Open-air museums or ethnographic museums, according to UNESCO, are institutions that reenact the everyday life of the people from bygone years. Also called living history museums and folk museums, most of the exhibits are outside, and not just inside a building.
Check out our selection of 10 best open-air museums in the world that showcase authentic settings with costumes, cookwares, musical instruments, artifacts, and some dedicated to displaying historic buildings in their original village settings.
1. Skansen Open-Air Museum (Skansen Folk Museum)
Skansen was the first open-air museum in the world. Opened in 1891, guests can discover 500 years of Swedish history, learn about Sami Village in Lapland, see over 150 different historic houses from all over Sweden, some dating back to the 14th-century.
The staff wears traditional costumes from areas and eras they represent, and guests can try baked goods in Bageriet served in an 1870s Stockholm house, just like a bakery in the 19th-century Stockholm.
This folk museum is located on Djurgården island, close to Vasa Museum and Abba Museum.
2. Sovereign Hill
Australia’s top open-air museum, Sovereign Hill is located in Ballarat, about a one and a half-hour drive from Melbourne. The museum showcases the first ten years of gold mining in Ballarat, from the time gold was first discovered in the 1850s.
Stroll or take a horse-drawn carriage and ride along the old streets lined with old houses, shops, and workshops. Highlights of Sovereign Hill include workshop demonstrations by costumed staff members, a 152-pound gold Welcome nugget, gold panning at Red Gully Creek, Eureka Stockade (site of the 1854 Miner’s Rebellion), and Gold Museum.
3. The National Folk Museum of Korea
The National Folk Museum of Korea is a combination of an open-air museum and indoor exhibition halls. It has almost 100,000 artifacts from pre-historic times to 1910 (end of the Joseon Dynasty) displayed in three main halls – the Korean People Hall, the Korean Way of Life Hall, and Life Cycle of the Koreans Hall.
Located inside Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, the open-air museum is on the eastern side of the palace. See a traditional 19th-century village lined with old houses and shops, and learn about the Korean’s cultural beliefs and agricultural lifestyles.
4. Beamish Living Museum
At the Beamish Living Museum, you can experience first hand the living conditions in Northeast England from the 1820s to the 1940s. See how the Industrial Revolution changed the agricultural life of the people in Durham county’s countryside.
Beamish is also known as the Living Museum of the North; this 300-acre open-air museum has staff dressed in period costumes tending the old sweet shop, bakery, garage, co-op store, and more.
The buildings in Beamish are rebuilt from brick and materials from the original homes in the region. Check out the 1820s Pockerley Old Hall, Herron’s Bakery in the 1900s Town, an old school building in the 1900s Pit Village, the 1940s farmhouse, and the Edwardian era’s Rowley Station.
5. Norsk Folkemuseum
Norsk Folkemuseum, also known as the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, is one of the world’s oldest and biggest open-air museums featuring over 160 historic buildings from all over Norway.
The museum showcases Norwegian architecture and lifestyle from the Middle Ages to the 20th-century. The oldest building at the museum is the Gol Stave Church, built in the 1200s.
Norsk presents numerous exhibits, and one that you should check out is the history of knitting from the 1600s to the present.
6. Colonial Williamsburg
Watch the period of the American Revolution comes alive in Colonial Williamsburg.
Located in Williamsburg, VA, Colonial Williamsburg is America’s largest outdoor living history museum showcasing America’s 18th-century colonial capital. There are 40 historic sites and trades, four historic taverns, and two art museums.
To make the most of your visit, use the suggested itineraries by Colonial Williamsburg. https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.org/visit/itineraries/?from=navvisit For example, foodies can learn about colonial gardening, how the food was prepared during colonial times, and check out the housewares at the Tin Shop.
7. Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum
Romania’s Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum in northern Bucharest displays almost 300 old buildings from the towns and villages of Romania, spanning over three centuries. 60 are original, and the oldest is from the 1700s. The buildings are different from each region.
See windmill, churches, homesteads, houses, and watermills from regions like Transylvania, Moldavia, and Oltenia.
8. Écomusée d’Alsace
In France, there is the Écomusée d’Alsace, an authentic Alsatian village from the early 20th century. There over 80 buildings, including an old schoolhouse, church, train station, and sawmill. The museum has over 40,000 artifacts, consisting of cookware, clothing, furniture, tools, farming equipment dating back from the 1800s to the 1950s.
There’s also a section in the museum that is dedicated to Living in the 21st Century.
9. Museo Colonial Aleman de Frutillar
To preserve the lifestyle and culture of the first German immigrants to Frutillar by Lake Llanquihue, the Richter family donated over seven acres of land to build an open-air German Colonial Museum. This museum features wooden houses in 19th-century German architecture, a water mill, workshops, and articles from German immigrants that first arrived in southern Chile in the mid-1800s.
10. Zaanse Schans Open Air Museum
If you enjoy looking at windmills and learning about cheese-making and wooden shoe carving, you must visit the Zaanse Schans open-air museum in Zaandijk, The Netherlands. It’s a small town located on the Zaan River, about 40 minutes from Amsterdam Central.
In the 1700s, there were around 600 windmills in Zaanse Schans. Now, there are eight that are from the 18th and 19th centuries.