Sometimes a museum is more than a collection of artifacts.
From the historic halls of the Museum of the American Revolution to the secretive passageways of the International Spy Museum, there are a number of museums out there filled with much more than just unique and captivating collections. These places go beyond traditional exhibits — they are vibrant centers for interactive learning and discovery, hosting a variety of hands-on workshops, classes and immersive tours. Here, group travelers can step into a world where history and culture come alive, and every corner tells a story.
Join us as we uncover the extraordinary experiences that make these museums essential stops for groups looking for education, excitement and unforgettable moments.
New York City
Nestled in the bustling heart of New York City’s Lower East Side, the Tenement Museum offers an immersive journey into the American immigrant experience. Housed in a historic tenement building, the museum stands as a testament to the hopes, hardships and dreams of the thousands of immigrants who shaped the melting pot of America. Consisting of two historic tenement buildings in Manhattan’s iconic Lower East Side, the museum is a must-see.
“Groups have the opportunity to journey through the authentically reimagined homes of immigrant, migrant and refugee families that resided in urban tenements from the 1860s to the 1980s,” said Jamie Salen, vice president of marketing and communications at the Tenement Museum.
Groups can start their trip back in time with a guided tour of the apartments themselves, which have been accurately restored to showcase the 19th- and 20th-century homes of immigrant families.
The Tenement Museum’s experience also extends beyond its walls with its walking tours. These guided excursions take visitors on a historical journey through the Lower East Side. As you walk the streets of this iconic neighborhood, a museum educator will uncover the layers of history embedded in the buildings and streets around you.
This tour is a favorite, according to Salen. “Visitors get to explore often-forgotten places, unique spaces and untold stories that shaped one of America’s iconic immigrant neighborhoods,” she said.
Groups can also opt for the Essex Market tour, which gives visitors the opportunity to experience the history of the iconic Lower East Side neighborhood through food.
“Visitors first get the chance to explore one of our tenement family stories and then can make connections between past and present with taste samples from local vendors,” said Salen.
USS Lexington Museum
Corpus Christi, Texas
Floating atop the sparkling waters of Corpus Christi Bay, the USS Lexington Museum offers a unique glimpse into naval history aboard a legendary aircraft carrier. One of only five retired World War II aircraft carrier museums in the country, this majestic vessel has been transformed into a captivating museum that preserves the country’s rich history of naval aviation.
Onboard, visitors can explore the many exhibits and interactive displays that chronicle the ship’s service during World War II and beyond.
In addition to its exhibits, the USS Lexington Museum is well-known for its immersive tours. Groups can start with a guided tour that takes them through the public routes of the Lexington for a fun introduction to the vessel’s history. There’s also a Flight Operations Tour for a hands-on experience that simulates the life of a naval aviator, and a Hard Hat Tour that takes you deep into the ship’s inner workings. The Hard Hat Tour takes groups through 15 different sections — from the battle dressing station to the laundry area — and requires climbing steep ladders and navigating dimly lit compartments.
The most popular tour, however, takes place after the ship closes to regular visitors. As dusk falls, trained paranormal guides take guests through the ship’s most haunted areas for a ghost tour. This tour ventures into areas of the ship known for unexplained sightings and activities. Participants are encouraged to bring their own flashlights and can even use personal paranormal-detecting equipment to engage with the ship’s ghostly residents. The tour is a blend of historical insight and fun adventure, offering a unique experience for groups interested in the paranormal.
Mystic Seaport Museum
The Mystic Seaport Museum, located in the picturesque setting of Mystic, Connecticut, is a celebration of America’s rich maritime heritage. Renowned for its extensive collection of sailing ships and boats, the museum offers a unique glimpse into our seafaring past and the intricate skills that have helped humans navigate across the world’s oceans.
For group travelers with an interest in hands-on learning and historical crafts, the museum offers a number of workshops and classes. Participants can immerse themselves in historic trades classes, exploring creative pursuits like blacksmithing, ship carving, printing or coopering. Or they can step into a historic kitchen and learn the art of 19th-century cooking over an open flame.
“Open hearth cooking classes often sell out — and it helps that students are able to enjoy a meal at the end of class,” said director of interpretation Maria Petrillo. “Each class focuses on a theme — baking, seafood — and participants learn to prepare and cook a variety of different historical dishes in one class.”
Mystic Seaport Museum also offers boat-building classes for hands-on experience in nearly every aspect of traditional boat construction and maintenance, as well as in coastal and celestial navigation.
“Our woodcarving and blacksmithing classes are also very popular, and we hold several sessions each year,” said Petrillo. “Coopering classes last a full three days, but we almost always sell out since the class is so unique.”
Private classes are available. “Each class has a different maximum class size, so I’d recommend calling in advance to see what classes can be offered for a particular group,” Petrillo said.
International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., offers a unique and intriguing journey into the shadowy world of espionage.
“The Museum holds the largest collection of international espionage artifacts, with items ranging from shoe heel transmitters and lipstick pistols to Enigma machines and the ice axe that was used to kill Leon Trotsky,” said Aliza Bran, media relations manager at the museum.
Groups can explore exhibits on Cold War spies, the intricate world of cyber intelligence and even the real stories behind famous fictional spies.
“It’s a multidimensional experience with first-person accounts from real former intelligence officers and sources, immersive exhibit areas, and an interactive experience that allows each visitor to take on a cover identity, mission and codeword for their visit.”
For groups of 10 or more, the Spy Museum offers an enhanced visit experience.
“We can book really unique tours for groups, with former intelligence officers or historians as the guides,” said Bran. “Each person brings so much to the tour, from the content in the museum to their own personal experiences in the world of espionage and intelligence.”
When scheduled in advance, groups receive discounted rates, a dedicated arrival time, complimentary chaperone admission and organized entry through a dedicated group entrance.
The Museum of the American Revolution
Located in the heart of Philadelphia, the Museum of the American Revolution is dedicated to bringing to life the tumultuous era that birthed a nation. Through its extensive collection of authentic artifacts, immersive exhibits, engaging narratives, powerful theater experiences and interactive elements, the museum offers a comprehensive look into the American Revolutionary War and its profound impact on the country’s history. From George Washington’s original war tent to a range of Revolutionary War weapons and military drums, each item brings history to life.
For group travelers seeking an interactive historical experience, the museum’s Revolutionary City outdoor walking tour is a great choice.
“Our outdoor walking tours are a perfect complement to a visit to the museum and give visitors a deeper look into the museum’s revolutionary neighborhood,” said director of communications Alex McKechnie. “The museum is located just two blocks from Independence Hall in the heart of historic Philadelphia, where so many iconic moments from the American Revolution took place.”
At each location, the tour explores the stories and experiences of everyday people who lived, worked and played a role in the Revolutionary era. It’s a captivating journey that paints a detailed picture of the time, offering insights into the challenges and triumphs faced by those who witnessed the birth of a nation.
Group tours can accommodate up to 20 people, making it an ideal choice for larger groups seeking a private, tailored experience.