A Beginner's Travel Guide to the NMAAHC

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. has welcomed more than 750,000 visitors since its opening late in September. The Smithsonian has been in the making since being signed into law by former President George W. Bush in November 2003. Such anticipation has caused long lines and big crowds, which can be intimidating and confusing without proper preparation. I had the opportunity to visit the museum with family and friends this past December, and have a few tips and tricks to ensure a smooth transition.

The first step in ensuring a carefree trip is securing a ticket to the museum. Entry to the Smithsonian is free, but a Timed Day Pass is required for entry. This can be handled one of three ways.

  • Advanced Time Day Passes are released monthly and have to be obtained in advance (Duh.) online through the official NMAAHC website. The museum is currently booked through May 2017 and passes for June 2017 won’t be released until March 1st at 9 a.m. (These have a history of selling out scary fast. Like within minutes.) Individuals are able to reserve six tickets at a time through the advanced Time Pass option. This is the option I used during my visit. I booked my ticket in September in order to visit in December.
  • Same-Day Online Time Passes are available for those who plan an impromptu trip or are just set on going on a particular day. These are available daily beginning at 6:30 a.m. until gone and allow individuals to reserve up to four tickets.
  • Weekday Walkups are also available for the brave and the bold. This option allows individuals walk-up entry on weekdays, due to low visitation volume, beginning at 1 p.m. I’ve had a few friends get very lucky with this option.

Getting a ticket is the hardest part. I drove about three hours from Southeast Virginia to Washington, D.C. on the day of my visit. This isn’t very far compared to other people, so I was able return home after my visit. Since the museum doesn’t offer parking, like most buildings in the city, I had to purchase a spot (about $30) in a nearby commercial parking garage a few blocks from the museum. My only advice once in the city is to switch from using the pre-loaded Maps application on your iPhone to the Google Maps application instead. Siri gets a bit confused in the city and will begin taking you down one way streets and leading you to dead ends, while Google Maps remains specific and detailed allowing you to get straight to your destination.

I was lucky enough to stay in the museum past its normal closing time due to an unfortunate power outage that happened the day before, but if it wasn’t for this, I would have only had about four hours to see the museum in its entirety. This is in no way enough time to thoroughly visit all four floors of this museum in such little time, so if possible, I would reserve an early morning time slot to ensure ample time to enjoy everything the museum has to offer.