When it comes to museums, Washington, D.C., definitely sets itself apart. The D.C. area boasts quite a number of world-class museums, the majority of which offer free admission. The museums of the Smithsonian Institution have an extensive range of interesting things to see, whether visitors are interested in art or history or science. Many of these museums are located near the National Mall, making them conveniently located for tourists.
1.National Air and Space Museum
© National Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum is home the most significant and largest collection of space and aviation artifacts in the entire world. Every aspect of human flight can be seen on display at the museum, including archival material and art related to aviation and space. This Smithsonian museum takes guests up to the sky, highlighting the remarkable achievements in technology that have helped to advance space exploration and aviation over the past century. The many historical items on display are fundamental to the country’s story of flight, including the Wright Flyer from 1903 and the Spirit of St. Louis flown by Charles Lindbergh.
600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, Phone: 202-633-2214
2.National Museum Natural History
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The National Museum of Natural History is one of the earliest Smithsonian museums, having opened its doors in 1910 with a mission to foster education and discovery of the natural world. The museum is home to some of the world’s most famous artifacts, including the Hope Diamond. Over 285 artifacts and fossils are all display in the Hall of Human Origins, which tells the story of the evolution of the human species through reconstructions. The museum also contains the Sant Ocean Hall, which is home to a replica of a North Atlantic right whale as well as several other permanent exhibits.
10th St. & Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20560, Phone: 202-633-1000
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The National Arboretum is a park, a garden, and a research facility all in one. The arboretum spans across 446 acres and features some world-famous collections of plants, such as azaleas, penjing and bonsai, dwarf conifers, and many more. The garden is often noted as one of the hidden gems of Washington, D.C., and the cultivated gardens, winding roadways, and wild forest are all less than 2 miles away from the Capitol Building. The plant collections and gardens have valuable scientific and aesthetic purposes. One of the most popular is the Azalea Collection, which is an especially beautiful sight to behold during early spring.
3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002, Phone: 202-245-2726
4.International Spy Museum
© International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum is the country’s only public museum dedicated entirely to espionage, as well as the world’s only museum to offer a global perspective on the all-but-invisible profession. The spy profession is one that has helped shape history and still continues to significantly impact events around the world. The museum is home to the largest collection of artifacts related to international espionage that has ever be placed on display for the public, objects that highlight pivotal actions of espionage and famous spies. This is the first time that a large number of these artifacts have been seen by the public.
800 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004, Phone: 202-393-7797
5.National Museum of Women in the Arts
© National Museum of Women in the Arts
The National Museum of Women in the Arts is the world’s only major museum focused solely on championing women in the arts. The museum aims to inspire conversations about art through its exhibits, collections, online content, and programs. A collection of over 5,000 objects are preserved and displayed at the museum, and every year ten world-class exhibits featuring women artists are presented. The museum advocates for women artists to better represented and is an important center for social change, community engagement, and thought leadership. Gender imbalance is addressed through the display of art by bringing important women artists into the spotlight.
1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005, Phone: 800-222-7270
6.Anacostia Community Museum
© Anacostia Community Museum
The Anacostia Community Museum provides an insight into life in urban communities, examining, documenting, and interpreting the impact that both contemporary social and historical issues have had on these communities. Rotating exhibitions are often focused on human stories and are a source of community partnerships. During the summer, the museum offers a free shuttle that picks up and drops off at the Anacostia Metro station and the National Mall. The new Bridging the Americas permanent exhibit showcases the stories of people from Panama who migrated to Washington, D.C., from the California Gold Rush era up until 2014.
901 Fort Pl SE, Washington, DC 20020, Phone: 202-633-4820
7.Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
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The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is home to some of contemporary and modern art’s most unique works of art, including photography, sculpture, and painting. The Hirshhorn Museum features rotating exhibits that steadily engage audiences through the finest in contemporary and modern artwork. The famous sculpture garden and the accompanying plaza showcase works by various artists, displaying the artwork in an easily navigable open area. Visitors can see one of the most famous sculptures by Auguste Rodin, The Burghers of Calais. Other works of art that can be seen include Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree for Washington D.C.
