Are you looking for the most popular museums in Washington DC for an upcoming trip? This guide has you covered!
From the world-famous Smithsonian museums to interactive museums that are great for children, like the Spy Museum, these are some of the best Washington DC museums to put on your itinerary!
These museums are in no particular order, but we can tell you that the Natural History Museum, Air & Space, and American History are among the top-visited museums in the world! Get ready for some crowds!
Also, we would like to note that all Smithsonian museums are accessible to wheelchair users (as are the rest on this list).
Did we miss any museums in DC on this list? Let us know in the comments! Thanks!
Best Museums in Washington DC
1. National Building Museum
The National Building Museum in Washington DC is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in architecture and design!
Located in a historic building that used to house the Pension Bureau, the museum’s stunning atrium is over 15 stories tall and boasts massive Corinthian columns that create a grand entrance.
The museum has a variety of exhibitions, both permanent and temporary, including “House & Home,” which explores the history of domestic life, and “Secret Cities,” which focuses on the architecture and design of the Manhattan Project.
Visitors can also participate in hands-on activities, lectures, and workshops, such as creating their own tiny houses or designing sustainable cities.
The museum hosts many events throughout the year, including the “Big Build,” a family-friendly event where children can explore the world of architecture and design through hands-on activities.
The National Building Museum has also hosted many high-profile events, including presidential inaugurations and gala events.
Address: 401 F St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Official website: https://www.nbm.org/
2. United States National Arboretum
The United States National Arboretum is an extensive collection of trees and wooded plants that aid research projects by the United States Department of Agriculture. It is, more or less, an outdoor museum.
The arboretum is split into several outdoor gardens, including one dedicated to state trees. There is also a Bonsai and Penjing museum on site.
While the 446-acre site is mainly devoted to trees, there are also a few man-made items, including the National Capitol Columns and the ruins of the United Brick Corporation Brick Complex.
Address: 3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002
Official website: https://www.usna.usda.gov/
3. National Postal Museum (Smithsonian)
When you’re in Washington DC, the Smithsonian Postal Museum is a must-visit for everyone (it is way cooler than it sounds and ranks as one of the most underrated museums in the US!).
The museum is located in the City Post Office Building, which was constructed in 1914 and was the main post office in the city for over 60 years.
The Postal Museum houses a vast collection of postal artifacts, including stamps, postcards, and mailboxes, and exhibits on topics such as the Pony Express, airmail, and the history of postal service in America.
One of the museum’s highlights is the Benjamin Franklin exhibit, which features interactive displays that teach visitors about Franklin’s contributions to the postal system.
The Washington DC museum also offers guided tours and educational programs for all ages!
Address: 2 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002
Official website: https://postalmuseum.si.edu/
4. National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian)
Washington DC’s National Museum of Natural History is located on the National Mall and was the world’s 5th most-visited museum in 2022 (over 3.9 million visitors that year – including me!).
The museum, founded in 1910, is dedicated to showcasing the wonders of the natural world and it is one of the best museums in Washington DC for kids (and a must for all itineraries)!
With a collection of over 145 million specimens, including dinosaur fossils, gems and minerals, and cultural artifacts, it’s one of the largest natural history museums in the world.
You’ll have the chance to see the legendary Hope Diamond, the largest blue diamond in the world, and the iconic T-Rex skeleton, among many other exhibits.
The Butterfly Pavilion, a tropical environment where visitors can observe live butterflies, is another highlight.
The museum is also committed to education, offering a range of programs and events for visitors of all ages.
Address: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560
Official website: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/
5. National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art is an internationally recognized art museum located on the National Mall in DC.
The museum, established in 1937, has an extensive collection of artwork from different eras and styles, including European and American paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs.
You’ll see works by world-renowned artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Leonardo da Vinci inside. The museum also has a modern and contemporary art collection, as well as a sculpture garden.
Along with its permanent collection, the National Gallery of Art also hosts temporary exhibitions, educational programs, tours, and lectures for visitors of all ages.
With free admission, the museum is accessible to everyone.
Address: Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20565
Official website: https://www.nga.gov/
6. National Museum of African American History and Culture (Smithsonian)
My favorite Smithsonian museum in Washington DC is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a museum dedicated to the African American experience in America.
The museum is located on the National Mall and boasts an impressive collection of over 37,000 artifacts, ranging from clothing and artwork to historical documents and photographs.
The museum’s exhibits cover topics such as slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and African American culture and achievements.
Notable exhibitions include the moving Emmett Till Memorial and the Oprah Winfrey Theater, which hosts cultural events and performances.
Please note that this museum is difficult to get into last minute, especially during the summer months. I highly recommend reserving in advance to avoid disappointment!
Address: 1400 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560
Official website: https://nmaahc.si.edu/
7. National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian)
Another DC museum worth checking out is the National Portrait Gallery, a fascinating museum dedicated to the art of portraiture.
