The eclectic museums of Mississippi River Country help tell the story of the heart of America. Visitors can travel to world-renowned art museums to learn about local artists as well as global masters. Or, they can hear and see the story of the iconic music that defines the Mississippi River region. Here’s a look at some of the must-see museums in Mississippi River Country.
Where to go: Art lovers will marvel at the works on display at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Located in the Lowry Hill neighborhood just outside the city’s downtown, the Walker Art Center is an internationally recognized museum that features 11 galleries of contemporary and modern art, as well as venues for movies, theater and live music. Don’t miss a photo op of the iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry” by Claes Oldenburg, part of the Sculpture Garden on the grounds outside the museum.
Other options: The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul offer a large collection of museums that tell the story of the region, like the Mill City Museum and the Science Museum of Minnesota. Looking for a unique museum experience? Head to the SPAM Museum in nearby Austin to learn the story of this ubiquitous canned meat.
Getting there: International visitors can fly into Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
Where to go: Discover the history and cultural impact of America’s most famous motorcycle brand at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. Filled with interactive, eye-catching exhibits, this 20-acre museum shares the story of Harley-Davidson through historical displays, video installations and more.
Other options: The Milwaukee Art Museum boasts a collection of nearly 25,000 works of art and delights architectural fans with its Santiago Calatrava-designed “Wings.” Near the Mississippi River on the other side of the state, head to the small town of Pepin to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and see a replica of the famed author’s childhood cabin.
Getting there: Milwaukee is served by General Mitchell International Airport. Pepin is a 90-minute drive from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
What to do: Chicago’s Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. Founded in 1893, the museum boasts an incredible collection—more than 40 million artifacts and specimens, though obviously not all of them are on display—and welcomes more than 1.5 million visitors a year. Be sure to visit Sue, the largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered.
Visitors exploring Illinois’ Mississippi River region can learn about the historic settlers of the area at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, in Collinsville. Discover the role the Mississippi River and other waterways play in the area’s ecosystem at the National Great Rivers Museum in Alton.
Other options: Chicago is filled with dozens of other museums and educational sites, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Science & Industry, the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and Shedd Aquarium. Head to the state capital of Springfield to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to learn all about America’s 16th president.
Getting there: Chicago is served by O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport. From St. Louis Lambert International Airport in Missouri, Alton is a 25-minute drive and Springfield is a 90-minute drive.
What to do: Located in the heart of downtown Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum tells the story of this uniquely American art form. See artifacts from throughout country music’s history and explore rotating exhibitions that share the stories of the pioneers of country music.
Learn about more musical pioneers at the world-famous Sun Studio in Memphis, where legendary musicians like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis all recorded. Take a brief tour to learn about the iconic history of the studio, where musical acts still record to this day.
Other options: In Memphis, visitors will find the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that tells the story of the birth of rock and soul music, as well as the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which features interactive exhibits and videos that tell the story of this notable record label.
Getting there: Tennessee is served by two major airports, Nashville International Airport and Memphis International Airport.
What to do: Head to Bentonville—birthplace of the Walmart chain of superstores—in northwestern Arkansas to discover the stunning Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. This museum, founded by the Walton family, offers free admission and features artwork from luminaries like Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell and Winslow Homer. Sculpture and walking trails link the museum’s 120-acre park to downtown Bentonville.
Other options: Bentonville is also home to the Walmart Museum, which shares the history of the global retailer and allows visitors to tour Sam Walton’s original five-and-dime store. Learn about traditional arts, crafts and music at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View.
Getting there: Bentonville visitors can fly into Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, which serves nearby Fayetteville. The closest airport to Mountain View is Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, which is about a two-hour drive.
What to do: Music lovers will find plenty to explore in Mississippi, but one of the state’s newest attractions can be found in the small town of Cleveland. The GRAMMY Museum Mississippi is the only GRAMMY Museum located outside of Los Angeles, and this fun, interactive museum uses cutting-edge technology to explore the history of recorded music. The facility also hosts educational camps, lectures and live concerts throughout the year.
Other options: In nearby Clarksdale, blues aficionados can visit the Delta Blues Museum to learn about the Mississippi River region’s iconic musicians and see the cabin where legendary bluesman Muddy Waters lived. Head south to Indianola to visit the B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center to learn about the legendary musician and the Delta’s rich musical heritage.
Getting there: Visitors can fly into Memphis International Airport and drive to Clarksdale (1 hour, 25 minutes), Cleveland (2 hours) and Indianola (2 hours, 30 minutes).
What to do: New Orleans is one of America’s truly unique cities. To that end, it’s also home to some truly unique museums. The New Orleans Museum of Art is the city’s oldest fine arts institution and boasts an impressive permanent collection of nearly 40,000 paintings, sculptures and other creations. Art lovers can also explore the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, home to a growing collection of works by creators of “self-taught, outsider and visionary art.” The Historic New Orleans Collection consists of 10 historic buildings in the French Quarter that tell the stories of the city’s artists and historical figures.
Other options: Explore natural wonders at the Audubon Nature Institute’s collection of New Orleans attractions—the Audubon Zoo and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Uncover curiosities and exhibits about early medical practices at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.
Getting there: Visitors to New Orleans can fly into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.