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This post is about visiting the National Archives in Washington, DC, how to plan your visit, what there is to see. It’s more than just the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
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.
Nearby 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.
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 (the last Thursday of November).
Tickets are not required to visit the National Archives in the public line.
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 March-June and on holiday weekends.
If you want to cut down on uncertainty and wait-time, you can get tickets for a timed visit 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.
Guided tours are available at 9:45 am Monday to Friday. They are free but advanced reservations are required.
A visit the Archives can be done as quickly as needed or you can spend time with the various exhibits. Allow at least 30 minutes from once you’re inside the building.
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, the rotating exhibits and you can spend more time reading about the Charters of Freedom.
To expedite the security screening, it is recommended to take as little as possible. All bags and metal objects will be screened.
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!
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.
The most visited part of the Archives is the Charters of Freedom. These are the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
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 on the bottom of this document.
This 1789 document laid the groundwork for our government. Notice the states that signed at the bottom – one of them is spelled differently than it is today!
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.
From May 10, 2019 – January 3, 2021, the current exhibit at the National Archives is Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.
This display celebrates the centennial of the 19th Amendment’s ratification and retells the struggle for women’s right to vote.
There are over 90 objects, from the original 19th Amendment to a number of photographs and artifacts. You can see more about women’s suffrage movement at the Library of Congress with their display in their Southwest Gallery on the Second Floor, which you can explore when we go inside on our Capitol Hill walking tour.
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
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: