Updated on November 1, 2023 by Julie McCool
The impressive new US Army Museum is a must-visit destination in Northern Virginia packed with exhibits and artifacts that tell the Soldier's experience over 245 years of Army history. The museum's fascinating and engaging exhibits will appeal to history buffs, families, and adults of every age.
The National Museum of the United States Army opened in late 2020 on the grounds of Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The Northern Virginia location is close to Washington DC and easy to visit for a few hours or a full day.
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Northern Virginia is already home to two national museums—the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly. Now the US Army Museum joins those and other sites like George Washington's Mount Vernon to tell the story of America.
How to Visit the US Army Museum
Visiting the National Museum of the US Army is both convenient and free. There is no admission fee and parking in the large lot is also free. However, timed entry tickets are required as a measure to control capacity limits.
Reserve your timed-entry tickets online at the museum website. You'll need to set up an account to secure tickets, but the process is easy and no credit card is required since the tickets are free.
The US Army Museum is open from 9:00 to 5:00 every day except December 25. While it is located on Fort Belvoir, the museum is outside the gates so you do not need an ID or visitor pass to enter.
US Army Museum Exhibits and Galleries
The US Army Museum motto is “Every soldier has a story.” Artifacts and events are connected to the individual experiences of the men and women whose lives they touched. This personal view of pivotal campaigns, battles, and deployments connects visitors in a way that traditional history lessons often miss.
Most of the action is on the museum's first floor including a theater, exhibit galleries, a hands-on learning center, the Museum Cafe, and a store. A special exhibition gallery, Medal of Honor Garden, two smaller exhibits, and event space are on the 2nd and 3rd floors.
The museum impresses even before you enter. Slick stainless steel pavilions fronted by a wall of glass panels rise from a paved Entry Plaza. Inside the lobby, a coffered ceiling displays colorful campaign streamers used from the Revolutionary War to the present. At one end, a granite Campaign Wall lists the campaigns that each streamer represents.
Soldiers Stories Gallery
A series of pillars leads from outside to the Soldiers Stories Gallery. Each pillar highlights a story of a Soldier's bravery and dedication, their faces etched in the stainless steel surface.
The Army Theater
The Army Theater is an excellent first stop in your US Army Museum visit. Here the film “Of Noble Deeds” is shown on a 300-degree screen that wraps around the seats. The film is a moving introduction to the Army's core values and how they are reflected in the field.
During battle scenes, the volume rises and chairs shake, pulling viewers into the action. The film is shown multiple times every hour and you don't need a separate ticket. Note that one showing per hour is geared to accessibility, with closed captioning and limited sensory elements.
Historical Exhibit Galleries at the US Army Museum
A series of seven galleries tell the Soldier's story from the Founding of the Nation to today's Changing World. Each gallery highlights a period in the Army's 245+ year history and the stories of the Soldiers who served.
Exhibits cover the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I and II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Cold War, and more recent conflicts in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. It will be interesting to see how exhibits are updated to reflect recent campaigns.
Each gallery is packed with artifacts and information and it would take at least a full day to read and absorb all of the displays. Videos and interactive displays add to the experience. We chose to sample a few of the displays in each room, and plan to return for more visits.
One of the highlights of the museum is the docents who staff each gallery. These friendly volunteers have fascinating stories to tell about some of the most unusual and important artifacts. For example, our docent excitedly told us about the fragment of a flag carried into battle in 1863 (depicted in the movie Glory).
An unusual air rifle, carried by Merriweather Lewis as he surveyed land for the Louisianna Purchase, prompted another interesting story. In the World War II displays, we learned how a rifle carried into Normandy on D-Day made its way to the museum's collection.
Artifacts range from the personal to the famous. A Soldier's small pocket Bible. An iconic hat worn by General Douglas McArthur. Not all of the artifacts fit behind glass cases. Full-size tanks, a Higgins Boat landing vehicle, helicopters, and more add drama and underscore the enormous scale of battle.
Across the hall, the Army and Society Gallery connects the Army experience with everyday life in America. Exhibits, including a full-scale Wright Flyer, highlight the connection between military developments and civilian life.
Virtual Reality and Motion Simulators
In the Army Action Center, visitors can step into the action at three virtual reality and motion simulation experiences. Find out what it's like inside a World War II tank, test your marksmanship skills, or fly in historic aircraft. These are paid experiences and you can buy tickets online or during your visit.
Experiential Learning Center
If you have children in your group be sure to visit the Experiential Learning Center, near the entrance on the first floor. Here kids of every age can try hands-on challenges in science, engineering, math, technology, and geography.
The center may be geared to kids but we adults were very engaged as we helped diagnose disease, calculate a drop target, and check the stability of a bridge. Don't miss the medical tent, where you can look at your skin under a high-powered telescope.
Upper Level Galleries and Exhibits
Head to the second floor to see additional exhibits and the outdoor Medal of Honor Garden. There are elevators behind the Campaign Wall or you can take the stairs near the store. The second floor offers another excellent view of the lobby displays.
