Image by Barbara Noe Kennedy Lonely Planet
It's hard not to feel a little in awe of the big three documents in the Archives: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Taken together, it becomes clear just how radical the American experiment was. The archival bric-a-brac of the Public Vaults makes a flashy rejoinder to the main exhibit. You can reserve tickets (www.recreation.gov) for $1.50 and use the fast-track entrance on Constitution Ave (especially recommended in spring and summer).
The David M Rubenstein Gallery explores the evolution of rights in the United States from its earliest days through to the present. Among its vast collection of photographs, documents, videos and interactive exhibits, its most coveted artifact is one of four surviving originals of the 1297 Magna Carta.