Art Galleries and Museums Tour, Washington D.C. (Self Guided)

Looking for inspiring and notable art venues? Washington D.C. is well-appreciated for the wide range of art museums and galleries that it offers. Take this self-guided tour and discover the treasures hidden by these art institutions.
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Art Galleries and Museums Tour Map

Guide Name: Art Galleries and Museums Tour
Guide Location: USA » Washington D.C. (See other walking tours in Washington D.C.)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.1 km
Author: irene
Art Museum of the Americas

1) Art Museum of the Americas

Prior to visiting the Organization of American States' Art Museum of the Americas, it is highly recommended that you explore its back garden. Just a short walk from the Mall, this remarkable piece of gardening contains boxwood, azaleas and annuals, plus a murky yet lovely pool presided over by a dominant statue of the Aztec god of flowers, Xochipili. The museum itself, established in 1976, holds a rich collection of Latin American and Caribbean art -- from colonial to contemporary – presented in various media. Also, it hosts regular exhibitions, educational programs and lectures devoted to the art and culture of OAS member states.
Hours: Tue-Sun: 10am-5pm
Corcoran Gallery of Art

2) Corcoran Gallery of Art

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is the largest privately supported cultural institution in Washington, DC. The museum's main focus is American art. The permanent collection includes works by Rembrandt, Eugène Delacroix, Edgar Degas, Thomas Gainsborough, John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Gene Davis, and many others. There are always several exhibitions on display, regularly featuring contemporary work on the second floor with modern and early American work on the first floor.Founded in 1869, the Corcoran is the oldest and largest non-federal art museum in the District of Columbia. Construction of that building started before the Civil War. The building, near completion, was used by the government as a warehouse during the Civil War. It was finally completed in 1874 and the gallery opened to the public. Its mission is to be "dedicated to art and used solely for the purpose of encouraging the American genius."

Hours: Wednesday 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Thursday-Sunday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Renwick Gallery

3) Renwick Gallery

Note: Closed until early 2016 for renovation.

The Renwick Gallery is a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The building itself is a National Historic Landmark having been built in 1861 as a private art gallery. During the Civil War the gallery was used by the Army as a storage facility. After the war ended, the building was refurbished and was opened in 1874 as a public art gallery. It has been used for various other purposes over the years and was finally opened in 1972 as the Renwick Gallery. It now houses the Smithsonian’s collection of decorative arts and crafts.

Kids will love seeing all the art that is created from clay and wood, mediums that they manipulate in school and at home. Another piece that kids of all ages will enjoy is the Game Fish by Larry Fuente. This colorful work of art is made from game pieces that are shaped to look like a trophy fish. It is beautiful and fun. Pieces are also made of glass, metal and fibers. A mass hanging of art in the Grand Salon is also a feast for the eyes. All pieces are from the 19th century to the present and include one-of-a-kind pieces. One of the most beautiful collections is the stained glass windows.

The Renwick Gallery is located at 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue, literally just steps away from the White House. Admission is free and they are open daily from 10-5 except they are closed on Christmas day. Allow at least a couple of hours at the gallery to see most of the exhibits.
Sight description based on wikipedia
National Museum Of Women In The Arts

4) National Museum Of Women In The Arts

The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) has the distinction of being the only museum in the world whose sole focus is women artists. The home of the museum is the old National Masonic Temple and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is ironic that the Masons do not allow women to be members of their temples. The building was refurbished; beautiful marble staircases were added and the lodge is now home to the museum. There are four floors of art and exhibits to view. The fifth floor has a performance hall where public programs are held. Pictures are only allowed using the ambient light available. The museum features a permanent collection of around 3,000 works. There are also traveling exhibitions to view.

Collections of art work in the museum begin in the 16th century with European artists and goes through the present. The works are comprised of paintings, sculptures, photographs, pottery, and works of silversmiths, wordsmiths and musicians. It is truly a remarkable collection with something for everyone.

