We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Museum Guide for Washington DC

Exclusively commissioned by TripAdvisor

97%
Found this guide helpful

Washington DC is the headquarters of the Smithsonian Institution, the world's largest museum and research complex. But the 17 Smithsonian museums and galleries around here are only the tip of the Washington museum iceberg. From Smithsonians to spies, here is a short guide to some of the most visited museums of Washington DC — and the world!

Good for
  • History Buff
  • Art and Architecture Lover
  • Peace and Quiet Seeker
  • Thrifty Traveller
  • Like a Local

10 Places

6 City Tips

Print
Map

10 Places

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Natural History Museums

National Air and Space Museum

Speciality Museums

National Museum of American History

History Museums

National Museum of the American Indian

History Museums, Speciality Museums

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

History Museums, Speciality Museums

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Art Museums, History Museums

The Phillips Collection

Art Museums

Newseum

History Museums, Speciality Museums

International Spy Museum

Speciality Museums

The National Archives Museum

Speciality Museums

Stephen C's City Tips

  • All museums are easily reached from nearby Metro stations (Smithsonian, L'Enfant Plaza, Archives, Dupont Circle). It's possible to walk between most of them.
  • Hot as DC can be in the summer, it can be cold indoors when you're in light clothing and the air conditioning is running. Always carry a sweater.
  • There are too many museums to visit in one trip — choose a handful and spend a lot of time at each.
  • All Smithsonian museums on the National Mall are located between the Washington Monument and the US Capitol Building.
  • There are a few privately-run museums in this list — these charge an entry fee but are well worth a visit.
  • Smithsonian museums are free to enter.
  • Save
    Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
    Natural History Museums
    See more photos
    Stephen C Says:

    An estimated 7 million people visit the National Museum of Natural History each year, and with good reason: It's a classic. In a building that is roughly the size of 18 football fields, the museum displays more than 126 million cultural artifacts and natural specimens, from Javanese shadow puppets to a live coral reef.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Don't miss the Hope Diamond, located in the hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals.
    • The museum is open until 5:30pm daily, and until 7:30pm during summer.
    • This popular museum is almost always crowded. Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
    • Stop by the Insect Zoo to witness live tarantula feedings (if you dare). Visit the website or ask at the museum for times.
    • The IMAX movies tend to sell out, so if you wish to see one, buy your tickets in advance.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #13 of 458 things to do in Washington DC
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • The Hope Diamond! 22/11/2017
    • Quick visit thru museums 21/11/2017
    • Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
    Address:
    10th Street and Constitution Ave
    Washington DC, DC 20560
    Phone:
    +1 202-633-1000
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    10:00 - 17:30
    Other:
  • Save
    National Air and Space Museum
    Speciality Museums
    See more photos
    Stephen C Says:

    There is nothing small about the National Air and Space Museum, which is the most-visited museum in the US and (along with a second location in Virginia) houses the world's largest collection of aviation and space artifacts. From the Wright brothers' flyer and Amelia Earhart's red-winged bird, to the Apollo 11 command module and a planetarium, this museum chronicles the history of flying machines.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • The section on space travel is particularly worthy of your time.
    • Purchase your IMAX tickets in advance, as they are likely to sell out.
    • Arrive early — the museum gets very crowded.
    • Since admission is free, it's worth shelling out a little for a simulation ride — whether it be space walking or naval aviation.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #5 of 458 things to do in Washington DC
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Great place to see 22/11/2017
    • A favorite museum! 22/11/2017
    • National Air and Space Museum
    Address:
    6th and Independence Ave., SW
    Washington DC, DC 20560
    Phone:
    +1 202-633-2214
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    10:00 - 17:00
    Other:
  • Save
    National Museum of American History
    History Museums
    See more photos
    Stephen C Says:

