History Museums Tour, Washington D.C. (Self Guided)

Washington D.C. is well-known for its world-class museums. The Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex in the world, maintains most of the official museums in Washington, D.C. and the entrance is free of charge. Explore some of the most outstanding ones by taking this walking tour.
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History Museums Tour Map

Guide Name: History Museums Tour
Guide Location: USA » Washington D.C. (See other walking tours in Washington D.C.)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.2 km
Author: irene
1
National Museum of the American Indian

1) National Museum of the American Indian (must see)

The National Museum of the American Indian houses over 800,000 items representing most of the indigenous populations from the Americas. This extensive collection spans 12,000 years of history. Some of the artifacts are culturally sensitive and permission must be obtained from the appropriate Native American group to display them.

The building is a nice relief from some of the other buildings around Washington that seem to overpower their environment. The museum's building complements the area; in fact, even the amenities in this museum are different. The Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe explores native foods that would have been available from five different regions and offers them up in contemporary and traditional dishes. Choices include fry bread, corn totopos, and buffalo burgers. Don’t pass up this experience.

The artifacts are divided into four components: objects, photos, media, and paper. The objects in these groups are all intertwined, but this is at least a starting point to organize the massive collections. Events offered at the museum include films, music, audio tours, and special events for children.

Tip:
Start on the top floor with a short (13min) film and then work your way down to the bottom level where you can enjoy lunch.
The café is probably the best museum lunch spot around, with stations representing cuisines of different tribal areas.
Don't miss the gift shop – many creative, beautiful hand made items. Enjoy shopping!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:30pm
Admission is free
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
National Air and Space Museum

2) National Air and Space Museum (must see)

The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution is a must-see for all aviation and space aficionados. It houses the largest collection of planes and spacecraft in the world. This is one of the most popular of the Smithsonian museums, so plan to go early and spend a day.

The original inception of the museum began in 1946, although some of the pieces in the museum are from the 1876 Centennial Exposition. At that time the name was to be the National Air Museum. As man ventured to the heavens and landed on the moon, the name was changed to include “Space”. In fact, the exhibition hall was opened by Director Michael Collins who has been to space on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

The Spirit of St. Louis that Charles Lindbergh flew over the Atlantic is displayed here along with Wright Flyer that made its famous flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903 piloted by Orville Wright. The Apollo 11 Command module is here too. The Bell X-1, Mercury Friendship 7, and SpaceShipOne are also on display. More conventional aircraft include a DC-3 and a 747. Even the USS Enterprise from Star Trek fame is here.

Why You Should Visit:
Great for learning and teaching kids and adults about the science behind flying.
You learn about commercial or military jets, new technology and early technology.
The motion-based, VR, flight simulators are amazing and the Planetarium shows have awesome visual effects.

Tip:
They also have audio tours and guided tours – you can check the information counter for more info.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:30pm
Admission is free
3
Newseum

3) Newseum (must see)

The Newseum is an interactive museum of news and journalism located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. The seven-level, 250,000-square-foot museum features 15 theaters and 14 galleries. The Newseum's Berlin Wall Gallery includes the largest display of sections of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany. The Today's Front Pages Gallery presents daily front pages from more than 80 international newspapers. Other galleries present topics including news history, the September 11 attacks, the First Amendment, world press freedom and the history of the Internet, TV & radio. It opened at its first location in Rosslyn, Virginia, on April 18, 1997, where it admitted visitors without charge. Its mission is "to help the public and the news media understand one another better" and to "raise public awareness of the important role of a free press in a democratic society".

Why You Should Visit:
Great 'newseum' for everyone interested in history and the media; one of the few where you have to pay, but worth the price.
The guided tour is very informative and highly recommend for adults and the view from the 6th story balcony is one of the best in DC.

Tip:
Don't miss the Pulitzer photo collection, the VR experience, the studio tour and the history of how newspapers shaped the nation.
Don't worry, they have the ticket valid for two consecutive days – plenty of time to enjoy each exhibit.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9am-5pm; Sun: 10am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
National Archives

4) National Archives

The National Archives houses some of USA's most beloved document treasures. It is home to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. These powerful documents are known as the Charters of Freedom and are housed in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. They are on permanent display here.

