African-American History Museum in Washington DC

Are you interested in African American history? Then I invite you to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. There you will find a variety of fascinating works, as well as impressive historical details. Go for the adventure!

Carmen Navarro

Carmen Navarro

11 min read

African-American History Museum in Washington DC

Washington DC Museum of African American History | ©Craig Fildes

Among the things you must see and do in Washington, a tour of African American history certainly stands out. The main destination for such a tour is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This is part of the state museums of the Smithsonian Institution and is located on the National Mall in Washington DC.

Following a federal law, this museum was founded in December 2003 and inaugurated in 2016 by President Barack Obama, being a historic moment for the country. Inside the museum you can appreciate a wide collection of objects belonging to the African American culture, from the times of slavery to the present day, what are you waiting to explore it?

The best option

Washington DC African-American History Tour

African American history tour and reserved access to the museum

Spend a different kind of day learning about African American history on a tour that will take you to iconic sites such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture and many more.

Not exploring African American history in your passage through Washington will make you miss an important part of history. With this tour you won't skip a beat as you'll start with a stop at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center. From there, you'll pass by sites such as the White House and the Lincoln Memorial.

In addition to seeing popular sites, you'll have a chance to stop at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the Civil War Memorial Museum. Finally, you will enter the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Although admission to this museum is free, a pre-scheduled entry pass is required. Reservations are included in this tour so you won't waste time at this step.

I love this plan because with your guide you will learn historical details that you might miss on your own. In addition, it is an economical option that includes air-conditioned transportation to take you from one place to another. So, in only about 3 hours and for about 75 €, you will have already done a fairly complete educational tour of African American culture.

Recommended if... you would like to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture and other historical sites.

How much do tickets to the Museum of African American History in Washington DC cost?

Museum Exterior| ©Travis Stansel
Museum Exterior| ©Travis Stansel

You have no excuse not to visit this iconic museum, as admission is free, as it is a Smithsonian museum. However, you do need to reserve your admission in advance. This reservation process was taken since its inception, as the museum is usually very crowded.

Tickets are timed passes, meaning your admission is valid only at a specific time of day. If you arrive late, your pass will not be valid and you will not be allowed entry. So it is best to be on time. In addition, you can tour the entire museum until closing time, approximately 5:30 p.m.

On the other hand, I recommend that you reserve your ticket in advance, as there are a limited number of passes available daily. Better be cautious! Plan your trip to the Washington DC Museum of African American History well in advance. You may reserve up to 30 days in advance of your visit.

Only 6 passes are allowed per person. However, if you are traveling with a group of more than 10 people, I recommend reserving a group pass. These tickets are issued at 8 am. If you schedule your visit the same day, if passes are available, you will be able to see it online starting at 8:15 am.

How to get tickets to the Washington DC Museum of African American History at the box office

Inside the Museum| ©DocSaintX
Inside the Museum| ©DocSaintX

Perhaps you're more traditional and want to purchase your free pass at the box office. However, the only way available is to reserve your pass online. In less crowded seasons, you may be able to come to the box office, but it is usually online.

When you arrive at the entrance you must show the code you receive after booking your ticket. This will be scanned to check that everything is in order. You can show it using your smart phone or if you prefer, print your pass before your visit. I recommend you to be very punctual because if the time has expired, you will not be able to enter.

Are there special tickets for children?

Touring the Museum| ©ep_jhu
Touring the Museum| ©ep_jhu

Children, like all visitors regardless of age, must reserve their tickets in advance. Children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Also, they are not allowed to run or play around the facilities.

This museum is a place that can be fascinating for all audiences. If you were looking for things to do with children in Washington DC, this may be a good option.

If you are interested in activities specially designed for children, I recommend checking the museum's events list before your visit. There you can check if there is something special where your kids can learn history in a fun way.

Book the best activities with kids in Washington

Are there guided tours of the Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C., and are they worth it?

Artwork inside the Museum| ©Susan Johnston
Artwork inside the Museum| ©Susan Johnston

Of course they are! If you would like to visit the museum with a specialized guide, I recommend checking out the upcoming tours, guided tours and events on the official website. Everything will depend on the time of the year when you visit the museum. Keep in mind that visitors usually use a map to guide them during their visit. This can be found in English, Spanish, French and Chinese.

In any case, I recommend a historical tour with access to the Museum of African American History in Washington DC This is the best option you can choose, as there are not too many alternatives that include a tour inside this museum.

Book a historical tour with access to the Museum of African American History of Washington DC

How to get to the Museum of African American History in Washington DC

Washington Metro| ©matthew Hunt
Washington Metro| ©matthew Hunt

You have several options for visiting the museum. The easiest is probably to take public transportation. The closest Metro stations to the museum are Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, off the Mall. Once you arrive at one of the stations, you can follow the directions on Google Maps to walk there in a few minutes.

If you want to know more about how to ride the Metro in Washington DC, you can visit the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority website.

You also have the option of traveling by bus. If you choose to do so, I recommend using the DC Circulator bus line. The CC National Mall Route bus will drop you off in front of the 15th Street and Madison Drive entrance. At 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW there is also another entrance. At either entrance, passes are scanned for entry.

Book a Washington DC Sightseeing Bus Tour

Major works not to be missed at the Washington DC Museum of African American History

Slavery and Freedom Section| ©Jessica Splain
Slavery and Freedom Section| ©Jessica Splain

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a fascinating state-of-the-art building. Inside the facility you can take a tour through almost every aspect of African-American history. Each exhibit touches on African American art, slavery, sports, the civil rights movement and much more.

