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Exploring the National WWII Museum in New Orleans

Relive the triumphs and tragedies of the war from the "Day of Infamy" to victory

The National World War II Museum - Higgins Landing

Rubens Alarcon/Alamy Stock Photo

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COVID-19 Update

The museum is currently operating at reduced capacity with entry-timed tickets to manage crowds (avoid the line by buying tickets in advance online). It has implemented social distancing guidelines and enhanced sanitizing and cleaning procedures. The USS Tang exhibit is temporarily closed. Check the website for updates.

The steel Higgins landing craft awaits with its door open, as if inviting you to climb aboard for the 1944 D-Day assault. Above, a C-47 propeller plane hangs ready to drop paratroopers with support from looming artillery pieces. Immersed in these full-size instruments of war, you can almost imagine sailing on the jarring ride to Omaha Beach, packed in with two dozen other soldiers, salt spray flying over the sides, explosions all around. As your Higgins craft reaches shore and its ramp lowers, you “enter into Hell,” as a display quotes a soldier who was there.

Welcome to the stark concrete-pillbox atrium of the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, the main entrance to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. You'll likely feel such visceral emotions in the atrium and throughout all five of the museum's buildings, which bring to life the entire wartime experience — from the home front to the European and Pacific battlefields, from the “Day of Infamy” of Pearl Harbor to the ultimate victory over fascism.

Walking through the museum's exhibit halls not only reveals the grand story arc of World War II, but within it the triumph and tragedy of individual soldiers’ daily lives shared through humble artifacts and oral histories. Viewing the battered boots, the shattered guns, the tiny life preservers and the diary pages with shaky script describing a young soldier's horror and fear has an impact beyond what you can read in a book or see in a movie. The combination of sweeping narrative and personal touches describing the war's origins, impact and aftermath makes the National WWII Museum a must-visit not only for history buffs, but for any American. As Curator Kimberly Guise says, “Even visitors who think they're not history people find something they really like here.”

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Education Images/Getty Images

Plan Your Trip

Location: 945 Magazine St.

Getting there: The museum is located in New Orleans’ Arts & Warehouse District, about a mile from the French Quarter, but still close to many area hotels, restaurants and entertainment options. The city's streetcar line has a stop about two blocks away, and city buses drop off visitors directly in front of the campus. Paid parking is available in the museum's garage across the street from the entrance, with several other garages in the neighborhood.

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and, of course, Mardi Gras Day (Fat Tuesday)

Admission: $28.50 ($24.50 for people 65 and older)

Best time to visit: Weekday mornings are typically less crowded, but school groups may fill hallways.

Best season to visit: The museum is good for all seasons. The climate-controlled interior is a nice escape during New Orleans’ hot, humid summer days. Special programs and events commemorate important anniversaries such as D-Day, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, Pearl Harbor Day, V-E Day, Veterans Day and V-J Day.

Accessibility: The museum provides comprehensive accessibility support services, including plentiful handicapped parking spots in its garage, wheelchairs (no charge, first-come, first-served), ramps and elevators in all buildings, as well as programs for the deaf and blind.

A pivotal local connection

The Higgins boat in the atrium gives a clue to the museum's origin and location. During World War II, the Navy needed a shallow-draft landing vessel to bring soldiers ashore for combat. New Orleans-based Andrew Higgins had been building similar boats to navigate Louisiana's shallow bayous, and modified his design for battle. By war's end, Higgins’ local factories produced more than 20,000 of the essential landing craft, inspiring Dwight Eisenhower to declare him, “the man who won World War II for us.” The museum's Bayou to Battlefield exhibit details Higgins’ (and the city's) important contribution to the war effort.

University of New Orleans professor and author Stephen Ambrose's 1995 book on D-Day inspired him to found the National D-Day Museum, which opened in New Orleans in 2000 with a single building. Since then, the museum's mission has expanded to encompass all of the war, with Congress officially designating it as the National WWII Museum in 2004. The campus continues to expand as well, with a sixth building, the Liberation Pavilion (covering the war's end), currently under construction.

Touring the museum

Like WWII, the scale, scope and details of the museum are massive and can be intimidating to tackle. To help visitors, the museum has created full-day, half-day and even two-day recommended itineraries. It's well worth spending a full day to appreciate all the exhibits and to see the film and submarine attractions, refueling for lunch at the museum's restaurant. A half-day will feel rushed, but is better than not visiting at all. History buffs will find enough to do over two days (with a $7 second-day pass) by joining guided behind-the-scenes tours.

