DC 4th of July Part 4: Visiting Smithsonian Museums

Capitol Done

While we were in DC, we visited several Smithsonian museums. Many were repeat visits, and one was a new experience. Some of the most popular Smithsonian museums now offer timed entry tickets to limit the number of visitors at any one time and prevent long lines for entry given that there is security screening at each entrance.

The first day we were in town, we got a tour of the Capitol from our daughter, who is interning on the Hill this summer. You can also book a tour online.

Abe’s seat location in the old house chamber.

On Saturday morning, I checked the African-American History Museum website at 8:15am when they make limited same-day timed tickets available. There is no charge for these tickets when you reserve them online. I reserved three tickets for noon.

We decided to head down to the Smithsonian area a bit early and stop into a couple of other museums first. We took an Uber from the Park Hyatt to the Natural History Museum and arrived around 9:50am. There was a fairly short line outside waiting for the 10am opening. Lucky for us, our spot in line was in the shade. At 10am on the dot, the doors opened and the line moved through the security screening fairly quickly. Bags have to be searched, but wallets and phones can just go through the machine in a small bin.

We went up to the top floor and worked our way down, making sure to stop by the Hope Diamond and a few other important exhibits. We were done in about 45 minutes and walked out the rear entrance by the National Mall. We walked down to the American History Museum and there was no wait to go inside.

My wife took a seat near the entrance and let my daughter and me quickly explore the highlights. We’ve been to the museum before, but we always enjoy this one. We saw most of what we wanted to see in about 45 minutes and met my wife near the lobby.

Now it was time for the African-American History Museum. We walked over and entered using our timed tickets. We took the escalator down to the lower level for the entrance to the history exhibit. We had to wait in a long line about 30 minutes before we got into the actual exhibit hall. You take an elevator or stairs down four levels to begin exploring.

It’s really a fantastic museum with so much information presented in a clever way. You make your way through African-American history from the earliest slave ships through the Obama presidency. We all learned a lot. I didn’t take many pictures as I was too enthralled with reading the exhibits.

When we were finished with the history exhibit, we didn’t have any more energy for the rest of the museum. We’ll definitely be back to finish it at some point.

On Sunday, I woke up early and checked the Holocaust Museum website at 7am when they release same day timed tickets. I managed to book tickets for 11:30am, but I did notice that there were many fewer tickets available for this museum than the African-American History Museum.

We arrived a bit early at the museum, but we were allowed in at 11:15am. If you’ve never been to the Holocaust Museum, it’s a self-guided trip through the rise of Hitler, the anti-Jewish laws, then the camps, then finally the liberation. There’s a big dose of “why didn’t the Allies do more to end the Holocaust?” as well. I tend not to take pictures at all when here as it’s both too interesting and too heart-breaking, so I forget.

We’ve been a few times, but we always learn something new each time. We also checked out the temporary exhibit on the American response to the Holocaust and how it was reported (or not reported) here. It’s a mentally exhausting museum and we did not feel like visiting any other Smithsonian museums after this one.

I hope this quick review of these museums encourages you to visit them when in Washington, DC. Don’t be discouraged if there are no timed tickets available for the popular museums as you can often get same-day timed tickets if you wake up early and check online.

If you enjoyed this post (or have questions), let me know in the comments or send me an email at emptynestermiles@gmail.com. If you are thinking about opening a new credit card, please use one of my links.

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