One of the prime repositories of US cultural artefacts is the National Museum of American History, which was imaginatively renovated in 2008. A wide common area off the lobby is lined with “artefact walls” that show off some of the items that the museum previously had to keep in storage – from 200-year-old tavern signs and toy chests, to the John Bull, the nation’s oldest functioning steam locomotive, dating from 1831. Elsewhere in the museum, you’re apt to find anything from George Washington’s wooden teeth to Jackie Kennedy’s designer dresses to Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. You could easily spend a full day poking around the displays, but three to four hours would be a reasonable compromise – and to stick to this time frame, you’ll have to be selective. The museum’s biggest draw is the battered red, white and blue flag that inspired the US national anthem – the Star-Spangled Banner itself, which survived the British bombardment of Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812. Until the new National Museum of African American History and Culture opens on the Mall (due in 2015; nmaahc.si.edu) exhibits from its collection are on display here.

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