The National Gallery of Art: Let’s face it — this is the art mecca in D.C. It lives up to its name as the nation’s museum — and it’s free. The permanent collection is home to over 150,000 sculptures, decorative arts, prints, drawings, photographs and paintings. Plus, the Garden Café is a peaceful lunchtime retreat, the ice rink is one of the coolest in D.C. and a plethora of films, concerts and other events are held on a regular basis (did I mention free?).
The Phillips Collection: It’s tough to be private museum in a sea of Smithsonian big boys, but The Phillips has succeeded where many others have failed. Founded in 1921, it dubs itself as America’s first museum of modern art. Located in the heart of Dupont Circle, it’s home to a variety of artworks, including Renoir’s iconic “Luncheon of the Boating Party” (seen above). And its annual gala each spring is one of the most prized tickets in town.
National Postal Museum: Did you know we even had one? Yep, we do — and it’s a wonderland for all the philatelic aficionados out there.
National Museum of American Diplomacy: This brand-new museum adjacent to the State Department gives an inside view of U.S. diplomacy. It’s roughly half-completed but already features an array of education and public programs, multimedia exhibits and a unique collection of artifacts.
Art Museum of the Americas: Part of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Art Museum of the Americas is a hidden treasure that is the oldest museum of modern and contemporary Latin American and Caribbean art in the United States.
Korean Cultural Center: This is another overlooked gem in the city that serves as an arm of the South Korean Embassy. While quite a few embassies have cultural centers, the Korean Cultural Center is one of the most active in town, with eclectic offerings like K-Pop contests and networking events like “Beyond Gangnam Style.”‘
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: This D.C. landmark is no hidden gem. Like the Air & Space Museum, tourists flock to it. But for good reason — it’s fun, for both adults and kids alike. Who doesn’t want to see enormous dinosaur bones and the glittering Hope Diamond? But the museum’s informative emphasis on the history of the planet and our interaction with the environment makes it timelier than ever.
National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA): Sadly, women have yet to have their own dedicated Smithsonian museum on the National Mall. But the NMWA, founded in 1981, helps fill a major void with its acclaimed exhibitions and events celebrating women’s achievements in the visual, performing and literary arts.
Freer and Sackler Gallery of Art: As the Smithsonian’s home for Asian art, the Freer and Sackler boast more than 40,000 objects dating from the Neolithic period to today, spanning the ancient Near East to China, Japan, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, and the Islamic world. It also regularly screens both new and old movies from China, Hong Kong, Indonesia Iran, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey and many other countries.
ARTECHOUSE: The pronunciation is funky (it’s a combo of art, technology and house) but so are the displays in this ambitious interactive 15,000-square-foot venue in Southwest DC that marries digital art and innovative technology.
American University Museum: Located in the Katzen Arts Center, the AU Museum features a rotating roster of exhibitions highlighting both local and international artists.
National Geographic Museum: It’s the National Geographic — enough said. From the history of ancient Egypt to Jane Goodall’s pioneering research, the museum embodies the magazine’s exploration spirit.
The GW Museum / Textile Museum: The textile portion of this museum houses a collection of more than 21,000 textiles and related objects representing five millennia and five continents, including cultures from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Hillwood Museum, Estate & Gardens: The former mansion of socialite and philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post has now become a museum oasis known for its Russian and French decorative arts, including Fabergé eggs.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: The nation’s capital is often associated with history and classical art. But the Hirshhorn is the premier spot for modern art in the nation’s capital, with blockbuster exhibitions such as the Yayoi Kusama exhibition.
Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Everyone understandably flocks to the National Air and Space Museum along the Mall, but venture over to Chantilly, Va., to explore the expansive Udvar-Hazy Center, which consists of two hangars housing dozens of aircraft and spacecraft, including the Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery.
National Archives Museum: This is where you can find the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Canadian Embassy Art Gallery: Right down the road from the National Archives Museum, the Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue has a small art gallery that features rotating exhibitions open to the public.
United States Botanic Garden: This living outdoor-indoor museum is the perfect getaway during colder months that educates visitors about the critical importance of plants to the well-being of humans and to earth’s fragile ecosystems.
United States Capitol Visitor Center: Politics may be messy, but it’s an integral part of our lives, so no trip to D.C. would be complete without seeing democracy in action. In addition to exhibitions and educational offerings, the Capitol Visitor Center is open to prearranged tours.