Can’t-Miss Museums & Monuments in Washington D.C.

What a better way to honor American history than by visiting all the museums and monuments Washington D.C. has to offer? I spent my entire summer visiting the overwhelming number of museums and monuments D.C. has to offer. Discover your guide to museums and monuments in Washington D.C. and make your experience monumental.

Museums 

Washington D.C. is known for its state-of-the-art museums. In total there are seventeen Smithsonian museums in D.C., all free for visitors to enjoy. These museums cover anything from art, history, science, and culture. Here are just a few of the museums you will want to include in your Washington D.C. itinerary.

  • National Gallery of Modern Art (West Wing) 

Don’t miss: The giant blue chicken located on the roof of the gallery.

With exhibitions ongoing every year there is always interesting art to admire. The National Gallery of Modern Art displays some of the most famous modern art pieces of all time. The west wing of the National Gallery of Art is different from the East Wing. Walking in the museum itself is a piece of art.

National Gallery of Art- Washington D.C. blue chicken at National Gallery of Art

  • Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History 

Don’t miss: The 36-foot-long skeleton of a squid.

First, let me address the elephant in the room. No, the actual elephant in the center of the rotunda. Two of the most well known exhibits are Oceans and Gemstones. IN the gemstones display you will see the one of the rarest diamonds ever discovered- the blue diamond.

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is one of the most famous museums in the United States. Inside there are several exhibits that you can’t miss, such as the giant dinosaur skeletons and dazzling gemstones and crystals.

  • Renwick Gallery Museum

Inside the Renwick Gallery is a temple made entirely out of wood. It is encouraged to write on the wall memories of a loved one, some even left pictures. Throughout the rest of the museum are rotating contemporary exhibits.

  •  Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Don’t miss: Orville and Wilbur’s first flight

Outer space, NASA, black holes, or aircraft is no plain afternoon.

Walking inside the museum there are large aircraft on display hanging from the ceiling. I visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum this summer during the 50th-anniversary celebration of Apollo moon landing. Hundreds of guests visit the mall. The event included a scavenger hunt in the National Air and Space Museum. Participating in all the festivities I have never seen the museum so crowded before.

Also, as a North Carolina native, I am impressed with the Orville and Wilbur Wright display in this museum. Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first people to invent the airplane and they did it in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

National Air and Space Museum

  • National Portrait Gallery

Don’t miss: President Obama’s Portrait and the painting “The Struggle for Justice” (Second floor)

National Portrait Gallery highlights the portraits of some of the most prestigious figures in American history. One of the latest portraits is of the former President Barrack Obama, and it is bursting with pastel colors.

Many of the portraits are permanent, but don’t miss the current rotation exhibitions on display such as the ‘Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence’. In this display, you can see portraits of the women who pioneered the women’s movement for the right to vote such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Depending on the time you wish you will see unique art displays such as the one below.

National Portrait Gallery Washington D.C.

  •  Smithsonian National Museum of American History 

Don’t Miss: The original American flag that inspired the “Star Spangled Banner”.

The National History Museum is a collection of artifacts throughout the timeline of America. The famous song you hear before every football game, “Star-Spangled Banner”, is a symbol of patriotism and pride in America. If you want to see where the inspiration came from The National History Museum has the ginormous flag that Francis Scott Key saw while writing the anthem.

Several other displays in the museum cannot be missed. We are not in Kanas anymore. The red slippers Judy Garland wore in the film the Wizard of Oz, is one exhibit that all Oz fans must-see.

National Museum of History

  • Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art 

Don’t miss: The President’s faces crafted out of Legos on the floor.

Bizarre and funky, the Hishorn Museum is the epitome of modern art. The pieces in this museum are unlike your wildest imagination. Check out the faces of famous figures in America made completely out of Legos.

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  •  National Gallery of Art (East Wing) 

Don’t miss: The illuminated tunnel that connects the east and west wing

The National Gallery of Art of one of my favorite places to visit in Washington D.C. The museums has pieces from some of my favorite impressionist painters such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh,  Renoir, Degas, Matisse, and Monet. Impressionists captured the life they saw around them.

These artists have inspired millions over the centuries. Walking through room after room in this massive art collection don’t be surprised if you get a little lost. The Thomas Cole collection, “The Voyage of Life” is another top-pick of mine. Since it is a permeant exhibit don’t miss it.

While I was visiting the work of the painter Tintoretto was on display. Tintoretto painted the walls in the Dodge Palace in Venice, which I had seen before so it was fascinating to see more of his famous work such as “Miracle of the Slave” and ‘The Deposition of Christ”.  IMG_0789

  • Phillips Art Collection 

Don’t miss: Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party”

The Phillips Art Collection is a well-kept secret in the artist community. Though open to the public, you may never have heard of it. The Phillips Collection is in a residential community and a unique collection of pieces. While visiting I several photography exhibits by were on display.

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  • Native American Museum 

Don’t miss: Native American’s role in modern media.

The Native American Museum’s has the more fascinating exterior out of all the museums. For example, the architect designed the building with no corners, because Native American people believe evil spirits lurk in dark corners. Yet, this isn’t the only interesting fact about the Native American Museum.

Throughout the museum, you will learn about the history of Native Americans in America. As someone who is part Native American, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the stories told were of my ancestors.

  • Smithsonian Castle Museum

Don’t miss: The gardens surrounding the Smithsonian Castle.

Every wondered why Washington D.C. has so many museums in one area. Well, all of your questions are answered at the Smithsonian Castle Museum. The Smithsonian Castle Museum is a museum about museums.

As if that weren’t interesting enough the museum is inside in one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Washington D.C. The architecture reminds me of a European Castle.

