Plan Your Visit to the National Archives

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.  


With so much changing as Washington DC slowly reopens due to COVID-19, we are trying to keep all information updated. Note that opening hours, ticketing policies and procedures may vary. For the most up to date information, check the location’s individual website.

The Rotunda of the National Archives (where you can view the Charters of Freedom) will be open on Saturdays 10am-2pm with advanced timed tickets required.


 

 

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PLAN YOUR VISIT

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.   

 

Where is the National Archives Building

 

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.

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.


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 (the last Thursday of November).


Do I need tickets to visit the National Archives?

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.


Advanced Tickets

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.

RESERVE TICKETS HERE


How much time should I spend at the Archives?

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.


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.

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.

 


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DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, CONSTITUTION AND THE BILL OF RIGHTS 

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.

 

 

The Declaration of Independence

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.

The Constitution

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 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.

 


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EXHIBITS AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES

O’Brien Gallery (rotating)
Rubenstein Gallery
Public Vaults

Current Exhibit at the Lawrence O’Brien Gallery (rotating)

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


Rubenstein Gallery

Image result for national archives magna cartaThis 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

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; explorers artifacts and patents
  • To Ourselves and Our Posterity – keeping records for 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

 


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About the author

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 3 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the host of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All

With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 25 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 3) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.