    Julia Child's kitchen. THE Star-Spangled Banner. Dorothy's ruby slippers. Abraham Lincoln's top hat. Kermit the Frog... In short, if it was a significant part of American history or pop culture, the chances are very good that you'll find it in this fascinating treasure trove of Americana.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • The museum is in the midst of ongoing renovations, so key exhibits are sometimes closed. Check the website to see the latest at the time of your visit.
    • The museum also offers an excellent array of lectures, film screenings, and other events. Check the website to see what's on at the time of your visit.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #31 of 458 things to do in Washington DC
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Lacks Cohesion 21/11/2017
    • Home of the Star Spangled Banner 21/11/2017
    • National Museum of American History
    Address:
    1400 Constitution Ave NW
    Between 12th and 14th Street
    Washington DC, DC 20560
    Phone:
    +1 844-750-3012
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    10:00 - 17:30
    Other:
  • Save
    National Museum of the American Indian
    History Museums, Speciality Museums
    See more photos
    Stephen C Says:

    The National Museum of the American Indian offers a terrific way to discover more about the people and culture that originally occupied this land — through actual artifacts as well as stories told in native voices.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Visit the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe to sample some of the indigenous cuisines of the Americas.
    • Between 11am and 2pm, the sun reflects on the south-facing crystal prisms, creating a stunning rainbow effect in the entry hall of the museum.
    • Look around for some of 40-plus boulders surrounding the museum. Known as "grandfather rocks," these have been blessed by two different tribes as elders of the museum's landscape.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #53 of 458 things to do in Washington DC
    • Less of a hit and more of a miss 18/11/2017
    • Beautiful but wasted space--good cafeteria 18/11/2017
    • National Museum of the American Indian
    Address:
    National Mall, 4th St. and Independence Ave., S.W.
    Washington DC, DC 20560
    Phone:
    +1 202-633-1000
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    10:00 - 17:30
    Other:
  • Save
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    History Museums, Speciality Museums
    See more photos
    Stephen C Says:

    While not a lighthearted experience, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is an important one in your exploration of the full spectrum of DC's cultural offerings. It offers a sobering reminder of history's darker side through poignant, thoughtful, and provocative exhibits.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Thrifty Traveller
    Tips
    • During high season (March-August), timed passes are required to enter the permanent exhibition. Reserve them online in advance.
    • The permanent exhibit is not recommended for children under 11. However, the exhibit "Remember the Children: Daniel's Story" provides activities and learning for kids 8 and older.
    • The museum is open everyday except for Christmas Day and Yom Kippur. Admission is free.
    • Before or after visiting the museum, make a stop at the nearby World War II Memorial.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #4 of 458 things to do in Washington DC
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Difficult, but worth it 22/11/2017
    • Must see 20/11/2017
    • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Address:
    100 Raoul Wallenberg Plaza SW
    Washington DC, DC 20024-2126
    Phone:
    +1 202-488-0400
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    10:00 - 17:30
    Other:
  • Save
    Smithsonian American Art Museum
    Art Museums, History Museums
    See more photos
    Stephen C Says:

    The nation's first (and arguably best) collection of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum chronicles the American experience through three centuries of artwork by more than 7,000 artists. You can view the American West, folk art, WPA murals, and much more here. Plus, it's often just a quiet place to wander and enjoy some serenity.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Take a break in the museum's Courtyard Café.
    • Combine a visit here with one to the nearby Spy Museum.
    • Nearby Chinatown has plenty of restaurants for lunch or dinner.
    • Pay a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, which shares the same building (a stunning structure where Lincoln's second inaugural ball took place).
    • On the third floor, look for the initials and date 1864, thought to have been inscribed by a patient when this building served as a Civil War infirmary.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #30 of 458 things to do in Washington DC
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • a nice art museum worth seeing if you are in DC- free admission 12/11/2017
    • No comparison to the National Art Institute 09/11/2017
    • Smithsonian American Art Museum
    Address:
    8th and F Streets, NW
    Washington DC, DC 20013
    Phone:
    +1 202-633-1000
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    11:30 - 19:00
    Other:
  • Save
    The Phillips Collection
    Art Museums
    See more photos
    Stephen C Says:

    Although somewhat under the radar in the scope of DC museums, The Phillips Collection is well worth a visit — and not only because it's the oldest modern art museum in the country. Housed in an 1897 Georgian Revival mansion (which was once the Phillips family home) it allows an unusually intimate way of viewing works by greats such as O'Keeffe, Van Gough, and Rothko.