Smithsonian Castle Museum

  • Hillwood Estate

Don’t miss: The Nuptial crown worn by Russian Grand Duchesses for their weddings. This crown is meant for royalty and is embellished with 1,525 diamonds.

The Hillwood Estate is Washington D.C.’s hidden gem. Located outside the heart of D.C. stands a beautiful Georgian-style mansion, built my Marjorie Merriweather Post to entertain Washington social figures. Mrs. Merriweather always hoped her home to one day be a museum for the public to view her art collection.

Russian art was her favorite to collect. The Hillwood Estate has over 250 artifacts, each equally dazzling. In her dining collection alone Merriweather has 4,000 pieces of Russian tableware.

Hillwood Estate's dining hall

Hillwood Estate’s dining hall

Hillwood Estate - Washington D.C.

Bible Museum

Don’t miss: Skyline views in the garden on the top floor and the illuminated manuscripts.

The Bible Museum takes guests through the history of this famous text and the role it has played affecting lives and shaping society. The World of Jesus of Nazareth is a live interactive display of the life of Jesus.

The illuminated manuscripts are immaculate. Pope, priests, and religious figures spend years crafting these bright and vibrant scripts.

Bible Museum

Monuments

Capitol Building 

Don’t miss: The main rotunda circular room with Apotheosis painting on the ceiling.

The Capitol Building is the single most significant building in the United States. It houses some of the most important governmental figures. Monumental events such as the State of the Union take place inside.

Even though the President and other significant political figures walk in and out of the Capitol daily, it is open for tours to the public. Getting there right as it opens it a great way to ensure you aren’t going to wait too long in line.

Capitol Hill Washington D.C. Interior of Capitol Building

Union Station 

Don’t miss: The gold high ceilings and eateries downstairs.

Needing to catch a train or grab lunch? This is the place to do both. With ornate architecture both inside and out the union, station is a great place to absorb on your way coming or going.

Union Station

  • Old Post Office Pavilion (Clock Tower)

Don’t miss: Catching a glimpse of the gorgeous interior of Trump International’s Hotel on the way up

Attached to Trump International Tower is a clock tower that overlooks the city. The tower is the spot for some of the best views of the city below. Just be sure to not lean to close to get your pictures. The security guard told me that it isn’t uncommon for visitors to accidentally let go of their phones while capturing their skyline masterpiece.

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  • Washington Monument 

Don’t miss: The monument is two different colors of stone halfway up

The Washington Monument used to be the tallest building in America. While other buildings have peaked this monument’s once held title, it is still magnificent. The Washington Monument was constructed in two different phases, which is why its exterior is two-toned.

Beginning September 19, 2019, the Washington Monument is now open again for tours and visitors. You won’t want to miss the chance to visit the top of the Washington Monument.

  • The Library of Congress 

Don’t miss: The chance to get a library card to the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has hundreds of books for the public to enjoy. The interior architecture is impeccable. Along with seeing the exhibits and Thomas Jefferson’s library you could make your way to the basement to get a library card.

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Memorials

  • Abraham Lincoln Memorial

Don’t miss: The hidden museum underneath the stairs

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most well-liked and famous presidents to have ever lived. One side of his memorial is the Gettysburg Address and the other is the speech Lincoln gave during his second inaugural address, be sure to read both before you leave.

Don’t miss the museum underneath the left of the stairs. This small museum highlights the life of Lincoln and photos from the civil rights movement.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial

  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Don’t miss: Jefferson’s quotes on the wall

Thomas Jefferson’s Memorial honors an American President who was a pillar in the foundation of America. While Thomas Jefferson was by no means perfect, he did play an important role in colonial America. He is also one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, without which America might still be a part of Great Britain. Additionally, he was the founder of the Democratic-Republican Party.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”  (Excerpted from a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800)

  • US Navy Memorial Plaza

Don’t miss: The detailed sculptures reenacting pivotal moments in the Navy

The US Navy Memorial Plaza is close to the mall, but if you don’t look closely you might miss it. The US Navy Memorial Plaza is close to the National Portrait Gallery but be sure to check out each of the designs.

Navy War Memorial

  • Vietnam War Memorial

Don’t miss: Finding your family name on the wall

The Vietnam War Memorial is close to the hearts of Americans. The Vietnam War was 1955-1975, and many have lost close family members and loved ones to the war. Built in 1982, this memorial honors the service of fallen soldiers during the Vietnam war.

  • World War II Memorial

Don’t miss: Visit the pillar from the State you are from (if you are from America)

The World War II Memorial is between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The memorial has a pillar for each one of the 50 States in America.

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial 

Don’t miss: The statue of FDR’s pup.

A great way to remember our 32nd president. This sweet memorial has details that FDR would have loved, including his dog. The best way to view Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Memorial is on the way from Martin Luther King’s Memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s Memorial. You will also get some excellent views of the Potomac River.

museums and monuments Washington D.C. FDR

  • Martin Luther King Memorial 

Don’t miss: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial from across the pond

Open since the summer of 2011, Martin Luther King Memorial is one of the newest monuments in Washington D.C. Additionally, Lei Yixin, the architect, included Martin Luther emerging from the Stone of Hope in order to honor the work he did during the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King Memorial

  • Korean War Memorial 

Don’t miss: The fountain that says “Freedom is not free”

Located in West Potomac Park and close to the Lincoln memorial this memorial honor those who served in the Korean War. Be sure to observe how well-crafted these statues are. You might have to do a double-take because they are realistically life-like. The circular fountain near the statues has a sign declaring “freedom is not free”, as a reminder of the sacrifices America has made for its citizens to have freedom.

“One nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and people they never met”. -1950 Korea

Korean War Memorial

The museums and monuments in Washington D.C. are a must-see for Americans and international visitors alike. In conclusion, Washington D.C. is a patriotic city for the people, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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