I hadn’t actually planned on seeing the National Archives until Elizabeth yelled, “THEY HAVE THE MAGNA CARTA!!” My response: “Off we go!”
The National Archives is where all of our important documents live. Things like the Declaration of Independence, The US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are on view for you to see. But that isn’t the only thing worth seeing. They also have an excellent museum space that is fascinating, extremely well done, and forgotten by most visitors to Washington. Oh yeah, and they have the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta is an English document that dates back all the way to 1215, when it was signed. This is what first limited the power of the English king and is believed to be the first step on the road to Constitutional Law, meaning if the Magna Carta had never been signed, none of those other things they show off at the Archives would have existed. Anywho, I digress.
The National Archives are open for public tours daily (except Christmas Day), and you should expect a bit of a wait. It took us about 15 minutes to get through security (and it was the toughest security of anywhere I saw in DC), and then we had to wait another 30 minutes to be able to go into The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, where they keep all the American Documents. You need to be really careful when you go in here. Pictures are allowed in the Rotunda, but you absolutely cannot use a flash. If you want to try and see if your flash is turned off, do it outside in the hall. If your flash goes off, even as you are trying to disable it, you won’t be able to use the camera anymore. And they are not messing around. Those people in there will tear you to pieces if they see a flash!
There is a lot more to the national archives than just the “charters of freedom.” They also have a large museum space called the Public Vaults, and there is a lot of wonderful stuff in there. One thing that was excellent about it is the amount of hands-on activities. You can create your own seal, make a movie about D-Day, and learn about conservation of old documents. They also had some neat artifacts, like old hand-stitched samplers from the late 1700s, citizenship papers for Albert Einstein, and old CIA and FBI records you can peruse through.
Most people left the rotunda and walked straight out of the archives, but I really encourage you to look around. It was one of the best museums I have even been in, and they did an excellent job with the display and content. Make sure to also check out the wonderful museum shop they have. It was one of the best bookstores in DC, and they had a lot of unusual stuff.