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.
Visitors should come prepared for an experience likely to be difficult to 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. From March through August a free pass is required to enter the Permanent Exhibition, The Holocaust, a chronological history. Passes are not required to gain entrance to the museum building, or to go to any of the smaller exhibitions, memorials, or special programming.
The dinosaur skeletons on the ground floor of the National Museum of Natural History are sure to please the kids. But there is something here for everyone. The famous Hope Diamond is on display as well as a live coral reef, a walk-through mine and an insect zoo with thousands of live specimens. The Discovery Room encourages kids to touch, smell and taste the exhibits. If your feet need some rest, sit back and enjoy a film in the museum's Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater in the National Museum of Natural History.
One of two Smithsonian museums that feature Asian art, the Freer Gallery houses more than 26000 works from all points of the Asian continent, including China, Japan, Korea and India. These works include Asian porcelains, Japanese screens and Islamic art. The works of American artists influenced by Asia are also featured. The most spectacular of these is James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room, designed for a British shipping magnate and moved to the United States from London in 1904. The Sackler Gallery is interconnected with this gallery via underground exhibition space and houses an impressive collection of Chinese paintings, ceramics and jades.
Dedicated to free press and free speech, the Newseum showcases the history of news gathering. The displays include a video wall of live news broadcasts from around the world. Here visitors have the opportunity to anchor a news program, an exhibit especially popular with children. For a fee, children can also put their faces on the covers of famous magazines, including Life and Sports Illustrated. Interactive displays are the rule here, but there is much to see in a variety of dynamic formats. Washington visitors can also view an outdoor version of the Newseum's popular “Today's Front Pages” now on display. The museum also features the largest exhibit of Berlin Wall sections and a gallery devoted to the events of September 11th.
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is located just down the street from the National Air and Space Museum. Visitors stroll up a rising, circular incline and view works by Calder, Rodin, and contemporary sculptors. Special exhibits have included works by such artists as Mircea Cantor, Rivane Neuenschwander, and Morris Louis. This unique building is home to many innovative and unusual exhibits and pieces of art. The museum's collection includes 4,000 paintings and 2,000 sculptures. Do not miss the sunken sculpture garden across Jefferson Drive. Auguste Rodin's Burghers of Calais is a must-see.