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Best Washington Dc Museums

author
David Lawrence
• Sunday, 27 December, 2020
• 12 min read

Steve McAlister / Getty Images4.2 The museum is a memorial to the millions of Jews who died during the Nazi regime in Germany during World War II. The exhibits tell the horrific story of genocide and teach the dangers of hatred and prejudice.

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There is a separate exhibit for ages 8 and up that tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of a young boy. Visiting Tips: Free Timed Passes are required for the permanent exhibit.

Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation The home of George Washington is often overlooked by visitors because it is located outside the city. The estate is set along the shores of the Potomac River and is the most scenic tourist attraction in the Washington, D.C. area.

The museum and education center features 25 state-of-the-art galleries and theaters that tell the story of Washington's life. See national treasures from Julia Child's kitchen to First Ladies' dresses at this museum that safeguards more than 3 million artifacts.

Visiting Tips: Check out the museum's calendar to find out about any daily programming events. Rent an audio guide to explore the museum's new wing “The Nation We Build Together” with narration from the likes of Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell.

After walking the gallery, head downstairs to the gift shop and Barbara Kruger's installation, which fills the Lower Level lobby. Visiting Tips: Free 45-minute tours are available every daily at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Meet a Gallery Guide at the lobby information desk at that time if you're interested.

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Or hang out in local coffee chain Dolce's new café in the refreshed lobby space, designed by artist Hiroshi Sumoto and unveiled in 2018. This sprawling museum spans two buildings, with an East and West Wing and countless priceless artworks from Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, John Singleton Copley, Johannes Vermeer, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and more famed artists.

Dupont Circle's The Phillips Collection is not to be missed for art lovers, with pieces by Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh. The first Thursday of every month is “Phillips after 5,” a popular event that runs from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (buy tickets in advance if you can).

The newest Smithsonian museum, this moving 400,000-square-foot chronicles the African American experience with more than 37,000 artifacts in its collection. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images Explore The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian (MAI)'s collections of Native artifacts, housed in a striking curved building surrounded by indigenous landscaping.

Visiting Tips: The museum's acclaimed Miriam Café is a favorite for tourists on the National Mall, where you'll find Native foods like corn troops and fry bread along with modern takes on traditional dishes like buffalo burgers. Robert Alexander/Getty Images Visit the National Archives' Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, which is home of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Visiting Tips: Reservations aren't required to enter the National Archives Museum through the Public Entrance. But the museum strongly suggests making a reservation between March and Labor Day to avoid potentially long lines outside.

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Besides portraits of influential Americans, don't miss the serene glass-ceilinged Robert and Arlene Good Courtyard. Robert Alexander/Getty Images Asia meets America is the theme for these two Smithsonian museums on the National Mall.

Visiting Tips: Download the Freer Thinking Audio App, which uses your location on your phone to alert you to museum highlights. Washington, D.C. has dozens of wonderful museums that will appeal to virtually any traveler's interests.

Hey fellow Helpers, the wife and I want to go into DC to visit some museums since the next couple of days are def going to be museum weather. The imposing Tennessee marble modernist block, by Helmut, Obama and Nussbaum, incorporates three sky lit, double-height galleries, which house missiles, aircraft and space stations.

This spectacular, aggressively modern cylindrical building enlivens the predominantly neoclassical architecture lining the Mall. The structure, which was completed in 1974, was meant to house self-made Wall Street millionaire Joseph Firstborn’s collection of 20th-century painting and sculpture.

The museum now presents art in a range of media, including works on paper, painting, installation, photography, sculpture, digital and video art. The museum has housed some most-hyped visiting exhibitions on earth, from AI Water’s Trace to Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors.

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A privately run collection, the National Building Museum produces smart, noteworthy exhibits focusing on architects and the built environment, both contemporary and historical. Among the exhibitions, House & Home discovers the history and many meanings of “home,” both physical and cultural, with an array of all things household, from household goods and decorations (including a poster of Farrah Fawcett and a fondue set), to building materials to mortgage papers.

Recently, temporary summer installations like BEACH (an enormous ball pit) and LAWN have made its sprawling interior even more Instagram-able. Fittingly, the building itself is gorgeous: an Italian Renaissance-style Great Hall features eight colossal 75-foot Corinthian columns that lead to ceiling 15 stories above.

You’ll find temples dedicated to everything from the development of spy craft and space travel to serious dives into modern art and African American history. Thrills ran through the local art world last year when Glen stone reopened its doors to the public after a massive expansion.

Set on 300 acres just outside the city, Glen stone blends art, architecture, and landscape design in a way that encourages visitors to turn off the noise of the digital world and connect with what’s in front of you. You’ll see works by major names in conceptual and modern art such as Marcel Duchamp, Mayor Kusama, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol and sculptures by the likes of Jeff Moons seamlessly fit into the rolling hills of the property.

Steps away from the White House, on Pennsylvania Avenue, sits the first building in the United States that was specifically intended to become an art museum. Mind-bending, immersive shows are the main event here, like “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man,” which brought the famed Nevada-desert festival to D.C. through sculptures, structures, and elaborate costumes.

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It’s hard to imagine improving upon the grandeur of the historic National Mall, miles of greenery surrounded by world-class monuments and museums. This relatively new addition to an iconic landscape houses artifacts, photography, and other media that reflect African American culture and experiences.

Here you’ll find Harriet Tubman’s personal hymnal and silk lace and linen shawl, a bill of a sale for a young enslaved girl, Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, photos capturing the participation of black women during the Civil Rights Movement, and a collection of costumes from The Wiz. Nothing is off limits at the Firstborn, whose vast permanent collection boasts a fine range of pioneering sculpture, digital media, photography, video, performance-based pieces, and more, all from 21st-century innovators.

On a nice day, you could hardly do better than a stroll through the museum’s Sculpture Garden, which hosts jazz concerts in summer and an ice rink in winter. It also has the most classic collection in the city, with a focus mainly on European and American paintings, sculpture, prints, photographs, and other media.

That’s for good reason: this museum has the world’s largest natural history collection with 146 million artifacts and specimens, including the ones at the recently reopened dinosaur hall. The whole place is a fun romp from the exhibits to the gift shop, which has its share of light-hearted spy gadgets: a mug shaped like a briefcase, a car key that's also a mini camera, or a stealth flask for your smartphone.

You start at the lowest level, in the depths of the earth, symbolizing the devastating journey formerly enslaved people took from Africa into a life of servitude. On the upper levels, African-American arts and culture are celebrated with original artifacts, including Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and Marian Anderson’s red-orange silk dress, which she wore while singing at her famous Easter Sunday concert in 1939 at the Lincoln Memorial (after being rebuked from Constitution Hall).

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INSIDER Join Washingtonians for Phillips After 5, a popular after-work event featuring live music, gallery talks, food, and a cash bar; be sure to reserve ahead. INSIDER TIP lively calendar of events includes gallery talks, art workshops, and concerts.

Touch a veritable moon rock, climb into a giant Boeing 747 cockpit, and test your skills at air-to-air combat in an F-4 Phantom II jet fighter. We’re talking amazing stuff like the Star-Spangled Banner, Julia Child’s Kitchen, Abraham Lincoln’s Top Hat, Judy Garland’s Ruby Red Slippers, even the First Ladies’ Inaugural Gowns.

The museum, covering everything from transportation to food to the President’s role to innovation, has three million artifacts in total, with only three to five percent on display at any one time. INSIDER Innocents stationed throughout the museum offer quickie overview tours; ask at the info desk for their locations.

INSIDER Tiptoe can conduct archival research in the research center entered via Pennsylvania Avenue, including genealogical info such as births, dates, and census info on family; immigrant ships’ passenger lists; and maps dating from America’s earliest days. Indeed, the Grand Hall resembles a veritable Italian-Renaissance palazzo rather than a library, with marble statues, mural mosaics, and architectural flourishes.

You can peer down on the octagonal Main Reading Room, with 250 desks beneath a towering dome, while side galleries contain permanent and temporary exhibits pulling from the library’s vast collection. INSIDER Tithe Library of Congress, perched across the street from the Capitol, is surrounded by a plethora of noble marble buildings and flowery townhouses.

