Location: 11 museums on the National Mall, six others across Washington, D.C., and the National Zoo
Completely free of charge and open every day of the week, the Smithsonian Institution provides its visitors with a wonderful way to learn more about the city. The best place to start exploring is the National Mall, home to 11 Smithsonian museums and galleries. You can see the Hope Diamond and an impressive collection of dinosaur fossils at the National Museum of Natural History or the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” at the National Museum of American History. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in September 2016, is the newest addition to the National Mall and a must-see for visitors and residents of the District.
Beyond the mall, there are the six other Smithsonian locations across D.C. One popular Smithsonian attraction is the world-famous National Zoo, home to the beloved pandas Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Bei Bei and more than 1,500 other animals.
Art lovers might enjoy the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, which feature the largest collection of presidential portraiture outside of the White House. The Renwick Gallery, which houses American craft and decorative arts, and the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which showcase the Smithsonian’s Asian art collections, are also popular art destinations.
National Gallery of Art
Location: Sixth Street and Constitution Ave. NW
Separate from the Smithsonian but also located along the National Mall is the National Gallery. Also free-of-charge, the National Gallery is composed of the East and West Buildings and the Sculpture Garden. The East Building, which showcases modern and contemporary art, reopened September 2016 after major renovations and now features a brand-new roof terrace and two tower galleries. The West Building houses the gallery’s European and American collection and includes works by Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt, as well as the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the Americas.
In addition to artwork, the National Gallery also offers free concerts throughout the year, most of which take place on Sundays. During the winter, tourists and students alike can enjoy the ice rink in the Sculpture Garden.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Price: $8 for students with ID
Location: 1250 New York Ave. NW
Just a few blocks away from the White House is the only major museum in the world dedicated solely to women in the arts. The National Museum of Women in the Arts has more than 4,500 works dating from the 16th century up to the present, and features various media: paintings, photos, ceramics, videos and more. Admission for students is $8, but on its Community Day — the first Sunday of every month — admission is free. In addition to its showcasing a variety of artworks, the museum hosts lectures, gallery talks, workshops, film screenings and performances.
Price: $22.46 + tax for students with ID
Location: 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
A popular destination in the District, the Newseum is an interactive, seven-level museum with thirty galleries and theaters. Some of its most moving and compelling exhibits are those on 9/11, the First Amendment and the Berlin Wall, the latter of which features the largest display of the wall outside Germany. The Newseum also has an interactive newsroom in which visitors can pretend to be a television reporter working on a news story, as well as the popular “Today’s Front Pages” gallery, which features 80 current-day newspaper covers from around the world. Although its cost of admission is quite high relative to other museums in D.C., the Newseum has enough to keep visitors busy for the two-day period during which the pass is valid.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Price: Free, or 1$ transaction fee for online reservations
Location: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl. SW
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was established to honor the victims of the Holocaust and promote human dignity while denouncing genocide. It is perhaps most well-known for its permanent exhibition, which spans all three floors of the building and presents a narrative history of the Holocaust through photos, video, eyewitness testimonies and other artifacts. The museum’s emphasis on preventing further genocide is seen in additional exhibits that examine the genocides of Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Darfur. The museum’s scope and depth mean that visitors can spend multiple hours exploring all its offerings. Entry to the museum is free, though timed tickets are required from March 1 to August 31. It is located right off the National Mall, roughly between the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial.
The Phillips Collection
Price: Free Tuesday through Friday, $8 for students with ID on weekends
Location: 1600 21st St. NW
Set in the home of founder Duncan Phillips in Dupont Circle, this art museum — the first modern art museum in the United States — showcases a vast collection of European and American modernist, impressionist and contemporary artists. The Phillips Collection features well-recognized names like El Greco, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Unlike larger art museums, the Phillips Collection has a more intimate setting, making it the perfect venue for special events, like “Phillips after 5.” The museum hosts this event on the first Thursday of each month; mixing art and entertainment, the event typically features speakers, live jazz, food and drinks. The Phillips Collection also hosts classical chamber music concerts every Sunday, from October through May — a tradition that dates back more than 75 years.