Independence Ave SW & 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20560, Phone: 202-633-1000
8.National Building Museum
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The National Building Museum is the premier cultural institution focused on presenting the impact and history of the built environment in the United States. This is done by sharing the stories of design, engineering, architecture, and landscape architecture throughout history through exhibits, festivals, and programs. The museum is one of the area’s most awe-inspiring and family-friendly spots. The National Building Museum is situated just a short distance from the National Mall and is housed within an amazing building that features a great hall of soaring heights, massive Corinthian columns 75 feet high, and a 1,200-foot terracotta frieze.
401 F St NW, Washington, DC 20001, Phone: 202-272-2448
9.National Geographic Museum
© National Geographic Museum
The National Geographic Museum offers visitors an opportunity to explore the world. The museum is a great experience for guests of all ages and displays an array of rotating exhibits, from beautiful photography to interactive activities. For more than 125 years, National Geographic has worked to educate the public about the world around them. The museum offers a unique perspective on the world from the renowned scientists, photographers, and explorers who support the mission of National Geographic to inspire others to care about the world. There are plenty of amazing, interactive, and colorful displays to intrigue both children and adults alike. Things to Do in Washington, DC
1145 17th St NW, Washington, DC 20036, Phone: 202-857-7700
10.National Museum African American History Culture
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The National Museum African American History Culture is four-level museum dedicated entirely to the documentation of African-American culture, life, and history. The 19th museum of the Smithsonian Institution features several interactive exhibits and is also a marvel of architecture. The exterior of the building was designed by David Adjaye, an architect born in Ghana, and consists of a bronze-colored three-tiered screen. The lattice screen is a tribute to the intricate ironwork that was forged by enslaved African Americans throughout the South. There are approximately 3,500 artifacts on display in the museum, with around 35,000 more in the museum’s entire collection.
1400 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20560, Phone: 844-750-3012
11.National Museum African Art
© National Museum African Art
The National Museum of African Art is home to the largest publicly held African art collection in the country, featuring around 12,000 items in total. The museum strives to educate the public about African art in an effort to promote conversations that cross cultural boundaries. The artifact collection of the Smithsonian Museum spans from ancient times to the contemporary era, offering a comprehensive view of Africa’s history of artistic expression and presenting insights into the creativity of African art. Highlights of the collection include African mosaics and a remarkable sculpture of Toussaint Louverture.
950 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, Phone: 202-633-4600
12.National Museum American History
© National Museum American History
The National Museum of American History highlights the history of the United States in all its complexity through public outreach, extensive collections, in-depth exhibitions, and research. The collection of the museum features over three million objects, from sheet music written by Duke Ellington to the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. The museum is a home to all things Americana, including one of the most American artifacts of all: the Star-Spangled Banner. Another significantly Americana artifact on display at the museum is the top hat President Abraham Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theatre on the fateful night of his assassination.
1300 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20560, Phone: 202-633-1000
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13.National Museum of the American Indian
© National Museum of the American Indian
The National Museum of the American Indian features one of the most expansive collections in the world of Native American artifacts, photographs, media, and other objects. The museum aims to bring the voices of Native Americans to life through colorful activities and contemplative exhibits. Visitors will be wowed the very moment they walk through the doors of the museum. The building was designed by Native American architects and is one of the most striking in Washington, D.C., with its limestone material made to look like rock formations. The museum collection is representative of over 12,000 years of history.
4th St SW & Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, Phone: 202-633-1000
14.National Portrait Gallery
© National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is a popular attraction in the DC area for art lovers, history buffs, and fans of pop culture. It paints a picture of the numerous influential people throughout the history of America. From actors and activists to poets and presidents, the gallery showcases sculptures, photographs, and paintings of people who have defined the country as it is known today. The permanent exhibits at the museum provide a comprehensive look at the icons of different segments of the history of the United States. Exhibits include The Struggle for Justice, Contemporary Americans, and America’s Presidents, among several others.
8th St NW & F St NW, Washington, DC 20001, Phone: 202-633-8300
15.National Postal Museum
© National Postal Museum
The National Postal Museum has served as a way to both celebrate and honor the postal history of America since it first opened in 1993 within an historic city post office building. A massive collection postal artifacts, stamps, and informational exhibits are housed within the museum for visitors of all ages to examine. Visitors can learn about the interesting evolution of how the people of America have used mail in communications with each other as well as with the world. The museum features several vehicles that have been used throughout history to transport mail, including an 1851 stagecoach and a Ford Model A from 1932.
