Joy of Museums Virtual Tours

Virtual Tours of Museums, Art Galleries, and Historic Sites

National Museums in the United States – Virtual Tour

National Museums in the United States - Virtual Tour

National Museums in the United States – Virtual Tour

National Museums in the United States are museums that are authorized by Congress. Some of these national museums are operated and funded by the federal government. Some are designated as National Museums but are privately operated and financed. 

Congress has designated some private museums as national museums; this recognition is honorific and restricted to museums of national importance. These museums are funded and operated without government involvement.

Not all museums designated “national” have received this designation through congressional action. Some museums have designated themselves as national

Of the more than 35,000 museums in the United States, National Museums are some of the most popular.

Virtual Tour of the National Museums in the United States

Highlights Tour of the National Museums of the United States

National Museum of the United States Air Force

The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world, with over 360 aircraft and missiles on display.

The museum dates to 1923, but only in 1954 did it became public.  Under the name of the Air Force Museum, it was housed in its first permanent facility, an engine overhaul hangar, at the former Patterson Field in Fairborn.

The current facility opened in 1971, with the additional hangars being added to extend the size and scope of the museum. The museum was appointed in 2004 as the National Museum of the United States Air Force. 

The museum’s collection contains many rare aircraft of importance and many artifacts from the history and development of aviation.

National Museum of the Marine Corps

The National Museum of the Marine Corps is a historical museum that opened in 2006. The museum replaces both the Marine Corps Historical Center and the Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum.

The museum’s exterior is meant to: “evoke the image of the flag raisers of Iwo Jima.”

The National Museum of the Marine Corps is designed to be the centerpiece of a complex of facilities called the Marine Corps Heritage Center.

This campus includes Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, Semper Fidelis Chapel, a demonstration area with parade grounds, and much more.

National Air and Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum displays the most extensive collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It was established in 1946 and opened its main building in 1976.

The museum contains historical objects such as the Apollo 11 module, the Friendship 7 capsule, the Bell X-1, which broke the sound barrier, and the Wright brothers’ plane.

The main building of the National Air and Space Museum is on the National Mall near L’Enfant Plaza.  

The Museum also operates an annex at Dulles International Airport, which opened in 2003 and itself encompasses 760,000 square feet (71,000 m2).

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a Smithsonian Institution Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

It has over 35,000 objects in its collection related to African American History and Culture and is open to the public free of charge.

The museum was established in 2003, and it opened in 2016, in a ceremony led by U.S. President Barack Obam.

Its collection relates to African American subjects of community, family, the visual and performing arts, religion, civil rights, slavery, and segregation.

The museum has separate 12 exhibition areas with multiple interactive activities and videos across five floors.

National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is a natural history museum administered by the Smithsonian Institution.

The museum was one of the first Smithsonian buildings explicitly constructed to hold the national collections and research facilities.

The museum’s collections contain over 126 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human remains, and human cultural artifacts.

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Smithsonian Institution and its collection focuses on images of famous Americans.

The museum is housed in the Old Patent Office Building, as is the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

National Veterans Memorial and Museum

The National Veterans Memorial and Museum is the United States’ national museum for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. The museum is focused on the personal stories of U.S. veterans.

The museum focuses on the stories of veterans and individuals with the mission to: “honor, inspire, connect, and educate.”

The museum houses personal artifacts such as footlockers, military ribbons, and the letters that service men and women sent home.

Exhibits include stories from veterans dating from the American Revolutionary War up to recent conflicts. It intends to educate civilians about the diverse backgrounds veterans have and their roles in the military.

National Nordic Museum

The National Nordic Museum is a museum in Seattle, Washington, dedicated to the history of the area’s Nordic immigrants.

The museum exhibits Nordic culture, preserving collections, and cultural experiences from Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish Americans.

The museum was founded in 1980 and was designated as the National Nordic Museum in 2019. 

The museum was initially known as the ‘Nordic Heritage Museum’ and was later renamed with the mission is to share:

“Nordic culture with people of all ages and backgrounds by exhibiting art and objects, preserving collections, providing educational and cultural experiences, and serving as a community gathering place.”

