Top Washington, D.C. Museums to Visit

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Washington, D.C. has an abundance of first-class museums, and many of them are free. Renee Sklarew, shares with us six Washington, D.C. museums that should be on your radar.

Because they are supported by the federal government, the Smithsonian Museums, the National Gallery of Art, National Archives, the U.S. Capitol Museum and White House Visitor Center, can be affected during a government shutdown. Luckily, they are up and running again; welcoming visitors from all over the world.

  1. The National Gallery of Art—East and West Wings—National Mall

This superlative collection is located in two buildings: The West Building was designed by classicist John Russell Pope, displays European and American art from the 13th through the 19th centuries. The heart of the collection was donated—and the building constructed—by financier Andrew Mellon. The masterpieces on these walls will dazzle, and some highlights include paintings by Van Gogh, Matisse, Botticelli, Raphael, Rubens, Cézanne and Vermeer. The West Building houses the only Leonardo DaVinci in the western hemisphere. The adjacent National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden contains works of art spread is an expansive garden. During the winter, the fountain is transformed into an ice-skating rink. Architect I. M. Pei designed the East Building, which houses the National Gallery’s contemporary art. A soaring atrium connects exhibits by modern masters such as Picasso, Mondrian, Miró and Warhol. There’s a cafeteria, coffee shop and sprawling museum store. Don’t miss the rooftop observatory in the East Building for views of Pennsylvania Avenue and the U.S. Capitol. Admission to The National Gallery of Art is free.

  1. National Air and Space Museum—National Mall

One of the most visited museums in the world, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has hundreds of airplanes, spaceships and rockets on display, including a real Apollo Lunar Module. Visitors can touch a real moon rock that Apollo 17 brought back to earth in 1972. Historically important flying machines are on display like Lucky Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, John Glenn’s Friendship 7 and the Wright brothers’ 1903 Wright Flyer.  The museum has a Planetarium and IMAX Theater and is undergoing renovation, though it remains open during construction. Admission to the National Air and Space Museum is free.

  1. National Museum of American History—National Mall

See Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers and other American treasures up close at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. You’ll be stunned by the huge and somewhat tattered Star-Spangled Banner raised the morning after the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. The eclectic museum contains more than three million items, although only 5% are actually on view. Some highlights include Julia Child’s kitchen, inaugural gowns worn by First Ladies and letters by George Washington. Admission the National Museum of American History is free of charge.

  1. National Museum of African American History and Culture—National Mall

The NMAAHC showcases the achievements of African Americans while illuminating their struggle for freedom. The museum seeks to tell the complicated story of the African American experience using exhibits on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and contributions made by notable African Americans including Benjamin Banneker and Phyllis Wheatley. See artifacts like Nat Turner’s Bible, Harriet Tubman’s shawl, tiny iron shackles, cotton gin, segregated rail car and interactive lunch counter.

Cultural contributions made by African Americans feature sports heroes like Wilma Rudolph and Mohammed Ali. The Musical Crossroads exhibit focuses on music and art with icons like Michael Jackson and James Brown. The museum’s Sweet Home Café, by Chef Carla Hall, offers a menu of Southern-inspired dishes. Admission is free of charge with a timed ticket.

  1. National Museum of Natural History—National Mall

The Smithsonian’s NMNH is the country’s preeminent museum on the natural world. Opened in 1910, the rotunda contains a massive African elephant. Visitors can view 126 million natural science specimens and cultural artifacts—including insects, a giant blue whale, Egyptian mummies, and the infamous Hope Diamond.

Kids love Q?rius where they can handle fossils, skeletons and crocodile teeth. Don’t miss the Human Origins exhibit and go warm up in the bucolic Butterfly Pavilion. It’s a tropical oasis containing live butterflies flitting among exotic plants. In June T. Rex will headline the new dinosaur exhibit beside more than 700 specimens of dinosaurs, some on display for the first time. Admission is free.

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  1. National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum— in Penn Quarter/Gallery Place/Chinatown

This is actually two museums in two sides of a historic building. On the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery side, walk through the Hall of Presidents to see paintings and sculptures of every American President from Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington to Kehinde Wiley’s President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama. On the other side is the Smithsonian American Art Museum with art created from the dawn of American independence to the modern concepts of present day. Don’t miss the stunning model of the Statue of Liberty, and stop in the Kogod Courtyard, between the two buildings. It’s the perfect place to relax, have a snack or drink and best of all admission is free if charge.

Washington D.C. museums

If you enjoyed this post, visit us again soon for six more Washington, D.C. museums to visit when in our nation’s capital. For all there is to see and do check out The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C.

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