The museum is located on the National Mall and showcases a vast collection of portraits of important figures in American history and culture, from George Washington to Barack Obama.
The collection includes paintings, sculptures, and photographs, as well as portraits of famous authors, musicians, and athletes.
Visitors can also explore temporary exhibitions and attend lectures and events that delve into the art of portraiture.
DC’s National Portrait Gallery is a must-see for anyone interested in American history and art, and admission is free!
Address: 8th St NW & G St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Official website: https://npg.si.edu/home/national-portrait-gallery
8. American Art Museum & Renwick Gallery (Smithsonian)
Established in 1937, the American Art Museum is dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, and researching American art. Its collection features over 40,000 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, and folk art.
One of the museum’s highlights is the portrait collection, which includes over 2,500 works featuring famous Americans such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Walt Whitman.
The American Art Museum is also home to the Luce Foundation Center, a visible art storage and study center, and the Renwick Gallery, a branch of the museum that focuses on contemporary craft and decorative arts.
With free admission and a wide range of exhibitions and programs, the American Art Museum is a must-see destination for art lovers of all ages.
Please note that the museum is split between two locations within Washington, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery. Both are free, as noted above.
Address: G Street Northwest &, 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004
Official website: https://americanart.si.edu/
9. National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian)
One of the world’s most visited museums is the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, located along the National Mall. It was the first Smithsonian museum I went to as a kid, actually!
Established in 1946, this museum is a world-renowned attraction and home to the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world.
You can see the famous Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer, the Apollo 11 command module, and much more.
The museum has exhibits dedicated to the history of aviation and space exploration, including spacecraft, rockets, and satellites.
You can participate in educational programs, watch films, and enjoy hands-on activities like flying a simulator or sitting in a cockpit.
The museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, located near Dulles Airport, houses additional aircraft and spacecraft, including the Space Shuttle Discovery. Admission to both locations is free.
Address: 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560
Official website: https://airandspace.si.edu/
10. National Geographic Museum
This National Geographic Museum is one of our favorites but it is currently under construction and will have some huge changes – so we will not write about it until we get to see exactly what they are!
We have decided to still include it as we believe it will continue to be one of the best things to do in DC!
Address: 1145 17th St NW, Washington, DC 20036
Official website: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/society/visit-our-museum/
11. Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle)
The Castle, also known as the Smithsonian Institution Building, is a renowned landmark on the National Mall in Washington DC. It is also the HQ for the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex.
The Smithsonian consists of 19 museums and galleries, as well as the National Zoo. Designed by architect James Renwick Jr. and finished in 1855, the Castle is actually the oldest building on the National Mall!
Visitors can discover exhibits showcasing the history and purpose of the Smithsonian, and the life and legacy of its founder, James Smithson.
They also have a visitor center, gift shop, and café, and it’s the starting point for guided tours of the National Mall.
Address: 1000 Jefferson Dr. SW, Washington, DC 20560
Official website: https://www.si.edu/museums/smithsonian-institution-building
12. National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian)
When you visit Washington DC, don’t miss the National Museum of the American Indian, located on the National Mall. This museum is dedicated to showcasing the rich and diverse history, culture, and traditions of Native Americans.
The collection includes over 800,000 objects such as artifacts, photographs, and artwork from various communities throughout the Americas.
The DC museum has exhibits that cover a broad range of topics such as the history of Native American treaties, the diversity of Native American languages, and contemporary Native American art.
You can also enjoy cultural demonstrations, live performances, and educational programs for visitors of all ages.
The building itself is a beautiful work of architecture, inspired by traditional Native American structures. Admission to the museum is free.
Address: 4th St SW, Washington, DC 20560
Official website: https://americanindian.si.edu/
13. National Museum of American History (Smithsonian)
When visiting Washington DC, you won’t want to miss the National Museum of American History, one of the most popular museums in the United States (and the world!).
The museum houses an extensive collection of over 1.8 million objects that document American history and culture.
Exhibits include some of the nation’s most iconic treasures, such as the original Star-Spangled Banner, the First Ladies’ Inaugural Gowns, and the Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz.
The museum’s displays also focus on American innovation and entrepreneurship, featuring exhibits on transportation, communication, and technology.
You will also find interactive experiences, educational programs, and live demonstrations, making it an excellent destination for visitors of all ages.
Admission is free like most Smithsonian museums, ensuring that everyone can experience the wonder of this incredible museum.
Address: 1300 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560
Official website: https://americanhistory.si.edu/
14. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
When you visit Washington DC, you should not miss the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on the National Mall.
It’s a moving museum that honors the memory of the Holocaust, which was the persecution and killing of millions of Jews and other groups by the Nazi regime during World War II.
Established in 1993, the museum has exhibits and artifacts that showcase the tragedy of the Holocaust, including photographs, documents, personal items belonging to victims, and survivor testimonies.
The museum also provides educational programs, lectures, and special events that inspire visitors of all ages to promote respect and tolerance for all people.
