Reserve Your Spot with Confidence! Full Refunds with 24 Hrs Notice. Reschedule at any point, even after tour, if space allows!
Company Logo - Home Link

Best Museums in DC

A List of Museums in Washington DC

Updated: March 28, 2024

Washington, DC has over 70 unique museums to explore. With so many options, we decided to make a post of the top museums to visit in Washington, DC 

We include Smithsonian museums, art galleries, and zoos, as well as some off the beaten path and unique museums.

What Do We Know about Museums in Washington DC?

Literally, everything. We bring groups and visitors to museums around Washington, DC on a daily basis.

We offer guided museum tours of select museums. Guides with DC by Foot know the best way to avoid the crowds, get through security, and the stories behind the exhibits.

As a homeschooling parent, I use the museums in DC to help educate my children (check out our adventures on our YouTube Channel and Instagram).

All our Best Museums in DC advice comes from decades of visiting them ourselves and from discussion in our 65K+ member strong DC Travel Tips Facebook Group.


When people think of museums in DC, they're thinking of the free Smithsonian museums.

The Smithsonian Museums are open daily in Washington DC (with the exception of a few holidays!)

Most Smithsonian Museums do NOT require tickets, and you can enter at your leisure. So which Smithsonians require tickets?

  • Only NMAAHC, Air and Space (Mall location) and National Zoo require tickets

There isn't just one Smithsonian. There are nearly 20 Smithsonian Museums, including the Smithsonian Castle, art galleries, and a zoo. The Smithsonian Institution operates the various museum and while they are all free, some required timed tickets. I'll go over that below, as well.

Below is a list of all the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC starting with the most popular ones, and a brief highlight of each.

The Smithsonian Museums are open daily from 10 am to 5:30 daily (except Dec 25) with a few exceptions which I have noted in the descriptions.

We offer guided tours of Smithsonian Museums to ensure you get the most out of your visit. 

For other free things to do in DC, check out our master post

What is the Smithsonian Institution?

The Smithsonian Institution, often simply referred to as The Smithsonian, is a group of museums, as well as education and research centers.  It is named in honor of James Smithson, a British scientist who was the founding donor and who, ironically, never visited the United States.

It is the largest such complex in the world. Formed in 1846 by the U.S. government, it is separate from the three branches of government.  A large portion of its budget comes from the federal government, allowing all of the D.C. locations to remain free to visit.  

The Smithsonian slowly expanded over the 1800s and early 1900s.  For a long time, it was considered “the nation's attic,” and was perhaps a bit stuffy.  

In the 1960s there was a move to modernize and popularize the museums, redesigning exhibits, expanding its reach, and leading the way to become must-see destinations for visitors from throughout the nation and around the world.  

There are now more than 19 museums in the Washington D.C. area, plus the National Zoo under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution.  

Two more museums are planned for the near future - the National Museum of the American Lation and the Smithsonian American Women's History Museum (National Museum of Women's History)

There are also two Smithsonian museums located in New York City.

All of the locations in the Washington D.C. area are free to visit.  

Some, however, do require timed tickets due to high demand. At this time, The National Zoo, the Air and Space Museum’s National Mall location, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture do require free-timed tickets.

The most popular Smithsonian Museum depends on who you ask. There seems to be no definitive answer.  

We've included the six most visited Smithsonian Museums in the boxes below, but you can read about every Smithsonian as you continue down the page.

A few short answers on which is the best Smithsonian Museum for specific groups.

  • The best Smithsonian Museums for kids is any the main six. They all have kids sections, scavenger hunts and more.

OVERWHELMED? We offer private Smithsonian museum tours to groups of 5 or less of American History, National Gallery of Art, Natural History, National Archives, Air and Space and National Portrait Gallery! Find out more.

Smithsonian Castle

  • ADDRESS: Located on the National Mall (Independence Ave side) Address: 1000 Jefferson Dr SW, Washington, DC 20560
  • OPEN: As of March 2024, remains closed for renovations.
  • Free and No Tickets Required

The Smithsonian Institution Building (or Castle) is the original Smithsonian Museum.

Finished in 1855, it was built from money gifted by Henry James Hungerford who inherited the fortune from his uncle, James Smithson, a British scientist.

Smithsonian Museums
Smithsonian Castle

The money was to go towards creating something "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge".

After much debate in Congress, the money was finally channeled into the creation of the Smithsonian Institution.

The building is impossible to miss on the National Mall and it is a great place to start your exploration of the Smithsonian, with collection highlights from each of the other museums. 

African American History and Culture Museum

This is the newest addition to the Smithsonian Museums and still requires a ticketed entrance.

Tickets are released at 8am each day for the next month 30 days out (so on May 26, you can book tickets for June 25.)