Even looking at its exterior will surprise you, as it is composed of a 3-level bronze screen. This is the work of Ghanaian architect David Adyaje and at the same time is a tribute to the iron work done by African American slaves in the southern United States.

When you enter the museum you will probably be amazed by all that you can find. However, there are certain exhibits you can't miss. One of them is the Musical Crossroads, which describes the history of African-American music from its origins. Here you will find the history of musical genres such as jazz and hip-hop.

Another must-see exhibit is Slavery and Freedom. In this section you will find first-person accounts and artifacts that tell the story of what was probably humanity's worst episode. Likewise, Defending Freedom and A Changing America are exhibits that highlight the struggle for civil rights, the activism and assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the mandates of Barack Obama. There is even a space dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement.

How much time do you need to visit the Washington DC Museum of African American History?

Museum Afternoon| ©taigatrommelchen
Museum Afternoon| ©taigatrommelchen

I can't tell you exactly how many hours you'll need to wander the more than 25,000 square feet of exhibits inside the D.C. Museum of African American History. It will all depend on the pace of your visit. The good news is that you can stay inside the museum until it closes its doors.

On the other hand, before entering the museum it is normal to wait in line. The length of the queue will depend on the number of visitors and the season in which you visit. If it is a high season like in summer, you can spend up to an hour waiting for your turn to enter. Once inside the museum, sometimes you will have to wait for a room to be vacated before you can enter.

In any case, I recommend that you be prepared to tour the museum in at least 1 hour. If you have certain exhibits in mind that you want to see, I advise you to go straight to them. Then you can go through the rest of the exhibits. In any case, if you go with a guide, he or she will help you visit the most popular, relevant or eye-catching parts of the museum.

Traveller Tip

If you are in Washington DC for a limited time I advise you to make a very well organized travel itinerary. Museums like the Museum of African American History have too many galleries to explore, but you will only be able to see them all if you spend a few minutes in each one.

Opening hours of the Museum of African American History in Washington DC

Museum Exterior at Night| ©brutus61534
Museum Exterior at Night| ©brutus61534

The museum opens its doors to the public from 10 am and closes at 5:30 pm. To reserve your same-day admission you can log on to the website starting at 6 am. Your email with the entrance pass will be in your inbox by 8 a.m. at the latest.

Please note that you can only book entrance passes until 4 pm, as no visitors are allowed after that time. Also, the exhibits begin to close at 5:15 p.m., so it's best to keep an eye on your watch while you take your tour.

You can visit the museum at any time of the year because the only day it closes is December 25. That's why you can include this one among the best Washington museums to visit.

Tips for visiting the Museum of African American History in Washington DC

Museum Section and Artwork| ©Ken Davis
Museum Section and Artwork| ©Ken Davis

The Museum of African American History in Washington DC is one of the best museums you can visit in this city. That is why I recommend that you take into account several factors to make your visit incredible:

  • Influx of tourists: even though it is not one of the most iconic sites in Washington and it is a relatively new museum, it receives many tourists. That's why I recommend that you make your visit between 10 am and 12 noon any day of the week. Keep in mind that on weekends it tends to be very crowded, especially after noon.

  • If you have no other option but to visit the museum during peak hours, try to arrive at least 1 hour before your ticket time. The lines are usually very long and this can delay the rest of your day in Washington.

  • If this is your first time in Washington DC, you may not know how to use public transportation. So the best thing to do is to check the metro map and bus line stations. Keep your smart phone handy to confirm your route on Google Maps.

  • I recommend you to bring your smart phone with you to take some pictures and selfies with your companions. Please note that it is forbidden to take pictures of the works of art, unless otherwise stated.

Here are the stores at the Museum of African American History in Washington DC

Rhythm and Blues, and Soul| ©Randy Caldwell
Rhythm and Blues, and Soul| ©Randy Caldwell

The stores at the Washington DC Museum of African American History are operated in partnership with Smithsonian Enterprises. Here you can find many details and souvenirs that you are sure to love. The price of everything you'll find ranges from approximately $10 to $50.

The main store is located in Heritage Hall, level 1, while the Pop-up Stores are on level 3, outside the Community Galleries. The stores open at 10 am and close at 5:30 pm. Please note that the stores are not always open at the same time. Generally, the main store is the one that serves most consistently.

The museum also has an online store. Shopping in that store may be a good option if you don't want to wait in line or don't want to waste your time and continue visiting historic sites in Washington DC.

Where to eat near the Washington DC Museum of African American History

Visiting The Sweet Home Café| ©W8LT3R
Visiting The Sweet Home Café| ©W8LT3R

Always on a sightseeing tour you should consider a special stop for lunch. I suggest taking time out of your day, either before or after your visit to the museum, to enjoy lunch or dinner. If you want something light, you can visit The Sweet Home Café, which is open daily from 11 am and closes at 3 pm.

In this café you will find traditional and authentic samples of the culture and history of the African American people. You will also find contemporary options made with locally sourced ingredients. In addition, you will be able to get special dishes if you have any allergies or are vegan. You can talk to the manager to find out which options are best for you.

If you decide to eat outside the museum you can choose from different options that you will surely love. The first option I recommend is Barmini, a restaurant that many rate as one of the best in Washington. However, it is located about 10 minutes away from the museum. In addition to the dishes, you can order quality alcoholic beverages.

Another option that is located much closer to the museum is the Round Robin Bar. The price range of the food you will find here goes from 15 € to 50 € approximately. You can also choose from a wide variety of dishes and it is located just 5 minutes from the museum.