Washington DC stands in a league of its own when it comes to museums and galleries. The state is home to some of the most famous museums in the world, offering visitors an array of information on American history, art and culture. Most of these museums are managed by the Smithsonian Institution that is dedicated to “discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.” Here’s a list of the best museums you can spend your time exploring in Washington DC.
1. National Gallery of Art
Founded by Andrew W. Mellon, The National Gallery of Art is located right next to the US Capitol Building. It houses several masterpieces by pioneering artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and El Greco. Apart from the stunning exhibits you can leisurely gaze at; the building in itself is a masterpiece. It is divided into two parts, the West Building, modelled after the Roman Pantheon, and the East Building, designed by modernist architect I.M. Pei. The Sculpture Garden is a sight to behold and contains works by Marc Chagall and Joan Miró, as well as Robert Indiana’s famous “AMOR.”
The main focus of the museum is on classical art and houses European and American paintings, sculpture, prints, photographs, and more. Admission is free!
2. National Museum of American History
Want a taste of authentic Americana? This museum is your go-to. Soak up exhibits and displays that embody the spirit and culture of America. There’s also a 261-seat Warner Bros. Theater, which shows 2D and 3D films.
The National Museum of American History has the permanent and beloved display of the Star Spangled Banner that inspired Francis Scott Key’s poem. Fashion enthusiasts will spot Michelle Obama’s inaugural gowns and the ruby slippers that Judy Garland’s character Dorothy famously wore in the film, The Wizard of Oz. Admission is free!
As the name suggests, this museum memorializes many of the most iconic moments in journalism history. It essentially contains the history of “the first rough draft of history” and unabashedly champions the role of the free press. Displays include somber reminders of September 11 and Berlin Wall events. There is also an interactive newsroom that encourages visitors to participate. It asks visitors to prepare front-page newspaper stories, simulates a TV newscast, and create their own solutions to media-ethics questions.
Exhibitions in the past have touched on revolutionary issues issues like the 2016 presidential election and the Vietnam War. In March this year, it hosted an exhibition commemorating the 1969 gay rights riots at the Stonewall Inn. The building’s glass facade also has a 75-foot tablet of pink marble etched with the words of the First Amendment.
4. International Spy Museum
Fancy being a secret agent? Go visit the International Spy Museum to channel your inner spy. A one-of-a-kind interactive museum, it allows you to acquire your very own spy identity before setting off on exploring the exhibits that examine the history and tools of spycraft, such as the lipstick pistol. It’s a really fun place to be in! The gift shop isn’t like your regular museum store, the things on sale are quirky and unique spy gadgets like a mug shaped like a briefcase, a car key that’s also a mini camera, or a stealth flask for your smartphone.
The displays at the museum usually stay the same and the entire vibe of the place is mostly light-hearted!
5. National Museum of African American History and Culture
This museum is an ode to the African-American experience. It mixes the light-hearted with the sombre in its own way. The floors are lined with music, sports and pop-culture memorabilia alongside impactful reminders of slavery and the civil rights movement. The museum that opened in 2016 has plenty of artifacts and exhibits that celebrate the African-American experience. You’ll find Harriet Tubman’s personal hymnal and silk lace and linen shawl, a bill of a sale for a young enslaved girl and photos capturing the participation of black women during the Civil Rights Movement.
Don’t forget to stop by the Sweet Home Café on the premises of the museum that also has authentic dishes from regions like the Agricultural South and the Creole Coast.
6. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The museum stands as a powerful reminder of the Holocaust. Within the museum, the exhibits will urge you to remember and reflect upon the tragedy of this historical tragedy. Permanent exhibitions cover the events leading to the Holocaust in the 1930s and 1940s. There’s also a section that focuses on Americans in the Holocaust, including showcases of first-hand accounts and experiences. Don’t forget to check out Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story, which tells the story of The Holocaust through the eyes of a child; an extremely moving exhibit, it was originally designed for children but has since become a museum staple for all ages.
7. Renwick Gallery
Only a few steps away from the White House sits Renwick Gallery, within a 160-year-old building, dedicated to crafts and decorative arts. The Renwick’s exhibits are forward-thinking created by contemporary artists and artisans. The main event at the gallery is its mind-bending, immersive shows.
The landmark site’s mission is “documenting America’s visual culture,” and it also strives to embody this mission through its displays and exhibits. In one single day, you are just as likely to see an installation of video-game art as you are too see a giant wall-size crocheted blanket.
8. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
In a striking cylindrical shape building, the Hirshhorn is instantly recognizable. Dedicated to 20th and 21st century art, it is one of the most-visited art museums in the country. At the museum, they have regular public programming and big exhibitions of major artists like dot-obsessive Yayoi Kusama. Other displays are by famous artists like Rene Magritte, Dan Flavin and Barbara Kruger. The permanent collection also has a range of pioneering sculptures, digital media, photography, video, performance-based pieces, and lots more.
You can also stroll through the sculpture garden and look at some stunning artistic masterpieces. Exhibitions like the “Art and Commodity in the 1980s,” and the mind-bending art of “What Absence is Made Of” are also extremely popular among visitors.
Have we missed any of your favourite museums in Washington DC? If so, be sure to share them in the comments below.