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Signature Museums Define Their Cities

The magic of museums is they are meccas of human memory and culture.

In addition to appealing to the senses and inspiring wonder in those who visit, museums display the great achievements of humans across time and cultures. These educational and aesthetic attractions usually have a connection to the area in which they’re located, making them quintessential stops when traveling to their cities. Their artifacts, exhibits and artworks can be varied but are often centered around a theme that contains a great deal of significance to the local culture and history.

For groups, a stop at these four top museums around the country is a must when traveling to their cities.

Field Museum


Chicago has no shortage of museums to educate and awe visiting groups, but the Field Museum stands out as one of its oldest and greatest. It’s considered by many to be one of the best natural history museums in the world and grew from a collection of items from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Its current building, known for its stately Greek-inspired architecture, opened to the public in 1921 on the bank of Lake Michigan.

The museum is home to a large selection of must-see artifacts and exhibitions that explore the natural sciences and humanity across time. One of the most popular exhibitions is the Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet, the museum’s most-visited exhibition, which tells the story of Earth, from its origins to present day. Within the exhibit, visitors can see SUE, the largest and best-preserved adult Tyrannosaurus rex in the world, as well as the skeletons of the first Brachiosaurus ever found and one of the largest dinosaurs to ever live. Another popular exhibition within the Field Museum includes Inside Ancient Egypt, where visitors can learn about the customs of ancient Egyptians and view a replica of an Egyptian tomb and a mummy.

Museum of the U.S. Air Force

Dayton, Ohio

Detailing the birth of aviation from the Wright Flyer to today’s most advanced space vehicles and technology, the Museum of the U.S. Air Force is the top attraction in Dayton. Following World War I, U.S. Army Air Service engineers established a research collection; these were the museum’s first artifacts. It opened in 1923, making it one of the oldest military museums in the country. It has moved several times to accommodate its rapidly growing collections but has remained in its current location since 1971.

“No other century has witnessed as much social, cultural and technological change, and the history of the Department of the Air Force coincides with those changes,” said Meghan Anderson, curator of the museum’s research division.

Some of the museum’s most iconic artifacts and exhibitions include significant historic aircraft, such as the Memphis Belle, a B-17F heavy bomber that symbolizes 30,000 airmen who died during World War II. Also on display is SAM 26000, also known as Air Force One, which was the first jet aircraft built for an American president, and the Titan IVB Rocket, the largest single-use rocket used by the Department of the Air Force. The museum has four exhibit hangars, a missile gallery, a theater, an outdoor air park and Memorial Park.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Nashville, Tennessee

Country music is an essential part of Nashville’s past and present. Some of the most legendary figures in the genre and in the entire history of music got their start in this musical city, from Garth Brooks to Taylor Swift. As such, it makes sense for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to be in the heart of downtown Nashville. First opened in 1967, this museum has since opened a massive complex that now features 350,000 square feet of exhibition space and consistently changing exhibits and artifacts.

Prominent exhibits such as Sing Me Back Home explore the roots of country music with rotating artifacts of significance to some of the genre’s most beloved artists. Throughout the museum, visitors will find instruments, stage-wear, recordings and films highlighting these musicians’ greatest contributions to American music. 

“First and foremost, we’re an educational institution,” said Dana Romanello, the associate director of museum sales. “We express that through a variety of educational programs. More than 100,000 people participate in those each year

The group experience at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is full of opportunities for hands-on learning. In addition to self-guided tours of the museum, groups can participate in songwriter workshops, where they can write a song with a Grammy-winning songwriter.

The Henry Ford

Dearborn, Michigan

Ford Motor Company was founded in Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, in 1903. The city has since become synonymous with automobiles, and especially the Ford name, so it makes sense that The Henry Ford was founded there in 1929 and is today the most popular attraction in Michigan. However, groups that expect the museum to revolve around Ford automobiles will be pleasantly surprised to find a mind-boggling variety of exhibits. Visitors may struggle to make the connection between the vast collection of artifacts, but it can all be connected through the theme of American innovation.

“It really is surprising and delightful around every corner,” said senior director of sales Amy Cox. “If you’re an automotive enthusiast you’ll love it. If you like the stories of American people and how they persevered, we have a million stories you’re going to love.”

American innovation is a broad subject, and the museum reflects this in its wide range of offerings for visitors. Within the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, the campus’ original 523,000-square-foot indoor museum, groups will find prominent exhibits such as the bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, the limousine President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in during his trip to Dallas and the theater chair President Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when his 1864 assassination took place.

Greenfield Village, The Henry Ford’s 80-acre outdoor living history museum open during the warmer months, gives groups outstanding opportunities to experience history firsthand. They can step into Thomas Edison’s laboratory or the Wright Brothers’ Workshop, which were transported from their original locations and rebuilt in the village. They can also ride in a Model T, tour a historically accurate 19th century working farm and hop aboard a real steam locomotive.