World War II is etched in our history books as “the greatest generation” – those who left their family and country to fight for freedom during humanity’s darkest hours. The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana is a stunning tribute to make sure we never forget the sacrifices these men and women made so we can be free today.
America entered the ongoing war against the Axis powers after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. For the next four years, American men and women trained, fought, and worked towards ultimate victory. From women taking to the factories on the home front to the men who became elite soldiers, World War II is the most pivotal event of the 20th century. There are many museums, memorials, and commemorations to WWII across the nation, and this museum, founded in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum, is a way to experience both the home front and combat experiences of the war.
The National WWII Museum is a must-see museum while visiting New Orleans. It’s located in the warehouse district, away from the craziness of Bourbon Street. It is a massive museum spanning several buildings and is still not finished (the Liberation Pavilion is under construction).
Be sure to buy your tickets for the museum and 4D movie in advance of your visit to guarantee your entrance. You’ll enter the museum into the Louisiana memorial pavilion, which is jaw-dropping. It was quite overwhelming and we could have spent a long time looking at all of the artifacts and vehicles displayed.
The standout vehicle is a D-Day landing craft, which you’ll recognize from popular films like Saving Private Ryan.
After scanning your ticket, you’ll enter the queue beside the train cars for the dog tag experience. Each person will pick up a scannable dog tag card that will give you one real person from history to follow throughout the museum.
The train car movie will tell you more about this experience, which you can continue even when you come home! Warn your kids that the train seats will rumble and a few of the photos are graphic war scenes.
As you exit, you’ll be instructed to go across the bridge to the theater and galleries.
However don’t miss The Arsenal of Democracy and D-Day exhibits in the Louisiana pavilion. We were so intent on getting to the main part of the museum that we missed these exhibits! Now I have a good excuse to go back!
If you have older children, start your visit with the 4D movie, Beyond All Boundaries, narrated by Tom Hanks and other stars. It is truly a show-stopper! You’ll enter a room for the pre-show and learn about the total death toll of the war – the staggering numbers listed really bring to life the human toll of the deadliest military conflict in history.
Then you’ll enter a theater where the approximately 45-minute movie about the war comes to life. From snow falling on your head to rattling seats, this movie puts you in the middle of action. Make sure your children are aware of the loud gunshots, artillery fire, and graphic photos (I’d recommend it for older elementary and older only). It is really powerful, and the ending scene with veterans will leave you in tears. It’s a wonderful way to begin your trip through this amazing museum.
From there, you’ll move on to the Campaigns of Courage pavilion where you’ll learn about the European and Pacific theaters of the war.
We started at the Road to Tokyo exhibit and spent a long time wandering through its immersive and interactive exhibits. While not containing many hands-on exhibits (which may be due to COVID), there are lots of movies to watch and artifacts to explore. We actually spent the most time in this exhibit because our kids are not as familiar with the Pacific battles so there was more to learn. Also you can scan in your dog tag at various points to learn what your soldier was doing during the events.
The effects at the Guadalcanal exhibit were spectacular. It felt like you were there in the tropical forest with the soldiers.
Head downstairs for the European theater exhibit, Road to Berlin. It is excellent and really does a great job at highlighting lesser known campaigns and how they were pivotal to the war effort.
I loved reading the human interest stories about the soldiers. It really personalized the war and how it affected people for the rest of their lives.
After leaving the Campaigns of Courage pavilion, walk through the canteen and gift shop to the US Freedom Pavilion. This large, grand building houses planes from World War II. It was my older son’s favorite place!
We were especially fascinated by this jeep. Note the pole on the front – it was used to prevent booby traps using wires across a road from killing the people in the jeep!
Before you leave the museum, be sure to walk around outside and view the statues honoring President Roosevelt, Anne Frank, and the flying aces of the war. There is also a piece of the Atlantic wall that Hitler built to keep the Allied powers out of France. Thanks to the sacrifices of the Allied soldiers, his quest failed.
You could easily spend hours in the exhibits, movies, and experiences at the National World War II museum. It is definitely a must-see museum for any World War II enthusiast and should be visited on any trip to New Orleans!
- Cost (for museum and movie): $36.50/adults; $25/child (5-18); $7/under 5
- Recommended for: ages 10 and up
- Tour time: 3-4 hours (with movie)
- Multiple gift shops onsite and online
- Transportation: Walkable from the French Quarter (about a 20 minute walk); parking is available
- Dining options: There are two restaurants onsite. We ate at The American Sector restaurant and it was really good! The nearby restaurant, Cochon, was also recommended to me by a NOLA native.
- Hotels nearby: The museum partners with the next door Higgins Hotel. We stayed in the French Quarter at the historic Hotel Monteleone.
- Nearby attractions include: Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Lafayette Square (with its statues of Benjamin Franklin and Henry Clay), and the French Quarter (20 minute walk)
Books to Read:
There are too many books for children, teens, and adults about World War II to list here. I’m compiling a list at my Bookshop.org shop which will be continually updated as I research and read more books. Add your favorites in the comments below!
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