Pärnu Museum was founded by Society of Archaeology (Pernauer Alterthumforschende Gesellschaft) of the Baltic Germans who were history enthusiasts. Society was established in 1896 and its aim was to study, present and preserve local history. On November 3th, 1896 at the first general meeting of Society of Archaeology it was decided to open the collection which was grown both through donations and purchases to a wider audience.
Thus a museum, previously available only to a narrow circle of people, in 1909, moved into the building located at the address Elevandi 7. This building burned down in September 1944, during World War II. Fire severely damaged a collection and many unique items were destroyed. However, most of the items were hidden outside of the town and were therefore saved.
In 1939-1940, Society of Archaeology did not last due to leaving of the Baltic Germans (Umsiedlung) and they had to transfer the artifacts to the possession of a new specially created society. In October 1940, museum collections were nationalized by the Soviet government. Since 1944, after the Soviet occupation of Estonia, the museum was relocated into two-story brick building Aia 4. This house was built for commercial space on the ground and living quarters on the second floor.
The house was rebuilt in accordance with the museum requirements at the time. On September 22th, 1971, a new permanent exhibition was opened. Already at that time, there was too little space for the museum's needs and collection. Museum's collection had grown to 83,160 items plus the material accumulated in recent years in the course of archaeological fieldwork. In 1948 the first museum scientific expedition took place. The destination of the expedition was Kihnu Island and graphic artist Olev Soans worked as an expedition artist.
A renovated storehouse of the XIX century on the banks of the river Pärnu at 3 Aida became a new location of the museum.
Updated Pärnu Museum offers both traditional and interactive solutions in order to enable visitors to go through all 11,000 years of Estonian history from the time of Early Mesolithic settlement, learn about the life of aristocrats having a good time and about the proclamation of the Republic of Estonia, as well as get acquainted with the lifestyles and shopping habits of Hanseatic city. In addition to exhibits, the museum has a whole floor for temporary exhibitions, the cafe which has a wide range of historical and modern food experiences, and a plenty entertainment for the whole family!
Pärnu Museum has a branch at 37 Jannseni - Memorial Museum of the Estonian poetess Lydia Koidula, which is located in a school building, built in 1850 for Estonians of suburb on the right bank of Pärnu River.