impressive inventions and developments. From civil rights to the New York City Subway, here are TripSavvy's favorite history and specialty museums for 2018.

History Museums

The National Civil Rights Museum
 Alan Copson/Getty Images

National Civil Rights Museum: Memphis, Tenn. – featured in The Top Things to Do in Memphis

On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. Since 1991 the site has been the National Civil Rights Museum. Tourists from all over the world flock there to see the balcony where he lost his life. They can board a real bus and have a voice demand they move to the back because of the color of their skin. They can can listen to real activists share what it was like to be beaten and imprisoned. They can attend programs to promote equality and compassion in today’s world.

In 2014 the museum re-opened after a $28 million renovation that installed technology to engage a new generation of visitors. –Alyson Krueger

    The Arizona Museum of Natural History
    Visit Mesa

    Arizona Museum of Natural History: Mesa, Ariz. — featured in The Top Things to Do in Mesa

    The Arizona Museum of Natural History is the premier natural history museum in Arizona. Visitors to the museum can explore Arizona and the Southwest from the creation of the earth 4.5 billion years ago to present day, including the origins of life on earth, meteorites and minerals. In Dinosaur Hall, guests can discover some of the biggest dinosaurs that ever lived, and on Dinosaur Mountain they can see how some appeared and sounded. In the "Walk Through Time" exhibit, they can explore ancient Arizona's Paleozoic seas, Triassic petrified forest, monsters of the Cretaceous seas, and the first animals to fly.

    –David Duran

    The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
    Mel Longhurst/Getty Images

    Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum: Boston, Mass. — featured in The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

    Boston is home to the museum once voted the “Best Patriotic Attraction” in the country, the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. Here you can participate in a reenactment of what went down on December 16, 1773 during the Boston Tea Party as you get on board a restored tall ship and throw bags of tea overboard into the Fort Point Channel. Even better, on December 16, 2018, the 245th Boston Tea Party Anniversary & Annual Reenactment will take place, where the general public can join more than 100 reenactors to recreate this iconic historical event that sparked the American Revolution.

    Specialty Museums

    The New York Transit Museum
     The New York Transit Museum

    New York Transit Museum: Brooklyn, N.Y. — featured in The Top Things to Do in Brooklyn

    Disguised as a regular subway station and concealed underground, the New York Transit Museum is the definition of a hidden gem. Chock full of history, experiential exhibits, and multi-media displays that are educational — and fun — for kids and adults alike, the museum tells the tale of New York's legendary subway system, as well as the history of its buses, bridges, and roads. After exploring the first floor, make sure to head down one more flight to a now-closed station that's home to the museum's vintage fleet of rail cars — the oldest is from 1907 — that you can climb aboard.

    There are even advertisements from the era on display inside the cars, making it a true step back in time. –Devorah Lev-Tov

      The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
      Raymond Gehman/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

      Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: Birmingham, Ala. — featured in The Top Things to Do in Birmingham

      In the struggle for civil rights, Birmingham was integral. Martin Luther King was arrested here, and the Gaston Motel was bombed. It was the sight of powerful sit-ins, boycotts, and the children’s crusade. These heroic struggles are portrayed in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. In its 25 years it’s attracted over 2 million visitors who learn of these moments from videos and audio recordings of the people who lived them. The museum preserves the story of the past but also works towards a peaceful future.

      It has a research center and sponsors events that encourage cultural awareness and dialogue. –Alyson Krueger

        Asheville Pinball Museum: Asheville, N.C. — featured in The Top Things to Do in Asheville

        Pinball wizards always get a replay at the all-you-can-play Asheville Pinball Museum. The North Carolina museum is part video game arcade, part pinball machine store, part beer bar and part pop culture emporium. A $15 admission entitles visitors to play the silver ball until closing time. There are no quarters or tokens required for the museum’s 80 pinball machines and video arcade games, which date from the 1950s. Some machines are even for sale. Arrive early, even before opening time, or put your name on the waiting list (they don’t take reservations).

        Closed Tuesdays for repairs and maintenance. –Brady MacDonald