Washington DC Museums Overview
Washington DC museums are some of the highest rated in the world. The majority of the Washington DC museums are free, which is a great benefit for travelers and locals alike. There are a lot of them, so it’s best to pick a few of your favorites or allocate 2-3 days to see them all. Below is a list of all the best Washington DC museums along with each museum’s address and hours of operation.
Museum of Natural History
Address: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW | Museums of Natural History Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM
The National Museum of Natural History is a free Smithsonian museum that is dedicated to inspiring curiosity, discovery, and learning about the natural world. It’s the 2nd most visited museum in the world after the Louvre in Paris, making it both the most visited natural history museum in the world and most visited museum of any type in North America. The museum’s exhibits and research programs document 126 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human cultural artifacts, and insects, including 30 million insects pinned in tiny boxes and 4½ million plants pressed onto sheets of paper. This is the top-rated of the Washington DC museums.
The Museum of Natural History is one of the free Washington DC museums.
National Portrait Gallery
Address: 8th St NW & F St NW | National Portrait Gallery Hours: 11:30 AM – 7:00 PM
The National Portrait Gallery is a free Smithsonian museum that focuses on artwork depicting famous Americans and the history of America through these individuals. The Portrait Gallery describes its work as the “poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives all tell the American story.” One of the most notable paintings on display is the famous portrait of George Washington that first lady Dolly Madison saved from the White House before the British burned it down in the War of 1812.
The National Portrait Gallery is one of the free Washington DC museums.
Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW | Holocauts Museum Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:15 PM
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the United States’ official memorial to the Holocaust. It provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history and is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy. Researchers at the museum have documented over 42,000 ghettos and concentration camps erected by the Nazis throughout German-controlled areas of Europe between 1933 to 1945, and the museum contains approximately 13,000 artifacts, 49 million pages of archival documents, 80,000 historical photographs, 200,000 registered survivors, 1,000 hours of video footage, and 9,000 oral history testimonies of the Holocaust. It’s one of the darkest moments in human history, and this museum will certainly leave you depressed, but it’s an important museum to see to honor the victims and help prevent evil like this from happening again.
The Holocaust Museum This is one of the free Washington DC museums.
Address: 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW | Newseum Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
The Newseum is a museum dedicated “to help the public and the news media understand one another better” and to “raise public awareness of the important role of a free press in a democratic society.” It does this by giving a captivating history of how major events have been depicted by the media and the role journalism has played in influencing world events. The seven-level, 250,000-square-foot museum features 15 theaters and 14 galleries. Its outdoor balcony also has some of the best views of DC. It’s a private museum, so unlike the Smithsonian museums, it charges admission. However, I recommend paying the fee since many consider it the best museum in DC.
The Newseum is one of the Washington DC museums that charges admission.
Air and Space Museum
Address: 600 Independence Ave SW | Air and Space Museum Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM
The National Air and Space Museum is a free Smithsonian museum that maintains the world’s largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft. It encompasses all aspects of human flight, and nearly every plane and spacecraft on display is an original or at least one of the original backups. The museum also includes an IMAX theatre, showing flight related movies in 3-D. It’s the second most popular of the Washington DC museums.
The Air and Space Museum is one of the free Washington DC museums.
International Spy Museum
Address: 800 F St NW | International Spy Museum Hours: 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM
The International Spy Museum is the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage. It provides a global perspective on an all-but-invisible profession that has shaped history and continues to have a significant impact on world events. The large collection of espionage artifacts highlight the work of famous spies, double agents, and describes strategies and techniques used in some of the most pivotal spy missions in world history. There are permanent exhibits on spycraft in the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, both World Wars, the Cold War, and the present day. It’s a private museum, so unlike the Smithsonian museums, it charges admission.
The Spy Museum is one of the Washington DC museums that charges admission.
Address: 1000 Jefferson Dr SW | Smithsonian Castle Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM
The Smithsonian Castle is the iconic and historical building that was the first building built by the Smithsonian Institution, which is a group of museums and research centers. The institution was established by the U.S. government in 1846 “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” It now consists of nineteen museums (many of which are on the national mall), nine research centers, and a zoo. The institution has nearly 150 million items in its possession – making it the largest institution of its type in the world and is what gives it its nickname: “the nation’s attic”. The Castle is now the institution’s headquarters, and is also home to both the museum’s information center and various free exhibits. There are several beautiful gardens in the back that are inspired by various influences from around the world.
The Smithsonian Castle is one of the free Washington DC museums.
Museum of American History
Address: 14th St and Constitution Ave NW | Museum of American History Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM
The National Museum of American History is a free Smithsonian museum that highlights the social, political, cultural, scientific and military history of the United States. One of the featured items on display is the original Star-Spangled Banner – the actual flag that the national anthem was written to after Francis Scott Key saw it still waving at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 against the British – signifying that, after a long night of battle, America wasn’t defeated. Exhibits demonstrate other significant moments and periods of American history, and some of the fun national treasures on display include Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Dizzy Gillespie’s angled trumpet, and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.
The Museum of American History is one of the free Washington DC museums.
Museum of Crime and Punishment
Address: 575 7th St NW | The Museum of Crime and Punishment Hours: CLOSED
The National Museum of Crime & Punishment is an interactive museum dedicated to the history of crime fighting in the nation, law enforcement, crime scene investigation, and forensic science. The museum features the full-range of crime in the United States, including colonial crime, pirates, Wild West outlaws, gangsters, the Mob, mass murderers, and white collar criminals. There are also interactive exhibits for visitors that include a high-speed police chase simulator used for training law enforcement officers and a Firearms Training Simulator similar to that used by the FBI. It’s a private museum, co-founded by John Walsh, the host of America’s Most Wanted, so unlike the Smithsonian museums, it charges admission.
The Museum of Crime & Punishment is one of the Washington DC museums that charges admission.
Source of header image: Jeff Turner via Flickr
Enjoy exploring the Washington DC museums on your Washington DC tour!
Washington DC Museums Tour
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