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The Best Museums in Washington, D.C.

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One of the great pleasures of visiting the nation's capital is exploring the world's largest museum complex: The Smithsonian, whose 20 institutions include the National Air and Space Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Many conveniently surround the National Mall, and all are free. It's also worth going beyond the beaten path (and crossing the Virginia border) to visit more specialized museums, full of inspiring art and historic artifacts. 

 

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600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
Opened to the public as part of the country's bicentennial celebration in 1976, this is the largest of the Smithsonian Institution's 20 museums. It is the most-visited museum in the U.S. (and the second-most-visited museum in the world behind the...
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Independence Ave SW & 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
Located on the National Mall, the Smithsonian Institution's only modern art museum boasts the United States' most comprehensive collection of 20th-century art, with more than 12,000 paintings, sculptures, and photographs. The spectrum and...
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1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA
Housed in a 1907 Renaissance Revival structure that was previously a Masonic temple, the NMWA is the world's leading museum dedicated to recognizing women's achievements in the visual, performing, and literary arts. The collection houses more than...
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10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
The National Museum of Natural History has become the steward of one of the largest natural history collections, with over 126 million specimens including hundreds of mammals from Africa, Australia, and the Americas. This museum always tops...
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555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
The Newseum is an interactive, ever-evolving tribute to our First Amendment freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Powerful exhibits such as eight sections of the Berlin Wall (the largest display outside Germany) provide...
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1300 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
Originally founded as the National Museum of History and Technology in 1964, this museum charms visitors with over three million artifacts and national treasures related to formative events in American history. Highlights include the original flag...
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1600 21st St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
The Phillips Collection started as a humble gallery to honor a deceased father and brother in 1921, and rapidly transformed into a full-fledged modern art museum—America’s first. Set in a stately Georgian Revival brick house that was...
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6th & Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20565, USA
With two buildings and a sculpture garden, the National Gallery of Art is a treasure-filled trifecta where each person’s gems will only be uncovered through an immersive day (or more) of cultural exploration. The West Building is a...
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100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC 20024, USA
The Holocaust Memorial Museum is a living memorial to the more than 11 million victims who perished at the hands of the Nazis before and during World War II. Built in 1993, the permanent exhibition tells the Holocaust's full story through real...
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1307 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA
Built from 1892 to 1894, this uniquely intact Victorian mansion was the home of German-American philanthropist and beer magnate Christian Heurich. Considered the world's oldest brewmaster, he ran the Christian Heurich Brewery on the site where the...
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8th St NW & F St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
An undulating steel and glass canopy wows visitors who enter the Kogod Courtyard. Inside you'll find diners from the museum's café, tourists soaking their weary feet in the shallow fountain running across the space, and students taking advantage...
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1400 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
This extraordinary collection encompasses the dark and the light of our nation's racial history, from the shackles, shacks, and whips of slavery to an exuberant lemon-yellow costume worn onstage by Bootsy Collins when playing bass for the funk...
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2 Massachusetts Avenue Northeast, Washington, DC 20002, USA
Part of the Smithsonian Institution since 1993, this circa-1914 former Beaux Arts post office is the world's first major museum devoted to postal history and philately (stamp collecting). It is an interactive museum that tells the history of...
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1050 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
Once a dining room belonging to wealthy shipbuilder Frederick Leyland from Liverpool, then a private exhibition space at the mansion of wealthy Detroit industrialist Charles Lang Freer, American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room...
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1661 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20006, USA
The phrase “Dedicated to Art” is engraved in stone over the entrance of the Renwick Gallery, a reminder of its rich history as the nation’s first building created expressly as an art museum. More than a century and a massive...
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2401 Foxhall Rd NW, Washington, DC 20007, USA
North of Georgetown, nestled on 5.5 acres of woods and gardens, this obscure museum is the former mansion of Geico Insurance executive and avid art collector David Lloyd Kreeger and his wife, Carmen. Designed and built by renowned architect Philip...
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1050 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
Together, the Freer Gallery and the Sackler make up the Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art. In 1987, the Sackler launched with a 1,000-piece collection and funds donated by Dr. Arthur Sackler, a research physician and medical publisher. Early...
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201 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20006, USA
The Art Museum of the Americas is supported by the Organization of the American States and has a permanent collection that focuses on contemporary Latin American and Caribbean art by both established and up-and-coming talents. Although it’s...
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950 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
A part of the Smithsonian family since 1979, the National Museum of African Art is the only museum dedicated to the study of African art and culture with an emphasis on sub-Saharan artistic achievements. Admire the continent's diverse and...
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800 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
Aside from fictional spies like James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Austin Powers, few of us know much about the world of espionage and that’s probably very deliberate. After all, you can’t expect any good spy to be giving away their trade...
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401 F St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
Formerly known as the Pension Building, this immense Italian Renaissance–style structure is home to more than 200 exhibits showcasing the construction, architecture, and engineering heritage of the U.S. and Washington, D.C. A favorite is the...
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4th St SW & Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
During three years of living in Washington, D.C., I made it my mission to visit as many museums as I could, and the National Museum of the American Indian quickly won me over. I was greeted by a live dance performance and welcomed into a circular...
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4155 Linnean Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, USA
Marjorie Merriweather Post was a wealthy American socialite and heiress to the Postum Cereal fortune. Her Washington home is now a museum, and the home’s original furnishings have been maintained alongside all the near-priceless collectibles...
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14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy, Chantilly, VA 20151, USA
This photo was taken just days after the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery was placed in its new home as part of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum collection. The museum offers a tremendous look at both the history and current...
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3800 Fettler Park Dr, Dumfries, VA 22025, USA
This museum opened in November 2006 as "a lasting tribute to the United States Marines—past, present, future" on a 135-acre site next to the Marine Corps base at Quantico. It's about a 45-minute drive south of D.C. on 1-95, and admission and...