They book out within the first few minutes!

You can get same day tickets to the museum by checking online at 8:15am

This museum focuses on the African American experience and begins its exhibits all the way back to the slave trade era through today's experience.

African American History Museum

American History Museum

  • ADDRESS: Located on the National Mall ( Constitution Ave side) | 1300 Constitution Ave., NW
  • OPEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free and No Tickets Required
  • Guide to the American History Museum

This museum highlights the events and cultural phenomena that have shaped American history.

You can see the original Star-Spangled Banner that inspired our national anthem, Julia Child's kitchen, the First Ladies' Inaugural gowns, and so much more. 

Natural History Museum

  • ADDRESS: Located on the National Mall ( Constitution Ave side) | 10th and Constitution Ave., NW
  • OPEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free and No Tickets Required
  • Guide to the Natural History Museum

This Smithsonian is all about the natural sciences.

There is an oceanic exhibit, a mammals exhibit, a minerals, and gemstone exhibit that showcases the cursed Hope Diamond, and a Bone Hall with all sorts of skeletons and dinosaur fossils.

Air And Space Museum

  • ADDRESS: Located on the National Mall ( Independence Ave side) | 6th and Independence Ave SW
  • OPEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free and Tickets Required for National Mall location
  • Guide to Visiting the Air and Space Museum

The Air and Space Museum has two locations- one on the National Mall and the other out by Dulles Airport. Our Guide to the Air and Space Museum that highlights and compares both to help you better decide. 

Both are a celebration of flying and space travel and are considered two of the most popular Smithsonian Museums.

Only the National Mall location requires tickets. Though timed tickets are required, they are free.

The Air and Space Museum releases tickets in chunks. Same-day tickets are released online at 830am and 1230pm daily.

Release DatesAvailable for Reservation
Friday, March 15, 2024 at 12:00 pm ETTuesday, April 16 - Friday, May 31, 2024
Friday, April 26, 2024 at 12:00 pm ETSaturday, June 1 - Monday, July 15, 2024
Friday, June 14, 2024 at 12:00 pm ETTuesday, July 16 - Saturday, August 31, 2024
Friday, July 26, 2024 at 12:00 pm ETSunday, September 1 - Tuesday, October 15, 2024
Friday, September 13, 2024 at 12:00 pm ETWednesday, October 16 - Saturday November 30, 2024
Friday, October 25, 2024 at 12:00 pm ETSunday, December 1 - Wednesday January 15, 2025
Friday, December 13, 2024 at 12:00 pm ETThursday, January 16 - Friday, February 28, 2025

American Indian Museum

  • ADDRESS: Located on the National Mall ( Independence Ave side) | 6th and Independence Ave SW
  • OPEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free and No Tickets Required

Step back into America's roots with the American Indian Museum.

Often overlooked, it is home to the world’s extensive collections of Native objects, photographs, and media from the entire Western Hemisphere.

It's hard to miss this building with its unique curvilinear design evoking a wind-sculpted rock formation.

The museum is also a cultural destination, its Mitsitam cafe host to a menu of seasonal, gourmet Native American fare well worth checking out. 

Smithsonian Art Museums & Galleries

DC has a number of art museums to cover an array of tastes. The ones below are part of the Smithsonian but we have a guide to the all art museums of DC here.

National Portrait Gallery & American Art Museum

  • ADDRESS: 8th St NW & G St NW (Chinatown-Gallery Place Metro)
  • OPEN: 11:30am - 7:00pm | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free and No Tickets Required

One building with two museums! This is the nation's first collection of American art and is home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. The National Portrait Gallery balances both traditional and contemporary art exhibits and is best known for housing the largest collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House. 

National Museum of African Art

  • ADDRESS: on the National Mall at 9th & Independence Ave SW (Smithsonian Metro)
  • OPEN: 10:00 am - 5:30pm | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free and No Tickets Required

This is the only national museum in the United States dedicated to the collection, exhibition, conservation, and study of the arts of Africa and the exhibits expand all of Africa in its examples of traditional and contemporary art.

Freer Gallery of Art & National Museum of Asian Art

  • ADDRESS: on the National Mall at 12th & Independence Ave SW ( Smithsonian Metro)
  • OPEN: 10:00 am - 5:30pm | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free and No Tickets Required

These are the Smithsonian's two Asian art museums. 

Hirshhorn Museum

  • ADDRESS:  Independence Ave SW &, 7th St SW (L'Enfant Plaza Metro)
  • OPEN: 10:00 am - 5:30pm | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free and No Tickets Required

If you love contemporary art, this one's for you. The unique cylindrical building is impossible to miss and houses unique contemporary art and includes a sunken sculpture garden. 