    Good for
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Like a Local
    Tips
    • Renoir's famed "Luncheon of the Boating Party" is here — don't miss it!
    • The Dupont Circle neighborhood has lots of cafes and eating places, and is particularly lively after work and on weekends.
    • The museum is closed on Mondays.
    • There is a fee to enter, but entry is by donation for the museum collection during the week.
    • Check out the Laib Wax Room, the first wax room artist Wolfgang Laib created for a specific museum!
    From the community
    Ranked #29 of 458 things to do in Washington DC
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • managable and welcoming 20/11/2017
    • Special exhibits 18/11/2017
    • The Phillips Collection
    Address:
    1600 21st St NW
    Washington DC, DC 20009-1003
    Phone:
    +1 202-387-2151
    Other:
  • Save
    Newseum
    History Museums, Speciality Museums
    See more photos
    Stephen C Says:

    The high-tech — and highly interactive — Newseum champions the freedoms granted to Americans by the First Amendment. Throughout its 15 galleries and 15 theaters, the museum chronicles the history of news reporting and examines our shared experience of historic moments.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    Tips
    • Make sure to step outside on the top floor for an unusual view down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the U.S. Capitol Building.
    • Each day, the front pages of newspapers from across the U.S. and around the world are displayed outside the museum.
    • Don't miss the Pulitzer Prize photograph gallery.
    • The TV Studio here does daily broadcasts — check the website to see what's on when you visit.
    • There is an entry fee, but tickets are good for two days so that you can make sure you experience all that the museum has to offer.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #8 of 458 things to do in Washington DC
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Fantastic (but expensive) museum about news and the evolution of communication and freedom (or not) or press 22/11/2017
    • Not Worth the Entry Fee 21/11/2017
    • Newseum
    Address:
    555 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    Washington DC, DC 20001-2114
    Phone:
    +1 888-639-7386
    Price range:
    US$25 - US$25
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    09:00 - 17:00
    Other:
  • Save
    International Spy Museum
    Speciality Museums
    See more photos
    Stephen C Says:

    From cover stories and code breaking to hidden tunnels and invisible ink, the International Spy Museum indulges the inner James Bond in all of us. The interactive museum allows you to dive deep into the fascinating world and history of espionage.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    Tips
    • The Shake Shack, located next door, is a popular burger place.
    • This is a privately owned museum, so there is an entry fee. The museum also offers several tours, which are well worth looking into.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #49 of 458 things to do in Washington DC
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Didn’t like this museum 22/11/2017
    • Be a spy for the day 22/11/2017
    • International Spy Museum
    Address:
    800 F St NW
    Washington DC, DC 20004-1505
    Phone:
    +1 202-393-7798
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    10:00 - 18:00
    Other:
  • Save
    The National Archives Museum
    Speciality Museums
    See more photos
    Stephen C Says:

    There's something simply awe inspiring about glimpsing the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence in person, along with one of four copies of the Magna Carta!

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • There are always events happening here, so check the website before your visit.
    Plan to stay:/
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #26 of 458 things to do in Washington DC
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Seeing our nation's founding documents brought tears to my eyes 21/11/2017
    • A Must See! 20/11/2017
    • The National Archives Museum
    Address:
    700 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    Washington DC, DC 20408-0001
    Phone:
    +1 202-357-5000
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    10:00 - 17:30
    Other:
top
×
Was this guide helpful?
YesNo