The museum is also instrumental in beautifying New York Avenue (where the museum is located in Washington, D.C.). There is a sculpture project going on to bring art to the entire street around the building. There are already sculptures in place, so the entire area is a delight to view. The NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, N.W. and is open 10-5 daily except on Sundays when the hours are noon-5. It is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. There is a fee to visit this museum.
Smithsonian American Art Museum

5) Smithsonian American Art Museum (must see)

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is a museum in Washington, D.C. with an extensive collection of American art. The museum displays a variety of American art that covers all regions and art movements found in the US. The museum has two innovative public spaces, the Luce Foundation Center for American Art and the Lunder Conservation Center. The Luce Foundation Center is the first visible art storage and study center in Washington, D.C. It presents more than 3,300 objects in 64 secure glass cases, which quadruples the number of artworks from the permanent collection on public display. The Luce Foundation Center features paintings densely hung on screens, sculptures, crafts and folk art objects arranged on shelves, and miniatures and medals in drawers that open. Large-scale sculptures are installed on the first floor. The Lunder Conservation Center is the first art conservation facility that allows the public permanent behind-the-scenes views of preservation work.

The covered courtyard makes a great place to enjoy a snack (bring your own or visit the café) or just for a rest stop.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 11:30am-7pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
National Portrait Gallery

6) National Portrait Gallery (must see)

The National Portrait Gallery is an art gallery in Washington, D.C., administered by the Smithsonian Institution. Its collections focus on images of famous individual Americans. It resides in the National Historic Landmarked Old Patent Office Building, located just south of Chinatown in the Penn Quarter district of downtown Washington.

The third oldest federal building in the city, constructed between 1836 and 1867, the marble and granite museum has porticoes modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Hallmarks of the National Portrait Gallery's permanent collection include the famous "Lansdowne" portrait of George Washington; the Hall of Presidents; and its extensive selection of portraits of remarkable Americans from all walks of life. Since its reopening on July 1, 2006, the Portrait Gallery has also focused on contemporary portraiture in its "Portraiture Now" series, and in its triennial contemporary portrait competition, the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

Why You Should Visit:
Fabulous variety of historical and cultural portraits in a range of styles!

Watch for free performances (often held in the atrium area in the middle of the museum) and tours, which help connect the public with the pieces.
Also, be sure to visit the wonderful Luce Foundation Center in the East Wing. It has three mezzanine floors packed with other art forms (sculpture, paintings, crafts) and the architecture is spectacular.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 11:30am-7pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
National Gallery of Art

7) National Gallery of Art (must see)

The National Gallery of Art is a national art museum, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The museum was established in 1937 for the people of the United States of America by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, with funds for construction and a substantial art collection donated by Andrew W. Mellon. The Gallery's collection of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, medals, and decorative arts traces the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas and the largest mobile ever created by Alexander Calder.

The Gallery's campus includes the original neoclassical West Building designed by John Russell Pope, which is linked underground to the modern East Building designed by I. M. Pei and the 6.1-acre Sculpture Garden. Temporary special exhibitions spanning the world and the history of art are presented frequently.

Why You Should Visit:
The collection is presented in a conventional way but very effectively – you can just start at one end and travel to the other, then back again.
Between sections are little garden spots with fountains, ideal to make a stop and soak the atmosphere.
There are audio guides and tours available free of charge and there is no entrance fee.

Come as early as possible and start in the West building. Be the first one to go upstairs to the central atrium for the best photos of the amazing space with massive columns and fountain under a Pantheonic dome.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am-5pm; Sun: 11am-6pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

8) Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is an art museum beside the National Mall, in Washington, D.C. The museum was initially endowed during the 1960s with the permanent art collection of Joseph H. Hirshhorn. It was designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft and is part of the Smithsonian Institution. It was conceived as the United States' museum of contemporary and modern art and currently focuses its collection-building and exhibition-planning mainly on the post–World War II period, with particular emphasis on art made during the last 50 years. Nowadays it is one of the "big five" modern art museums in the U.S. The building itself is as much of an attraction as anything inside. Notable artists in the collection include: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland. Outside the museum is a sculpture garden, featuring works by artists including Auguste Rodin, David Smith, Alexander Calder, Jeff Koons.

Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
National Museum of African Art

9) National Museum of African Art (must see)

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art began as a private museum in 1964 and then became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1979. The museum is subterranean with a beautiful garden planted on top and is connected to the Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art.

A large portion of the artwork comes from areas of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. The collection includes sculptures, musical instruments, paintings, photography, jewelry, and furniture. Masks are also included. There are about 9,000 pieces in the collection including the Walt Disney-Tishman collection.

Part of the museum's focus is education. The Warren M. Robbins library houses an impressive 32,000 volumes on African culture, history, and art. The performing arts are also on display at times with dance and music being performed. Radio Africa provides free streaming so the music of Africa can be heard around the world.

The Museum is located at 950 Independence Avenue, SW on the National Mall. The main entrance is located in the Enid Haupt Garden. Admission is free and docent tours are available at selected times (check before going).

