DC Museums Tour, Washington D.C.

DC Museums Tour (Self Guided), Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. is well-known for its world-class museums. The Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex in the world, maintains most of the official museums in Washington, D.C. and the entrance is free of charge. Explore some the outstanding museums in D.C. by taking this self guided walking tour.
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DC Museums Tour Map

Guide Name: DC 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: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.2 Km or 2.6 Miles
Author: irene
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • National Gallery of Art
  • National Museum of Natural History
  • National Museum of American History
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Freer Gallery of Art
  • National Museum of African Art
  • International Spy Museum
National Air and Space Museum

1) National Air and Space Museum (must see)

The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution is a must-see for all aviation and space aficionados. It houses the largest collection of planes and spacecraft in the world. This is one of the most popular of the Smithsonian museums, so plan to go early and spend a day.

The original inception of the museum began in 1946, although some of the pieces in the museum are from the 1876 Centennial Exposition. At that time the name was to be the National Air Museum. As man ventured to the heavens and landed on the moon, the name was changed to include “Space”. In fact, the exhibition hall was opened by Director Michael Collins who has been to space on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

The Spirit of St. Louis that Charles Lindbergh flew over the Atlantic is displayed here along with Wright Flyer that made its famous flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903 piloted by Orville Wright. The Apollo 11 Command module is here too. The Bell X-1, Mercury Friendship 7, and SpaceShipOne are also on display. More conventional aircraft include a DC-3 and a 747. Even the USS Enterprise from Star Trek fame is here.

Why You Should Visit:
Great for learning and teaching kids and adults about the science behind flying.
You learn about commercial or military jets, new technology and early technology.
The motion-based, VR, flight simulators are amazing and the Planetarium shows have awesome visual effects.

They also have audio tours and guided tours – you can check the information counter for more info.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:30pm
Admission is free
National Museum of the American Indian

2) National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian houses over 800,000 items representing most of the indigenous populations from the Americas. This extensive collection spans 12,000 years of history. Some of the artifacts are culturally sensitive and permission must be obtained from the appropriate Native American group to display them.

The building is a nice relief from some of the other buildings around Washington that seem to overpower their environment. The museum's building complements the area; in fact, even the amenities in this museum are different. The Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe explores native foods that would have been available from five different regions and offers them up in contemporary and traditional dishes. Choices include fry bread, corn totopos, and buffalo burgers. Don’t pass up this experience.

The artifacts are divided into four components: objects, photos, media, and paper. The objects in these groups are all intertwined, but this is at least a starting point to organize the massive collections. Events offered at the museum include films, music, audio tours, and special events for children.

Start on the top floor with a short (13min) film and then work your way down to the bottom level where you can enjoy lunch.
The café is probably the best museum lunch spot around, with stations representing cuisines of different tribal areas.
Don't miss the gift shop – many creative, beautiful hand made items. Enjoy shopping!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:30pm
Admission is free
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
National Gallery of Art

3) National Gallery of Art (must see)

If you're an art enthusiast and touring D.C. for a day or two, you wouldn't want to miss The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. for the world!

Curiously enough, this national center of visual art and culture was founded as a private gift to the nation. In 1936, Andrew W. Mellon, a true philanthropist at heart, offered to fund the Gallery and donate his entire, and rather substantial, personal art collection to get it started. Sadly, he himself died before the gallery got underway.

When the National Gallery of Art opened for the first time in 1941, its collection consisted solely of Mellon’s artworks, including 126 paintings and 26 sculptures. Today, the Gallery is home to more than 150,000 works by more than 13,000 artists, including paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photographs, prints, and drawings, spanning the history of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present, and showcasing some of the triumphs of human creativity!

For the breadth, scope, and magnitude of its collections, the National Gallery is widely considered to be one of the greatest museums in the country, often ranking alongside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Unlike other top art museums in the U.S., however, the Gallery in Washington D.C. does not charge admission fee.

National Gallery of Art is where you find the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the entire western hemisphere! - The portrait of the poet Ginevra de Benci. The Gallery is also home to the only sculpture ever exhibited by the French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas in his life, called Little Dancer.

You can also see the largest mobile ever created, by Alexander Calder. In fact, this is the last Calder in existence, as he died one year before the finished mobile was hung at the Gallery.

If you come early, make sure to climb upstairs to the central atrium for the best photos of the amazing space with massive columns and fountain under a Pantheonic dome. When in need of fresh air, check out the Gallery’s sculpture garden next door!

The National Gallery of Art has THE BEST gift shops in all of DC. Highly recommended!

There are four dining options on site, but if you’re fighting museum fatigue, check out the gelato in the lower level cafe.

There are audio guides and tours available free of charge.

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am-5pm; Sun: 11am-6pm
National Museum of Natural History

4) National Museum of Natural History (must see)

If you're a nature lover and wish to delve into the fascinating story of our planet, from its fiery beginnings through billions of years of transformation, then The National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. is where you should head!

Otherwise known as The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, for being administered, when opened in 1910, by the Smithsonian Institution, this museum boasts the largest natural history collection in the world!

Indeed, here you can indulge your passion and explore life on Earth in the vast 325,000 square feet of exhibition space, featuring more than 146 million objects and specimens of plants, fossils, minerals, rocks, animals, meteorites and other artifacts. Some of the most valued collections are presented in the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals, the Hall of Paleobiology, and other exhibitions.

Among the permanent exhibits on site there are the Hall of Human Origins exploring the epic story of the human species evolution over 6 million years; the Sant Ocean Hall demonstrating intrinsic connection of the ocean to the daily lives of people around the world; the Ancient Egypt mummies; some 300 vertebrate skeletons; and the African Voices exhibit examining the diversity and global influence of Africa’s peoples and cultures.

Additionally, the Museum incorporates an IMAX Theater and a fun Discovery Room on the first floor.

Why You Should Visit:

Great choice for eclectic viewing as there's much more on display than expected, including, for instance, the Hope Diamond and other treasures from the National Gem Collection. Also, a great place for kids, as they will be in awe the whole time with the many levels to check out. The gift shops are awesome – one gears towards children and the other more towards adults.

Tip: If you don't mind walking outside, the food trucks on the Mall will give you a better deal on food items.

Opening Hours: Daily: 10 am-5:30 pm
National Museum of American History

5) National Museum of American History (must see)

The National Museum of American History is an eclectic collection of all things American. It is part of the Smithsonian Institution and it is located on the National Mall. It was opened in 1964 and was called The Museum of History and Technology. Over the years the mission of the museum changed and it was renamed. The present collection features the original Star Spangled Banner, the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, the Phyllis Diller gag file, and a Buffalo Soldier coat. An abstract sculpture made of granite and stainless steel stands outside the museum.

There are three floors of historical treasures plus films, rides, programs and special events. The east wing of the first floor focuses on transportation and technology, while the west wing focus is on science and technology. The second floor is dedicated to American ideals and lives. The third floor east wing deals with American wars and politics. In contrast, the west wing deals with entertainment, sports and music.

Artifact walls are on the first and second floors and they have small exhibits. One is devoted to the rise over the century of Chinese food in America. These walls line the center cores of the two floors. There are also two cafes and several stores. Plan to come for the whole day as there is so much to see and do.

Why You Should Visit:
To learn or relive American history; to appreciate what growing up in early American history was like compared to today.

It is advisable to spend some time becoming familiar with the museum layout and featured halls. This way you can target specific areas of the museum to visit and better maximize your time here.
To better navigate your way around the museum, use the free maps including the museum layout and where to find each gallery.
Also, check the museum website beforehand for extended hours information!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:30pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
National Museum of African American History and Culture

6) National Museum of African American History and Culture (must see)

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is a Smithsonian Institution museum located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The museum was established in December 2003 and it is dedicated to featuring African-American history and culture.

