Washington DC is home to dozens of great museums for every interest and field. The Smithsonian Institution is affiliated with many of them, making them free to visit throughout or at certain times during the year. Check each museum’s website for specific details. Here are our picks for Washington DC’s best museums, many of which are underrated or off the tourist path.
National Museum of the American Indian
The native cultures of North America are vastly underrepresented in history classes, so the National Museum of the American Indian offers perspectives of the history of native tribes as well as modern times. It includes information on groups from Polynesia, Mexico and the American West, among others.
Fourth Street & Independence Avenue, S.W.
National Portrait Gallery
As it’s not located on the National Mall with most of the other museums in the city, the National Portrait Gallery doesn’t receive as much acclaim as it probably should. It features works on notable Americans, including an entire gallery devoted to presidential portraits.
8th and F Streets N.W.
The Newseum is one of the newer and more popular museums in the city and documents the role of the media in American culture. You’ll see displays of newspaper headlines and award-winning photographs, as well as learn more about what makes the news.
555 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
National Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History is home to the Hope Diamond, perhaps the most well-known gem in the world for its sordid history and legends of curses. You can also see one of the biggest emeralds, as well as dinosaur fossils, mummies and an exhibit on space.
10th St. & Constitution Avenue N.W.
National Museum of American History
Photo: Tim Evanson
While the Natural History museum may cover the more historical aspects of American culture, the National Museum of American History deals with other aspects, namely pop culture. See the flag that “The Star Spangled Banner” was based on, along with a collection of classic cars and the famous ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz.
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W.
National Air and Space Museum
Photo: Roger Wollstadt
As one of the Smithsonian’s most visited museums, the National Air and Space Museum covers all things flight, whether it’s the original plane flown by the Wright Brothers, pictured above, modules from Apollo 11, the Spirit of St. Louis and commercial airplanes used today.
600 Independence Avenue S.W.
National Geographic Museum
The world’s most recognized publication is headquartered in Washington DC and the National Geographic Museum has interactive exhibits and collections on the writers, photographers and scientists they work with.
1145 17th Street N.W.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC is one of the best I’ve visited anywhere in the world, including Europe, for its exhibits on the lives of those lost in the genocide. The most haunting exhibit at the room full of shoes of the victims. The museum also discusses more modern genocides like those in Rwanda.
100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, S.W.