2 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002, Phone: 202-633-5555
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The Newseum has a mission to increase public understanding of how important the First Amendment and a free press truly are. Visitors can learn about the role the free press has played in history’s major events, the story of news, and how the First Amendment’s core freedoms, which cover petition, assembly, press, speech, and religion, apply to people’s lives. The museum is considered to be one of the world’s most interactive museums, featuring seven levels with 15 theaters and 15 galleries. Exhibits at Newseum include the Berlin Wall Gallery, the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, and the 9/11 Gallery.
555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, Phone: 202-292-6100
© Sackler Galleries
The colorful and vibrant world of Asian art surrounds visitors at Sackler Galleries, which consist of both the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. These two galleries are connected to each other by means of an underground exhibition space. The Sackler Gallery first opened in 1987 with donations from Dr. Arthur M. Sackler. The works he donated to the gallery included an immense Asian art collection, with ancient bronzes and famous Chinese jades. The Freer Gallery opened much earlier in 1923 and is home to over 26,000 items that span a history of 6,000 years.
1050 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, Phone: 202-633-1000
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18.Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
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The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is a companion to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The center is located in Chantilly, Virginia, and features hangars that are full of the history of aviation. The two facilities together draw around eight million visitors every year, which makes the National Air and Space Museum complex one of the most popular museums in the country. Aviation enthusiasts both young and old will enjoy the Udvar-Hazy Center. The museum contains two hangars, the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar and the Boeing Aviation Hangar, which feature dozens of spacecraft and aircraft suspended from the ceilings.
14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy, Chantilly, VA 20151, Phone: 703-572-4118
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19.United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
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The internationally acclaimed United States Holocaust Memorial Museum highlights the story of the Holocaust through photographs, artifacts, oral histories, and films. While admission to the museum is free, timed tickets are required for the museum’s permanent exhibition. Special exhibitions, however, do not require a ticket. A self-guided permanent exhibit simply titled The Holocaust is spread across three floors and provides a chronological narrative of the event through film footage, photographs, and historical artifacts. Personal objects are also on display in the exhibition, as are eyewitness testimonies by Holocaust survivors.
1000 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC 20024, Phone: 202-488-0400
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20.American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery
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Visitors can explore three centuries of artwork by American artists at the American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery. The museum is home to one of the most extensive and largest collections of American art in the world. The collection features works by thousands of different artists over the course of hundreds of years of art history, including paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries from New England and the colony of New Spain. Guests can also discover artwork from the 19th century, highlighting the Western Expansion, the Gilded Age, and impressionism. The main museum is in Penn Quarter, while the Renwick Gallery is located downtown.
F St NW & 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, Phone: 202-633-1000
20 Best Washington D.C. Museums
- National Air and Space Museum, Photo: National Air and Space Museum
- National Museum Natural History, Photo: Courtesy of marcorubino - Fotolia.com
- National Arboretum, Photo: Courtesy of avmedved - Fotolia.com
- International Spy Museum, Photo: International Spy Museum
- National Museum of Women in the Arts, Photo: National Museum of Women in the Arts
- Anacostia Community Museum, Photo: Anacostia Community Museum
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Photo: Courtesy of jryanc10 - Fotolia.com
- National Building Museum, Photo: Courtesy of avmedved - Fotolia.com
- National Geographic Museum, Photo: National Geographic Museum
- National Museum African American History Culture, Photo: Courtesy of Tim - Fotolia.com
- National Museum African Art, Photo: National Museum African Art
- National Museum American History, Photo: National Museum American History
- National Museum of the American Indian, Photo: National Museum of the American Indian
- National Portrait Gallery, Photo: National Portrait Gallery
- National Postal Museum, Photo: National Postal Museum
- Newseum, Photo: Courtesy of cmontcalmo - Fotolia.com
- Sackler Galleries, Photo: Sackler Galleries
- Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Photo: Courtesy of jon manjeot - Fotolia.com
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Photo: Courtesy of kuosumo - Fotolia.com
- American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery, Photo: Courtesy of emkaplin - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of avmedved - Fotolia.com