Why You Should Visit:
Much beautiful and symbolic art of all kinds, while the building itself, in its twisting walls and stairs, is clearly part of the attraction.
While there are many outlandish and interesting masks, there are lots of other media as well, and the sculptures are particularly fascinating.
There's usually no noise, no distraction and you have time to look, admire and think.

You will need to spend at least a couple hours to explore it all, as each of the 3 levels takes time to really enjoy.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:30pm
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art

10) Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art is part of the Smithsonian Institution. The gallery opened in 1987 after Dr. Sackler donated his collection of Asian art to the Smithsonian. He also donated some $4 million to help build the museum so the art could be appreciated by all.

Art exhibits include ceramics from Southeast Asia as well as sculpture from the same area and the Himalayas. There is a special section devoted to the arts of China. Coming soon to the gallery will be a permanent exhibit called the Buddhist Shrine Room.

The Sackler Gallery along with the Freer Gallery boast one the largest collections of Chinese art outside of China. The collection of jade is absolutely stunning and some of the pieces are 5,000 years old. Also do not miss the lacquer collection. The work on the food boxes is truely amazing.

Be sure to check out the traveling exhibitions. The Sackler Gallery is renowned for bringing in exhibits of Asian art. Additionally, the Gallery is home to an extensive Asian art research library. This library is open to the public, no appointment needed. About half of the volumes collected are in Asian languages.

The majority of the Gallery is located underground. Because of that design there is an amazing rooftop garden that is at ground level on the Mall. The gardens carry on the Asian theme of the collections in the Gallery.

Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Freer Gallery of Art

11) Freer Gallery of Art (must see)

The Freer Gallery of Art, along with the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, forms the Smithsonian Institution's national museums of Mediterranian and Asian art. The Freer contains art from the Mediterranian, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Muslim world, the ancient Near East, and ancient Egypt, as well as American art. It is located on the south side of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and along with the Sackler Gallery, has an annual average of 900,000 visitors.

The Freer adheres to the mission statement of the Smithsonian, which is to increase and diffuse knowledge through exhibitions, research, and publications. The Freer houses 25,518 objects spanning 6,000 years of history, including but not limited to ancient Egyptian stone sculpture and wooden objects, ancient Near Eastern ceramics and metalware, Chinese paintings and ceramics, Korean pottery and porcelain, Japanese Byōbu, Persian manuscripts, and Buddhist sculpture. Collections span from the Neolithic to modern eras.

Why You Should Visit:
As free, massive, art galleries go, this is quite respectable. The Freer has more permanent exhibits and the Sackler has more temporary exhibits.
The two spaces – Freer & Sackler – connect to each other underground, making a substantial enclave (and quite a nice place to be in bad weather).
Then again, if the weather is nice, you can enjoy the peace and quiet of a beautiful aboveground courtyard towards the western side.

If you do nothing else, visit the Peacock Room, a magnificent result of Whistler's imagination and talent (under natural light every 3rd Thursday).
The coolest, most Instagrammable installation has got to be Terminal – a gold & thread maze using the spires found on top of temples and mosques.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Washington D.C., USA

Create Your Own Walk in Washington D.C.

Create Your Own Walk in Washington D.C.

Creating your own self-guided walk in Washington D.C. is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Nightclubs Tour

Nightclubs Tour

Washington D.C. offers a great nightlife. You can dance all night long in any of the clubs from its liveliest neighborhoods, playing rock, hip hop, punk, jazz, country, gospel or alternative music. Make sure not to miss such an exciting opportunity by checking out the tour below with the suggested music and dance clubs.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.9 km
Gardens and Parks Walking Tour

Gardens and Parks Walking Tour

If you are looking for getaway spots from the hustle and bustle of politics and city life, this walking tour in Washington D.C. offers plenty of opportunities for that. There are many large parks and gorgeous gardens where you can admire beautiful flowers, landscape and even learn various historical facts.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 km
Federal Buildings Walking Tour

Federal Buildings Walking Tour

Washington D.C. is a federal district and serves as the permanent national capital. It is is filled with important and memorable places to visit. Most of the nation's monuments and federal buildings can be found in the downtown of the city. The following walking tour will guide you to the most significant federal buildings in Washington D.C.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.3 km
Georgetown Walking Tour

