Wednesday, 15, May 2024

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The Dupont Circle

15 Must-Visit Museums in Washington, DC

From Shakespeare to spies, explore DC’s diverse museum scene this International Museum Day

As we celebrate International Museum Day this Saturday, May 18, there is no better time to discover the rich cultural landscape of Washington, DC. Known for its plethora of world-class museums and galleries, the nation's capital offers a diverse array of exhibits that cater to every interest and taste. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a seasoned local, let our curated list of 15 must-visit museums guide your exploration.

1. The Phillips Collection

Located in the heart of Dupont Circle, The Phillips Collection is a true gem among DC's museums. The first museum of modern art, the collection was founded by Duncan Phillips in 1921 and boasts an impressive array of contemporary works, including pieces by Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Renoir, and O'Keeffe. Don't miss the special installation, “Up Close With Paul Cezanne,” which runs until July 14 and showcases two recently conserved works by French Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire (1886-87) and Self-Portrait (1878-80). These paintings, together with five other works in the museum’s Cezanne “unit,” will be exhibited together for the first time in decades. 

The Phillips Collection is a true gem among Washington DC's museums


2. Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Opened in 2016, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is a testament to the resilience and creativity of the African American community throughout our nation’s history. From slavery and segregation to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond, this museum traces the complex and inspiring journey of Black Americans. Explore galleries filled with cultural artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays across 105,000 square feet of exhibition space—that’s twice the size of the White House! While entry to the museum is free, we recommend booking tickets online in advance.

National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC


3. The Textile Museum

Nearby Dupont Circle you’ll find The Textile Museum at George Washington University. Housing one of the world's largest collections of textiles, this museum offers a fascinating journey through centuries of textile artistry from around the globe. From ancient Peruvian textiles to intricate Persian carpets, each exhibit tells a unique story of craftsmanship and cultural heritage. Their “Washingtonians at Work and Play” exhibition, through July 20, employs historical newspaper illustrations and artifacts to capture daily scenes of labor and leisure in early 19th-century Washington, DC.

4. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

No visit to DC is complete without a trip to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Located on the National Mall, this iconic museum showcases the history of aviation and space exploration through a vast collection of artifacts, including the Wright brothers' plane and the Apollo 11 command module. Aviation enthusiasts will want to make the trip to the museum’s other location, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Virginia. Here you’ll find thousands of items on display, including the Space Shuttle Discovery, a Blackbird SR-71, and a Concorde, in two large hangars. Whether you're a history buff or a budding astronaut, there's something for everyone to marvel at here. Free timed-entry passes are required for admission to the museum.  

Air and Space Museum with aeroplanes hanging from celling


5. Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens

Tucked away in northwest Washington, DC, the Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens is a captivating home where art, history, and natural beauty meet. Once the residence of socialite and antiques collector Marjorie Merriweather Post, this magnificent estate boasts an unparalleled collection of Russian imperial art, including two Fabergé eggs, French decorative art, and one of the finest orchid collections. Outside, discover lush formal gardens, including a Japanese-style garden and a rose garden that bloom in vibrant colors throughout the seasons. 

Paintings from Hillwood Museum in Washington DC


6. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

A sobering reminder of one of humanity's darkest chapters, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stands as a solemn testament to the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. Through powerful exhibits and survivor testimonies, this museum honors the memory of the millions of Holocaust victims. It also serves as a vital educational resource, emphasizing the importance of remembrance, tolerance, and standing up against hatred in today's world.

7. Renwick Gallery

Tucked away near the White House, the Renwick Gallery is a must-visit for art lovers, as it highlights achievements in American craft and design. Housed in a historic building and offering free admission, the museum showcases contemporary craft artists who push the boundaries of traditional art forms. Visit before July 7 to check out the exhibit “Carrie Mae Weems: Looking Forward, Looking Back.” This focused exhibition pairs two projects by Carrie Mae Weems—a major multimedia installation and eight photographs— that explore the relationship of memory to history and of memory as it is mediated through performance, photography, or video.