National Museum of the United States Navy

The National Museum of the United States Navy is located in the old Naval Gun Factory on the grounds of the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. The museum collects, preserves, and displays naval artifacts and artwork.

The U.S. Navy Museum was established in 1961 as one of 15 Navy museums throughout the country. As a National Museum, it is the only one that presents an overview of U. S. naval history. This museum was amongst America’s earliest federal museums.

Exhibitions commemorate the Navy’s wartime heroes and battles as well as its peacetime contributions in exploration, space flight, navigation, and humanitarian service.

The museum’s predecessors, the Washington Navy Yard began in 1865 and the museum features a collection that dates from the 1800s. The first artifact collected was a French gun, cast in 1793 at Lyons, captured during the Quasi-War with France, 1798–1801. 

National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center is an interactive museum and a national town hall for constitutional dialogue, hosting government leaders, journalists, scholars, and celebrities for public discussions.

The nonpartisan institution is located on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and offers resources onsite and online. 

The center opened in 2003, joining other closeby historic sites and attractions such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

The center was created by the Constitution Heritage Act in 1988, the act defined: “The Center shall disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a non-partisan basis in order to increase the awareness and understanding of the Constitution among the American people.”

The National WWII Museum

The National WWII Museum is a military history museum that focuses on the contribution made by the United States to Allied victory in World War II. The museum was founded in 2000, and the U.S. Congress designated it as America’s official National WWII Museum in 2003.

The museum opened as the D-Day Museum, on the 56th anniversary of D-Day, focusing on the invasion of Normandy. The Higgins boats that were vital to amphibious operations were designed, built, and tested in New Orleans, the location of the museum.

The museum is a Smithsonian Institution affiliated museum. It also sponsors a wargaming club and holds a wargame convention each year called “Heat of Battle”.

The mission statement of the museum emphasizes the American experience in World War II.

National World War I Museum and Memorial

The National World War I Museum and Memorial of the United States opened as the Liberty Memorial museum in 1926. The United States Congress designated it as America’s official museum dedicated to World War I in 2004.

The museum tells the story of the Great War and related global events from their origins before 1914 through the 1918 armistice and 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

Visitors enter the exhibit space across a glass bridge above a field of 9,000 red poppies, each one representing 1,000 combatant deaths.

The memorial grounds include a sizeable elliptical fountain, and on each side is a tapering staircase ascending to the commemorative deck.

The approach from the south contains the “Walk of Honor,” a series of engraved bricks in three sections commemorating veterans of World War I, veterans of all wars, and honored civilians.

National Civil War Museum

The National Civil War Museum is a history museum that preserves the material culture relevant to the American Civil War of 1861–1865, and the aftermath of the war.

It also provides sources of information related to Civil War Veterans’ service organizations, including the Grand Army of the Republic, United Confederate Veterans and the Daughters of the Confederacy to 1920.

The museum also serves as the National Headquarters for the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the successor to the Grand Army of the Republic. 

The exhibition covers the period from 1850 to 1876, with its major focus on the Civil War years of 1861 to 1865.

The Museum’s collection includes over 24,000 artifacts, photographs, documents, manuscripts, and other printed matter. Three-dimensional artifacts collection comprises of about 3,500 items.

National Civil Rights Museum

The National Civil Rights Museum traces the history of the civil rights movement in the United States from the 17th century to the present. The museum is built around the former Lorraine Motel, which was the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

The museum consists of a complex of historic buildings in Memphis, Tennessee, with exhibits on the history and legacy of the civil rights movement.

Following the assassination of King, Room 306 where King died, and the adjoining room were maintained as a memorial to the activist leader. 

Eventually, a museum complex was developed, and in 1991, the museum was opened to the public.

The foundation also became the custodian of the police and evidence files associated with the assassination, including the rifle and fatal bullet. 

National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian is a museum focused on the culture of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. 

The museum has three facilities:

  • The National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
  • The George Gustav Heye Center is located at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City.
  • The Cultural Resources Center, a research and collections facility, is located in Suitland, Maryland.

The foundations for the collections were first assembled in the former Museum of the American Indian in New York City, which was established in 1916. It became part of the Smithsonian in 1989.