Georgetown Walking Tour

Georgetown is an area located in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., along the Potomac River waterfront. Despite its proximity to downtown Washington, this former port has preserved its own distinct character. Many of the buildings along the tree-lined streets are over 200 years old. Take this walking tour to reveal all the secrets of Georgetown.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 km
City Orientation Walking Tour

City Orientation Walking Tour

Washington D.C, capital of the United States, is a cocktail of politics, cosmopolitan energy and multiculturalism manifested in a thriving and diverse dining, nightlife and shopping setting. The city is renowned for its historic neighborhoods, world-class museums, memorials, beautiful gardens and arts venues. Take this self-guided walk and discover the city which defines some of the greatest...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.9 km
Souvenir Shopping Part 1

Souvenir Shopping Part 1

It would be a pity to leave Washington DC without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Washington D.C., that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.5 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

Traveler's Guide to Washington DC: 16 Souvenirs to Bring Home

Traveler's Guide to Washington DC: 16 Souvenirs to Bring Home

The capital of the United States is an attraction in its own right and many things that have originated here or in the nearby areas are of great cultural and historic significance. To decide which of them can make for an ideal souvenir for you to bring home, check out the proposed list of local...
10 Unusual Things to Do in Washington DC

10 Unusual Things to Do in Washington DC

You might be inclined to think that the capital of the United States consists solely of museums and monuments, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a local, I’ve found that there are so many more things to do in this city than just the main tourist highlights. Read on to learn 10 of...
10 Chocolate Destinations in Washington D.C.

10 Chocolate Destinations in Washington D.C.

Let’s be honest, you hear the words "Washington, D.C." and you think politics, history, museums, etc. You can’t take five steps in the city without being surrounded by history. As important as all that culture is, it’s also a bit overwhelming. Make it fun by exploring Washington,...

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Washington D.C. for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Washington D.C. has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes

To save yourself time and money visiting Washington DC's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as Washington DC Explorer Pass, Go Washington DC, or Washington DC Sightseeing Pass.

A city pass combines all or multiple Washington DC's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows you to skip lines at major attractions, thus saving your precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels

Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Washington DC hotels conveniently located for a comfortable stroll: Club Quarters Hotel in Washington DC, The St. Regis Washington, D.C., The Hay - Adams.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Washington D.C., it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours

We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Washington DC typically costs somewhere between US$30 and US$90 per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off trolley to enjoy sightseeing of Washington DC in comfort listening in the headsets to the prerecorded narration in a variety of foreign languages or a live on-board commentary (English only) from a local guide, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the route as often as you like. The tickets are valid for one day (Silver or Gold Pass) or two days (Platinum Pass).

- Pedal your way around Washington DC on a 3-hour educational and fun bike tour to appreciate the city's most spectacular sights while stopping at some of them for a bit of rest, watching the surroundings, and learning interesting facts about the attractions en route from a knowledgeable group leader.

- If you want to pay tribute to the late members of the Kennedy clan including, primarily, President JFK himself, or the unknown soldiers fallen in the wars fought by the United States throughout centuries, you would definitely be interested in taking a 2-hour guided walk around Arlington National Cemetery and get insight into some of the chapters of the American history along the way.

- Embark on a culinary quest in one of DC’s iconic neighborhoods to see what makes U Street so delicious, satisfying both your stomach and cultural appetites alike on the tour set to explore great eats, architectural trends and the history of the neighborhood over the past century.

- Discover the historic side of Washington, DC in a different light on the Monuments By Night tour. See the National Mall, White House, Capitol Hill and other landmarks ablaze with nighttime illumination after the daytime sun yields way to the moonlit magic!

- Cap off your Washington DC experience with a sumptuous 3-hour dining adventure aboard a cruise ship sailing along the Potomac River offering postcard-worthy views of the nation's greatest monuments to complement the freshly-cooked 3-course dinner.

Day Trips

If you have a day to spare whilst in Washington DC, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Mount Vernon, Gettysburg PA, or Charlottesville VA. For as little as circa US$55 to US$150 per person you will get a chance to visit George Washington’s plantation estate in Fairfax, Virginia, set foot on the site of the largest battle ever fought on the American soil to this date and where President Lincoln delivered his historic Gettysburg Address, enjoy the picturesque views of the Maryland and Pennsylvania countryside, explore Monticello - the home of President Thomas Jefferson, learn about his professional accomplishments and personal life, as well as see the University of Virginia founded and designed by Jefferson himself, and so much more. For any of these tours you will be picked up from a designated place in Washington DC and transported by a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to the destination of your choice and back again.