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4 Must-See museums in Washington D.C.

washington d.c. capitol hill museums spring trip

Washington D.C. is full of museums, landmarks, exhibits, and events that work to connect people with our shared past in one way or another. And because there are so many great things to see, choosing between them can sometimes be challenging.

To help you narrow down your options, let’s look at four of the most popular museums the capital city has to offer. 

Table of Contents

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History is one of the most famous museums in Washington D.C. It showcases the history and culture of the United States through an impressive collection of artifacts and exhibits. The museum is located on the National Mall and is open daily. Further, it is free of charge to the public.

Permanent Artifacts and Exhibits

The museum’s collections include objects from the early colonial era to the present day. Some of the most famous artifacts on display include the original Star-Spangled Banner, the hat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated, and the first ladies’ inaugural gowns.

Additionally, one of the most popular exhibits in the museum is the “The First Ladies” exhibit which showcases the dresses worn by the First Ladies of the United States. Visitors can learn about the history of the role of the First Lady and the significance of each dress.

Temporary Exhibits

In addition to its permanent exhibits, the museum hosts temporary exhibits on various topics related to American history and culture. Recent exhibits have explored the impact of sports on American society, the history of voting rights in the United States, and the role of women in American democracy.

The National Museum of American History’s Archives Center

The museum is also home to the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center, which houses over 1,400 collections of primary source materials. Researchers and scholars can access these collections by appointment.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is an iconic museum in Washington D.C. It is one of the most famous museums in the world, attracting millions of visitors each year. The museum is dedicated to the history of aviation and space exploration and houses an impressive collection of aircraft and spacecraft.

The History of Flight

The museum is divided into several galleries, each showcasing different aviation and space history aspects. The Early Flight gallery focuses on the history of flight, with displays of early airplanes and gliders. The World War II Aviation gallery features planes used in the war, including the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

The Space Race gallery explores the history of space exploration, from the first artificial satellite to the International Space Station.

Popular Exhibits

One of the most popular exhibits in the museum is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which houses even more aircraft and spacecraft, including the Space Shuttle Discovery and the Concorde supersonic jet.

Also housed in the museum are displays of spacecraft such as the Apollo 11 command module, the Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft flown by John Glenn, and the Gemini 4 spacecraft flown by Ed White on the first American spacewalk.

Other Programs and Features

The museum also offers a range of educational programs, including lectures, workshops, and guided tours. Visitors can learn about the science and technology of aviation and space exploration and the history and culture surrounding these topics.

National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. is one of the country’s most significant art museums. It features a world-class collection of Western art, ranging from the Middle Ages to contemporary works. The museum is located on the National Mall and is open to the public free of charge.

Permanent Collection

The museum’s permanent collection includes works by some of the most famous artists in history, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Vincent van Gogh. The museum also has an impressive collection of American art, including works by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock.

Displays and Works

The museum’s collections are displayed in several galleries, each dedicated to a particular period or art style. The West Building features works from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century, while the East Building showcases modern and contemporary art.

Temporary Exhibits

In addition to its permanent collection, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions on various themes and artists. Recent exhibits have included retrospectives of the work of artists such as Alexander Calder and Jasper Johns, as well as themed exhibitions on subjects like Dutch still-life painting and American portraiture.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is absolutely fascinating. It’s dedicated to showcasing the natural world and its history, including the evolution of life, the diversity of species, and the Earth’s geology and mineralogy.

Specimens and Artifacts

The museum’s collections are vast, including over 145 million specimens and artifacts from around the world. Some of the most famous exhibits include the Hope Diamond, a massive collection of insects, and the iconic Hall of Dinosaurs, featuring life-sized dinosaur skeletons and models.

Halls and Galleries

Visitors can explore the museum’s many galleries, each focusing on a different aspect of natural history. The Ocean Hall, for example, features exhibits on marine life and the importance of the world’s oceans, while the Hall of Mammals displays a wide variety of mammals from around the world, including primates, carnivores, and ungulates.

Temporary Exhibits

In addition to its permanent exhibits, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions on various topics related to natural history. Recent exhibits have explored topics such as the impact of climate change on the natural world and the role of insects in human society.

The museum also offers a range of educational programs and events, including lectures, workshops, and hands-on activities for children and families.

Are You Planning a Visit to D.C.?

If you plan to visit Washington D.C. any time soon, I highly recommend checking out these four museums. Each one features unique artifacts that represent various countries, cultures, and peoples around the world, and as a bonus–all of them are fairly close together.

(But just in case you only have time for one museum, you can’t go wrong with the Air and Space Museum–it’s always my favorite!)

Drop a comment about your favorite D.C. sites, and come say “hi!” on instagram @mccallwrites!

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