Kids have long been fascinated by pirates, as evidenced by the number of pirate movies, shows, rides, and products that exist. But most of these are focused on the mythology of pirates – with things like buried treasure, hook arms, and walking the plank taking center stage. If you are instead interested in a fun learning experience focused on real pirates, visit the Whydah Pirate Museum, a museum, and attraction for all ages located in Yarmouth, MA (on Cape Cod). There, you see the only authentic pirate treasure in the world and see real pirate artifacts.
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Guide to the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth, MA
What is the Whydah Pirate Museum?
The Whydah Pirate Museum, which is open year-round, opened in 2016 and is an interactive/science museum and exhibit showcasing the remains of the shipwrecked pirate ship, the Whydah. This ship started as a slave ship and was taken over by pirate captain Sam Bellamy. It was shipwrecked in 1717 off the coast of Wellfleet MA during a terrible Noreaster’ storm.
In the 1980s, underwater archaeologist explorer Barry Clifford found the remains of the ship off the coast of Cape Cod. Recovery of the ship’s remains is ongoing, although there are so many artifacts that have already been found and restored. These are on display in the Whydah Pirate Museum for the public to see.
The Whydah is a great option to explore when you’ve had enough of the Cape Cod sun or on a cold or rainy Cape Cod day. It’s also the perfect place to visit in the offseason on Cape Cod. Just keep in mind that most people have the same idea on rainy summer days, so you’ll want to buy tickets in advance.
Entrance to the Whydah Pirate Museum
The museum is open year-round, although hours and days in the off-season are limited. Typically, they are open on weekends and school vacations during the winter months but check their website in advance. Timed tickets are available in advance, and are a good idea to guarantee admission at a specific time (especially in the busy season).
Ticket prices vary based on the season. In the current off-season, they are free for kids 4 and under, $11 for kids 5-15, $15 for adults 16-64, and $13 for seniors 65+. An optional audio tour is also available for an additional fee and can be purchased at the front of the museum.
What You’ll See at the Whydah Pirate Museum
Once you arrive at the pirate museum, you’ll wait in the lobby for an introductory, continuously running five-minute video. The video gives some background about the Whydah as well as information about the recovery of the remains. In that room, you’ll also see the ship’s bell.
After the video, you are free to walk around the museum at your own pace. There are lots of small rooms with various exhibits, including some interactive exhibits. Many of the exhibits do have signs with large explanations. While I enjoyed leisurely walking around and reading all of the signs, younger kids may not.
Despite that, you can still learn quite a bit from reading the headlines and looking at the artifacts. Alternatively, you could purchase the audio tour (we did not, however).
The highlight of the Whydah Pirate Museum is the fact that it offers the world’s only authenticated pirate treasure. Not only can you see a pirate ship treasure chest filled with coins, but there’s also an area where you can actually touch several of the silver coins.
Other artifacts on display include cannons, jewelry, grenades, bones (including a leg bone!), shells, and more. The museum does a great job of explaining the story of the Whydah, including the origins of the ship, how it was overtaken, and how it was shipwrecked during that fateful New England storm.
But, you’ll also learn about how pirates really lived, based upon what was learned about their lives from the shipwreck. Myths like buried treasure and “walking the plank” are dispelled.
At the end of the museum is a room dedicated to the ongoing restoration of the Whydah and its artifacts. These exhibits show how items are recovered and restored.
What to Expect From Your Visit
The museum is located right on the main road but is a bit offset. So, when driving, look for the large sign by the long driveway. Free parking is available in front of the museum.
There’s a small gift shop at the entrance, and restrooms are available. The museum is wheelchair and stroller accessible, although these items are not available to borrow or rent. There is no food at the museum.
Food and drink, as well as photography, is not permitted in the Whydah Pirate Museum. However, there is a small area by the lobby where you are able to take photos.
Overall, our visit took about 45 minutes. Once you enter the museum, you can take your time walking around. I’d plan on spending about 60 minutes there – more if you really want to read all of the various exhibits.
Where to Stay for Your Cape Cod Vacation
Yarmouth is located in the mid-Cape section of Cape Cod and is pretty centrally located. If you aren’t staying in Yarmouth, you could definitely visit for a day trip. There are plenty of vacation homes in the area, and here are some popular and well-rated hotels (keep in mind that some hotels are open seasonally).
Where To Eat Before or After Your Visit
While there isn’t a snack bar or restaurant in the museum, there are plenty of nearby restaurants in Yarmouth. The closest is Captain Parkers, which is located in front of the Whydah and is open year-round. Our other favorites, Skipper Chowder House and Tugboats, are open seasonally.
To learn more about the Whydah Pirate Museum and to purchase timed tickets, visit their website.