Culture

Which Museums Do You Actually Need To See In Washington, DC?

If you can look past the inescapable fact that Washington DC is the adopted home of Donald Trump for long enough, you’ll recognise that it’s an incredibly vibrant, dynamic, intelligent city, bursting at the seams with activities for its tourists. Not least of all the magnanimous collection of Smithsonian museums, each and unique and impressive as the next, amongst many others.

But visiting every one of them is a Herculean task, and it would take you months to do them all justice. So I’ve done the work for you and collected a bunch of them you should really make the time to see. It’s by no means comprehensive – there’s plenty more to see. But when we travel, time is precious and here I offer you a Washington, DC museums shortcut.

National Museum of American History

 

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You’re in the capital of the United States, what better way to learn something of the local culture than by visiting the house of all Americana? This branch of the Smithsonian governs over items that played a key role in American history and culture; first ladies’ inaugural gowns, the ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz, and the flag that flew over Fort McHenry are famous examples.

Admission: Free. Hours: 10am through 5:30pm every day.

National Portrait Gallery

 

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The National Portrait Gallery is home to 18,000 faces of arguably the most important people in American history, from sports stars to presidents to revolutionaries. Two of its most famous recent additions include former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, whose portraits apparently increased foot traffic to the museum by 300%. 

Admission: Free. Hours: 11:30am to 7pm daily, except for Christmas. 

Newseum

 

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In this current political climate and news cycle, this museum is not only is it relatable, but it’s also never been more relevant. The Newseum champions the role of a free press, and the imposing first amendment in the entrance serves as a reminder of that. Filled with interactive exhibits, it’s not just for news junkies – it delves into cultural and political events and conversations that have helped shaped the modern world.

In another sign of our times, it’s set to close at the end of 2019 after its building was purchased by Johns Hopkins University – so this might be your last chance to visit. 

Admission: US$24.95 (AU$36). Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9am to 5pm; Sunday from 10am to 5pm.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

 

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Surrounded by picturesque sculpture-filled gardens and designed in a cylinder that’s suspended off the ground, the Hirshhorn is an ideal space for perusing contemporary art. It’s not as conducive in colder weather, with a permanent set of sculpture in the garden, but still a sight to behold.

Admission: Free. Hours: Daily from 10am to 5:30pm

National Museum of African American History and Culture

 

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture houses artefacts and photography that reflect African American culture. A relatively new museum, opening in 2016, the floors are filled with music, sports, and pieces of pop-culture and of course, moving reminders of the civil rights movement. 

Admission: Free (Advanced online tickets of up to six per group can be requested on the first Wednesday of the month. Single-ticket walk-ups are given out on weekdays starting at 1pm). Hours: Saily 10am to 5:30pm

International Spy Museum

 

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This interactive museum is a little more light-hearted than most – the experience starting off by obtaining your own spy identity before examining the fairly fascinating history and tools of spycraft. 

Admission: US$22.95 (AU$33). Hours: 10am to 6pm daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

National Gallery of Art

 

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If classic art is your jam, the National Gallery of Art will certainly impress. It has the most classic collection in DC, with a focus on European and American paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs. Wander through the walls you’ll see masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, El Greco, and more of their pals.

Admission: Free. Hours: Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm; Sunday from 11am to 6pm.

National Air and Space Museum

 

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The National Air and Space Museum has been one of the most visited museums in the world since its 1976 opening. The museum traces the evolution of flight from the first-ever airplane to the moon landing and beyond. It’s a little niche, but the building (spacious enough for two aeroplane hanger-size galleries) is impressive. 

Admission: Free. Hours: 10am to 5:30pm daily

George Washington’s Mount Vernon

 

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This one requires a little more time, being located 30 minutes from the city, but in a short drive, you can visit George Washington’s history at this Virginia estate. The museum and education centre has 23 galleries and theatres, each rife with information on America’s first president. If you’re an American history nerd, then go for it. 

Admission: US$18 (AU$26) Hours: 9am to 5pm April through October; 9am to 4pm November through March.

Ford’s Theatre

 

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Ford’s Theatre is the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and a working theatre. A tour of the historic site includes exhibits on President Lincoln’s administration, but with all the other spoils DC has to offer, this is one best left until last.  

Admission: Visits to the historic site are US$3 (AU$4.30), and tickets to performances vary in price. Hours: 9am to 4:30pm.

(Lead image: National Museum of African American History and Culture / Shutterstock.com)