There are also public vaults that can be visited. This vault holds over 1,000 records relating to the American democracy. Some of Abraham Lincoln’s telegrams that were sent to his general’s are here, as well as handwritten notes by George Washington. There are an additional five vaults that take their names from the preamble to the Constitution and deal with law, citizenship, war, firsts and keeping records for future generations to enjoy.

The William G. McGowan Theater shows an informative film about the National Archives and another film on the Charters of Freedom. There are also various exhibits in the Lawrence F. O’Brian Gallery.

The National Archives and Records Administration is located at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, between 7th and 9th streets. The Rotunda entrance is on Constitution Avenue. Admission is free however; a ticket can be reserved during the busy tourist season. The cost is a $1.50 and is nonrefundable. The entrance for those with tickets is the special events door on Constitution Ave.

Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
International Spy Museum

5) International Spy Museum (must see)

Editor's note: The International Spy Museum is temporarily closed. Scheduled to reopen on May 12, 2019.

The International Spy Museum is a must see for all who find the spy business intriguing. It is the only museum of its kind in America. It may also be one of the most fun museums in Washington. When entering the museum, guests are asked to assume an identity and enter the spy game.

In the museum are exhibits on tiny buttonhole cameras, microdots, bugs and disguises. Stories about famous and not so famous spies – even a nod to Julia Child – are all part of the intrigue. Civil War spies and Cold War spies, the exhibits will open up some of the most interesting secrets. Along the way, guests will learn how to keep their cover and work with the tools of spycraft. New gadgets are also discovered in the modern spy game, the Cyberspies.

In addition to the exhibits, there are some spy experiences. No, not really going on a mission, but it almost feels that real. For an extra fee, there are four experiences that a budding spy can participate in. These adventures take from one to two hours and some can be purchased without purchasing a museum ticket. There will be a time on the ticket as to when the experience starts; do not show up late, or the ticket will be forfeited.

There are some rules to visit the museum – no strollers; no photography or videography; no food, drink, gum, or smoking; no use of phones of any kind. There is also an entrance charge for this museum; even so, tickets are assigned an entry time because the crowds can be large. Plan to be there early to get a ticket with a good time.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
6
Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

6) Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

If you are tired of the all the “usual” museums in Washington, you might want to try Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. While there are political figures portrayed in wax in the museum, there are entertainers, cultural figures, sports stars, and of course presidents. The original Madame Tussauds wax Museum is found in London. Madame Tussaud was a wax sculptor who was born in France in 1761. Her mother worked for a physician who was skilled in wax sculpting and taught young Anna the skill. In 1835 Madame Tussaud was married and living in London. She opened a museum to house all her wax figures.

Madame Tussauds Wax Museums are found world wide. The Washington museum features the likenesses of all 44 Presidents. A new gallery was just open that features 14 rooms and allows for an interactive experience. Captain Jack Sparrow is also just arrived at the museum.

Additional characters include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Rosa Parks, Buzz Aldrin, Babe Ruth, Tiger Woods, Beyonce, Ella Fitzgerald, and Hillary Clinton. There is someone here for everyone.

The museum is open 365 days a year and it does charge a fee to enter. The museum is located at 1001 F Street NW which is at the corner of 10th and F Street. Parking is available.

Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
National Museum of American History

7) National Museum of American History (must see)

The National Museum of American History is an eclectic collection of all things American. It is part of the Smithsonian Institution and it is located on the National Mall. It was opened in 1964 and was called The Museum of History and Technology. Over the years the mission of the museum changed and it was renamed. The present collection features the original Star Spangled Banner, the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, the Phyllis Diller gag file, and a Buffalo Soldier coat. An abstract sculpture made of granite and stainless steel stands outside the museum.

There are three floors of historical treasures plus films, rides, programs and special events. The east wing of the first floor focuses on transportation and technology, while the west wing focus is on science and technology. The second floor is dedicated to American ideals and lives. The third floor east wing deals with American wars and politics. In contrast, the west wing deals with entertainment, sports and music.

