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The Nuts and Bolts of a Holocaust Museum Visit

Ok, we've talked about the Holocaust Memorial Museum in general terms, and we've gone into what we expect to see in the individual exhibits. Let's dig into those little logistical details that can make or break a visit anywhere, so we can dispense with this crap and spend our time focusing on what really matters.

First off, timing is important. No doubt, you're a faithful reader of DC Like a Local, and know to come to DC in the fall. However, perhaps due to circumstance out of your control, you happen to be visiting in the Spring. It's going to make a difference at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Tickets to the Permanent Exhibit are required from March to August, and if you plan to be here then, try and order them ahead of time. Otherwise, no advance planning is required, other than making sure you have enough time.

Now, if all the tickets are sold out, don't despair. Only a portion of them are given away ahead of time; the remainder are available at the door starting at 10 am. A line will form an hour or so earlier, and if it's a very busy day (Cherry Blossom Festival, Memorial Day, etc.), you may consider joining it. However, I find that tickets are still available to 11, if not noon on most days. After the initial rush, ticket distribution moves indoors to the Information Desk in the main lobby (Hall of Witness on the maps). Either way, ask for the earliest tickets available (as you should do if you get them online as well). The great thing about the timed tickets at the Holocaust is that they're good for any time after the time on the ticket, as long as it's the same day. So if you score 11 am tickets, you can use them at 2 pm. No point on getting 3:45 tickets, then is there.

Now, it's important to note again that your tickets are only for the Permanent Exhibit. The Holocaust Memorial Museum itself does not require tickets, nor do the temporary exhibits, Daniel's Story, museum shop, or the cafe.

To get there, I strongly recommend the Metro, as parking nearby is scarce to nonexistent. The Orange/Blue lines stop a block away at the Smithsonian station. Follow the signs for the Department of Agriculture/Independence Ave exit, and when you get out walk straight along Independence one block (towards the Washington Monument), cross 14th ST, and walk half a block to your left. The general visitors line forms from one of the two entrances on 14th ST (hint: just get in the shorter one).

Tragically, we've all had a reminder as to why we need to go through security to enter. I personally find the security officers at the Holocaust Memorial Museum to be the most professional in DC, both in their thoroughness of ensuring our security and in the courtesy they extend to visitors. Help them out by having all electronic equipment (cell phone, cameras,etc.) out as well as any metal object. I leave change in my pocket and never set off the detectors. Incidentally, video/audio recording is not allowed, and photography is not permitted in the exhibit spaces.

You may wish to bring your camera for the Museum itself though, especially the Hall of Witness. It's an incredible building, and try to catch the presentation the staff puts together in the lobby. Look for the cart with the mock up of the building. It's a great discussion of how the design and architecture complements and reinforces your experience at the Museum. Be warned though, the design of the Museum is intended to jar you from your normal reality and separate you from your experience of walking the streets of Washington. At times, you will feel herded, crowded, and dislocated. This is not accidental, so be ready for it, especially if you are traveling in a group or with kids. Plan on meeting up back in the lobby if you get separated, and give everyone a time to meet.

If you plan on visiting the Museum around breakfast or lunch you have a couple of options. The Museum Cafe is quite good, if a bit pricey. It is vegetarian, and has kosher meals, naturally. To get there, exit the building through the rear entrance, walk across the plaza to the red brick building to your right, and go in. You will have to go through security again, but normally just takes a second. To return to the museum proper, you're supposed to go back to the 14th St entrance, but often a security guard at the rear, group entrance will give you a break. If you're looking for another option, I recommend the Department of Agriculture cafeteria a couple of blocks down C St, across 14th. 

And finally, let's touch on the most asked question of any tour to the Holocaust Memorial Museum: where are the bathrooms? Let me say this. I think James Ingo Freed is a genius. The way he uses architecture to heighten and enhance the telling of a profound story in many ways, both great and subtle, is incredible. No other museum in Washington is so sympathetic and compatible with its subject matter. But, for the love is all that is good, could the man just put a bathroom on the first floor? Would that have killed the art?

It's down the stairs to the left.

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Reader Comments (2)

Follow the signs for the Department of Agriculture/Independence Ave exit, and when you get out walk straight along Independence one block (towards the Washington Monument), cross 14th ST, and walk half a block to your right. The general visitors line forms from one of the two entrances on 14th ST (hint: just get in the shorter one).

Isn't the entrance half a block to the left after crossing 14th Street? You come up the escalator from the Metro and walk down Independence Avenue toward 14th Street. Cross 14th Street. And the museum is to your left on 14th Street.

January 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLara

Yup, sharp catch. Just fixed it, thanks.

January 28, 2010 | Registered CommenterTim Krepp

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