When visitors to Washington, DC talk about paying a visit to “the Smithsonian”, they generally mean one of two places: the National History Museum, or the Air and Space Museum. There’s nothing wrong with this simplification: both of these institutions are deservedly world-renowned museums, chalk full of awe-inspiring artifacts. But it glosses over the fact that the Smithsonian comprises 19 unique museums within its system, 17 of which are in DC, and with most of those 17 scattered within walking distance of the beautiful National Mall.
You could make an entire week-long trip out of visiting exclusively Smithsonian institutions in our nation’s capital, but we understand there’s plenty of other sights to see. But don’t worry. We’ve picked out a handful of our personal favorite museums and galleries, if you’re stuck choosing only several to patronize!
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the newest member of the Smithsonian family, having opened in 2016, but it’s quickly been recognized as one of the most important. Featuring works by famous African American artists, historical pieces chronicling the horrors of slavery and the struggles following emancipation, and even contemporary pop-cultural items, it’s at once a celebration of African American culture, and a sobering reminder of the challenges black people have faced in America since before the country’s inception.
Since the idea first gained some traction in the shared American consciousness, air and space travel has proved a captivating subject. So it goes without saying that the National Air and Space Museum is a popular stop in DC. Containing historical pieces like the Wright Brother’s 1903 flying machine, as well as portions of the Hubble Telescope’s test mission, this museum is worth a visit for anyone even remotely interested in science, and America’s place in advancing flight.
For a deeper dive into American scientific history, as well as American history as a whole, the National Museum of American History. Its website describes the museum as being “devoted to the scientific, cultural, social, technological, and political development of the United States, the museum traces the American experience from colonial times to the present,” so surely, there’s something for even the most discerning or skeptical museum-goer at this classic DC destination.
If museums feel a bit stagnant to you, what with most exhibits being firmly stationary, perhaps breaking things up with a visit to the National Zoo. The large zoo is home to over 300 species of animals, including the wildly popular Giant Pandas, including newcomer cub Bei Bei. It’s one of the top zoos in the world, and is tucked away in DC’s gorgeous Rock Creek Park, a massive urban greenbelt that feels like a wooded oasis smack dab in the middle of the city.
And for a more understated museum experience in a slightly more intimate setting, pay a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. It holds the likeness of hundreds of the most significant American figures since colonial times, and includes the complete gallery of presidential portraits–the only one outside of the White House. It’s a unique and often haunting (especially famed abolitionist John Brown’s portrait) look back at the complete American experience.
There’s no wrong choice when it comes to deciding on which Smithsonian institution to visit. For more information, reach out to us! We’re happy to answer any questions, and help you get the most out of your Washington, DC journey! Click here to contact us.