The museum has more than 40,000 objects in its collection with about 3,500 items being on display to the public. The notable items in the collection include:

- Ashley's Sack, a mid-1800s hand-embroidered feedsack gifted from a slave mother, Rose, to her nine-year-old daughter, Ashley, when Ashley was sold away.
- A badge from 1850, worn by an African American in Charleston, South Carolina, indicating the wearer was a slave.
- Feet and wrist manacles from the American Deep South used prior to 1860.
- Garments worn by African-American slaves.
- An 1874 home from Poolesville, Maryland. The dwelling was constructed by the Jones family, who were freed slaves. The Joneses later founded an all-black community nearby.
- A segregated drinking fountain from the Jim Crow era with the sign "colored" (indicating it was for use by blacks only).
- Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves. Boxing headgear worn by Cassius Clay (later to be known as Muhammad Ali).

Opening Hours: 10:00-17:30 Daily
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Holocaust Memorial Museum

7) Holocaust Memorial Museum (must see)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is the United States' official memorial to the Holocaust. Adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the USHMM provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history. It is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.

The USHMM’s collections contain more than 12,750 artifacts, 49 million pages of archival documents, 80,000 historical photographs, 200,000 registered survivors, 1,000 hours of archival footage, 84,000 library items, and 9,000 oral history testimonies. It also has teacher fellows in every state in the United States and has welcomed almost 400 university fellows from 26 countries since 1994.

To get tickets (needed Mar-Sep), log in at 6am on the day you wish to go. You'll probably get them. They are free but there's a small convenience charge. You can show the tickets on your phone, so no need to print them. Once you have your arrival time, be prepared to wait outside for at least an hour, so make sure you build that into your time table.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:20pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Freer Gallery of Art

8) Freer Gallery of Art

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.
National Museum of African Art

9) National Museum of African Art

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
International Spy Museum

10) International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum is a must-see for all who find the spy business intriguing. It is the only museum of its kind in America. It may also be one of the most fun museums in Washington. When entering the museum, guests are asked to assume an identity and enter the spy game.

In the museum are exhibits on tiny buttonhole cameras, microdots, bugs and disguises. Stories about famous and not so famous spies – even a nod to Julia Child – are all part of the intrigue. Civil War spies and Cold War spies, the exhibits will open up some of the most interesting secrets. Along the way, guests will learn how to keep their cover and work with the tools of spycraft. New gadgets are also discovered in the modern spy game, the Cyberspies.

In addition to the exhibits, there are some spy experiences. No, not really going on a mission, but it almost feels that real. For an extra fee, there are four experiences that a budding spy can participate in. These adventures take from one to two hours and some can be purchased without purchasing a museum ticket. There will be a time on the ticket as to when the experience starts; do not show up late, or the ticket will be forfeited.

There are some rules to visit the museum – no strollers; no photography or videography; no food, drink, gum, or smoking; no use of phones of any kind. There is also an entrance charge for this museum; even so, tickets are assigned an entry time because the crowds can be large. Plan to be there early to get a ticket with a good time.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm

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.
DC Monuments and Memorials Walking Tour

DC Monuments and Memorials Walking Tour

Washington D.C. is a city of historic memorials and monuments that commemorate key chapters in American history. They are dedicated to all the noteworthy generals, politicians, statesmen and artists who played a major role in shaping the American nation. This walking tour will offer you a glimpse into the history of the U.S.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Arlington National Cemetery Tour

Arlington National Cemetery Tour

The largest military cemetery in the U.S., Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans from the fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan, World Wars I and II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the Cold War and America’s Civil War. Open 365 days a year with free admission, it is visited by more than four million people each year, and conducts between 27 and 30 funerals...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Washington D.C. Introduction Walking Tour

Washington D.C. Introduction Walking Tour

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia or simply The District, is the capital of the United States and, in many senses, America’s front yard. After the American Revolution, the need for the newly independent nation's federal government to have authority over a capital city and not rely on any state for its maintenance and safety, came in the wake of the Pennsylvania Mutiny of...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.2 Km or 3.2 Miles
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 here are over 200 years old. Take this walking tour to reveal some of the cute secrets of this part of the U.S. capital.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Federal Buildings Walking Tour

Federal Buildings Walking Tour

Washington D.C. is a federal district and serves as the permanent capital of the United States. As such, it is filled with numerous buildings of federal importance, most of which are the nation's historic monuments too. This self-guided walk will tour you around the most vital federal buildings found in the downtown of Washington D.C.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.9 Km or 3 Miles

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