Artifact walls are on the first and second floors and they have small exhibits. One is devoted to the rise over the century of Chinese food in America. These walls line the center cores of the two floors. There are also two cafes and several stores. Plan to come for the whole day as there is so much to see and do.

Why You Should Visit:
To learn or relive American history; to appreciate what growing up in early American history was like compared to today.

Tip:
It is advisable to spend some time becoming familiar with the museum layout and featured halls. This way you can target specific areas of the museum to visit and better maximize your time here.
To better navigate your way around the museum, use the free maps including the museum layout and where to find each gallery.
Also, check the museum website beforehand for extended hours information!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
National Museum of Natural History

8) National Museum of Natural History (must see)

The National Museum of Natural History, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., opened in 1910 under the administration of the Smithsonian Institution, the world's premier museum and research complex. In its 325,000 square feet exhibition space, the museum features over 500 million species of plants, fossils, minerals, rocks, animals, meteorites and other artifacts. Some of its most appreciated collections are featured in the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals, the Hall of Paleobiology, the Ocean Hall and other temporary exhibitions. The National Museum of Natural History incorporates an IMAX Theater and a fun Discovery Room on the first floor. Its research facility is home to more than 185 natural history scientists, which is the world's largest group of professionals dedicated to the study of natural and cultural history.

Why You Should Visit:
Great choice for eclectic viewing, as there's much more on display than expected: including, e.g., the Hope diamond.
Also, definitely a great place for kids because they'll be in awe the whole time with the many levels to check out.
The gift shops are awesome: one that gears towards children and one gearing more towards adults.

Tip:
If you don't mind walking outside, the food trucks on the mall will give you a better deal on food items.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:30pm
9
Holocaust Memorial Museum

9) Holocaust Memorial Museum (must see)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is the United States' official memorial to the Holocaust. Adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the USHMM provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history. It is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.

The USHMM’s collections contain more than 12,750 artifacts, 49 million pages of archival documents, 80,000 historical photographs, 200,000 registered survivors, 1,000 hours of archival footage, 84,000 library items, and 9,000 oral history testimonies. It also has teacher fellows in every state in the United States and has welcomed almost 400 university fellows from 26 countries since 1994.

Tip:
To get tickets (needed Mar-Sep), log in at 6am on the day you wish to go. You'll probably get them. They are free but there's a small convenience charge. You can show the tickets on your phone, so no need to print them. Once you have your arrival time, be prepared to wait outside for at least an hour, so make sure you build that into your time table.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:20pm
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Washington D.C., USA

Create Your Own Walk in Washington D.C.

Create Your Own Walk in Washington D.C.

Creating your own self-guided walk in Washington D.C. is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Art Galleries and Museums Tour

Art Galleries and Museums Tour

Looking for inspiring and notable art venues? Washington D.C. is well-appreciated for the wide range of art museums and galleries that it offers. Take this self-guided tour and discover the treasures hidden by these art institutions.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.1 km
Souvenir Shopping Part 1

Souvenir Shopping Part 1

It would be a pity to leave Washington DC without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Washington D.C., that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.5 km
City Orientation Walking Tour

City Orientation Walking Tour

Washington D.C, capital of the United States, is a cocktail of politics, cosmopolitan energy and multiculturalism manifested in a thriving and diverse dining, nightlife and shopping setting. The city is renowned for its historic neighborhoods, world-class museums, memorials, beautiful gardens and arts venues. Take this self-guided walk and discover the city which defines some of the greatest...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.9 km
Gardens and Parks Walking Tour

Gardens and Parks Walking Tour

If you are looking for getaway spots from the hustle and bustle of politics and city life, this walking tour in Washington D.C. offers plenty of opportunities for that. There are many large parks and gorgeous gardens where you can admire beautiful flowers, landscape and even learn various historical facts.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 km
Historic Monuments and Memorials Walking Tour

