Best Living History Museums in New England

Living history museums bring the past to life by allowing us step inside a historical moment. Witness the way of life of early settlers, sailors, farmers, and more at the living history museums scattered throughout New England, from Plymouth, Massachusetts all the way up the coast of Maine. Put on your walking shoes and come on a journey through some of the best living history museums the area has to offer.

credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism
credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

Discover America Again at Plimoth Plantation – Plymouth, MA

In Plymouth, MA, learn from the Pilgrims just how difficult it was to settle in America. Prepare to be shocked, fascinated, educated and entertained as you explore the 17th-century English Village or the full size Mayflower II, where actors have taken on portraying real historic figures and their viewpoints. If the hardships of pilgrim life prove too much for you, retreat to the John Carver Inn and Spa, Best Western Plus Cold Spring, or Mirbeau Inn & Spa in the Pinehills for some pampering and relaxation. You can also mosey on over to the Wampanoag Homesite where you’ll find real native people (not actors!) engaging visitors in their way of life. Plimoth Plantation is open year round, but to make it a little more special, come during the Thanksgiving season and celebrate the holiday at the site of the very first Thanksgiving.

Visit Bees, Seeds, and Rare Breeds at Old Sturbridge Village – Sturbridge, MA

There’s always something happening at Old Sturbridge Village. Examine a colony of bees building combs, storing nectar and pollen, capping honey, and raising young in the observation hive. At another exhibit, staff members have cultivated several heirloom gardens that showcase beautiful vegetables and herbs that were a large part of sustaining life in the 1830s. Well worth it to stop and smell the rosemary around key homes in the village. Old Sturbridge Village is also home to several oxen, chicken, cows, pigs, and other animals that you won’t find at just any old farm in New England, so be sure to say hello. Continue your journey into the past by staying right next to the museum, or at the Publick House Historic Inn, decorated with period furnishings.

credit: Connecticut Office of Tourism
credit: Connecticut Office of Tourism

Take a Voyage at Mystic Seaport – Mystic, CT

Enjoy a serenade by chanteyman singing songs of the sea, wander down the roads of a working seafaring village, or climb aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whale ship in the world. You can do all of this and more at Mystic Seaport. For a truly unique experience, get out on the water and take a ride on one of several historic boats right from the museum. Or visit the Treworgy Planetarium to learn to stargaze like a sailor. Live programs at the planetarium last about 30 minutes and include basic points on using the stars for navigation. Once you’re tuckered out, the Hilton Mystic is a stone’s throw from the Aquarium and Olde Mistick Village. Or, sleep on the waterfront at the Inn at Stonington and watch lobstermen and fishermen sail by your bedroom window.

Fall in Love with Lighthouses at Burnt Island Living Lighthouse – Burnt Island, ME

For something a little different in the world of living history museums, visit Burnt Island Living Lighthouse. Take a step back to 1950 and meet the Joseph Muise, the original Keeper and his family. After the lighthouse is described in detail by an actor portraying Mr. Muise, his children will show visitors around the grounds pointing out indigenous plants, landmarks, telling local lore, and tidbits about coastal fisheries in Maine. If you’re considering a trip to this historic island, treat yourself to a stay at the charming Newcastle Inn.

Living history museums are a great way to spend a day, learn, and celebrate our heritage. No matter where you find yourself on your next New England getaway, we’ll be ready with recommendations, accommodations, and ideas for getting the most out of your visit.

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