Best museums in Washington that are worth your time

Get inspired at the best museums in Washington, as you explore history, art, and culture through a uniquely American lens.

Known for its rich history and cultural institutions, Washington is home to many world famous museums.

From the Smithsonian's endless wonders spanning prehistory to planetary exploration, to the artistic grandeur of the National Gallery of Art, these cultural epicenters shape the city's vibrant narrative. Explore the face of American history at the National Portrait Museum or delve into the complex story at the National Museum of the American Indian and National African American History and Culture Museum.

Washington's top museums are located in the heart of the National Mall, where landmarks and art museums provide endless collections for you to explore. But there's also plenty of action away from the bustle, including fantastic day trips to museum houses like George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

From past to present, dive into the heart of America's capital with a look at the best museums in Washington.

Best history museums in Washington

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1. Unravel America's story at the National Archives Museum

The National Archives Museum in Washington is the custodian of the United States' most important historical documents. The documents on display range from the country's founding to the significant milestones that have marked its path. They provide an immersive and intimate encounter with America's past.

Highlights:

On a National Archives Guided Museum Tour, you'll encounter the original Emancipation Proclamation and historic letters penned by illustrious Presidents like George Washington and John F. Kennedy.

Address and opening hours:

701 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20408, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM.

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2. Experience America's tapestry at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History is a treasure trove of objects telling the story of a nation's journey. Its exhibitions cover an astounding array of subjects, from politics and military history to science and popular culture.

Highlights:

The National Museum of American History: Guided Tour allows you to stand by Thomas Jefferson's desk, or explore the evolving role of women through the intricate designs of First Ladies' gowns.

Address and opening hours:

1300 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM.

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3. Delve into sacred scriptures at the Museum of the Bible

The Museum of the Bible in Washington illuminates the Bible's history, narrative, and impact. Explore a range of biblical artifacts, manuscripts, and art, to gain a genuine of the Bible's lasting influence on human civilization.

Highlights:

A Museum of the Bible General Admission Ticket provides entry to the intriguing World of Jesus of Nazareth exhibit, featuring the historical context of this pivotal figure's life.

Address and opening hours:

400 4th St SW, Washington, DC 20024, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:00 PM.

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4. Honor heroes at the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum

The African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington is a poignant testament to a crucial period in American history. It commemorates the contributions and sacrifices of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, a crucial step toward freedom.

Highlights:

The African American History Tour takes you on an enlightening journey through the compelling exhibit 'The Road to Freedom: A History of the Reconstruction Era.'

Address and opening hours:

1925 Vermont Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, United States. Open Monday-Saturday 11:00 AM-4:00 PM.

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5. Encounter powerful narratives at the National African American History and Culture Museum

The National African American History and Culture Museum chronicles African American experience from its origins in Africa, through slavery and the civil rights movement, to the present day. Its rich collections preserve the individual stories, traditions, and contributions that shaped the American story.

Highlights:

On the African American History Museum Private Tour, you can engage with meaningful symbols of civil rights activism.

Address and opening hours:

1400 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM, 10:00 AM-12:00 PM Monday.

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6. Uncover ancient cultures at the National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian is an institution committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Americas. Its remarkable collection illustrates the vibrant histories, cultures, and contemporary lives of Native peoples.

Highlights:

Immerse yourself in the intriguing 'The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire' exhibit, which displays the advanced technologies of the ancient Andean cultures and the enduring legacy of the Inka Empire.

Address and opening hours:

4th St SW, Washington, DC 20560, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM.

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7. Step into a Founding Father's world at George Washington's Mount Vernon

At George Washington's Mount Vernon, visitors can journey into the life of the US's first President. It is a meticulously preserved 18th-century plantation and a living history showcasing Washington's innovative farming methods, his role as a family man, and the landscapes he adored.

Highlights:

With the Mount Vernon: George Washington's Estate with Audio Guide Ticket, you can experience the Revolutionary War in a 4D theater.

Address and opening hours:

3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy, Mt Vernon, VA 22121, United States. Open daily 9:00 AM-5:00 PM.

Best art museums in Washington

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8. Marvel at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum holds an impressive collection of American art. The museum's historic home is a work of art itself, featuring grand colonnades and spacious galleries. A panorama of American creativity offers cultural and historical insights through the diverse and dynamic medium of art

Highlights:

A Smithsonian American Art Museum Private Tour includes a viewing of Mary Cassatt's 'The Caress,' a stunning representation of mother and child intimacy.