Historic Monuments and Memorials Walking Tour

Washington D.C. is a city of historic memorials and monuments that commemorate key chapters in American history. They are dedicated to all the noteworthy generals, politicians, statesmen and artists who played a major role in shaping the American nation. This walking tour will offer you a glimpse into the history of the U.S.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.6 km
Georgetown Walking Tour

Georgetown Walking Tour

Georgetown is an area located in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., along the Potomac River waterfront. Despite its proximity to downtown Washington, this former port has preserved its own distinct character. Many of the buildings along the tree-lined streets are over 200 years old. Take this walking tour to reveal all the secrets of Georgetown.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip


10 Unusual Things to Do in Washington DC

10 Unusual Things to Do in Washington DC

You might be inclined to think that the capital of the United States consists solely of museums and monuments, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a local, I’ve found that there are so many more things to do in this city than just the main tourist highlights. Read on to learn 10 of...
10 Chocolate Destinations in Washington D.C.

10 Chocolate Destinations in Washington D.C.

Let’s be honest, you hear the words "Washington, D.C." and you think politics, history, museums, etc. You can’t take five steps in the city without being surrounded by history. As important as all that culture is, it’s also a bit overwhelming. Make it fun by exploring Washington,...
Traveler's Guide to Washington DC: 16 Souvenirs to Bring Home

Traveler's Guide to Washington DC: 16 Souvenirs to Bring Home

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Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Washington D.C. for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Washington D.C. has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes


To save yourself time and money visiting Washington DC's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as Washington DC Explorer Pass, Go Washington DC, or Washington DC Sightseeing Pass.

A city pass combines all or multiple Washington DC's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows you to skip lines at major attractions, thus saving your precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels


Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Washington DC hotels conveniently located for a comfortable stroll: Club Quarters Hotel in Washington DC, The St. Regis Washington, D.C., The Hay - Adams.

Taking Care of Your Feet


To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Washington D.C., it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device


Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours


We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Washington DC typically costs somewhere between US$30 and US$90 per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off trolley to enjoy sightseeing of Washington DC in comfort listening in the headsets to the prerecorded narration in a variety of foreign languages or a live on-board commentary (English only) from a local guide, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the route as often as you like. The tickets are valid for one day (Silver or Gold Pass) or two days (Platinum Pass).

- Pedal your way around Washington DC on a 3-hour educational and fun bike tour to appreciate the city's most spectacular sights while stopping at some of them for a bit of rest, watching the surroundings, and learning interesting facts about the attractions en route from a knowledgeable group leader.

- If you want to pay tribute to the late members of the Kennedy clan including, primarily, President JFK himself, or the unknown soldiers fallen in the wars fought by the United States throughout centuries, you would definitely be interested in taking a 2-hour guided walk around Arlington National Cemetery and get insight into some of the chapters of the American history along the way.

- Embark on a culinary quest in one of DC’s iconic neighborhoods to see what makes U Street so delicious, satisfying both your stomach and cultural appetites alike on the tour set to explore great eats, architectural trends and the history of the neighborhood over the past century.

- Discover the historic side of Washington, DC in a different light on the Monuments By Night tour. See the National Mall, White House, Capitol Hill and other landmarks ablaze with nighttime illumination after the daytime sun yields way to the moonlit magic!

- Cap off your Washington DC experience with a sumptuous 3-hour dining adventure aboard a cruise ship sailing along the Potomac River offering postcard-worthy views of the nation's greatest monuments to complement the freshly-cooked 3-course dinner.

Day Trips


If you have a day to spare whilst in Washington DC, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Mount Vernon, Gettysburg PA, or Charlottesville VA. For as little as circa US$55 to US$150 per person you will get a chance to visit George Washington’s plantation estate in Fairfax, Virginia, set foot on the site of the largest battle ever fought on the American soil to this date and where President Lincoln delivered his historic Gettysburg Address, enjoy the picturesque views of the Maryland and Pennsylvania countryside, explore Monticello - the home of President Thomas Jefferson, learn about his professional accomplishments and personal life, as well as see the University of Virginia founded and designed by Jefferson himself, and so much more. For any of these tours you will be picked up from a designated place in Washington DC and transported by a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to the destination of your choice and back again.