Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Museums in Washington, D.C. to put on your 'must see' list

Washington is one of the most popular tourist destinations people come to visit in the United States. Every year, visitors from all over the globe come to see the history, landmarks, and culture that the nation's capital city has to offer.

Usually, museums are on many visitor itineraries, and Washington, D.C. has a number of top-rated ones throughout the city. Many of these museums are free, however, there are a few that have pricier admission fees. Depending on your budget and what you want to see, you might want to plan your visit with a mix of both.


The Smithsonian is comprised of 19 museums and galleries, most of which are located on or near the National Mall. All offer free admission. Depending on your time factor, it may be difficult to see all of them during a trip, but here are some of the top attractions:

The National Museum of American History highlights various aspects of American life. There are seriously some incredible exhibits in this museum that showcase history, science, technology, pop culture, music and the arts, U.S. military and more. There is also the popular First Ladies' exhibit; this exhibit opened in the fall of 2011 and is currently scheduled to be displayed "indefinitely". You can also see the original American flag that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner", and the red slippers Judy Garland wore in "The Wizard of Oz". One of my most recent discoveries is the Gunboat Philadelphia, sailed by Benedict Arnold and sunk in 1776; it was brought to the surface in the 1930s and is now housed downtown.
Ruby red slippers from "The Wizard of Oz"
Dorothy's ruby red slippers

A visit to the Air & Space Museum is usually on the top of the list for visitors coming to D.C., especially those intrigued by aviation and space history. You can see everything from the Wright Brothers first airplane to a moon rock and much in between. There is also an Imax Theatre in this museum. 

The National Museum of Natural History focuses on nature. Explore the various animals, reptiles, insects, mammals that roam, or have roamed, the Earth. Journey through the land, sky, and sea. See the different plant species that grow around the world. Of course, a visit to the geology wing to see the Hope Diamond is a must. My personal fave is the Butterfly Pavilion.

I'd normally say the dinosaur exhibit should also be at the top of the list as well, however, this exhibit is currently closed as the museum renovates and prepares to open with a fully intact T-Rex on loan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Found in Montana back in the late 1980s, the museum will house the dino fossils for 50 years. The newly revamped dino hall is scheduled to open in 2019.
Hope Diamond
Hope Diamond

These are perhaps the most popular Smithsonian museums and most crowded, however, the others [see full list] are definitely worth exploring if your time is not limited. 

Ford's Theatre

This historic theatre, which is actually still a working theatre, is where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. Run by the National Park Service, the landmark theatre is open to visitors and park rangers are present to answer questions; there is also an interesting presentation. Pictures and detailed information about the museum and its history can be found in this earlier blog post I wrote. Tickets are free, however, are subject to availability, first come, first served. You can also reserve a time frame for a nominal fee on Ticketmaster. The free tickets are limited to 6 per person for same-day visits.


The Newseum is a museum that is dedicated to "five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits."
Newseum decked out for the 2013 inauguration

Compared to the others, it is a relatively new museum to the city, it is a popular attraction. This is one on my "to do" list as I haven't gotten a chance to go visit just yet (just too much to see around here!) This museum does have an admission fee. See the Newseum website for current fees and hours.

International Spy Museum

A very popular tourist attraction, the International Spy Museum is said to be the only public one in the United States solely dedicated to espionage. Visitors can see artifacts used in missions and learn more about this secretive field. This museum also charges a fee and it is recommended that visitors reserve tickets in advance as they can sell out quickly during busy seasonal times. (Another one I can't believe I haven't visited yet! But it's on my list...)

National Archives

Want to see an original copy of the Declaration of Independence? Or the U.S. Constitution? How about one of the four copies of the Magna Carta? All this and more can be seen at the National Archives.  Entry is free, but wait times can be long, so you want to plan ahead of time for this one. It's definitely worth the visit. I've been there two or three times and definitely plan to go back.

These are a handful of the many museums located in Washington, D.C. This list highlights the popular museums, but there are literally dozens of other smaller ones. I haven't noted these as I haven't been to most of them yet, but as I do visit them will be sure to review and share more information. 

While the museums are enough to keep you busy during your trip, be sure and take the time to see the memorials and monuments on the National Mall
Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History
The Butterfly Pavilion located at the National Museum of Natural History is excellent

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