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Knowing it’s the capital city of the United States, you might guess that Washington, DC is home to a few museums and galleries. And you’d be bang on! But exactly how many? Well, we’re not entirely sure, but the number 200 has been thrown round a bit! Chances are you’re not trying to see them all, so here are a few of our favourites.
Part of the Smithsonian Institute, the Museum of Natural History is the most visited natural history museum in the world and holds over 126 million pieces. Yes you read that right, 126 million! Highlights include the Hall of Paleobiology (dinosaurs!) with its battling T-Rex and Triceratops, the Hall of Mammals with its massive African Elephant, the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals which holds the Hope Diamond worth about 300 million US dollars, and the Insect Zoo which features way more live creepy crawlies than anyone could possibly want to see! Admission is free, but fees apply for IMAX theatre shows and the Butterfly Pavilion.
Opened in 2016 at a ceremony by then-president Barack Obama, this innovative museum explores the difficult history and massive cultural contributions of African Americans. A portion confronts the painful story of race relations in the US: Don’t miss the powerful installations devoted to history, beginning with the horrors of slavery and tracing a path of resilience through the civil rights era and today’s ongoing movement for justice. The museum’s upper floors house famous pieces of artwork and tributes to African American musicians, writers and thinkers. To truly understand US history, it’s unmissable. Entry is free but during peak times, timed entry passes are required. Get yours on the museum's website.
Nestled amongst the immaculate row houses of Dupont Circle is a Georgian Revival house turned modern art museum. Once the family home of museum founder Duncan Phillips, the setting is both intimate and sophisticated, making it a favourite of savvy locals. The collection focuses on Impressionist and modern art, and you could say it’s punching on both counts. In its permanent collection is Renoir’s beloved "Luncheon of the Boating Party," as well as pieces by Georgia O’Keefe, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. If you’re really in the mood for a ponder, find the Rothko Room: Inside is a lone bench surrounded by four of the abstract expressionist's endlessly scrutinisable paintings.
The International Spy Museum traces the evolution of international espionage and tells the fascinating stories of professional spies from the USA, Russia, Germany and around the world. If you’re keen to test your own skills, try the museum’s Undercover Mission: You’ll be sent on an operation as you travel the Museum's permanent exhibitions. Your performance is tracked and you’ll even get a debrief at the end.
Another of the Smithsonian museums located in the National Mall, the Air and Space Museum holds the largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft in the world. Aviation enthusiasts will be in pure heaven: You’ll come face to face with everything from the plane the Wright Brothers first flew to SpaceShipOne and the Space Shuttle Discovery. Walk through a training simulator used by US astronauts and see the suits worn on the moon — still coated in lunar dust! Admission is free.
Here’s one for the green thumbs! How about the ancient art of growing miniature trees? The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum features an amazing collection of bonsai and penjing (the Chinese take on the Japanese art of bonsai). If you’re really into seeing green, explore further at the National Arboretum. Admission to both is free.
The National Museum of the American Indian houses one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native artefacts, photographs and media, covering the entire Western Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. The museum’s striking curving architecture, deliberate indigenous landscaping an innovative, walk-through exhibitions and presentations are all designed in collaboration with tribes and communities. You’ll walk away with a real appreciation of the oldest inhabitants of the Americas. Admission is free.
Ready for your own Night at the Museum adventure?
Read more about Washington, DC here.
Gear up for a USA road trip.
Insiders guide to Washington, DC.
Put the new in New York city.
VIDEO FROM HOUSE OF TRAVEL