After months of trying to secure tickets to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC, I finally scored a pair of timed tickets back in January. These tickets book out months in advance and are only released once per month so it is a big deal to get them. Last week, we finally were able to visit the NMAAHC on April 7, 2017.

I purposefully hadn’t read many reviews of this museum because I wanted to be surprised. I had heard general feedback that this museum experience was top-notch and that alone had raised my expectation.

Getting Tickets

The first thing to note is that, like other Smithsonian museums, tickets to the NMAAHC are free. Totally, absolutely free. So if someone is offering to sell you tickets, then it’s either a scam or someone just trying to make some money off of these very in-demand tickets.

The official NMAAHC ways to get tickets are:

  • Same-day online
  • Walk-ups (weekdays only)
  • Advance online

You can find details on how to get tickets on their timed entry passes page.

Getting Inside the NMAAHC

I’ve noticed that the classic DC tourist experience involves standing in line. It doesn’t even matter where you are going or what you are trying to see – you are going to stand in line.

We had timed tickets for a 2:15pm entry to the NMAAHC on a Friday afternoon. We had run into school groups all over town, so I was pleasantly surprised to find no line to get into the building. As we were walking up, there was a rope line and signage – clear indicators that there is usually a large group of people in line to get in.

The building itself is situated  between 14th and 15 Street NW, sandwiched between the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Washington Monument. From the outside it doesn’t look like a big building, until you realize that you are only seeing half of it.

Starting Point

When you walk in, you are in the lobby which divides the museum in half – 3 floors up above you  and 3 floors down below (map). If you want to follow the exhibit chronologically, you must head downstairs to the lowest level at C3 and walk up from there. There is a line to get on a room-sized elevator that takes you all the way down, which is the only elevator you will need. Ramps connect the floors together on the way up.

I won’t go into detail about the artifacts, exhibits, and stories being told. There is so much and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. But you need to allot at least a few hours and up to maybe half of a day in order to fully see everything here. Our timed ticket allowed us 3.5 hours in the museum before it closed, and we were rushing through it near the end.

Among the many, many artifacts that drew my attention was Nat Turner’s well-used Bible. In this Smithsonian Magazine article, curator Rex Ellis says that this bible is believed to be the one Tuner was holding when he was captured.

Nat Tuner's Bible is on display at the NMAAHC.
Nat Tuner’s Bible is on display at the NMAAHC.

Another portion of the museum that drew my attention was the area documenting segregation and the events of the 1960s. It is in this modern history where you can see the parallels of the stories told in the lower levels of the museum – that we had learned nothing over the course of 500+ years and had repeated the same mistakes as in the past.

Segregated drinking fountain at NMAAHC
Segregated drinking fountain on display at NMAAHC.

For more information about the NMAAHC, including how to obtain free tickets, see their official website.

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