CIA Museum

The CIA Museum is a national archive for the collection, documentation, and exhibition of intelligence artifacts, culture, and history.

The Central Intelligence Agency Museum collection of over 3,500 artifacts has been officially declassified. However, since the museum is on the compound of the Center for Intelligence, it is not accessible to the public.

The CIA Museum has partnerships with Presidential Libraries and other major museums to create exhibitions dedicated to understanding the craft of intelligence and its role in American history.

The museum’s collection includes artifacts from the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the activities of foreign intelligence organizations, and the history and mission of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The museum’s collection includes clothing, equipment, weapons, and memorabilia used by intelligence organizations historically and presently.

National Cryptologic Museum

The National Cryptologic Museum is focused on American cryptologic history that is affiliated with the National Security Agency (NSA).

It was the first public museum in the U.S. Intelligence Community and is located close to NSA headquarters at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. 

The museum offers tours that describe Cryptology’s history led by docents who are retired NSA employees. 

The museum’s collection contains thousands of artifacts. Initially, it started with the housing of NSA artifacts for employees only. Later the museum developed into a collection of U.S. cryptologic history that became public.

Some artifacts date back to pre-American Revolutionary War times when George Washington integrated military intelligence tactics, including coded messaging, into the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

National Postal Museum

The National Postal Museum houses the National Philatelic Collection. Also, it hosts many artifacts and displays about the history of the United States Postal Service and of mail services around the world.

The museum is located across the street from Union Station in the building that once served as the main post office of Washington, D.C., from 1914 to 1986. 

The United States Postal Service is an independent agency of the executive branch of the federal government responsible for providing postal service in the United States.

It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution.

The Service traces its roots to 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general. The Post Office Department was created in 1792 with the passage of the Postal Service Act.

National Museum of Health and Medicine

The National Museum of Health and Medicine is a museum founded in 1862 by the U.S. Army Surgeon General as the Army Medical Museum.

The Army Medical Museum was established during the American Civil War as a center for the collection of specimens for research in military medicine and surgery.

In 1862, the U.S. Army Surgeon General directed medical officers in the field to collect “specimens of morbid anatomy…together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed” and to forward them to the newly founded museum for study. 

During and after the war, the museum’s staff took pictures of wounded soldiers showing the effects of gunshot wounds as well as the results of surgical procedures.

The information collected was compiled into six volumes of “The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion,” published between 1870 and 1883.

National Museum of African Art

The National Museum of African Art has a collection that includes 9,000 works of traditional and contemporary African art from Sub-Saharan and Arab North Africa.

The institution was first founded in 1964, with a collection focused on traditional African art. It joined the Smithsonian Institution in 1979 and became the National Museum of African Art two years later.

As the Smithsonian Institution’s African art museum, it was the first institution dedicated to African art in the United States.

Today the collection is exhibited in a mostly underground museum building that was completed in 1987, just off the National Mall and adjacent to other Smithsonian museums. 

The National Museum of African Art collects traditional and contemporary works of historical importance.

National Museum of American History

The National Museum of American History collects the heritage of the United States in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific, and military history.

The museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution and located on the National Mall.

National Museum of the Pacific War

The National Museum of the Pacific War is located at the boyhood home of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Nimitz was Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas during World War II.

The six-acre site includes the Admiral Nimitz Museum, which tells the story of Nimitz beginning with his life as a young boy through his naval career.

The Admiral Nimitz Foundation was established in 1964 to develop a museum in Nimitz’s birthplace, Fredericksburg, Texas.

The hotel that was owned by Nimitz’s grandfather was restored to its original design and renamed the Admiral Nimitz Museum by an act of the Texas legislature in 1968.

In 1976, the 130th anniversary of the founding of Fredericksburg, the Japanese government gifted the museum a Japanese Garden of Peace.

National Railroad Museum

The National Railroad Museum was founded in 1956 and is one of the oldest and largest institutions in the United States dedicated to preserving and interpreting the nation’s railroad history.

The museum has an extensive collection of rolling stock that spans more than a century of railroading and several historic locomotives.

The museum also exhibits a variety of railroad artifacts, an archive, and a photography gallery. There is a standard gauge track around the perimeter of the grounds. 

