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Best Museums in Washington DC

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National Museum of Women in the Arts

The history of the female artist is a sub-theme in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which houses the works of women artists from the 16th Century to the present. The comfortable mid-range scale of the museum is ideal for leisurely viewing of the permanent and visiting exhibitions. Painting and sculpture are nicely balanced with the decorative arts and photography.

Washington DC, DC, United States
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Phillips Collection

The Phillips Collection retains the 19th-century grandeur enjoyed by the Phillips family. The collection was opened to the public in 1918 while the family was still living in the home. The collection displays mostly 19th- and 20th-century American and European paintings. Significant works by Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Bonnard and Klee are on display. One can browse at leisure and perhaps, catch an art student working on a sketch. A cafe is also on site.

Washington DC, DC, United States
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Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum takes you on a journey of discovery of iconic American art and the artists that created it from the 17th Century to the present day. The building itself is of heritage value and designated a National Historic Landmark. The expansive collection is spread out over multiple levels and there is a spacious courtyard where you can take a break. Discover the works of Edward Hopper and Georgia O'Keefe on the first floor; the works of Gilbert Stuart and Albert Bierstadt on the second, and Franz Kline and Andy Warhol on the third. Various art movements and periods are well demonstrated in the carefully curated exhibits, like New Deal Art, and provide an engaging narrative for the visitor to follow. Docent-led tours are a great way to discover the highlights in an interactive way. The Renwick Gallery, the main building's sister wing, is also worth a visit.

Washington DC, DC, United States
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National Portrait Gallery

Famous and distinguished Americans are honored at the National Portrait Gallery in portraits, photographs and other visual media. A wide variety of politicians, artists, scientists and social activists are represented. This gallery is a remarkable testimony to the diverse figures the United States has produced, from Grace Kelly and Boris Karloff to George Washington, Mickey Mantle and Gertrude Stein. Photographs, prints, drawings and sculptures supplement the paintings. Of particular interest is the Hall of Presidents, which features a portrait or sculpture of each chief executive.

Washington DC, DC, United States
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National Museum of American History

Take a trip back in time and explore the much celebrated American history at the National Museum of American History. Rich in displays that depict the American journey through the ages; it resides inside a gallery that portrays the emergence of the American national anthem along with other innovative and cherished artifacts. Housed within this multi-floor building are exhibition halls and rooms that illustrate significant events pertaining to the past of America.

Washington DC, DC, United States
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National Building Museum

Popularly known as the Pension Building, the National Building Museum plays a pivotal role in narrating the history of design, engineering, construction, urban planning and architecture in the United States of America. A non-profit organization, the museum hosts a number of exhibitions, festivals and public programs that endorse the exchange of ideas and information across people of all sections of society, all around the world. Located in a monumental structure with a design based on Italian Renaissance palaces, the brick and terracotta building is grand and contains a massive 15-story interior with eight Corinthian columns that are 75 feet (23 meters) high. The museum's space has also been the site of inaugural balls and a popular Christmas television special. An iconic tourist attraction, a visit to the capital city is certainly incomplete without a tour of the National Building Museum.

Washington DC, DC, United States
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National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery houses an extensive collection of European and American art in two spectacular buildings. In the grand, neoclassical West Building, Rembrandt, Rubens and Gainsborough are well-represented. The permanent collection includes works from the 13th to 20th Centuries, including a section devoted to Impressionism. An underground concourse with a cafeteria, an excellent gift shop and a walled-in waterfall takes you to the East Building. Designed by I.M. Pei, this triangular building is a key city landmark and home to famous pieces of art and other temporary exhibitions.

Washington DC, DC, United States
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National Museum of Natural History

Established in 1910, the National Museum of Natural History aims to inform people about the natural history of earth through its exhibits. Nestled somewhere within this museum is the famous Hope Diamond, which has gained notoriety for supposedly carrying a curse. Apart from that, some of the museum's popular galleries include The Discovery Room, Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals, Dinosaurs/Hall of Paleobiology, Insect Zoo, Teleology: Hall of Bones, Ocean Hall, Hall of Human Origins and many more.

Washington DC, DC, United States
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Smithsonian Institution

Also known as "America's attic," for its spectacular collection of nearly 154 million artifacts, the Smithsonian Institution is one of the the world's largest museum complexes and research organizations. The administrative office of the esteemed institution is housed in a magnificent red sandstone 'castle', that also houses a visitor information area and research chambers. Within this building is also the final resting place of the Smithsonian Institution's founder, James Smithson, with his tomb being preserved in the crypt in the north entrance. Apart from the main building, the institution features as many as 17 museums and galleries within its sprawling complex that represent exhibits across the myriad fields of science, history, zoology, and art. Some of the most notable Smithsonian landmarks include the Natural History Museum and the African American Museum.

Washington, DC, United States
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United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Visitors should come prepared for an experience they're will not forget when visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. At the start of the tour, each visitor is given an identity card of a Holocaust victim that matches the visitor's own age and gender. Ordinary reality is skewed through off-center stairways, weird angles and the shadows of other visitors on the glass walkways overhead. An elaborate audio-visual display includes interviews, films and photographs. The Hall of Remembrance provides a calm, empty space at the end of the tour where one can reflect on the experience. The museum discourages children under 11 from attending. Admission to the museum is free. However, from March through August a free pass is required to enter the Permanent Exhibition. Passes are not required to gain entrance to the museum building, or to go to any of the smaller exhibitions, memorials, or special programming.

Washington DC, DC, United States
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National Museum of African Art

The National Museum of African Art brings the art and history of Africa to life through its comprehensive collection spanning millennia. From ancient times to the modern age, this museum takes you on a voyage of discovery of the diverse cultural and social fabric of this vast continent as you explore over 9,000 objects from virtually every African country. Beyond simply being a display room, the museum seeks to create a dialog between visitors and itself via educational talks, thematic exhibitions, films, storytelling workshops, music, and more. Highlights include the "Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon," "African Cosmos: Stellar Arts," classical treasures, African textiles, and artful animals. A part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of African Art is the only national level museum dedicated to preserving African art.

Washington DC, DC, United States
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