The Renwick Gallery in the United States, Washington DC is located near the White House


8. International Spy Museum

Step into the thrilling world of espionage at the International Spy Museum. Delve into a world of spy gadgets, disguises, and immersive exhibits filled with real-life tales of intrigue. Make sure to catch the "Bond in Motion" exhibit, running until April 2025, where you can explore iconic vehicles from every James Bond film. Experience the pulse-pounding excitement of the spy world and uncover the secrets behind 007's daring adventures!

The International Spy Museum in Washington DC


9. Woodrow Wilson House

A short walk from The Dupont Circle you’ll find Woodrow Wilson House, offering a unique glimpse into the life of the 28th President. This Georgian Revival townhouse served as Wilson's residence after his presidency and now houses original furnishings and memorabilia from his time there. Book a guided one-hour tour to explore the house, exhibits on Wilson's presidency, and the residence’s tranquil gardens. Visitors with niche interests will appreciate the option to book a specialty tour, such as “Presidential Porcelain: A History of Ceramics Through the Wilsons’ Collection.”

10. National Building Museum

Explore the wonders of design and architecture at the National Building Museum, which engages visitors on the impact certain buildings have had on society, and how they were built (check out the original architectural drawings of the National Cathedral!) Marvel at the expansive architecture of the Great Hall, with its 75-foot-tall Corinthian columns, and don't miss the interactive Brick City LEGO exhibit, perfect for families. Best of all, admission to the museum is free!

People exploring the National Building Museum in Washington DC


11. Planet Word

Explore the power of language at the Planet Word Museum, a free-to-visit institution that promises to engage, educate, and inspire. Located at the historic Franklin School, where Alexander Graham Bell successfully transmitted a "photophone" message in 1880, Planet Word offers a unique and immersive experience for language enthusiasts of all ages. Don't miss the remarkable 22-foot-tall wall of words, a must-see up close! 

Exploring the power of language at the Planet Word Museum in Washington DC


12. Rubell Museum

Discover a vibrant contemporary art collection at the Rubell Museum DC. Housed in the historic building of the former Randall Junior High School in Southwest DC, the museum breathes new life into its 1906 structure. Dedicated exclusively to contemporary art, the Rubell Museum DC offers a space for visitors to engage with the most compelling national and international artists of our time. This intimate museum serves as an accessible hub of creativity and inspiration for its surrounding community.

13. National Gallery of Art

Situated on the National Mall, the iconic National Gallery of Art houses an unparalleled collection of Western art spanning from the Middle Ages to the present day, showcasing artists such as Rembrandt, Monet, and Van Gogh. The Gallery consists of the original neoclassical West Building designed by John Russell Pope, the modernist East Building designed by I.M. Pei, and the 6-acre Sculpture Garden. Beyond its permanent collection, the NGA hosts temporary exhibitions, lectures, and educational programs that cater to art enthusiasts of all ages. Don't miss the beloved "Jazz in the Garden" program, a highlight of summer evenings in DC, featuring live performances in the museum's picturesque Sculpture Garden. Every Friday night from May 31 until August 9, visitors can enjoy music, food, and drinks amidst the beauty of the garden. Registration for tickets operates on a lottery system, opening two Mondays before each event and closing one Friday before.

People seating outside National Gallery of Art in Washington DC



Experience a captivating fusion of art and technology at the ARTECHOUSE Museum in DC’s Southwest Waterfront neighborhood. This space hosts rotating, large-scale installations by artists at the forefront of modern innovation. If you missed cherry blossom season in Washington, DC, you’ll want to visit the Isekai: Blooming Parallel Worlds exhibit, running through June 1. This enchanting digital installation mesmerizes children and adults alike as it brings the iconic cherry blossoms to life. 

2 People visiting the Artechouse Museum in Washington DC


15. Folger Shakespeare Library 

After a near four-year renovation, this Capitol Hill institution will reopen its doors this summer with brand new exhibition space. A literary treasure trove, the Folger Shakespeare Library boasts the largest collection of Shakespeare artifacts in the world, alongside manuscripts, books, and art from the Elizabethan era. Check out the schedule of upcoming performances at Folger Theatre for a truly immersive experience into the world of the Bard.

Whether you're drawn to the classics or crave something off the beaten path, Washington, DC's museums offer endless opportunities for exploration and inspiration. So, this International Museums Day, why not venture out and discover the cultural treasures that await you in the nation's capital? Happy exploring!