This post is about visiting the National Archives in Washington, DC, how to plan your visit, and what there is to see.
It's more than just the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
Do you need tickets to visit the National Archives?
Tickets are not required for visitors to the National Archives in the public line and there is no cost to visiting the National Archives.
There is no admission ticket to the National Archives but it can get crowded and getting through security on the unreserved entry line can last up to an hour from April-June and on holiday weekends.
TIP: If you're in the area and see there is no line, make a quick stop!
If you want to cut down on uncertainty and wait time, you can get tickets for a set entry time that allows you to skip most of the line.
There is a $1.50 processing fee per person and you can reserve up to 15 people. Admission is available 10:30 am - 3:30 pm with timed tickets.
You don't have to have these advanced tickets to enter, just if you want to enter at a set time and avoid the line.
Where is the National Archives Building in DC?
The National Archives has multiple facilities across the country but the National Archives Museum is in downtown DC on Constitution Ave NW between 7th and 9th St NW.
The closest Metro to the National Archives is Archives /Navy Memorial station on the Green/Yellow line.
The National Archives is conveniently located in downtown Washington DC so it's not a far walk to the National Gallery of Art or Smithsonian American History or Natural History Museums.
It's basically halfway between the US Capitol and the White House and while it is not technically far from the National Mall itself, it is not that close to the section that is home to the Washington Monument.
We recommend using this Google Map link for directions. If you are new to DC, then check out our guide on how to use the DC Metro.
Not far in College Park, Maryland is Archives II, which opened in 1984.
The majority of the collection is open to the public but it houses mostly 20th and 21st c. records.
Archives II also keeps secure high-profile artifacts that are classified, such as Adolf Hitler's Last Will and Testament.
National Archives Hours
The National Archives is open daily from 10 am - 5:30 pm with the last admission at 5 pm.
The building is closed on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day (the last Thursday of November).
How much time should I spend at the Archives?
A visit to the National Archives can be done as quickly as needed or you can spend time with the various exhibits.
Allow at least 30 minutes from when you're inside the building to view the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and The Bill of Rights.
If you want to spend some time in the exhibits, factor in another 45-90 minutes.
A great way to experience the National Archives is with a small group private tour. We offer these guided tours with entry tickets to avoid long lines.
In a Rush? Visit the Archives in 30 minutes:
If you're in a rush and just want to hit the highlights, there are a few must-sees.
After you enter security, make sure you pop in to see the Magna Carta, one of a few originals left, which is on display at the entrance of the Rubenstein Gallery.
Then head upstairs to the Rotunda to view the Charters of Freedom - Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
Visit the Archives if you have more than 30 minutes:
If you're not in a rush, we recommend 90 minutes to visit the Archives.
You can explore the rest of the Rubenstein Gallery to learn about the Record of Rights, the Public Vaults, and the rotating exhibits and you can spend more time reading about the Charters of Freedom.
What can I take into the National Archives?
To expedite the security screening, it is recommended to take as little as possible. All bags and metal objects will be screened.
Photography is NOT allowed inside the National Archives.
Since photography is prohibited, if it is possible to leave a camera elsewhere you will enter the building quicker, though you may bring it in if necessary.
There is a great gift shop, so do bring your wallet!
National Archives Cafe
There is a Cafe in the basement of the building, open Monday to Friday 8 am-2:30 pm if you get hungry during your visit.
However, it is poorly rated and we don't recommend a visit.
Nearby to the Archives is Penn Quarter and Chinatown neighborhoods.
You can find many great, and fast places to eat on 7th Street north of the Archives.
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, CONSTITUTION, AND THE BILL OF RIGHTS
The most important documents that are visited are the Charters of Freedom of the United States.
These are the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
The Declaration of Independence
The independence of the thirteen colonies from England was declared in 1776.
Ever been asked to write your John Hancock? You'll see his large signature at the bottom of this document.
Find out more about the Declaration on our podcast (Tour Guide Tell All) and our post about this document.
This 1789 document laid the groundwork for our government.
Notice the states that are signed at the bottom - one of them is spelled differently than it is today!
Want to know more about the Constitution? Listen to our podcast (Tour Guide Tell All) episode about it:
The Bill of Rights
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. They include the First Amendment right to free speech and religious freedom.
Count the ones you see at the National Archives. You'll see more than 10 and can learn about this proposal and which ones were not adopted.
EXHIBITS AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES
O'Brien Gallery (rotating)
Current Exhibit at the Lawrence O'Brien Gallery (rotating)
Opening in September 2022, a new exhibit about sports is on display until January 2024.
All American: The Power of Sports showcases how American ideas influence sports and the athletes that play them.
On display will be Babe Ruth's draft card, a photograph of Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics, a letter from the Green Bay Packers to future president Gerald Ford offering him a contract & more.
To learn more about the exhibit click here.
This permanent exhibit discusses how Americans sought to continue the rights enshrined in the founding documents.
This interactive gallery features 17 touchscreen tables to explore the records.
The timeline of America as an independent country is explored with documents of individual citizens and how their rights evolved.
The highlight of this gallery is the Magna Carta. This original document from 1297 is one of four original copies remaining.
The Magna Carta was an agreement between King John and the barons protecting their rights and land.
The rebellious American colonists would be inspired by this document when they believed they had the same rights as Englishmen.
Click here for a video tour of the gallery
Public Vaults Exhibits
The public vaults are the main exhibit at the Archives and explain the purpose of the institution.
This exhibit holds over 1,000 documents divided into five sections:
- We the People – records of family and citizenship such as immigration records and Native American settlement agreements.
- To Form a More Perfect Union – records of liberty and law from investigative records from Kennedy's assassination and congressional debates about Prohibition.
- Provide for the Common Defense – records of war and diplomacy, Civil War regimental records, and documents from the Cuban Missile Crisis
- Promote the General Welfare – records of frontiers and firsts; explore artifacts and patents
- To Ourselves and Our Posterity – keeping records for the future. Here you can learn about how your records become part of the Archives and how you can do research.
Click here for a video tour of the public vaults.