Spend the day interacting with paintings, pioneers and a U.S. president at these enlightening—and occasionally unconventional—stops.
Advertisement
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Credit: Bob Stefko

Seeking a world of discovery? The Midwest's museums deliver an astonishing variety of experiences. Whether you're headed for big cities or small towns, you'll find ways to explore history, food, culture and more.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois

Plan to spend three to four hours seeing it all at this presidential library. A re-creation of the one-room cabin Lincoln lived in (with eight family members, no less) is fascinating. The stirring Lincoln's Eyes show reflects on his legacy. 

The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, Kansas City, Missouri

The world's largest collection of fine-scale miniatures (more than 20,000 of  them) includes a replica of Louis XV's study in the Palace of Versailles, composed of 3,000 intricately gilded carvings. Nearly 60,000 vintage toys round out the mind-boggling array of items.

Boot Hill Museum
Credit: Doug Stremel

Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City, Kansas

Scoot your boots to Kansas to relive Front Street's infamous heydays at the jail, saloon and general store. Feel the floor shake during a simulated bison stampede, take a swig of sarsaparilla at the museum's Long Branch Saloon and watch shoot-outs during the summer months.

Air Zoo, Kalamazoo, Michigan

You don't have to love planes to be thrilled by this collection of more than 50 old and new aircraft. Retired pilots serve as docents and love to share their knowledge of the World War II-Era fighters and bombers. Younger visitors race to the amusement rides and soar through the sky inside flight simulators.

National Mustard Museum
Credit: Kevin J. Miyazaki

National Mustard Museum, Middleton, Wisconsin 

The Great Wall of Mustard celebrates ketchup's better half in all its brown, gold and nose-clearing variety 6 miles west of Madison. Admire antique mustard posts, shop for cheeky merch at the museum and don't miss the zany National Mustard Day festival in August.

Plains Art Museum, Fargo, North Dakota 

The sunny former International Harvester Building houses a collection of 4,000 pieces, including contemporary Native American art. Outside, see Pasteur Mudende's mural of Toni Morrison and the City Geode sculpture created by students at North Dakota State University.

National Music Museum, Vermillion, South Dakota

A Stradivarius violin, a 16th-century Italian harp and enough vintage brass to equip a parade of bands are among thousands of instruments at this newly expanded gem on the University of South Dakota campus. Stick around for frequent concerts and recording sessions. (As of July 2022, permanent exhibits were still closed for renovation, but the museum was open for special exhibits, concerts, programs and other events.)

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
Credit: Kevin J. Miyazaki

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Dubuque, Iowa

This riverfront experience features a touch tank of stingrays, the chance to tour a 1934 dredge boat and views into big aquariums full of river creatures. An indoor waterfall greets visitors to a space that celebrates all of America's great waterways.

Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana

This downtown museum—the only one of its kind in the Midwest—exhibits a broad range of  Native American and Western art. The gift shop is top-notch, and the Indian Market and Festival held each June showcases Native American storytellers, dancers, artists and singers. 

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Credit: Ryan Donnell

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

Situated along the Ohio River, this multilevel museum captures the history of enslaved Black people and their struggle for freedom. One of the most powerful exhibits is a slave pen moved here from a Kentucky farm.

The Archway, Kearney, Nebraska

A bridge soaring three stories over Interstate-80, this massive structure grabs attention with its log towers, huge steel girders and glittering winged sculptures. Inside, a two-level museum with interactive exhibits chronicles the Platte River valley's rich history as the gateway to the West.

Spam Museum, Austin, Minnesota

Learn all about the history of this spiced ground ham and pork product and the Hormel family who created it at the Spam Museum. A curated assortment of Spam commercials from around the world will have you giggling. And if you've been dying to know how many Spam cans tall you are, you'll finally get your answer here.