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10 Best Museums in Washington DC

Washington DC is one of those places that you absolutely MUST SEE at least once in your lifetime because it has some of the most important museums in our country! In this post, we will review the best museums in Washington DC.

The saying goes that it is better to see something once… than to hear about it a thousand times. 

Whether you are visiting as a family or you are looking for breathtakingly beautiful art, Washington DC absolutely delivers numerous top-notch museums. Don’t know which one to visit? Don’t worry… we’ve got you covered. Let your DC adventure begin! 

Best Museums for Families in Washington DC

These two family-friendly museums will certainly make for a day full of learning and fun:

1. National Museum for Natural History

From ancient fossils and bones to 126 million objects on display, this Smithsonian museum will keep your family in awe for hours.The National Museum of Natural History preserves the world’s most extensive collections of human artifacts and natural history specimens!

National Museum of Natural History

The biggest attraction that brings families to this museum is the awe-inspiring dinosaur skeletons. You and your children will get a front-row look at the second most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.

It has a 4-foot jaw and 6-inch teeth! You’ll also want to stop by the Orkin Insect Zoo for their tarantula feedings before heading over to the enormous Sant Ocean Hall.

In this hall, you’ll come face to face with giant whales and other marine life replicas. With so much to uncover, you can go for a brief visit or spend the whole day exploring and learning about our planet.

What Visitors Say

“This museum truly has it all and is absolutely fascinating! Very informative exhibits about dinosaurs, the Ice Age, geology, and more. With so much to see, you can go for a brief visit or spend the whole day exploring and learning about our planet.”

Entry to this museum is always FREE! For hours & another information visit: National Museum for Natural History 

2. International Spy Museum 

Check out and test your spy skills with over 200 gadgets, cameras, weapons, and more at the interactive stations in this museum. As the foremost collection of spy artifacts in the world, The International Spy Museum has something for everyone to explore!

There are great activities for kids as well as those who are spy obsessed. Enter the Briefing Center to receive your cover identity and test your spy skills in an undercover mission as you investigate the museum.

Next, you and your family can experience how to think like an analyst, use intelligence, and try your best at code-cracking in the Making Sense of Secrets exhibit. A visit to this museum will be a day full of ingenuity and imagination! 

What Users Say 

“This place has something for everyone to explore. There are great activities for kids as well as those who are spy obsessed. The displays explain the history of spycraft from the modern-day all the way back to the Cold War. One thing we loved was at the beginning they gave us a code word and secret identity!”

For hours & ticket information visit: International Spy Museum 

Best Museums for Toddlers in Washington DC

Packed with hands-on activities, these two museums will keep even the curious of kiddos entertained:

3. National Children’s Museum 

“Spark curiosity and ignite creativity” in your toddler at one of the museum’s captivating learn-through-play exhibits. The National Children’s Museum focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math).

After your walk through the front door, your toddler will be greeted with “The Dream Machine”. This three story climbing structure features a 42-foot slide and countless tubes and pods lit with colored LED lights.

In the Weather World exhibit, you and your family will have the opportunity to climb into the clouds, shoot lightning bolts, make it rain, and engineer games. With so much to see and do, you will definitely be back time and time again!

What Users Say

“It can be a challenge sometimes to find places that entertain our two young kids. However, when we visited the children’s museum our kids loved it and were amazed by all of the activities! We will definitely come back again.”

For hours & ticket information visit: National Children’s Museum 

4. National Building Museum

The Washington Post called the National Building Museum one of Washington DC’s “Best Bets” for parents and children. As a premier American cultural institution, this museum is devoted to the impact and history of the built environment.

Take your tot to the “Building Zone” where they can play with soft blocks, drive a bulldozer, and build a house using a hardhat and toolbelt.

With over 20,000 objects, including architectural toys, material samples, and building fragments, your kids will be educationally entertained. Before you finish your visit, head out to the lawn to enjoy a rest and a cool drink in the hammocks. 

What Visitors Say

“Our young children really enjoyed the unique displays and being able to touch and play with some of the exhibits.The building is beautiful and my husband and I really enjoyed wandering throughout the museum.”