To instantly immerse yourself in the WWII journey, begin your tour by picking up a soldier's replica Dog Tag card. You can enter the card at kiosks throughout the museum to track that individual soldier's story throughout the war and even follow up online.

The five campus buildings are organized thematically with permanent installations and special exhibitions. The Louisiana Pavilion houses the home-front story in the Arsenal of Democracy, as well as the original D-Day exhibits.

The juxtaposition of the two gives a true feeling about the massive undertaking of the war effort, and provides a direct link between New Orleans workshops and the Normandy beach landings.

In the Campaigns of Courage building, walk through the European and Pacific battlefields in the Road to Tokyo and Road to Berlin exhibits. But these are more than just static museum displays — they are deep sensory experiences imbedded in full-size dioramas infused with the sounds of battle. Guise stresses how the curators have “placed you in time and an evocative space to really grab you.”

Walking through the pine forest of the Battle of the Bulge section, seeing war-shattered artifacts with the drum of artillery in the background while listening to soldiers’ recollections of the battle, is a haunting experience.

National World War II Museum Buildings, Solomon Victory Theater Complex

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The highlight for many is the Beyond All Boundaries 4-D film in the Solomon Victory Theater. The Tom Hanks-narrated 30-minute overview of WWII is immersive and intense with battle scenes amplified by seats vibrating to explosions, the air filled with smoke and even imitation snow falling. “People sometimes come out of it looking pretty shook,” says Guise.

Visit and revisit the Hall of Democracy to see rotating exhibitions ranging from a recent one on counter-intelligence programs to an upcoming feature on Women in War in 2022. Then, to appreciate the scale of the machines of war, tour the U.S. Freedom Pavilion to gawk at fighter and bomber planes suspended from the ceiling, tanks and battle vehicles on the floor, and the USS Tang submarine experience simulating a battle under the sea.

Even the museum hallways contain historic artifacts that stir emotions. Discover the staggering losses suffered by civilian fleets during the war in the Merchant Marine Gallery on the bridgeway between the Louisiana Pavilion and Solomon Theater. Here, you'll see Curator Guise's most treasured donations on display: a silver plate and memorial pin given to the mother of a New Orleans sailor lost at sea after a German U-boat torpedoed his ship. The sailor's sister still sometimes gives museum tours, sharing the war's impact on her family.

Where to Stay

Splurge: The 341-room Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans is scheduled to open this summer downtown on Canal Street, on the Mississippi River and sandwiched between the French Quarter and the Warehouse District. The luxury property's amenities include a rooftop pool, two-level rooftop observation deck and spa. An added bonus: direct access to the streetcar line.

Save: Conveniently, the new 230-room Higgins Hotel & Conference Center (by Hilton) has opened right on the museum campus, making it a good base for visiting the museum and exploring the neighborhood. Rooms from $130.

Where to Eat

Mother's: On Poydras Street, just a short walk from the Four Seasons, start your day at this nothing-fancy diner popular with locals since 1938 — and a popular hangout with Marines during World War II. Try the Grits served with either Crawfish Étouffée or Shrimp Creole. Arrive early to beat the rush; lines do form.

Rosie's on the Roof: At the Higgins Hotel, head up to this bar and café (celebrating the Rosie the Riveter icon of WWII women in factories) for local favorites such as chicken gumbo and crab beignets, complete with a city view from its rooftop patio.

More to Explore

After visiting the museum, continue exploring military history in and around New Orleans, starting with Confederate Memorial Hall, just a block away. This museum, the city's oldest, gives a thoroughly southern perspective of the Civil War. Travel further back in time at the Cabildo Museum in Jackson Square in the French Quarter to learn about the 1815 Battle of New Orleans and additional regional history.

Farther Afield

To gain an appreciation about New Orleans’ strategic military value at the mouth of the Mississippi, drive about 30 miles northeast on Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 90 to Fort Pike State Historic Site. There, you'll learn about this stone stronghold's role in area defense from 1819-1871 (and also eye the shallow waters in nearby bayous where Higgins’ pre-WWII boats plied). The fort's scenic ruins facing the Gulf of Mexico provide a glimpse into the old days of Caribbean pirates and British privateers through the Civil War era.

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