Our original plan for our second day in DC was to cover two museums, the National Museums of Natural History and American History. Since we ran out of time the day before and had to cut our Capitol Visitor Center visit short, we tacked on the Library of Congress and finishing the US Capitol Visitor Center to the beginning of the next museum day.
Library of Congress
Since the Library of Congress opens at 8:30, a full 1.5 hours before the Smithsonian Museums, we decided to start our day there. The security checkpoint didn’t have a line so we quickly went through and started our self-guided tour. You can print a self-guided tour pdf from online.
Founded in 1800, the library is the largest library in the world with more than 162 million items. Check out these fascinating facts about the library. Although we would’ve loved to go through the books (that’s not really allowed 😉 ), we were visiting to enjoy the artwork and architecture. Built in the style of the Italian Renaissance, this building will leave you breathless. This was one of my favorite stops.
Don’t shortchange your visit, allow plenty of time as not only will it take you a while to view everything around you – the floors, the walls, the paintings, the ceilings; there are also several exhibits to explore. Examine the Bible Gallery with a Gutenberg Bible and Giant Bible of Mainz. View the Mapping a New Nation Exhibition, Exploring the Early Americas Exhibition, and Thomas Jefferson’s Library. There was a lot more that we could have viewed but we needed to keep on our schedule for the day.
Visiting tip: One hour-long guided tours start at 10:30.
US Capitol Visitor Center
We took the tunnel from the Library of Congres to US Capitol Visitor Center where we quickly went through a security checkpoint with no line and back into the center. Our visit the day before had been cut short when the museum closed at 4:30, we just needed to finish touring the museum. We took about an hour to cover the visitor center to view the history of the US Capitol from the beginning from the planning and when George Washington placed the Cornerstone to today. Be sure to check out the very cool 3D model of the Capitol Dome.
Visiting tip: Be sure to explore the visitor center in a counterclockwise direction to start at the beginning of the Capitol’s timeline.
National Archives Museum
We walked down to the National Archives Museum to view the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and The Bill of Rights. This visit was a pop-in/pop-out as those are the only things we viewed. Don’t forget to look up! The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom where the documents are kept has a beautiful ceiling, paintings, and architecture.
Visiting tip: During peak visiting season, reserved timed visit entries are available. One hour docent-guided tour are available and are given once per day at 9:45.
National Museum of Natural History
We then moved on to the Natural History Museum. We had to wait about 10-15 minutes to get through security here. We only spent an hour going through this museum. Honestly, if you have a good local museum like we do, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, you could skip this one altogether. Highlights include the Hope Diamond, mummies, dinosaurs, and hands-on Q?rius carts throughout the museum.
Visiting tip: Check out the Museum’s list of Must-Sees to help plan your visit.
At this point, the troops started to grumble about empty stomachs. We headed down to eat lunch at the Atrium Cafe inside the Natural History Museum. However the line was going out the door and past the Cafe Natural, so I sent The Boy on recon to gather information about how long the line actually was. He came back to say it would take forever to get through. We decided to leave and go on to the American History Museum next door to check out their food options.
National Museum of American History
Luckily, the security line was short and the Stars and Stripes Cafeteria located on the Lower Level was only about a third full with minimal people in line. Helpful tip – to help cut liquid costs, have kiddos share fountain drinks, you can’t see it when you’re gathering food but there is a fountain drink stand. We ordered 2 chicken nugget meals, a hamburger, a slice of pizza, two turkey BLTs, two chips, 3 sodas and two waters totaling $77.
Once refueled, we started to explore the museum. Some parts of the museum have cool old things, but it started to seem like an American Pickers episode. Or a visit to an older relative’s barn with neat old relics but aren’t necessarily must-sees. For example, you’ll see Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, Bert & Ernie, and Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves.
For those of you trying to cover as much as possible in a short time frame, I suggest the following displays: The Star Spangled Banner flag on the second floor, Price of Freedom, Gunboat Philadelphia, American Presidency (which includes Washington’s uniform and Abraham Lincoln’s hat), and First Ladies (see the First Ladies’ evening gowns and china) all on the third floor. We spent about 2.5 hours here including dining time.
Visiting tip: The viewing room for the Star Spangled Banner flag has a nice padded bench along the opposite wall. If crowds aren’t too thick, this is a nice place to rest your tired feet, enjoy the flag, and maybe learn the other three stanzas to the national anthem.
What we accomplished on Day Two:
Library of Congress 8:45-10
US Capitol Visitor center 10-10:45
National Archives 11-11:30
National Museum of Natural History 11:30-1:15
National Museum of American History including lunch 1:15-3:45
Total distance walked: 5.5 miles.
Check out our Day 1 DC adventures.
Check out our Day 3 DC adventures.