In Washington DC, as you might suspect, there are enough museums to ensure your visit here is both illuminating and entertaining. However, for the short time you are here, there isn’t enough opportunity to see them all. So below is a modest list of some of our favorites.
When you take your own excursion to visit these museums, you will likely want to travel by Metro, the DC subway system, and the round trip from the Dupont Circle stop should only cost you a few dollars. For most of the Smithsonian Museums and others located on the National Mall as well as the worthwhile points of interest found very near the Gallery Place Metro stop, you will want to walk the six blocks down Connecticut Avenue from the Washington Hilton to Dupont Circle and enter the Metro stop there. It will be clearly marked with a large, very visible M on a tall square column right in front of where you enter. Passes can be acquired just inside, and there are always attendants on duty to guide you and answer your questions.
For the Smithsonian based museums, you will ride the Metro on the Red Line, the only Metro line servicing the Dupont Circle stop. And you will get on the train heading toward the Glenmont Station, the final stop for trains going in that direction. Trains will be clearly marked Glenmont, and there will be signage directing you toward the proper track. Trains going in the other direction will be designated Shady Grove, the final stop in that direction. If the next station you encounter on your way to the museums is adorned with signs that read Woodley Park, don’t worry. Merely get off the train there and wait for the next train heading in the other direction. You won’t be charged extra. Anyway, you will only stay on that train for two stops before switching trains at Metro Center. Then, wait for the next train (Either Silver or Blue heading toward Largo Town Center OR Orange heading toward New Carollton). On whichever train you take then, you will once again ride for only two stops to arrive at the Smithsonian Station. It’s really not confusing, and there are readily available Metro maps throughout the stations and on every train car to help orient you.
To go to the points of interest near the Gallery Place Station, you will not need to change trains. The Gallery Place Station is also on The Red Line. Just ride the train you take from Dupont Circle toward Glenmont and get off at Gallery Place. When you return, get on the first train heading toward Shady Grove, and get off at Dupont Circle.
- The National Air & Space Museum. This is THE most popular museum in DC, and for good reason. On display, you’ll find the actual Wright brothers’ 1903 flyer, Lindberg’s Spirit of Saint Louis, substantial material regarding war planes, so much on the Apollo and Gemini programs, and so much more. This museum documents the known trajectory from man taking flight to venturing to the moon and exploring space and leads you to ponder what may be next. It opens at 10am and closes at 5pm, and the museum is FREE to the public. There are certain extras you can find here that carry a charge, such as the Flight Simulator and the IMAX movies. Those are very worthwhile, but the bulk of National Air & Space Museum is free. When you emerge from the Metro at the Smithsonian Station and look out at the expansive stretch of lawn that is The National Mall, you’ll see the Washington Monument on your left and The Capitol Building on your right. The National Air & Space Museum is behind you with a short walk in the direction of the Capitol.
- The National Museum of American History. This one is also located on the National Mall. When you emerge from the Smithsonian Station and look out at The National Mall, Washington Monument on your left and the Capitol on your right, the National Museum of American History is directly across The Mall. It is also FREE of charge and open from 10am to 5:30pm. Inside, you’ll discover everything from the original Star Spangled Banner to the completely reconstructed Julia Childs Kitchen to the actual Ruby Slippers worn by “Dorothy” in The Wizard Of Oz. This museum details the American experience through strife and popular culture. It’s very diverse.
- The United States Holocaust Museum. Leaving the Smithsonian Station you’ll turn toward the Washington Monument and take a left on 14th Street. The Holocaust Museum is on the right. It’s open from 10am to 5:30pm, and it is also FREE to the public. A visit to this museum is a heavy experience. It details specific facts about life in a concentration camp and the overall atrocity that was among the most obscene human violations in history.
- The National Museum Of African American History And Culture. This is a really cool museum. It details the historical facts of slavery in the United States through the injustices that precipitated the Civil Rights Movement and surveys the impact African Americans have had on our national culture. You’ll even find the Mothership Stage Set used by George Clinton & The Parliament Funkadelics on tour. To get there, exit the Smithsonian Station and cross 14th Street. The African American Museum is situated on the right corner toward the Washington Monument property. It’s FREE of charge and is open from 10am to 5:30pm, however, you do need to reserve tickets in advance.
- National Portrait Gallery. For art, this is among our favorites. The temporary exhibits are always fascinating, and on the second floor you’ll find every official Presidential Portrait from Washington to Obama. It’s fun to see how each President has been memorialized. Again, this museum is FREE, and is open from 11:30am until 7pm. To get there, take The Red Line to the Gallery Place Station. Once you leave the station, The Portrait Gallery is right across the street in the middle of the square.