Address and opening hours:

G Street Northwest and 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, United States. Open daily 11:30 AM-7:00 PM.

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9. Walk through history at the National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian complex, is housed in a beautiful, historic building that served as a Civil War hospital. Art, history, and biography unite, offering an intriguing look at the individuals who shaped the United States.

Highlights:

On the guided tour you can view the deeply poignant portrait of iconic poet Walt Whitman, who helped wounded soldiers in this very building.

Address and opening hours:

8th St NW and G St NW, Washington, DC 20001, United States. Open daily 11:30 AM-7:00 PM.

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10. Marvel at artistic masterpieces at the National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art, one of the most famous museums in Washington, is a testament to the preservation and celebration of the visual arts. It is home to an impressive collection of European and American art, with its classical architecture and beautifully landscaped grounds making it a place of beauty and inspiration.

Highlights:

On a guided museum tour, you can view Gilbert Stuart's renowned painting of George Washington.

Address and opening hours:

Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20565, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:00 PM.

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11. Immerse yourself in digital art at ARTECHOUSE

ARTECHOUSE, a cutting-edge art space in Washington, transports you to a world where art, science, and technology intertwine. The venue offers immersive, innovative experiences that push the boundaries of artistic expression, encouraging visitors to engage with the art in new and exciting ways.

Highlights:

With the ARTECHOUSE Immersive Art Experience Ticket, you can enjoy the groundbreaking installations, then discuss them over a drink at the ARTECHOUSE Extended Reality Bar

Address and opening hours:

1238 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-10:00 PM.

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12. Discover Impressionism at The Phillips Collection

The Phillips Collection, America's first museum of modern art, offers an intimate environment in which to encounter superb works of art. See a world-class collection of Impressionist and contemporary masterpieces in a beautiful historic house

Highlights:

Prepare to be enthralled by 'The Luncheon of the Boating Party,' a masterpiece of Impressionism by Pierre-Auguste Renoir that immerses you in a moment of joy and companionship on the Seine.

Address and opening hours:

1600 21st St NW, Washington, DC 20009, United States. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11:00 AM-6:00 PM.

Best alternative museums in Washington

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13. Venture into the depths of Earth's history at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History unveils the marvels of natural history spanning millions of years. From ancient fossils to sparkling gemstones, its engaging exhibits and immersive experiences make it one of the best museums in Washington.

Highlights:

Take a small group tour to explore Ocean Hall's stunning coral reef exhibit, and meet Phoenix, a replica 45-ton whale.

Address and opening hours:

10th St. and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM.

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14. Ascend the heights of innovation at the Smithsonian National Museum of Air and Space

The Smithsonian National Museum of Air and Space is a tribute to human ingenuity and the pursuit of flight. It hosts a collection of significant artifacts, from the earliest aircraft to groundbreaking space missions, providing an unparalleled journey through the history of aviation.

Highlights:

View the iconic Apollo 11 Command Module and learn about Buzz Aldrin's spacesuit and moon boots on a guided tour.

Address and opening hours:

600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM.

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15. Meet icons of democracy at the National Mall

The National Mall is a vibrant public space at the heart of the city, connecting iconic monuments, memorials, and museums. A visit to Washington isn't complete without exploring this expansive space, home to some of the best museums in Washington.

Highlights:

On a National Mall Tour by Electric Vehicle, you'll enjoy a fun and eco-friendly way to explore the city's landmarks, including the White House and Capitol Hill.

Meeting point:

Between Constitution and Independence Ave. SW Washington, DC 20050, United States. Start times vary.

FAQs

What are the must-visit museums in Washington?

The must-visit museums in Washington include the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Air and Space, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National African American History Museum.

Are there any free museums in Washington?

Many Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington, like the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of Air and Space, are free.

Are there any museums in Washington suitable for children and families?

Museums like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Air and Space, and the International Spy Museum offer interactive exhibits for families.

For which museums in Washington are guided tours recommended?

Guided tours are recommended for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National African American History Museum to enable visitors to gain deeper insights into the collections.

Are there museum passes or discount cards for visiting multiple museums in Washington?

While many museums are free, the Washington DC Explorer Pass offers discounts for multiple attractions, including some museums.