If you’re more inclined to enjoy a few places in-depth than to try to make the Big Circuit, you can pretty much have your pick among some of the most underrated of Washington, D.C.’s museums. Government agencies may have tighter restrictions in the post-9/11 era, but plenty of museums, historic homes, and religious sites offer guided tours or detailed brochures and recordings that you can use. Or you can just wander about at your leisure. Here are some of our favorite places, most of which you can walk into on the spur of the moment.
The Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress
is a stunning example
of lavish public construction, with its mythological murals and sculptures, gilded ceilings, stained glass skylights, mosaics, allegorical friezes, and grand staircases—and that’s not even counting the Gutenberg Bible or the great dome of the main reading room made famous by that vertiginous tracking shot in All the President’s Men. It’s not just a library—it’s a work of art.
Dumbarton Oaks Museum and Gardens is not only an extraordinary mansion, filled with medieval and Renaissance tapestries, furniture, and Asian and European art and sculpture, but it’s also a treasure trove of Byzantine and pre-Columbian art and rare books, some of which are exhibited in the galleries. And, as if that weren’t enough, the grounds—a dozen period pieces and specialized formal gardens, a swimming pool and bathhouse with tile mosaics, etc.—are one of the most underrated oases in the area.
The Daughters of the American Revolution Museum (DAR) Located directly across 18th Street, between C and D Streets, the Daughters of the American Revolution complex, consists of Constitution Hall and Memorial Continental Hall, which contains a museum and one of the largest genealogical libraries in the country.
Three galleries and 31 period rooms display a wealth of decorative pieces, ceramics, paintings, silver, costumes, and oddities. An activity area on the third floor offers fun for all ages, including the chance to design a period room or put your own face into one of the portraits. The museum is one of Washington’s lesser-known beauties.
DAR’s shop sells distinctive gifts, jewelry, and books, many custom-made and inspired by American decorative art and found only here.
Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is a women’s organization dedicated to promoting education, historical preservation, and patriotism through nonpolitical volunteerism. All members must prove lineal descent from a Revolutionary patriot. A visit to the museum is free of charge.
More underrated Washington, D.C., museums can be found in the Unofficial Guide to Washington D.C.
Photo Credit: By Daderot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons