National Museum of African American History and Culture, facade

National Museum of African American History & Culture

Top choice in Washington, DC

Located in Washington, DC, the sensational National Museum of African American History & Culture is devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history and culture. Since it opened in 2016, the museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and almost 100,000 people have become members.

The museum details how the diverse African American experience helped to shape the nation, and it aims to help all Americans see how their stories, histories and cultures are informed by global influences. Artifacts, state-of-the-art interactive exhibits, site-specific artworks and fascinating interpretative panels abound in the cleverly designed and dramatically-lit exhibition spaces.

The National Museum of African American History & Culture was established by an Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. It opened to the public in September 2016 as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

An exhibit at the National Museum of African American History & Culture
Since it opened in 2016, the museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts © Pete Kiehart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What to see at the museum

Start downstairs in the sobering Slavery and Freedom exhibition, which covers the period from 1400 to 1877. From there, work your way through two more history exhibitions, Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Era of Segregation, 1876-1968 and A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond.

As you go up to the upper floors of the building, you will enter the community and culture galleries on the 3rd and 4th floors, where African American achievements in sport, music, theater and visual arts are joyfully celebrated.

Highlights include Double Victory: The African American Military Experience, which is designed to convey a sense of appreciation and respect for the military service of African Americans from the American Revolution to the War on Terror.

Visitors can connect to the museum's free wifi network, "SI-Visitor" and download its mobile app to complement their museum visit and discover additional stories in the collection. The museum's Sweet Home Café is a popular lunch stop for visitors.

Tickets and other practicalities

The museum opens daily from 10am to 5.30pm and admission is free. All visitors, regardless of age, need a timed entry pass, which can be reserved online here or by phone at 1-800-514-3849.

Timed-entry passes are released up to 30 days in advance on a rolling basis. A limited number of same-day timed-entry passes are released online throughout each day, beginning at 8.15am EST. An individual can reserve up to six passes for their visit.

Print your timed-entry passes at home or present them on a mobile device for entry. You can enter the museum after your scheduled time (until 4pm and based upon capacity) and are permitted to stay until closing.

The entrance to the museum is at 15th Street and Madison Drive NW. The easiest way to visit is by using public transportation, and the closest Metro stations are Federal Triangle and Smithsonian (Mall exit). There are no Smithsonian Institution public parking facilities on the National Mall, and the nearest public parking garage is located at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

An exhibit at the Taking the Stage section at the National Museum of African American History & Culture
The Taking the Stage section of the National Museum of African American History & Culture © Alex Wong/Getty Images

Check out the online portal

The museum opened a free-to-use web portal that helps people explore issues of race, racism and racial identity called Talking About Race in 2020. It examines how forces surrounding racial identity shape every aspect of society in the US, from the economy and politics to the broader culture. It has videos, online exercises, scholarly articles and over 100 multi-media resources tailored for educators, parents and caregivers and individuals committed to racial equality. The portal is free and does not require a registration or sign-up to use.

Accessibility at the museum

The museum is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and has accessible facilities and entrances. A limited number of free manual wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis but you can request one when reserving a timed-entry pass.

American Sign Language interpretation and access services are available for scheduled programming by contacting the museum with two weeks advance notice. T-Loops are available at the Welcome Desk and open captioning is included in all exhibition videos. There are National Park Service designated accessible parking spaces along Madison Drive NW adjacent to the museum.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Washington, DC attractions

1. National Museum of American History

0.13 MILES

Containing all kinds of artifacts of the American experience, this museum has as its centerpiece the flag that flew over Baltimore's Fort McHenry during…

2. Washington Monument

0.18 MILES

Peaking at 555ft (and 5in) and composed of 36,000 blocks of stone, the Washington Monument is the district's tallest structure. Political shenanigans…

3. National Children’s Museum

0.21 MILES

The National Children's Museum has been homeless since 2015, but plans are in the works to open in the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center…

4. White House Visitor Center

0.28 MILES

Getting inside the White House can be difficult, so here is your back-up plan. Housed in the splendiferous 1932 Patent Search Room of the Department of…

5. Ellipse

0.29 MILES

The expansive, oval-shaped park on the White House's south side is known as the Ellipse. It's studded with a random collection of monuments, such as the…

7. Second Division Memorial

0.33 MILES

This memorial in the Ellipse honors the US Army Second Division's dead from WWI, WWII and the Korean War.

8. Zero Milestone

0.34 MILES

Located in the Ellipse, the Zero Milestone is the marker for highway distances all across the country.