Special Exhibition Gallery
On the second floor, the Special Exhibition Gallery showcases rotating exhibits. The initial exhibit, The Art of Soldiering, is a fascinating look at artwork from the Army's collection. Artwork from as early as the Civil War reflects the personal experiences of Army Artists in the field. From tiny sketchpads to impressive paintings, the works share moments in camp, on patrol, and on the battlefield.
Third Floor Exhibits
The final public areas are on the third floor, including two small exhibits and the Medal of Honor Garden. The Nesei Soldier Experience uses video and artifacts to tell the story of Japanese American Soldiers who served in World war II. A second exhibit, the Medal of Honor Experience, describes the process used to identify and award Medal of Honor recipients.
Outside, the Metal of Honor Garden interprets the history of the medal and its recipients. The garden was closed during our visit due to construction, but we'll be back to see this space in person.
Conveniently, the Army Museum has a nice cafe where you can take a break and fuel up during your visit. There is seating indoors and on a pretty outdoor patio. Cafe staff kindly walked us through placing an order at the checkout kiosk.
The cafe menu offers grab-and-go and made-to-order sandwiches and grill items along with snacks, treats, and drinks. We tried the Vegetable Black Bean Burger and the Sargeant Major (a turkey avocado sandwich) with fries and both were very good.
US Army Museum Store
When you have finished visiting the exhibits, be sure to stop in the Museum Store. The store is stocked with the expected logo t-shirts, hats, and sweatshirts but they have some eclectic items too. Oversize green army men, packs of toy vehicles, and stuffed eagles are a hit with kids. An interesting book collection will appeal to history buffs.
Close to the register, we saw a few items that would make interesting gifts. The General's Hot Sauce features three sauce flavors in grenade-shaped bottles. By contrast, a collection of Yoga Joes, small army men in yoga poses, sports the tag line “Here to keep the inner peace.”
US Army Museum FAQ and Essential Info
Here is additional information for your visit to the museum. Check the museum website for the latest event and visitor updates.
Where is the US Army Museum?
The National Museum of the United States Army is located at 1775 Liberty Drive in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Turn onto Liberty Drive from the Fairfax County Parkway, about 2 miles southeast of Route 95 exit 166A. The museum is:
- 20 miles from Washington DC via Route 395/95
- 18 miles from Regan National Airport via 395/95
- 32 miles from Dulles International Airport via 267 to 95
Public transportation options are limited. The closest Metro station is the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station on the Blue line. From the station, take the Fairfax County Connector Bus 334, which only runs on weekdays.
How do I get Army Museum tickets?
Reserve your free timed-entry tickets on the museum website. The easy process is complete in a few steps:
- Select the date and time you want to visit,
- Identify how many free tickets you need. Optionally, purchase add-on tickets for three different Virtual Reality experiences.
- Enter your name, address, email, and phone then set up a password.
- Your tickets will be mailed to the email address you provided. When you enter the building, show the emailed ticket at the desk to sign in.
Does the museum have a cafe? Can I bring my own food?
The museum has a nice cafe that serves a range of salads, sandwiches, and items from the grill along with snacks, desserts, and drinks.
Visitors can not bring food or drinks into the museum except for sealed water bottles. If you want to bring your own refillable water bottle, empty it before you go through screening. There are water fountains with convenient bottle fillers on every floor.
Is the US Army Museum good for kids?
Yes, the National Museum of the US Army is great for kids, though short attention spans may make for a quicker visit. Middle and high school history buffs will enjoy learning the stories behind the artifacts. Younger children will be impressed with the scale of full-size tanks and helicopters. And the Experiential Learning Center offers hands-on fun with geography, medicine, engineering, and more.
Is the Army Museum accessible?
Yes, the US Army Museum is fully accessible and there are a limited number of wheelchairs available to visitors. Follow the link for details about accessibility accommodations.
Places to Go Near the US Army Museum
While you could spend a whole day inside the Army Museum, there is a lot to do in the surrounding area. Make it a day trip or longer getaway and visit these nearby parks and museums.
- Mason Neck State Park is a beautiful spot to hike, paddle, and play. The Mason Neck Peninsula also has excellent bike trails and more historic sites like Gunston Hall.
- George Washington's Mount Vernon is just 7 miles east of the Army Museum.
- Huntley Meadows Park is one of the most interesting wetlands in Northern Virginia, and it features a beautiful, wheelchair accessible boardwalk.
- A popular 4.5-mile trail circles Burke Lake, and there is seasonal fishing, paddling, mini-golf, and more.
- At the Workhouse Arts Center and nearby Occoquan Regional Park, learn about women's fight for the right to vote. The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, which opened in 2021, shares critical events which occured here and during the long fight for the vote.
Where to Stay Near the US Army Museum
Alexandria makes an excellent base for visiting the Army Museum and the surrounding area. Stay in Old Town Alexandria and you'll be surrounded by American history and the lovely Potomac waterfront.
The new US Army Museum is an impressive addition to Northern Virginia and the Washington DC area. The museum's vast collection of artifacts and exhibits are engaging, thought-provoking, and inspiring.