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Clearly, this is not an easy museum to visit, but it’s an important one to remind of the atrocities committed by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 toward Jews, Romans, gays, the mentally ill, and others. General Admission: Timed entry tickets are free but between March and August must be secured in advance or obtained on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 10 am.

Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post filled her northwest DC home with French and Russian works of art, always with the mind of turning it into a museum. Upon her death in 1973, the doors of this sumptuous, 36-room Georgian mansion were opened to the public as the Hill wood Estate, Museum, and Gardens, providing a glimpse into a spectacular world of exquisite taste and fine living, a place where presidents, royals, dignitaries, and celebrities were fêted.

Highlights include the Louis XVI drawing room, Russian icons and tapestries, and an impressive collection of Faberge eggs, one of the largest outside Russia. You get two museums in one at this celebration of American art, occupying the glorious Greek Revival Old Patent Office in Penn Quarter.

INSIDER Tithe museum’s Good Courtyard, with a canopy by Norman Foster, a snack bar, and free Wi-Fi, is a favorite hang-out spot. Housed in the former Washington City Post Office, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s interactive exhibits look at the history of mail delivery, stamp collecting, direct marketing, and more.

A prop plane and antique railway car in the atrium remember mail delivery in the olden days. Lumberton Oaks is famed for its Beatrix-Farrand-designed gardens, but few know about the small yet extraordinary museum housed in the mansion on the grounds.

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Robert Woods Bliss and his wife, Mildred, amassed a world-class collection of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art, now curated by Harvard University and on display in specially designed galleries. The Byzantine collection spans the fourth to 15th centuries, including fine gold, silver, and bronze vessels, jewelry, and coins.

Housed in a glass-and-travertine wing designed by Philip Johnson, the Pre-Columbian collection gleams with gold pectorals, ceremonial jewelry, and stone carvings of Aztec deities and animals. The collections range from ancient Egyptian stone sculpture to Korean pottery to Persian manuscripts.

A recent renovation restored the original terrazzo floors, installed new lighting, and added witty descriptions beside each piece. Here, too, you’ll find the stunning Victorian-era Peacock Room by James McNeil Whistler; the shutters are opened every third Thursday every month, when its gilded adornments gleam in the natural light.

INSIDER Tithe Freer is associated with the adjacent Arthur M. Tackler Gallery, also displaying Asian art; they’re connected via underground passageway. This Gilded Age mansion in the Dupont Circle neighborhood showcases the eclectic decor, tapestries, furniture, sculpture, and paintings collected during various diplomatic postings around the world of its former owners and DC socialites, Lara and Isabel Anderson.

You know, that historical society founded by Revolutionary War veterans in 1783 (George Washington himself served as the first president general, and Lara Anderson was a devoted member). INSIDER TIP full roster of events with a patriotic twist is offered, including concerts and lectures.

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INSIDER Tithe restaurant, Chef Todd Gray’s Manna, offers biblically inspired snacks, including falafel, flatbread, and grain bowls and stews. Exhibits present the history of the Executive Mansion, behind-the-scenes stories (including the usher’s role); and a touchscreen tour of the White House.

INSIDER Across the street stands the venerable Willard Intercontinental, one of the best hotels in Washington D.C. with a ton of history. Open for 200 years and counting, its lobby is said to have inspired the term “lobbyist,” for the people who came to plead their cases to President Grant as he relaxed there with a cigar.

Actually, the U.S. Congress created the U.S. Botanic Garden in 1820 to accumulate and catalog plants culled on military and exploring missions. INSIDER Lipids can ask for a Junior Botanist backpack at the front desk, which offers all kinds of fun activities throughout the conservatory.

Modern and contemporary art are extolled at the circular-shaped, poured-concrete Firstborn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the National Mall. But there are some under-the-radar exhibits to note as well, including dramatic postwar art (Yoko Ono’s “Sky TV for Washington, ” for example).

The sunken Sculpture Garden just across the street, showcasing Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti, and August Rodin among its works, is a prime picnic spot. INSIDER Upkeep an eye out for the frequent temporary exhibitions that highlight important modern artists and art trends.

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You never know what to expect at the Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum located just steps from the White House.

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