Winter is the perfect time to visit a state’s history museum for some educational and indoor fun! Most of these museums are located in the state’s capital and are low-cost or even free. I have already reviewed Virginia’s impressive museum, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and today, I encourage you to visit the North Carolina Museum of History. This museum is a good addition to any trip to the state capital of Raleigh.
The museum is located in downtown Raleigh, in the Bicentennial Plaza along with the highly recommended North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Between these two museums, you could spend an entire day in this plaza!
The NC Museum of History is free, which allows you to stay for as little or as long as you’d like, guilt-free! Enter through the main entrance, past statues of important North Carolinians, including a Native American woman.
As you enter the main foyer, your eyes will immediately gaze upward at the replica of the Wright Brothers plane.
Grab a map at the information desk and inquire about the explorer packs for kids. Check out the display on all of the kid-friendly ways to explore the museum!
The main exhibit is The Story of North Carolina, located directly behind the information desk. This large exhibit tells the history of North Carolina from prehistoric times through the 20th century.
My kids enjoyed sitting in the replica Piedmont Siouan dwelling and watching a video about how life changed for the Native Americans after the Europeans’ arrival.
There are lots of interactive exhibits and artifacts that your kids can touch.
Kids will be fascinated to learn more about the pirates, including Blackbeard, who plied the shores off of the North Carolina coast.
We enjoyed learning about our ancestors, the Scots-Irish, and other immigrants who came to North Carolina in the 17th and 18th century, looking for a better life.
My son loved the exhibits on the American Revolution, with North Carolina serving as a pivotal battleground in the Southern campaign.
It was especially fun to point out my hometown’s battle, the Battle of King’s Mountain, to my kids!
Don’t miss watching the “Revolution!” movie and learning more about the “hornet’s nest of rebellion” that Gen. Cornwallis called the city of Charlotte. My kids were amazed to learn how this history still affects Charlotte today – in the name of its NBA team, the Charlotte Hornets!
After the Revolution, there are exhibits on the new state and how its inhabitants lived and worked. You can see a replica of a carpenter’s home from the mid-1700s.
My kids loved the hands-on activities in the farm exhibits. They got to try their hand at milking a cow, picking up a full water bucket (it’s not easy!), and checking for chicken eggs.
As part of the 19th century exhibits, the museum displays advances made in transportation, education, and agriculture. My kids, who are avid sports fans, loved learning the source of the “tarheel” nickname!
Your kids can also view a replica of an enslaved persons’ cabin and learn more about the hardships that the inhabitants dealt with on a daily basis. There is a short movie about North Carolina’s secession from the United States in May of 1861, and you can see exhibits on how North Carolinians experienced the Civil War, both in battle and at the homefront. The exhibits talk about racial tensions facing the state after the war and contain a short video about the only successful coup of a city government in U.S. history, which occurred in Wilmington in 1898.
As you enter the 20th century exhibits, it seems as if you are walking down a small mill town street, with the textile industry dominating North Carolina’s economy.
My kids could not believe that kids their own ages worked in the textile mills. Your kids will love the recreation of a textile mill weaving room, where you can actually hear the sounds from a mill!
I was especially moved to see the wall of headlines about the Loray Mill strike. I had read a wonderful historic fiction book, The Last Ballad, all about this strike. Check out today’s episode of Sarah’s Bookshelves Live where I discuss this book!
Don’t miss looking up at an exact replica of the Wright brothers’ plane, which took flight at North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 1903. This museum is a Smithsonian affiliate, and you can find the original Wright brothers’ plane at its museum in Washington, DC.
We loved looking at all of the changes brought by the technological advances of the 20th century.
As we delved into the state’s World War I and World War II history, my children found their favorite part of the museum – a hands-on exhibit where you can get your photo taken “wearing” a WWI uniform! We spent lots of time here!
We also were surprised to learn about the potential for German U-boat attacks along the coast of North Carolina during WWII. As you finish your tour, don’t miss the exhibits on the Civil Rights movement, including a Woolworth store lunch counter that was used for a sit-in in Salisbury, NC. It was very emotional to read about this fight for equality and freedom.
After you complete The Story of North Carolina exhibit, there is still a lot to see in the museum! Take the stairs to the 3rd floor for more exhibits.
You don’t want to miss the Toy Boom! exhibit with your kids.
This is a chance to show your kids fun toys from the 1950s-1980s. There are lots of interactive exhibits that are fun for children and adults alike! I enjoyed revisiting some of my old favorites from childhood.
The 1920s drugstore exhibit is also a quick but fun stop. This room was recreated to show what a typical drugstore was like in the 1920s and kids enjoy seeing how things have changed.
If you have budding sports fans, you have to visit the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame gallery.
All kids will enjoy the Junior Historian Discovery gallery on the 3rd floor, which has lots of hands-on, interactive activities for kids in preschool-elementary school. You can even participate in an oral history project!
Located throughout the museum are fun picture boards. Your kids can be anyone from Blackbeard to Uncle Sam!
As you leave, don’t forget to visit the extensive gift shop. This shop contains many unique items created in North Carolina and has fun toys, stuffed animals, and books for kids.
Whether you’re in Raleigh for a soccer tournament or a weekend trip, the North Carolina Museum of History is an educational yet fun way to learn about the history of one of our nation’s original 13 states. I encourage you to add it to your list to visit today!
- Cost: Free
- Recommended: all ages
- Tour times: 1-1 ½ hours
- Gift shop located onsite
- Transportation: The museum is located in downtown Raleigh and parking is readily available on adjacent streets. The nearest parking lot is located at 227 E. Edenton Street.
- Dining options nearby: The museum has its own restaurant, Sweet Tea and Cornbread. There are two cafes in the next door NC Museum of Natural Sciences. For great BBQ and other southern favorites, drive to The Pit. Other nearby options include Beasley’s Chicken and Honey and Chuck’s Burgers.
- Hotel options: Downtown Raleigh has many hotel options, including a Marriott and Residence Inn. Check out Visit Raleigh for all options. Another good neighborhood option is Raleigh’s North Hills/Midtown neighborhood.
- Nearby attractions include: North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, NC State Capitol, NC General Assembly Legislative building, NC Executive Mansion, Marbles Kids Museum, City of Raleigh Museum, President Andrew Johnson’s birthplace historic sign at Morgan and Wilmington Streets, and Mordecai Historic Park.
Books to Read (continually updated):
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up: