From extensive complexes that will keep visitors engaged for hours, to charming and historic destinations that are stocked with period antiques, New Bern’s museums are a major reason why visitors return to this region year after year.
Discover all the ways to soak up the local history, culture, and centuries of stories, and pay a visit to these museums that will fascinate visitors of all ages, and all interests.
Tryon Palace is arguably New Bern’s most popular attraction. This meticulously restored former governor’s mansion features a collection of historic buildings and structures, which are manned by costumed interpreters and filled with period antiques and / or replica equipment to highlight what life was like for New Bern’s earliest colonists in the late 1700s. Visitors can watch skilled demonstrations of domestic necessities like cooking and quilting, tour the grand rooms of the main mansion home where George Washington once visited, and even stroll through the 16 acres of period gardens that outline centuries of history. With special events throughout the year, including Christmas candlelight tours and patriotic Independence Day celebrations, every visit to the Tryon Palace presents an opportunity to learn something new in a beautifully decadent and historically accurate atmosphere.
The 60,000’ square foot and $65 million dollar North Carolina History Center is New Bern’s newest and most extensive museum. This large complex in the heart of the downtown area is actually home to several inner museums and exhibits, which includes the Pepsi Family Center and the Regional History Museum. Kids will adore the collection of hands-on activities in the Pepsi Center, such as a virtual “time machine,” while patrons of all ages will be fascinated by the area’s centuries of history that’s outlined in extensive detail within the Regional History Museum. The complex also features an on-site café, a charming gift shop, and an art space – the Duffy Exhibit Gallery – which showcases fine pieces from artists from all across the region. Located adjacent to Tryon Palace, a tour of both sites is a full-day adventure that will both impress and inspire visitors of all varieties.
The New Bern Firemen's Museum is a quirky and yet thoroughly fascinating museum that offers a world of charms for visitors of all ages. Located within the original old fire station, and welcoming visitors for more than 60 years, the museum is packed with exhibits and displays that highlight the history of the oldest fire company in the state. Visitors will relive the Great Fire of 1922, which destroyed more than 1,000 structures in the downtown area, will be able to view a collection of antique fire trucks and equipment up-close, and will even meet the stuffed fire horse Fred, who was a local icon for decades. With cool programs and events that include an annual BBQ and Blue Jeans gala and a Junior Firefighter Program, there’s always an opportunity to experience something new, unique, and all-together fun at the famed the New Bern Firemen's Museum
Downtown explorers can pay a visit to the exact spot where Pepsi Cola was born by stopping by the centrally located “Birthplace of Pepsi” and Pepsi Store. This small museum and gift shop is situated in the precise locale where a local pharmacist, Caleb Davis Bradham, decided to use a surplus of sugar to create a new carbonated beverage for his patrons. The ensuing “Brad’s Drink” that was created in 1893 would later be named “Pepsi” in 1898, and thus, a legendary cola was born. The site of Brad’s endeavor was transformed into the Pepsi Store roughly a century later, and today, modern visitors can tour 100 years’ worth of memorabilia, (including photos and old advertisements), find a wealth of Pepsi-related merchandise, and can even enjoy a Pepsi on-site, courtesy of the old fashioned soda fashion. Part museum, part landmark, and part souvenir shop, the Pepsi Store is a must-see destination for visitors of all tastes.
The New Bern Academy Museum is a fascinating destination, inside and out. Housed within an original 1809 brick schoolhouse, the classrooms within this former school have been transformed to include four distinctive exhibits on unique chapters in New Bern’s history, including the Civil War, New Bern Architecture, and the history of the building itself. Through the intricate displays, visitors will learn what life was like for New Bern residents during the Union occupation, and will also be able to trace the school’s unique history as an academy for both boys and girls, a hospital during the Civil War era, and later, the stately museum it is today. Unique pieces within the museum include a Civil War drum captured at the Battle of New Bern on March 14, 1861, a Civil War era patriotic apron, and an amputation kit from the period, as well as other artifacts and relics from the Civil War years. With stunning architecture throughout and displays that will grab attention, the New Bern Academy Museum is truly an all-encompassing destination for local history.
Museum fans who appreciate a little fresh air will want to make a trek just five miles east of New Bern to discover the historic New Bern Battlefield Park – a destination that’s famed as the site of the Civil War battle on March 14, 1862, that resulted in the Union occupation of the region. Spanning 30 acres, this site has remained virtually untouched since the battle commenced, and visitors can still see the trenches dug by the soldiers who met on the battlefield more than 150 years ago. A “History Walk” outdoor exhibit is found on the site, which outlines the story of New Bern in the Civil War through 35 interpretive panels, and which also serves as a scenic stroll that winds through woods and wetlands. With an on-site visitors’ center with additional exhibits and information, as well as an 11.5 ton granite monument honoring the soldiers who fought on that historic day, the New Bern Battlefield Park provides an incredible, up-close view of local Civil War history.
Visitors can peek into the life of New Bern’s original elite with a visit to the Attmore-Oliver House – a beautifully restored 1790 home that doubles as the home base for the New Bern Historical Society’s administrative offices. While the upstairs of the property is where the director and curator’s office are found, the downstairs of the Attmore-Oliver House has been carefully restored to showcase three room installations which depict a traditional upscale dining room, parlor, and sitting room of the mid-19th century. The historic property also has an on-site exhibit on the Civil War in New Bern which makes it a fascinating spot for military history buffs. Open for self-guided tours throughout the year, a visit to this historic property provides an insider’s view of what life was like for New Bern’s most prominent residents.
Like many historic structures in New Bern, the John Wright Stanly House has a unique history that spans several centuries, and a stunning aesthetic that serves as a perfect representation of the lifestyle of New Bern’s earliest residents. Built in the late 1770s, the stunning Georgian style home will impress visitors from the inside out, thanks to its massive central staircase, unique two-story and five-bay floor plan, and gracious exterior with stately landscaping and white picket fence. During its lifetime, the John Wright Stanly House served as a private residence, the brief headquarters of Civil War General Ambrose E. Burnside, and a convent for the Catholic nuns who served at the nearby Union hospitals. Today, the structure has been moved to a central downtown location, and is open to visitors who want to tour the impressive property and view a number of Georgian and Federal period artifacts and furnishings up-close. Beautiful throughout, the John Wright Stanly House is a fascinating living history museum where the daily life of New Bern’s elite is on full display.
The small town of Pollocksville, which is located just a few miles west of the New Bern city limits, is home to one of the region’s most unique and historic treasures – the pristine Foscue Plantation. Built in 1824 by local resident Simon Foscue Jr., this stately plantation has been meticulously maintained through nine generations of Foscue family members, and is open on Thursdays and via advanced reservations for visitors who want an intricate tour through local history. The high style antebellum décor includes countless period antiques and furnishings, and the property boasts three levels of detailed rooms which includes a formal parlor, a lavish dining area, and a working basement. The grounds are equally enticing, with lush gardens and forests, a family cemetery, and acres and acres of plantation land, and the quiet setting as well as the period touches make this destination seem like a relic trapped in time. Fascinating for history buffs and architecture fans alike, the Foscue Plantation is an enchanting stop during any tour of historic coastal North Carolina.
Take a trip to the nearby town of Havelock to discover two unique exhibits that are housed within the sprawling Havelock Tourist and Event Center. The Eastern Carolina Aviation Heritage exhibit outlines the rich legacy of the Havelock-Cherry Point area’s notoriety as the largest Marine Corps aviation base in the country, via a collection of replicas, authentic equipment and artifacts, and even real life airplanes that are stationed within the grand halls and throughout the exterior grounds. The nearby Havelock Historical Exhibit highlights Havelock’s unique local history, which begins with the original Native America settlements, and which traces the timeline all the way to the town’s incorporation in 1959. Civil War artifacts are found throughout this exhibit, which includes a detailed model of a Civil War-era fort. An ideal destination for military history buffs and aviation enthusiasts, this sprawling collection of exhibits and airplanes is a can’t-miss site for Havelock visitors.
Visitors can take a 35 minute drive northeast to explore one of the most unique museums in the Eastern North Carolina region – the Aurora Fossil Museum. Established in 1976 and filled with fossils from both the local region and from all over the world, the museum is a fascinating destination for learning, first hand, about North Carolina’s natural history. The museum features an on-site Learning Center with a number of displays that include a “shark hall” with giant megalodon teeth, various remnants of the Ice Age Mastodon, a collection of sparkling gems and minerals, and even a fluorescent mineral room. Perhaps the biggest attraction within the museum, however, is the renowned Fossil Pit, where visitors can dig for their own treasures such as sharks’ teeth, ancient shells, corals, and much, much, more. Open year-round with an impressive gift shop, a trip to the Aurora Fossil Museum will be a fun outing that will result in a collection of fascinating, hand-picked souvenirs.
The town of Washington, NC, (which is located about 45 minutes north of New Bern), is a fun day trip destination for a myriad of reasons, and museum fans who make the trek will want to devote some time to exploring the sprawling North Carolina Estuarium. This extensive center features more than 200 exhibits that chronicle the various ecosystems found in this corner of the Inner Banks, and also features living aquariums, historic artifacts and boats, audio-visual presentations, and a cool boardwalk that hovers over the Pamlico River. Special programs are available for groups, and the friendly environmental education staff are happy to answer questions on the unique critters and habitats that call this coastal region home. With an equally engaging gift shop on-site – the Crab Pot Gift Shop – visitors will enjoy a fun-filled morning or afternoon of exploring, learning, shopping, and simply having a ball.
Take a trip to the town of Beaufort – located roughly a 45-60 minute drive away – to visit one of the most popular museums in the Crystal Coast region. The North Carolina Maritime Museum features a treasure trove of exhibits that outline the region’s rich maritime heritage, from the early Native Americans to the modern commercial fishermen who carve a living from the adjacent sound and ocean waters. The museum is also famed for its relics from Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which was excavated off the coastline just a few years ago. In addition, visitors will be able to explore seashells from 150 countries around the globe, see Civil War artifacts and memorabilia, learn more about the local ecosystems, and even participate in fun programs like the “Build a Boat in a Day” workshop. Located in the heart of Downtown Beaufort, the NC Maritime Museum is a fun destination that will engage visitors of all ages.
Visitors can learn about centuries of coastal North Carolina history through period clothing and artifacts, photos and publications, and a wealth of other relics and memorabilia with a visit to the History Museum of Carteret County. Located in the town of Morehead City, which is situated about 45 minutes south of New Bern, this cool museum has a treasure trove of exhibits that change regularly, and which highlight the rich stories of this famed corner of the coastline. A research library is located on site with more than 10,000 materials, and staff are on hand to answer questions and provide more info on the unique chapters of Carteret County History. From a casual everyday visit to a detailed examination through the impressive library, the History Museum of Carteret County is both a historical resource and a fun destination for visitors of all interests.
Tips, Tricks, and Considerations for Exploring New Bern’s Museums
- A museum visit can be an inexpensive way to explore the town! Many of New Bern’s local museums are reasonably priced, (or even free), and are fascinating enough to provide a full morning or afternoon of fun.
- Want to learn more? Then sign up for a tour! The vast New Bern historic district includes 492 contributing structures, and visitors can take their historical museum explorations out on the town through a wide array of walking tours, trolley tours, and even boat tours.
- Most all New Bern and surrounding area museums are open year-round, which means that visitors of all seasons can plan a trip to the museum(s) of their choice.
- Save time for the gift shop! The gift shops within the local museums are stocked with books, toys, and one-of-a-kind treasures that can’t be found anywhere else.
- Be sure and check out the local events calendars to make a New Bern visit even more special. Many museums host special programs including guest lecturers, kids’ activities, special tours, and more, which can enhance a typical museum visit.
New Bern has a vast and stunning collection of museums and sites, which is why it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Inner Banks. Plan a long getaway to see it all, and discover all there is to know about this historic, and enchanting, coastal town.