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Best History Museums in Washington DC

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Take a trip back in time and explore the much celebrated American history at the National Museum of American History. Rich in displays that depict the American journey through the ages; it resides inside a gallery that portrays the emergence of the American national anthem along with other innovative and cherished artifacts. Housed within this multi-floor building are exhibition halls and rooms that illustrate significant events pertaining to the past of America.

Established in 1910, the National Museum of Natural History aims to inform people about the natural history of earth through its exhibits. Nestled somewhere within this museum is the famous Hope Diamond, which has gained notoriety for supposedly carrying a curse. Apart from that, some of the museum's popular galleries include The Discovery Room, Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals, Dinosaurs/Hall of Paleobiology, Insect Zoo, Teleology: Hall of Bones, Ocean Hall, Hall of Human Origins and many more.

The National Archives is a bombproof, fireproof facility that protects the nation's most treasured documents. The methods used for storing the documents safely are nearly as interesting as the documents themselves. Sealed glass vaults are raised into the exhibition areas for viewing each day but sink back into safety each night. Here, you will find the most significant of our national documents--the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Among the other documents and artifacts housed here are copies of the Magna Carta and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Arlington House once belonged to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, whose wife, Mary Custis, a great-granddaughter of George Washington, inherited the home. During the Civil War, Union troops made the house their headquarters. The home is furnished as it was when the Lees raised their seven children here. Park rangers dressed in period costume help dramatize the era. Enjoy a stunning view of Washington from the front of the hillside mansion. As the mansion is located within Arlington National Cemetery, visitors must either walk from the Visitor Center or join the Tourmobile Sightseeing tour of the cemetery.

From beneath the 90-foot (30-meter) portico, lies an expanse of sloping lawn along the Potomac River as it flows past Mount Vernon. This 17th-century plantation house was once home to the first President of the United States, George Washington. The property was originally owned by Washington's father, Augustine, and George replaced a smaller, more modest home with Mount Vernon when he came into the property, beginning in 1758. Today, costumed guides narrate the history of the elegant mansion and of the surrounding buildings, which have been preserved to reflect the days when the first president resided here. The state also features tours around the 500-acre (200-hectare) estate, including its surrounding buildings, and historic exhibits that recreate farming techniques and colonial games. Awash in elegant semblances of Palladian architecture, Mount Vernon is a treasured centerpiece of history and culture.

Also known as "America's attic," for its spectacular collection of nearly 154 million artifacts, the Smithsonian Institution is one of the the world's largest museum complexes and research organizations. The administrative office of the esteemed institution is housed in a magnificent red sandstone 'castle', that also houses a visitor information area and research chambers. Within this building is also the final resting place of the Smithsonian Institution's founder, James Smithson, with his tomb being preserved in the crypt in the north entrance. Apart from the main building, the institution features as many as 17 museums and galleries within its sprawling complex that represent exhibits across the myriad fields of science, history, zoology, and art. Some of the most notable Smithsonian landmarks include the Natural History Museum and the African American Museum.

The National Museum of African Art brings the art and history of Africa to life through its comprehensive collection spanning millennia. From ancient times to the modern age, this museum takes you on a voyage of discovery of the diverse cultural and social fabric of this vast continent as you explore over 9,000 objects from virtually every African country. Beyond simply being a display room, the museum seeks to create a dialog between visitors and itself via educational talks, thematic exhibitions, films, storytelling workshops, music, and more. Highlights include the "Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon," "African Cosmos: Stellar Arts," classical treasures, African textiles, and artful animals. A part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of African Art is the only national level museum dedicated to preserving African art.

President Abraham Lincoln lived at this charming Gothic Revival cottage, located on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, for thirteen months in total during the years of 1862, 1863, and 1864. It was here that he developed the Emancipation Proclamation. The day before his assassination, Lincoln rode out to the cottage before heading back to the White House. Today, the cottage stands as a tribute to the "Great Orator". Guests can visit the cottage by purchasing a ticket for a guided tour of the grounds and building, the entrance is through Eagle Gate of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Keep in mind that it is recommended that you buy your tickets in advance.

Visitors should come prepared for an experience they're will not forget when visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. At the start of the tour, each visitor is given an identity card of a Holocaust victim that matches the visitor's own age and gender. Ordinary reality is skewed through off-center stairways, weird angles and the shadows of other visitors on the glass walkways overhead. An elaborate audio-visual display includes interviews, films and photographs. The Hall of Remembrance provides a calm, empty space at the end of the tour where one can reflect on the experience. The museum discourages children under 11 from attending. Admission to the museum is free. However, from March through August a free pass is required to enter the Permanent Exhibition. Passes are not required to gain entrance to the museum building, or to go to any of the smaller exhibitions, memorials, or special programming.

From stagecoach to Model T, learn about the techniques and technologies the U.S. Postal Service has employed to deliver mail over the years. Exhibits at the National Postal Museum also demonstrate the important role that mail has played in the country's development. Interactive computer displays and videos of train robberies are especially popular. Stamp collectors should not miss the museum shop. Admission is free.

Tucked into a courtyard in the heart of busy Georgetown, the Old Stone House dates back to 1765. It is believed to be the oldest building in Washington and the only one remaining from the pre-Revolutionary period. The house provides a glimpse of mid-18th century life in a cramped but functional living space. Simple furnishings can be found in most rooms.

You'll find the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall. Its structure is a throwback to adobe homes in early Native American culture. With a highly naturalistic design, the NMAI illustrates Native American history within a series of circles. Various works of art, artifacts, and other remnants of American Indian culture are on display. Changing exhibits provide a valuable addition to our understanding of American Indian culture. Past exhibits have included indigenous world views through dress, native modernism, and contemporary indigenous viewpoints as told through poetry. Admission to the museum is free. It is, however, recommended that a timed entry pass be reserved online (with a service charge) because of the popularity of this national exhibit.

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