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Visiting the National Archives Building & Museum

National Archives Building and Museum - Free Washington, DC Museum with Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights

This historic museum near DC's National Mall is where you can see America’s founding documents.

What and where is the National Archives Building & Museum?

The National Archives & Records Administration Building and Museum is located on Constitution Avenue NW, between 7th and 9th Streets, just north of the National Mall. The building houses both a museum and the National Archives and Records Administration, which is responsible for Federal records deemed to be of historical importance.

National Archives Building and Museum - Free Washington, DC Museum with Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights

The National Archives Building is home to more than three billion records in total, including the three most important documents in American history: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These can be viewed in the building’s Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.

The museum is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Its hours are 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., seven days a week. Admission is always free.

The easiest way to reach the National Archives is via Metrorail or the DC Circulator. The closest Metro stop is Archives – Navy Memorial – Penn Quarter on the Green and Yellow lines. The DC Circulator’s National Mall route will take you near the building, making it easy to continue your exploration of the National Mall afterwards. The facility is handicap accessible.

What’s inside?

The National Archives features distinct areas that all serve a different purpose in illuminating American history through vital documents.

The aforementioned Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom enjoys the most attention, and for good reason. The semicircular room contains the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The exhibition surrounding the charters highlights the composition and continuing significance of each document.

National Archives Building and Museum - Free Washington, DC Museum with Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights

The David M. Rubenstein Gallery is home to Records of Rights, which features numerous Archives documents and a 17-foot touch screen to summarize American debate around essential issues such as citizenship, voting rights, equal opportunity, free speech and more. The highlight of the gallery is one of four surviving originals of the 1297 Magna Carta.

Through Sept. 4, 2017, visitors can experience Amending America in the museum’s Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery. The exhibit highlights amendments (and attempts to amend) the U.S. Constitution to improve the U.S. and the rights of its people. Stay tuned for what will fill the O’Brien Gallery next, as exhibits rotate through regularly. The same can be said of the East Rotunda Gallery, which currently features documents that showcase Thurgood Marshall’s historic nomination to the Supreme Court (through July 26, 2017).

The Public Vaults take you deeper into the Archives’ records. At any given time, more than 1,000 documents are on display, indicating the incredible breadth of American democracy. Each vault is themed based on words from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which is only fitting. The exhibit has also added an interactive element to take you even closer to the country’s history.

Beyond its myriad exhibits and historical documents, the National Archives Museum also features the William G. McGowan Theater, a 290-seat venue that often hosts documentary films and forum discussions. You can also educate and entertain the next generation in the Boeing Learning Center, which offers hands-on activities relating to Archive materials. Last but not least, the National Archives Store is a great spot to pick up American memorabilia and souvenirs to take home with you.

Looking to continue your exploration of DC museums? Check out the nearby National Gallery of Art or Newseum.