National Railroad Museum collections include:

  • The Rolling Stock Collection – includes Steam, Diesel, and Electric Locomotives, Passenger cars, Freight cars, Cabooses, and other equipment.
  • The Archives Collection – corporate records and documents, annual reports, maps, mechanical and engineering drawings, and oral histories
  • The Library Collection – related to the social, economic, political, and cultural aspects of U.S. railroading history
  • The Artifact Collection – over 5,000 artifacts, including textiles, uniforms, tools, and personal items
  • The Photograph Collection – over 15,000 photographic prints, slides, and film negatives representing railroading in the U.S..S. from 1890 through the present day

The National Railroad Museum, with the reporting mark NRMX, is located in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin, in suburban Green Bay.

National Quilt Museum

The National Quilt Museum is an art museum that exhibits fiber art and quilting from around the world. It is the only museum in the United States dedicated to quilts and quiltmakers.

The museum exhibits a rotating selection from the museum’s collection of over 600 quilts. There is also dedicated exhibit space for rotating fiber art exhibits. 

The museum offers educational opportunities and hosts forums and conferences celebrating quilt projects from across the country.

In 2008, the U.S. Congress designated the museum as “The National Quilt Museum” of the United States, bringing recognition to the quality and significance of the institution.

National Building Museum

The National Building Museum is a museum of architecture, design, engineering, construction, and urban planning. The museum was created by an act of Congress in 1980 and hosts various exhibits in galleries around the Great Hall.

The building that houses the museum was completed in 1887 for the United States Pension Bureau. It is an early example of Renaissance Revival architecture.

The building’s architect departed from the established Greco-Roman models that were the basis of most government buildings in Washington, D.C. The design was based on Italian Renaissance precedents, notably Rome’s Palazzo Farnese and the Palazzo della Cancelleria.

The building was used for federal government offices until the 1960s, and later the building has formally renamed the National Building Museum in 1997.

National Atomic Testing Museum

The National Atomic Testing Museum chronicles the history of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site in the desert north of Las Vegas. The museum operates as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.

The museum opened in 2005 as the “Atomic Testing Museum” and in 2011, the museum was designated a national museum becoming one of thirty-seven National Museum of the United States.

The museum covers the period from the first test at the Nevada Test Site in 1951 to the present.

In 2012 the museum added an exhibit about “Area 51,” the highly classified United States Air Force (USAF) facility located within the Nevada Test and Training Range.

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History is a national repository of nuclear science information. The mission of the National Museum is to serve as America’s resource for nuclear history and science.

The museum’s exhibits cover the diversity of individuals and events that shaped the historical and technical context of the nuclear age.

The Museum was initially established in 1969 on the grounds of Kirtland Air Force Base. In 1985, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) became responsible for the Museum.

In 1991 the Museum received its charter as a national museum, and its mission expanded to include aspects of nuclear science and history beyond the manufacturing of nuclear weapons.

National Museum of Wildlife Art

The National Museum of Wildlife Art preserves and exhibits wildlife art. The Museum is located amid a wildlife habitat that overlooks the National Elk Refuge. 

The collection reflects traditional and contemporary realism exhibited in 14 galleries. The Museum has a sculpture trail, children’s discovery gallery, and library.

The Museum’s mission is to collect, interpret, and preserve the highest quality wildlife art while inspiring appreciation and knowledge of humanity’s relationship with nature.

The Museum was founded in 1987, and during 1994, the Museum opened its current facility, which is a 51,000 square foot building with an Idaho quartzite façad.

The Museum has over 5,000 artworks by 550 artists, which include works Auguste Rodin, Picasso, Rembrandt, Archibald Thorburn, Daniel Huntington, Rosa Bonheur, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Andy Warhol.

National Museum of the United States Army

The National Museum of the United States Army is the official Museum for the history of the United States Army and is due for opening just outside Washington, DC.

The Museum aims to honor America’s soldiers, preserve history, and educate about the Army’s role in American history. The ground was broken for the new Museum facility in 2016 and it is scheduled to open in 2020.

The main building exhibits aspects of the United States Army Center of Military History. Outside, this facility is a park with gardens and a parade ground. 

