Last Updated on January 14, 2023 by Allison Lancaster
In order to experience as much of the Volunteer State as possible, check out these 10 museums to see in Tennessee!
Our beautiful state has so much to offer visitors in the way of art, history and culture, and this list will help you explore it all! Even though we have lived here almost a decade now, I am sad to say that we haven’t experienced most of these museums. It’s on our list to do, for sure!
Music is usually the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Tennessee. “The Memphis Sound”, Nashville, The Grand Ole Opry, and of course, Graceland are all historically important places of the Volunteer State’s past, but there is so much more of the state to learn about and appreciate.
The state is devoted to education and you’ll find numerous historic colleges and universities of note. Vanderbilt, University of Tennessee, University of Memphis and Tennessee State are only a few of the respected schools in this beautiful state.
Historically and culturally, Tennessee has a remarkable past. It was the last state to secede from the Union at the time of the Civil War. It was the first state to be readmitted when the Civil War ended. The Manhattan Project was headquartered in Oak Ridge.
The Grand Ole Opry, a little radio program out of Nashville, is the longest continuously running live radio program in the world. It’s been on the air since 1925. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
You might be surprised at all there is to learn about this amazing state, but the contents of these 10 museums to see in Tennessee this summer will make sure you never look at Tennessee the same way again.
10 Museums to see in Tennessee
Customs House Museum
Customs House Museum – Clarksville, TN – The Customs House Museum is the pride of Clarksville and Montgomery County. At 50,000 square feet, it is the second largest general interest museum in the state. A repository for numerous historical and culturally significant displays and exhibits, this museum has some amazing things. There is a 1842 log home, an historic Postmaster’s office, and even actual NASCAR racer driven by 4-time winner Jeff Purvis. All that, plus fun and educational interactive displays that the youngsters will love!
Creative Discovery Museum
Creative Discovery Museum – Chattanooga, TN – Don’t tell anyone, but there is actually education hidden within this “hands-on” museum. Children have an opportunity to experience eight permanent and one changing exhibit, so there is always something new for them to see. Learning is an immersive process here and visitors are encouraged to take part in the fun. There are creative and science-based activities available for all age groups. Science and art go hand in hand here and there is no telling what a child may create when given the opportunity.
American Museum of Science and Energy
American Museum of Science and Energy – Oak Ridge, TN – This museum is, in part, a tribute to the men and women who were part of the Manhattan Project during the second World War. There is also much about the future here, as well as the past. But this fantastic facility gives visitors an idea of what it took to create Oak Ridge, and what can be accomplished with the knowledge that was gained here over the years. A variety of exhibits and displays helps guests better understand the world of the atom. It’s a great way to learn how atomic energy can be harnessed to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels in many areas.
Johnny Cash Museum
Johnny Cash Museum – Nashville, TN – Whatever you know or think you know about Johnny Cash, the information in this museum will astound you. Covering all aspects of this beloved entertainer’s life, you will hear and see things that are available nowhere else. This facility is one of only six attractions in Nashville to receive the much-coveted “AAA Gem” rating. The displays and exhibits are first-class all the way, just like Johnny would have wanted. As you make your way through this extraordinary place, you can almost imagine the Man in Black coming around the corner to greet you personally.
National Civil Rights Museum
National Civil Rights Museum – Memphis, TN– The National Civil Rights Museum is life changing. The incredible historic collections of objects, photographs, and documents reveal so much. This museum is about more than just the Civil Rights movement here in the United States. It also addresses “slave culture” and International human rights. Displays highlight various aspects of African-American history. With an array of films, oral histories, and interactive exhibits, this museum teaches people more about this important period in history. The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel – the same motel Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, was assassinated.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum – Chattanooga, TN – Railroads were a critical part of Tennessee’s history and vital to its development. Thanks to the efforts of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, this heritage is not lost to time. You can take a ride on a fully-restored train. It is a fitting way to honor the role that railroads have played in our great state. Thanks to this museum, an incredible amount of equipment has been collected and restored. It is all there to show visitors what the Golden Age of Railroading was all about. Schedule your tour ahead of time so you can select the trip that best fits your schedule.
East Tennessee History Center
East Tennessee History Center – Knoxville, TN – If you are heading to the Knoxville area, make time to see the East Tennessee History Center. As you view the beautifully curated displays, you will gain better understanding of the history of this part of the state. East Tennessee has its own unique culture and history and it is worth your time to explore it. The museum has lovingly preserved many artifacts and oral histories of the region. They tell the stories of those who spent lifetimes developing East Tennessee into the magical blend of past and present that it is today.
Tennessee State Museum
Tennessee State Museum – Nashville, TN – This breathtaking museum has been a “work in progress” since 1817. This collection of artifacts from Tennessee history has grown more impressive with each passing year. Encompassing almost 120,000 square feet, the Tennessee State Museum covers the state’s history from prehistoric Indian culture up to the present day. There are also many changing exhibits here, so be sure to check their calendar for upcoming events.
Fire Museum of Memphis
Fire Museum – Memphis, TN – The Fire Museum of Memphis is housed in Fire Engine House Number One in downtown Memphis. The purpose of this museum is two-fold. First, it celebrates the history of firefighting. The vast array of retired equipment helps visitors appreciate the evolution of firefighting over the years. The second purpose of this great museum is to educate the public about fire safety and fire prevention. Through safety and prevention, they hope to reduce the number of times brave firefighters will have to put their lives on the line for their community.
Tennessee Aquarium – Chattanooga, TN – Imagine following a single drop of water on its journey from a mountain stream. Watch it move through numerous habitats, all the way to the ocean. That is just one of the adventures guess can enjoy at the Tennessee Aquarium. Enjoy the River Otter Falls, Lemur Forest, and Alligator Bayou in perfect safety. Enjoy a guided tour with experienced naturalists who can answer questions about the local wildlife. This is an opportunity you won’t soon forget.