The Holocaust Memorial Museum is a poignant reminder of the atrocities of history, calling on visitors to take action and prevent similar tragedies from happening again.
Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC 20024
Official website: https://www.ushmm.org/
15. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Smithsonian)
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, situated on the National Mall in Washington DC, is a renowned museum featuring modern and contemporary art.
The building, designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft, has a distinctive circular shape that stands out on the National Mall.
The museum contains over 12,000 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and multimedia installations by artists from all over the world.
Hirshhorn’s sculpture garden showcases prominent artists such as Alexander Calder, Auguste Rodin, and Yoko Ono. The museum offers a range of exhibitions, events, and interactive programs suitable for visitors of all ages.
Admission to both the museum and sculpture garden is free.
Address: Independence Ave SW &, 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20560
Official website: https://hirshhorn.si.edu/
16. International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum is a one-of-a-kind museum dedicated to the fascinating world of espionage and intelligence. It is easily one of the best museums in Washington DC for kids!
Opened in 2002, the museum boasts a wide range of interactive exhibits, artifacts, and educational programs that explore the rich history of spies and espionage.
Visitors can immerse themselves in exhibits on famous spies and intelligence operations, such as James Bond and the Cold War.
The museum offers hands-on experiences, including the opportunity to navigate a laser maze or test one’s spy skills in a simulated mission.
The extensive collection of spy gadgets and equipment, including cameras, weapons, and a lipstick pistol, is one of the highlights.
Washington DC’s Spy Museum also provides educational programs and events for visitors of all ages. You must book a time slot and pay for a ticket for this one!
Address: 700 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20024
Official website: https://www.spymuseum.org/
17. The Phillips Collection
The Phillips Collection is a celebrated museum in Washington DC that focuses on modern and contemporary art.
Its founder, Duncan Phillips, established it in 1921, and it became the first museum in the US to exhibit an all-encompassing collection of modern art.
Housing over 4,000 works of art, the museum displays paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by American and European artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and Mark Rothko.
Among the museum’s highlights are its impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, including works by Paul Gauguin and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Besides its permanent collection, the Phillips Collection showcases temporary exhibitions, organizes lectures, and offers educational programs suitable for visitors of all ages. The museum requires paid admission for entry!
Address: 1600 21st St NW, Washington, DC 20009
Official website: https://www.phillipscollection.org/
18. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (National Museum of Asian Art)
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art comprises two separate galleries, the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located on the National Mall in Washington DC.
Charles Lang Freer founded the Freer Gallery in 1923, which houses a vast collection of more than 26,000 artworks from Asia and the Middle East, including Japanese paintings, Chinese ceramics, and Islamic art.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, established in 1987, displays a collection of over 10,000 works of art, including Chinese bronze and jade sculptures, Indian miniature paintings, and contemporary Asian art.
Both galleries offer visitors the opportunity to explore permanent and temporary exhibitions, attend educational programs, and special events, all free of charge.
Address: 1050 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560
Official website: https://asia.si.edu/
19. National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian)
The National Museum of African Art, situated on the National Mall in Washington DC, is a part of the Smithsonian Institution, consisting of 19 museums and galleries.
Established in 1964, the museum displays more than 12,000 items that represent a variety of African art and culture, including contemporary art, sculptures, and textiles.
The museum’s exhibits cover different aspects of African art, such as the influence of religion and politics on art, the relationship between African and Western art, and the significance of African masks and masquerades.
Additionally, the museum provides a range of educational programs, workshops, and lectures that cater to visitors of all ages.
Admission is free, making it accessible to everyone!
Address: 950 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560
Official website: https://africa.si.edu/
20. National Museum of Women in the Arts
The National Museum of Women in the Arts is situated in the downtown area of Washington DC, and it is the only museum globally that is dedicated entirely to the artwork of women.
The museum houses a collection of more than 5,500 art pieces such as sculptures, paintings, photographs, and videos created by women artists from all over the world.
Exhibits showcase various artistic styles, cultures, and time periods ranging from Renaissance paintings to modern-day installations.
Along with exhibitions, the museum also provides educational programs, special events, and lectures that appreciate the accomplishments of women in the arts.
The museum’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center is an added attraction, which consists of over 18,000 books, catalogs, and periodicals that are associated with women artists.
Visitors can access the museum by purchasing tickets.
Address: 1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005
Official website: https://nmwa.org/
Did we miss any of the best museums in Washington DC? Let us know your favorite Washington DC museums in the comments!
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Megan is a travel blogger and writer with a background in digital marketing. Originally from Richmond, VA, she has lived all around the world (including Germany, Finland, Norway, etc) but her heart always finds its way back to Virginia. This blog is to help encourage travelers to explore the great state of VA… and its wonderful neighbors! Megan has written for or been featured by National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s Travel, the New York Times, and more. She has visited 45 US states and 100+ countries… and wholeheartedly believes that Brunswick Stew is probably the greatest food to ever exist.