The U.S. Army will operate and maintain the Museum and Army Historical Foundation will be responsible for all revenue-generating operations.

National Naval Aviation Museum

The National Naval Aviation Museum is a military and aerospace museum dedicated to the history of naval aviation, including that of the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps, and the United States Coast Guard.

The Museum’s mission is to collect, preserve, and exhibit aspects of the development and historical heritage of United States Naval Aviation.

Over 150 aircraft and spacecraft are on display, including historic and one-of-a-kind aircraft both inside the Museum’s exhibit space and outside on the Museum’s 37-acre (150,000 m2) grounds.

Adjacent to the Museum is the National Flight Academy, a four-story simulated aircraft carrier housing over 30 networked flight simulators. 

National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum

The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum houses exhibits focused on the role of Navy Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and the Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) teams. 

The museum’s collection includes several rare artifacts dating from the founding of the SEALs through the Underwater Demolition Teams in WWII, to the present-day activities of U.S. Navy SEAL.

The museum’s facility opened in 1985 and was recognized as a National Museum by an act of Congress in 2008. The UDT-SEAL Memorial is the only memorial dedicated exclusively to the United States Navy SEALs and their predecessors.

The Memorial consists of a 9-foot-tall, bronze sculpture of a modern Navy SEAL.

The names of all UDT members, the “Frogmen” of World War II, and the modern Navy SEAL who have died in the service are carved into black, granite panels on the walls surrounding the sculpture and its reflecting pool.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park

The National Zoological Park is one of the oldest zoos in the United States and is part of the Smithsonian Institution. The Zoo host about 2,700 animals of 390 different species, of which about one-fifth are endangered or threatened.

The National Zoo has two campuses. The first is a 163-acre (66 ha) urban park located in Northwest Washington, D.C. The other campus is the 3,200-acre (1,300 ha) Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia.

The Zoo’s mission is to:  “provide engaging experiences with animals and create and share knowledge to save wildlife and habitats.”

The Zoo supports 180 species of trees, 850 species of woody shrubs and herbaceous plants, 40 species of grasses, and 36 different species of bamboo.

The Zoo first started as the National Museum’s Department of Living Animals in 1886, and the National Zoo was created in 1889. In 1890, it became a part of the Smithsonian Institution. 

National Law Enforcement Museum

The National Law Enforcement Museum covers the history and structure of American law enforcement with exhibits, historical and contemporary artifacts. 

The Museum is an underground facility located adjacent to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC’s Judiciary Square.

The Museum’s exhibitions include permanent galleries and one changing exhibition gallery. 

The Museum tells the story of law enforcement in the United States. Tales of the fallen are featured in the Museum’s “Hall of Remembrance.” 

National Museum of Dentistry

National Museum of Dentistry preserves and exhibits the history of dentistry in the United States and the world. The museum is located on the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, home of the nation’s first dental school.

The museum exhibits numerous artifacts concerning dentistry throughout the ages as well as highlighting trends in oral health and the dentistry profession.

The Dr. Samuel D. Harris Museum of Dentistry received congressional designation as the nation’s official dental museum in 2003 and it also became an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, founded in 1840 was the birthplace of the Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) degree. It is known as the first dental college in the world.

National Mining Hall of Fame

The National Mining Hall of Fame is a museum dedicated to commemorating the work of miners and people who work with natural resources. 

The Museum is a federally chartered memorial for the men and women who have achieved recognition in the mining industry and related fields. The Museum’s board of governors selects inductees to the National Mining Hall of Fame.

The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum is the only national mining museum with a federal charter, which was passed in 1988.

Personal mining artifacts in the Museum’s collection include helmets, uniforms, and other adornments. Communication and celebratory artifacts include personal symbols, awards, and other memorabilia.

The photography collection contains photographic materials ranging from film negatives and transparency slides to digital prints and photo albums, related to the mining industry and the Hall of Fame.

The National Museum of the U.S. Airforce

Air & Space Museum Washington DC


Virtual Tours of American Museums

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Nordic Museum


“All power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people.”
– James Madison, the “father of the Constitution,”


Photo Credit: Noclip / Public domain

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