Best Museums in DC: Finding the Perfect Museums in DC for You to Visit
The nation’s capital boasts some of the best museums in the world. And thankfully, many of them are free! But it all starts with this list of the best museums in DC and knowing which museums to visit.
This list of the best museums in DC will highlight the top museums in Washington, DC, for you to visit. It offers some tried and true favorites as well as some off-the-beaten-path museums that are sure to interest you.
Another great thing about these museums is that they are worth visiting multiple times. With the sheer size of some of these museums and the temporary exhibits that are offered, these museums are fresh year after year. And, with all of the great activities that DC offers outside of its museums, you can double up on your trip. Whether it is an event like the Washington Kite Festival or one of the many government buildings, Washington, DC, is unique and one of the best vacation spots in the US.
Are you looking for even more museum-related lists? Check out our list of the best museums in the world and the best museums in NYC.
Top 20 Museums in DC:
1. United States Holocaust Museum
Museum Highlights: Offers an In-Depth Look Into the Holocaust, Details Photos, Eyewitness Accounts, and Personal Objects.
About Museum: The Holocaust Museum’s permanent exhibition showcases a narrative history of the Holocaust. It is 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. This museum exists to teach visitors about the dangers of hatred and the necessity of preventing future genocides.
2. National Portrait Gallery
Museum Highlights: Learn About Different Iconic US Figures Through Art, Theater, Artifacts, and Media.
About Museum: The National Portrait Gallery features individuals who have shaped the culture of the United States. The museum covers everyone from presidents to villains. Visitors are able to learn more about these individuals through art, theater, artifacts, and media. The National Portrait Gallery is a must-see for anyone interested in American culture.
3. National Museum of Natural History
Museum Highlights: Over 1.5 Million Square Feet to Explore, Covers a Large Variety of Exhibits.
About Museum: The National Museum of Natural History consists of over 1.5 million square feet and is one of the best museums in DC. It is a part of the Smithsonian Institution and 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.
4. National Museum of the American Indian
Museum Highlights: Over 1200 Indigenous Cultures Featured, One of the Largest Native American Art and Artifacts Collections.
About Museum: The National Museum of the American Indian showcases over 1200 indigenous cultures from the Americas. This is one of the most extensive Native American art and artifacts collections in the world. With collaborations from tribes and communities across the Americas, the museum is a great way to gain a sense and spirit of Native America.
5. National Gallery of Art
Museum Highlights: Features the Only DaVinci Paintings in the Americas, Extensive Collection of Western Art, Free to the Public.
About Museum: The National Gallery of Art is home to the only da Vinci painting in the Americas. 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. Also, it is free to the public!
6. National Air and Space Museum
Museum Highlights: Features All Things Flight Related, Full-Scale Flight Artifacts that can be Studied Up Close.
About Museum: The National Air and Space Museum features aviation, space, and planetary science exhibits. It is housed in two buildings (the more significant in DC). The museum is going to offer full-scale flight artifacts that visitors can get an up-close look at. They also offer a number of programs, educational activities, performances, and lectures. The Air and Space Museum is going to be a hit with both children and adults.
Museum Highlights: Features the History of News Reporting, Extremely Interactive.
About Museum: With six levels, Newseum highlights the history of news reporting from the 16th century to the present. This Washington DC museum is extremely interactive, as well. It features 15 different theaters, as well as a 4D immersive movie experience. While there is an entrance fee, the quality of the museum makes for a good investment.
8. International Spy Museum
Museum Highlights: Covers All Things Spy Related, Largest Collection of Espionage Artifacts in the World.
About Museum: 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 that is solely dedicated to espionage.
Visitors will get access to 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.
9. National Museum of African American History and Culture
Museum Highlights: 36,000+ Artifacts, Interactive Exhibits.
About Museum: The National Museum of African American History and Culture is one of the best museums in DC and highlights more than 36,000 artifacts. It 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 is worth visiting.
10. Hirshhorn Museum
Museum Highlights: Highlights Artists of Our Time, Some Displays Feature Digital Media, Video, and More.
About Museum: 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. Visitors will get access to a great collection of art pieces from postwar America and Europe.
More modern art displays feature digital media, video, and other technology as well. The Hirshhorn Museum is going to have something for everyone that enjoys modern art.