Renwick Gallery

  • ADDRESS: 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW #1 (McPherson Square Metro)
  • OPEN: 10:00 am - 5:30pm | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free and No Tickets Required

This museum is located right across from the White House and houses contemporary art. It is also the first building in the United States built specifically to be an art museum.

National Zoo

  • ADDRESS: 3001 Connecticut Ave., NW
  • OPEN: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (Mar. 15–Sept. 15) | 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (Sept. 16–Mar. 14) | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free but Tickets Required
  • Guide to Visiting the National Zoo.

The National Zoo is a great way to spend a beautiful day outside. It's probably best known for its giant pandas, but have a multitude of other animals as well.

The hours for the zoo vary from the other Smithsonian museums and the zoo is open from 8 am to 5 pm and even later, until 6 pm, in the summer.

Entrance to the National Zoo requires timed tickets, and parking passes will need to be reserved in advance as well.

Passes open on a rolling basis 4 weeks in advance. Some same day passes are available at the gate.

While tickets are free, there is a fee to park at the Zoo lot. 

The zoo also hosts a number of after-hour events like Brew in the Zoo and sleepovers, which you can check out on their website.

Since the zoo is situated away from the National Mall and the other Smithsonians, here are a few other things to do in that area:

Postal Museum

  • ADDRESS: 2 Massachusetts Ave., NE (right next to Union Station)
  • OPEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily | Closed Dec. 25
  • Free and No Tickets Required

This museum is located right next to Union Station and is a walk through the history of the postal service.

See how mail delivery evolved through the decades and view the largest collection of stamps and philatelic material in the world.

This includes vehicles that delivered mail, mailboxes, and postal material that was used before stamps. 

Anacostia Community Museum

  • ADDRESS: 1901 Fort Place, SE in Anacostia neighborhood
  • OPEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily | Closed Dec. 25 (closed until March 22, 2024)
  • Free and No Tickets Required

If you find yourself across the river, there is the lesser-known Smithsonian that focuses on the impact of social issues on urban communities.

You can wander through the exhibits that explore the different aspects of urban community life, like environmental change, gentrification, and globalization.

While it may be a bit out of your way to get there, there are still options: free parking is available if you find yourself with a car, you can bus from the Anacostia metro, and you can Uber


Below is a list of other popular museums to enjoy that are not part of the Smithsonian Complex.

We will list admission prices and hours of operation so you can better plan your visit.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a must-see on your trip to Washington, DC.  It is the United States' official memorial to the Holocaust. 

How to Get Tickets to the Holocaust Museum DC

National Archives Museum

  • ADDRESS: Located just north of the National Mall. 701 Constitution Avenue, NW
  • HOURS: Daily except Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day 10am-530pm.
  • Free & No Tickets Required but available if you want to skip the line
  • Guide to visiting the National Archives

If you've seen the popular movie National Treasure starring Nicholas Cage, you know about the National Archives, the building that stores the most important and famous documents in America, including the Declaration of Independence.

Amongst other things, it is home to what we call the Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

You can't miss these bedrocks of our liberties on your visit to Washington, DC.

The National Archives is free to visit but there is the option to pay a small fee to reserve timed entry which we recommend during peak season and holiday weekends.

National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art Contemporary East Wing

The National Gallery of Art is perhaps the most popular art gallery in Washington, DC. While technically not a Smithsonian, it is still located on the National Mall with the others for easy access.

It is also free to the public and no ticket is required for entry.

The NGA is separated into two buildings, the East Building, which is contemporary and modern art, and the West Building, where you’ll find more traditional artwork, including the only Leonardo da Vinci painting found in the Americas.

There is also the Sculpture Garden that hosts cool events, like Jazz in the Gardens every summer. 

For other art museums, check out the ones in the Smithsonian section

National Building Museum

Across the street from the Law Enforcement Memorial is the National Building Museum, dedicated to the history and impact of architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, and design.

It's best known for its Great Hall, which hosts a rotation of really cool exhibitions.

It is free to the publicto visit the Great Hall, but most exhibitions require a paid ticket. To learn more about those, click here.

International Spy Museum

For everyone enthralled in espionage, this is your place to be! The Spy Museum has relocated to L'Enfant Plaza.

It is now bigger and more accessible by Metro, and a very short walk if you're visiting the Air & Space Museum.

Since this museum is open longer than the Smithsonian museums, this is a great option to go to later in the afternoon. 

Planet Word

  • ADDRESS: 25 13th St NW (McPherson Square Metro)
  • HOURS: Wednesday – Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. | Saturday – Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. | Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Guide to Visiting the Planet Word
  • Free but Reservations & Donations Recommended

A great new interactive museum about the power of words and language.

