What are the best museums in Washington D.C.?

Answers from Our Experts (3)

Amongst the Smithsonian Museums, I especially enjoy the National Museum of American History, renovated a few years ago the museum is a visual history of the United States. Among its better known exhibits are the original Star Spangled Banner that flew over Baltimore and inspired Francis Scott Key, Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers and a fascinating collection of first ladies inaugural dresses. There is something that will inspire and awe anyone among its vast collection of all things American

Mary Beth Albright

One of our favorite spots is the International Spy Museum, proof positive that DC has evolved since your eighth-grade field trip. Check in and you’ll receive a dossier with a secret identity. Then travel through interactive exhibits on hush-hush missions and discover DC’s covert history with a GPS-guided tour of the city’s top spy spots. Special programs include Argo Exposed, a comprehensive history of the real events that inspired the Academy Awards’ Best Picture this year, and SpyKids, a drop-off class for children (one recent topic: ninjas). The museum also houses one of the city’s niftiest gift shops.

With the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials, the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill has gorgeous gardens, spontaneous readings of the Bard’s best, and my favorite stained-glass window in DC, of the Stages of Man. The Kreeger Museum boasts Cezannes, Renoirs, Picassos – and outside you’ll discover five sculpture-filled gardens designed by legendary architect Philip Johnson.

The US Botanic Garden is terrific for all seasons, but we especially love it in winter and early spring – few experiences chase the chill away quite like stepping out of the blustery cold and into a hothouse filled with Hawaiian orchids. Under the shadow of the dome on Capitol Hill, the Conservatory houses several different climates, including jungles and deserts, and thousands of plants. The perfect spot for a clandestine political meeting.

McLean Robbins

Washington, D.C. is known as a culture capital for a reason. There are more than two dozen museums in the D.C. area, and most are excellent venues to spend an afternoon or an entire day. But we were asked to name the best. Here are a few noteworthy stops on any Washington, D.C. itinerary: 

Museums on the National Mall: We've lumped the wide range of museums here into one category here, because really, all of them are wonderful. From the Air & Space to the Museum of American History and the Free & Sackler Galleries, you'll find something for everyone here. Sometimes the best-known are the most fun to visit, even if you've taken dozens of trips before. Don't miss lunch at the Museum of the American Indian or a stop at the National Gallery of Art. 

The Holocaust Museum: Although a trip to this museum is definitely a bit depressing, this eye-opening museum just off the National Mall is well worth a visit. Be sure to get there early, only a limited number of patrons are admitted each day.

Hillwood: Marjorie Merriweather Posts's house is is a living museum. Located in Georgetown, this wonderful venue also boasts beautiful gardens and priceless art. 

The Newseum: It may cost $20 to visit, but this museum of the news is well worth the trip. Peruse the headlines from major newspapers (they change each day) outside, or look at an ever roating selection of exhibits about the media. Aftewards, don't miss a meal at Wolfgang Puck's The Source, located next door.

The Museum of American Art / The Portrait Gallery: Located in Chinatown, these inspiring art galleries don't get nearly the attention of the other Smithsonain museums on the National Mall. Free to tour, these galleries conveniently feature numerous restaurants and bars nearby-- perfect for refueling after a long day of sightseeing. 

The Renwick Gallery: Just steps from the White House, the Renwick showcases American art and crafts. Small but mighty, this intimate museums is great for a quick afternoon trip. 

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