11. National Building Museum
Museum Highlights: 75 Foot Tall Ceilings, Highlights Architecture and How the World is Built Around You.
About Museum: 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.
12. Woodrow Wilson House
Museum Highlights: A Preserved Look Back Into History, In-Depth Look Into Woodrow Wilson’s Life.
About Museum: Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States and served from 1913 to 1921. Along with being President, he was also a distinguished professor, lecturer, and author. He was a fascinating man, to say the least. The Woodrow Wilson House is a monument to President Wilson and his accomplishments. His house will offer you a preserved look back into history and into the life of a man that helped mold America.
13. Naval Heritage Center
Museum Highlights: Learn About the History of the Navy, Daily Movie Screenings and Special Events.
About Museum: This museum highlights the significant accomplishments and sacrifices that the Navy has made. You will be able to see the power of the Navy, as well as better appreciate its history. From daily movie screenings to different events that highlight the calendar, the Naval Heritage Center offers a lot. So make sure to look up this museum the next time you are in DC.
14. President Lincoln’s Cottage
Museum Highlights: Offers a Look Back Into Lincoln’s Life, Offers Innovative Guided Tours.
About Museum: President Lincoln was an intricate part of American history. From abolishing slavery to his assassination, Lincoln’s life is definitely worth learning about. 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, this is one of the best museums in DC for you.
15. Heurich House
Museum Highlights: Offers a Look Back in Time to the 1800s and Luxury Living.
About Museum: The Heurich House was built by German immigrant Christian Heurich from 1892-94. This mansion is one of the few grand homes from this era that is still around today. “The interior of the house is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and design.”
At the time, it was built with all of the latest innovations. The Heurich House will allow visitors to be able to step back in time and see a fully preserved mansion from the 1800s. So if you enjoy old historic architecture, the Heurich House Museum is for you.
16. Madame Tussauds
Museum Highlights: Lifelike Wax Figures, All of the Biggest Historical Figures.
About Museum: Maybe not your traditional museum, Madame Tussauds, is definitely still worth visiting. You will be able to get a close look at current celebrities and past influential figures; they just happen to be wax.
These incredibly lifelike figures though will allow you to get an up-close look at all the presidents as well as other influential characters from history. With hundreds of years of history, Madame Tussauds is sure to entertain you on your next trip to Washington DC.
17. National Museum of African Art
Museum Highlights: Learn About African Art and Different Artifacts.
About Museum: The National Museum of African Art was initially located in the former home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. It is now a part of the National Mall. This museum will allow visitors to be able to learn about the rich history of African art. The museum also houses the Warren M. Robbins Library, one of the premier research centers for African visual arts.
18. Koshland Science Museum
Museum Highlights: Thought-Provoking Exhibits, Innovative and Interactive Multimedia Exhibits.
About Museum: The Koshland Science Museum is a thought-provoking museum that appeals to both teens and adults. It has a variety of innovative and interactive multimedia exhibits that will keep visitors engaged. The museum’s design encourages visitors to work collaboratively and solve problems scientifically. Exhibits include an earth lab, a living lab, and an idea lab.
19. The National Museum of American History
Museum Highlights: More than 3 Millions Artifacts, Offers Temporary Travelling Exhibits.
About Museum: When visiting the National Museum of American History, you will get access to more than 3 million American artifacts. Iconic American artifacts like Abe Lincoln’s top hat and Dorothy’s ruby slippers are on display. The museum also showcases some temporary and traveling exhibitions as well. This will allow return visitors to experience something new on almost every visit.
20. National Postal Museum
Museum Highlights: Features Five Different Permanent Exhibits, 6,000 Square Foot Research Library.
About Museum: The National Postal Museum is housed in the former Washington DC post office (1914-1986). It features five different permanent exhibits that give the postal history of the United States. In addition to the exhibition space, the museum also features a 6,000-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. Regardless of your preference, there is going to be a museum or two for you. 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.
If you are planning a trip to visit DC, make sure to visit our list of the best travel sites. This list will help make sure that you save money and are able to plan your trip hassle-free.
Have you already been to one of these museums? We would love to hear your feedback. Please feel free to share it in the comments below.
Kyle has a background in sports, fitness/health, and business. However, he also has a passion about researching all topics, and is dedicated to making lists that will help make your life easier.