Not far from the White House, this museum is located downtown at Franklin Square. Visit it Wednesday - Sunday 10 am to 5 pm.

Museum of the Bible

  • ADDRESS: 400 4th St SW (Federal Center SW Metro)
  • HOURS: Daily: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
  • Tickets Required

Want to know how the Bible has impacted human history? You can find out at the Museum of the Bible.

With rare and interesting artifacts spanning 3,500 years of history, the museum was designed for guests to have an immersive and personalized experience with the Bible. 

United States Botanical Garden

If you love plants, this is the place for you! The U.S. Botanical Garden is an incredible place to browse and learn about all sorts of plants and flowers.

There are themed rooms, like desert plants and medicinal plants.

It's even home to three corpse flower plants, the largest flower on the planet, which is known for its awful smell when it blooms. 

National Law Enforcement Officer's Museum

  • ADDRESS: 444 E Street NW(Judiciary Square Metro)
  • HOURS: Thur. – Sat., 10AM – 5PM Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day.
  • Tickets Required
  • Visiting Information

The National Law Enforcement Museum houses 300 years of American law enforcement history, including several immersive and interactive experiences.

The latest temporary exhibit, Post-9/11: The Evolution of American Law Enforcement, allows visitors to learn more about the significant changes to U.S. law enforcement in the aftermath of 9/11, including coming together with other agencies, the private sector, and the general public to help make us all safer.

List of Museums in DC

If you're just looking for free museums or museums for kids, this list is for you!

Free Museums in DC

Are you planning a trip to Washington DC and worried about the cost of activities? Fear not!

You don't have to break the bank or blow your budget to enjoy everything this historic city has to offer. In fact, we have a whole post on FREE THINGS TO DO IN DC.

There are plenty of interesting things you can do for free - such as visiting one of the many amazing museums in DC.

Whether you're interested in art, history, science, or culture - we've got something for everyone!

Keep reading to find out our top picks for awesome museums that won't put a dent in your wallet.

Some of these museums do require free timed-entry passes, however.

Some of the Memorials on the National Mall and Tidal Basin have museums as well.

  • Lincoln Memorial: located in the basement next to the bathrooms
  • Jefferson Memorial: located in the basement next to the bookstore and bathrooms
  • FDR Memorial: located in the same building as the bookstore at the entrance
  • The Vietnam Veterans Memorial does not have a museum but the Memorial Fund is raising money to build an education center in the future
  • Washington Monument Museum is at the top of the monument! Timed tickets are required and there is a small fee to reserve those in advance.

Museums Open Late

For more things to do at night in Washington DC explore our master post.

Late Night at the Library of Congress

Unique Museums in DC

There are many larger museums in DC that you'll also find in places like London and NYC (think Natural History Museum or National Gallery of Art) but we love a small museum that you can only find here in Washington, DC.

Mansion on O Museum
  • Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum
  • President Lincoln’s Cottage
  • Woodrow Wilson House
  • The Kreeger Museum
  • The Mansion on O
  • Planet Word
  • National Bonsai & Penjing Museum (at the National Arboretum)
  • Old Korean Legation Museum
  • Dumbarton Oaks Museum
  • Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens

Kid Friendly Museums

For more family-friendly things to do, visit our Things To Do in DC with Kids.

Lego Table at the National Building Museum

These Smithsonian Museums have special sections just for younger visitors. We go into more detail on each museum's kid's options here.

Other great museums in DC to visit with kids are:

Kids also love these museums and you can get in for free with a tourist pass.

Advice from Locals and Visitors

One way we are able to share our insight into Washington, DC is our Washington DC Travel Tips Facebook Group. With over 65K members comprised of locals and visitors, our members share advice and up to the minute information!

This is a popular question and hopefully if you've read this far in the post you kno which museums need tickets.

Many guests answer that the Natural History, Air and Space, and US Holocaust Museum were their favorite.

Groups members report back some of their favorite museums, especially smaller ones that don't get as much recognition!

Renwick Gallery is a Smithsonian museum that doesn't require tickets! It's right next to the White House.

How long to spend at a museum can be very subjective. It depends on how much you are interested in the subject. But it can nice to know what other people are doing at each museum.

About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Follow On Instagram | I'm a historian & tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. I have written for HuffPost Travel and have been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. I've also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. I am the producer of the podcast, Tour Guide Tell All. I am an authority on D.C. history, and have led tours in the city since 2011. I currently resides in DC, but have also lived in London and South Korea, and have traveled to over 28 countries and every US State but Hawaii. I homeschool my 2 children by exploring the plethora of museums in DC. Read More...
Updated: March 28th, 2024
Back to Top