- The National Archives Museum. If you’re inclined to be a tad more studious about your museum visits, this one is a gem. It houses one of the original copies of the Magna Carta, the actual Declaration of Independence, and a veritable and glorious “ton” of other founding documents. Much of what you find here will prove inspirational. Archives is perhaps equidistant from both the Smithsonian Station and Gallery Place, but if you don’t mind switching trains on your way there, it might be preferable to use the Smithsonian stop. When exiting, cross the lawn of The Mall and head in the direction of the Capitol. When you arrive at the 9th Street corner, cross the street heading past the museums and find The Archives on the next block. It’s FREE to enter, and it’s open from 10am until 5:30pm.
- The International Spy Museum. This privately owned museum is just cool on top of being incredibly informative about the tradecraft, history, and contemporary role of espionage. You’ll find the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever on public display. And while secrecy during The Cold War weighs heavily among the exhibits, you’ll learn examples of espionage dating back to Biblical times, how every President has relied on spies, and about the education and training involved in developing a spy’s skill set. You’ll discover more about some of the better-known incidents of espionage than was revealed in the news in recent years. There are fun and fascinating interactive components to your visit here, and there’s even a section dedicated to Bond villains. This museum does, however, charge. It will cost just under $25 for adults except for Senior Citizens and Veterans who will pay $16 for the experience. To get there, ride The Red Line to Gallery Place and walk one block South on 7th Street (slightly down hill) to F Street. Turn right and continue another block. It’s on the left, directly across the street from The Portrait Gallery.
- The Newseum. Again, emerging from The Gallery Place Station, you’ll walk about three blocks slightly down hill (South) on F Street until you turn left onto Pennsylvania Avenue. The Newseum is ahead on the left, just before you would reach the Canadian Embassy. And this is a truly impressive place as the only museum dedicated to news. The exterior is lined with what seems like the front page of every major newspaper in the country, changed daily. Inside, you’ll benefit from so much more than the history of journalism, carefully laid out as the cornerstone of its permanent exhibit. They showcase full explorations into significant stories of the modern era. There are eye-catching artifacts, short multimedia displays, and an interactive newsroom. At times, nationally known anchors will host informative forums on a variety of topics. But this museum is not free. Adults pay $25 except for Senior Citizens who will be charged $20.
Places to eat near the museums
If you choose to take time to explore any of our DC museums, you might also need a lunchtime food break before heading either into another museum or back to The Washington Hilton. A few of the museums along The National Mall have cafeterias within their walls. Those tend to be expensive and limited in their offerings, although it has been reported that the food at The African American Museum and The Native American Museum is good. We've not eaten at either place, so we thought it might be helpful to pass along our recommendations for tasty eats convenient to an outing in that general area. If tempted, consider any of these:
- District ChopHouse & Brewery. This is a favorite, especially for beer lovers. Their tenderloin tips or chicken piccata are both worth the trip across town. But that’s really not why you would go there. Besides having tasty fare that runs on the high side of moderate pricing, the ChopHouse brews its own beer in-house, Their Amber, Velvet, and Nut Brown ales are all very satisfying. And they generally keep a Bourbon Barrel Oatmeal Stout on cask that is not for the neophyte. The ChopHouse opens at 11am, and it is located on 7th Street just two blocks down hill from the Gallery Place Station and right around the corner from both The International Spy Museum and The Portrait Gallery.
- Oyamel Cocina Mexicana. This is a great lunch spot serving up a modern take on Mexican tapas and an unusual variety of ceviche. Try the tacos with the braised beef tongue and pulled pork options. And they also prepare terrific seafood on salads. They’re located about a block and a half south of The ChopHouse, making it closer to The Newseum and still not far at all from The Spy Museum and The Portrait Gallery. Pricing is reasonable.
- Shelly’s Backroom. This place is not for everyone, but there aren’t many like it. Primarily, Shelly’s is a cigar bar. They sell an impressive array of cigars, all listed on the menu, and their food runs from light fare to heavier meals. The Cuban Sandwich has always treated me right, but their take on the reuben is really good too. And they also have a Jambalaya Pasta dish that is nicely spicy. They open for lunch and stay open until the wee hours. And you can find Shelly’s Backroom on F Street between 13th and 14th, from Gallery Place about a 7 block walk toward The White House.
- Ella’s Wood-Fired Pizza. The name here pretty much says it all. Wood-fired pizza! Sure, they offer mussels, pastas, and calzones. But none of us have chosen anything from those parts of their menu. Why would we? The pizza is really good and moderately priced. From Gallery Place, you’ll walk two blocks on F Street toward the White House, passing The Portrait Gallery and The International Spy Museum as you go. Then you’ll turn right on 9th Street and find it there on the right. If you make it to G Street, you’ve gone slightly too far.