Best Museums in DC: Learning and Exploring in the Nations Capital
The nation’s capital boasts some of the best museums in the world. And thankfully, many of them are free! Whether you are looking for some tried and true favorites or some off the beaten path museums, this list of the best museums in DC will help you plan your next visit to Washington, D.C.
And, as you browse through our collection, remember, even though you may have visited one of these museums in the past, temporary and traveling exhibits ensure that many of these museums are fresh year after year. Another great city filled with some fantastic museums as well is New York City. So after you finish reading this article, checkout our list of the best museums in NYC as well.
Top 20 Museums in DC:
Three floors high, the Holocaust Museum’s permanent exhibition showcases a narrative history of the Holocaust complete with photographs, film footage, personal objects, and eyewitness testimonies. The museum also details some of the other horrific genocides the modern world has seen and teaches visitors about the dangers of hatred and the necessity of preventing future genocides.
From presidents to villains, the National Portrait Gallery features individuals who have shaped the culture of the United States. Visitors can learn more about these individuals through art, theater, artifacts, and media. The National Portrait Gallery is a must-see for anyone interested in America’s culture.
With over 1.5 million square feet, the National Museum of Natural History, a part of the Smithsonian Institution, features everything from dinosaurs to gemstones. As the site of the popular movie “Night at the Museum,” the Natural History Museum is also an easily recognizable space that kids will enjoy.
With one of the most extensive Native American art and artifacts collections in the world, the National Museum of the American Indian showcases over 1200 indigenous cultures from the Americas. With collaborations from tribes and communities across the Americas, the museum is a great way to gain a sense and spirit of Native America.
Located on the National Mall, the National Gallery of Art, along with its attached sculpture garden, is home to the only da Vinci painting in the Americas. Free to the public, the gallery traces the development of Western Art beginning from the Middle Ages and stretching to the present. For an impressive collection of Western Art, the National Gallery is a must-see.
Housed in two buildings (the more significant in DC), the National Air and Space Museum features aviation, space, and planetary science exhibits. With full-scale flight artifacts and a number of programs, educational activities, performances, and lectures, the Air and Space Museum is a hit with both children and adults.
With six levels, Newseum highlights the history of news reporting from the 16th century to the present. Extremely interactive, the museum features 15 different theaters, as well as a 4D immersive movie experience. While the entrance fee ($20) can be off-putting, the quality of the museum makes for a good investment.
What is cooler than a spy? How about an entire museum dedicated to international spies?! Opened in 2002 the International Spy Museum is the only public museum of its kinds that is solely dedicated to espionage. Featuring the most extensive collection of espionage artifacts in the world, the Spy Museum was designed to educate the public about the practices of espionage and intelligence gathering in an engaging learning environment.
With more than 36,000 artifacts, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is “devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. Guests of the museum will be able to learn through interactive exhibitions throughout the museum. A relatively new museum that only opened in 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture are worth a visit when you are in the DC area.
The Hirshhorn Museum exists to “provide a national platform for the art and artists of our time.” You will be able to get a good look at the latest art of the day and take a pulse of the culture as well. With a great collection of art pieces from postwar America and Europe, as well as creative displays featuring digital media, video, and other technology, the Hirshhorn Museum is going to have something for everyone.
Have you ever seen an awe-inspiring building and just stood in wonder of how something that impressive could be built? Well, then the National Building Museum is for you. The museum itself resides in a great hall with 75-foot-tall Corinth columns, so that has to tell you something. Regardless of age, you will be able to learn about how the world around you is built. You will leave the museum with a better appreciation for the architecture around you and a much better understanding of how it is all put together.
Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States and served from 1913-1921. Along with being president, he was also a distinguished professor, lecturer, and author. He was an interesting man, to say the least. The Woodrow Wilson House is a lasting monument to President Wilson and his significant accomplishments. The Woodrow Wilson House is going to offer you a preserved look back into history and into the life of a man that helped to mold our country.
The Naval Heritage Center was built as a memorial to the Navy and all of the significant accomplishments and sacrifices that this great branch of the military has undertaken over the years. Whether you were personally in the Navy, have a family member that served, or just want to learn more about the Navy, the Naval Heritage Center is worth checking out. From daily movies that are screened to different events that highlight the calendar, you will enjoy this military museum.
One of America’s most famous presidents from his fight against slavery to his assassination, President Lincoln was an intricate part of American history. President Lincoln’s Cottage is going to allow you to step back into time and get a glimpse of Lincoln’s public and private life. “Through innovative guided tours, exhibits and programs, we use Lincoln’s example to inspire visitors to take their own path to greatness.” If you love American history, President Lincoln’s Cottage is not to be missed.
Built by German immigrant Christian Hurich from 1892-94, the Heurich Mansion is one of the few grand homes from this era that have survived till today. “The interior of the house is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and design,” and the house was built with all the modern features of the time. For a truly great and inspiring look back in time at elegance and craftsmanship, make sure that you checkout the Heurich House Museum.
Maybe not your traditional museum, Madame Tussauds is going to allow you to get a close look at current celebrities and past influential figures, they just happen to be made out of wax. These incredibly lifelike figures will allow you to get an up-close look at all the presidents as well as other characters from history that you may find interesting. With hundreds of years of history, Madame Tussauds is sure to entertain you on your next trip to Washington DC.
Initially located in the former home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the National Museum of African Art is now a part of the National Mall. With an emphasis on the visual arts of Africa, the museum also houses the Warren M. Robbins Library, one of the premier research centers for African visual arts.
With innovative and interactive multimedia exhibits, the Koshland Science Museum is a thought-provoking museum that appeals to both teens and adults. The museum’s design encourages visitors to work collaboratively and solve problems scientifically. Exhibits include an earth lab, a life lab, and an idea lab.
With more than 3 million artifacts collected and preserved, the National Museum of American History houses iconic American artifacts like Abe Lincoln’s top hat and Dorothy’s ruby slippers. On top of the already massive collection, the museum also showcases a number of temporary and traveling exhibitions, allowing return visitors to experience something new on almost every visit.
Housed in the former Washington DC post office (1914-1986), the National Postal Museum features five different permanent exhibits that give the postal history of the United States. In addition to exhibition space, the museum also features a 6000 square foot research library, as well as a stamp store.
Best Museums in DC Conclusion
Whether you are planning a trip to the nation’s capital or already reside there, this list of the best museums in DC should not be overlooked. So decide on a few of the museums listed above and make a trip out of it, we promise that you will not be disappointed!
We would love to hear how your experience was in the comments below, so please feel free to share.