For hours & other information visit: National Building Museum 

Best Art Museums in Washington DC

Whether you are an art buff or simply like to look at beautiful things, these two art museums will satisfy your inner artist:

5. Smithsonian American Art Museum

With more than 7,000 artists represented in the collection, the American Art Museum is home to one of the most inclusive (and largest!) collections of American art in the world. This museum is absolutely breathtaking and is definitely a “must see” place when you are in Washington DC. Y

ou will encounter works from the most revered artists of each time period plus exhibits specifically dedicated to Latino and African American Artists.

Make sure to check out the Renwick Gallery, which houses contemporary arts and American crafts in a building that was designed in 1859 by the distinguished architect James Renwick Jr. There is so much to appreciate that you could spend days wandering around and enjoying the magnificent art!

What Visitors Say 

“First of all, WOW! This museum is absolutely breathtaking and it definitely a “must-see” place when you are in Washington DC. There is so much to see that you could spend days wandering around and enjoying the magnificent art.”

For hours & ticket information visit: Smithsonian American Art Museum

6. National Gallery of Art 

This world-class art museum is teeming with over 130,000 photographs, paintings, drawings, and sculptures that are the works of American, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, Flemish, British, and French artists. Walking through the various wings of the museum will be a wonderfully pleasing visual experience for you.

You’ll get an up close look at pieces created by Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, and Rembrandt. The National Gallery of Art offers a wide range of guided tours, educational programs, concerts, films, and lectures.  Before you leave, step outside to stroll around the six acre beautifully landscaped sculpture garden.

What Visitors Say 

“A world-class art museum that is free. What’s not to love about that! The featured displays are changed often so there is always something new to see. I  also really enjoyed the unique souvenirs and wide range of items available in the gift store.”

Entry to this museum is always FREE! For hours & other information visit: National Gallery of Art 

Best Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC

If you only have a day or two in DC, these two museums MUST be on your list:

7. National Museum of American History 

The National Museum of American History is a treasure chest of everything American (3 million artifacts to be exact)! This comprehensive museum gives you the chance to see the original Star-Spangled banner, which is the flag that inspired the national anthem.

Next you can admire Abe Lincoln’s top hat as well as the First Ladies Inauguration dresses. Before you head out to lunch, learn about the history of what you are eating in the “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000” exhibit. 

Entry to this museum is always FREE! For hours & other information visit: National Museum of American History 

8. National Air and Space Museum

This museum has rooms full of rocket ships and airplanes that will surely fascinate and entertain both children and adults alike! Become a pilot and have a thrilling hands-on experience in the “How Things Fly” exhibit that allows you to push buttons, touch,and sit in an airplane.

Next, prepare for takeoff as you head into the SkyLab Orbital Workshop in the Space Race Gallery. Enter through the country’s first space station and actually get a look inside where the astronaut’s lived in the spaceship!

Entry to this museum is always FREE! For hours & other information visit: National Air and Space Museum 

Best Free Museums in Washington DC

Save your dollars and treat yourself to dessert tonight because entry to these museums won’t even cost you a penny:

9. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 

Showcasing historic film footage,eyewitness testimonies, and more than 900 artifacts, this museum teaches you the narrative of one of the most important events in history. Start with a self-guided tour through the permanent exhibition, The Holocaust, to get a chronolocigal story of events.

You will come across personal objects of survivors and read about their lives. Afterwards, find your way to Daniel’s Story for an emotional and moving tale of a young boy growing up in Nazi Germany. You’ll read diary entries and view photos that show just how much his whole world was transformed during this time. 

For hours.& other information visit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

10. United States Botanic Garden 

Established on the southwest corner of the National Mall in 1820, you will enjoy a beautiful day at this living, indoor-outdoor museum. It has an outstanding collection of plant life that sweeps you out of the city and transports you to a tranquil and picturesque butterfly garden.

Step back in time as you explore a 19th century hothouse conservatory and enjoy a relaxing atmosphere. If you are visiting during the holidays you will be in for a special treat as the iconic garden scenes are guaranteed to dazzle and excite all who come! 

For hours & other information visit: United States Botanic Garden 

The BEST of the BEST

You can spend a few days… or even a few weeks exploring the incredible plethora of museums that Washington DC has to offer!

With this list in hand, you will be guaranteed an educational, adventurous, beautiful, and fun-filled time while discovering the BEST of the best museums in Washington DC. Which one will you visit FIRST? We want to hear from you!