Living history museums immerse you in the past and can help you feel more connected to ancestors. Here are some of the best living history attractions in the world and tips for planning your visit.You can also check out our list of best living history museums in the US.
Living history attractions recreate history in a lifelike way. They are akin to visiting a movie set for a particular time and place in history. You might enter a barn to find a leather-aproned blacksmith raising a hammer over a piece of red-hot iron. A cook in long skirts may turn from the hearth to offer you a taste of fresh-baked bread. You may stroll down a cobblestone street that echoes with the clip-clop of horses’ hooves and the creaking of carriage wheels.
Best Living History Museums Worldwide
Many countries and regions host living history museums that celebrate local cultures, trades, arts, and history. Here are a few attractions around the world that offer a sense of what life was like in former times.
Land of Legends, Lejre, Zealand, Denmark
Land of Legends tells stories that span thousands of years of Danish history, from the mid-1800s back to the Viking age and even to the Iron and Stone Ages. Tour historical homesteads that recreate an era’s buildings, boats, livestock, daily handicrafts, and chores. Step into a Stone Age canoe, throw a javelin, grind flour to make your own bread, chop wood, or watch pottery being made. You can even attend a Viking battle training session!
Ecomusée d'Alsace, Ungersheim, France
The largest open-air museum in France, the Ecomusée d'Alsace recreates an entire Alsatian village from about 100 to 150 years ago. Enter old homes filled with the furniture, clothing, and other household items of yesteryear. Wander through beautiful gardens, where you may spot storks nesting on housetops or a gaggle of geese along a footpath. Enjoy demonstrations by a blacksmith or potter, and ride in a boat or horse-drawn wagon.
Kommern Open Air Museum, Kommern, Germany
The Kommern Open Air Museum celebrates Germany’s storied people in recreated clusters of historical buildings and even an old marketplace. Reenactors take on the roles of peasant, cartwright, mousetrap peddler, blacksmith, and others who discuss their trades with you. You can smell fresh-baked bread as it emerges from a wood-fired oven, greet farmstead animals, and see what local residents grew in their gardens in times past. A restaurant serves regional dishes from the Eifel, Westerwald, Bergisches Land, and Lower Rhine.
Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh, Northern Ireland
The unique Ulster American Folk Park shares the migration experiences of Northern Irish immigrants to North America. In thatched Ulster cottages and log cabins, you can watch costumed staff demonstrate traditional crafts and share their food. Board a life-size ship to see what it was like to travel across the sea during the 1800s. Follow the immigrants even farther—into the covered wagons and homesteads of the United States frontier.
Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia, United States
Colonial Williamsburg calls itself the world’s largest living history museum. Its recreated city brings to life the British colonial experience of the 1700s. Meet and interact with interpreters who portray various historical figures, watch master tradespeople and their apprentices at work, and ask them about their tools and techniques.
St. Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff, Wales
The St. Fagans National Museum of History celebrates Welsh life and history dating back several centuries. Visit the 16th-century St Fagans castle and gardens, along with more than 40 other historical buildings: homes, mills, a working farm with native livestock, a bake house, a tannery, an old hotel, a workmen’s institute, and more.
Finding and Visiting Living History Museums
These are just a few of the many spectacular living history attractions around the world. Explore a directory of living history destinations at the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums website.
Here are some tips for planning a more meaningful and enjoyable visit to a living history museum:
- Confirm that it will be open. Check online calendars for daily demonstrations and special events.
- Give yourself at least a half-day to visit most places. They are designed to be explored on foot and at a leisurely pace.
- Dress for the weather and for walking. A significant part of your experience may take place outdoors. Wear sturdy shoes, and don’t carry a heavy bag.
- Don’t be shy.Ask staff, volunteers, artisans, and others about their jobs, period clothing,tools, and skills. Try whatever activities are offered.
Even without visiting a living history museum, you can learn more about your ancestral places with FamilySearch’s country pages. Not sure where your family is from? Discover your family’s roots using the FamilySearch Family Tree.
Heritage Travel: Everything You Need to Know
9 Best Living History Museums in the United States