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Washington, DC

Best of the Smithsonian?

First time to D.C. and the Smithsonian tops our list. If you had limited time, what are your favorite part(s) that we must see? 

10 Answers

top answer by
peggy from Washington, DC

Way too much to see!!! You really have to do your homework and see what each museum offers and select what interests you.

The National Gallery of Art is amazing but very large and very tiring. Select a few exhibits you'd like to see and walk straight for them.

The Pavilion Café located in the National Gallery of Art Garden, is a must see and a perfect place to get a cold drink and a bite to eat. The newest addition to the Garden is a Marc Chagall mosaic called Orphee. It was actually made for a couple he knew who lived in Georgetown (Washington DC) and when they passed on they left it to the Gallery. It is very easy to miss because they have it placed off the beaten path. When facing the Café go to the back right corner and you'll see it off by itself. If you are visiting over the summer, Friday nights are free concerts in the Garden. Very crowded but great music and food or bring your own and it's a hot spot for young professionals.

The Museum of Natural History is fascinating as well as the National Museum of American History. Look these up and see what interests you in both and go to those specific exhibits. My favorite at the American History Museum is Julia Childs kitchen and I love seeing Bunny Rabbit from the Captain Kangaroo Show. Way before your time!!!!

The National Air and Space Museum is probably the most crowded. If nothing else walk through the main lobby where there are airplanes hanging everywhere. It really is a fascinating museum but just like the others, check to see if there is an exhibit that interests you.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has very unusual pieces and many unique video installations. If you enjoy modern art then you have to visit this museum. You can go through in about an hour, it is not a large museum. Be sure to go to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden across the street. It has some very cool pieces and during the summer months you can see Yoko Ono's Wish Tree, one of many around the world. You can place your own wish on the tree. All wishes are collected nightly and at the end of the summer sent to Iceland where they become a part of the Imagine Peace Tower, Videy Island.

The National Portrait Gallery is not located on the National Mall but is an incredible Gallery located in the Chinatown/ Verizon Center area. If you enjoy art galleries, definitely go there. There are always photography exhibits and be sure to visit the top floor where there are some unusual and very modern sculptures and pieces of art.

As I have mentioned in other D.C. questions, the museums close by 7:30PM. The evening is an incredible time to walk to the Monuments. They are so beautiful at night. If you are visiting over the summer, look up the schedule of events on the Mall. There is a free concert or movie every night of the week. It's a fun way to wind down from the days activities.

Have fun!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. National Gallery of Art (restaurant)
  2. Pavilion Café (restaurant)
  3. Georgetown (Washington DC) (neighborhood)
  4. Museum of Natural History (attraction)
  5. National Museum of American History (attraction)
  6. National Air and Space Museum (attraction)
  7. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (attraction)
  8. Imagine Peace Tower, Videy Island (attraction)
  9. National Portrait Gallery (attraction)
  10. Chinatown (restaurant)
  11. Verizon Center (attraction)
5 thanks

answered first by
Tiffany from Corvallis

Ok, so this totally depends on what interests you, so gauge your time accordingly.

Smithsonians/Museums along the National Mall:

  • National Gallery of Art - Get a map and choose the room/rooms that interest you most and check out any special exhibits.  I love the impressionist rooms, but you'll find the only DaVinci painting in the US here and it's worth swinging by. (Good gelato and coffee in the basement)

  • US National Archives & Records Administration - Go early to avoid crowds and see the Magna Carta, US Constitution and Bill of Rights. If there aren't horrible lines, you can be in and out in 10-20 minutes.There are other parts of this museum, but those three are the top priorities on a tight schedule.

  • Museum of Natural History - I think the Hope Diamond and mineral exhibits are the most interesting here, but they also have an amazing dinosaur exhibit, so check out their website ahead of time and see what you'll enjoy best.

  • National Museum of American History - Don't miss the Star Spangled Exhibit on the first floor. It has the actual flag that flew over Ft. McHenry during the War of 1912. Incredible exhibit. Also, the first ladies' dresses exhibit is fun.

  • The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery house the Asian art collection. It's an excellent collection and one of my favorites, but it's all Asian art, so if your interests lie elsewhere, this is one to either see quickly or skip altogether.

  • National Museum of African Art - Like the Freer and Sackler galleries, this is a specialized collection, so it's wonderful to stop in and see, but you can adjust your time to  your interest.

  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden - I personally love this collection, but I also love sculpture. It's not as "popular," but it gets some really interesting exhibits. Walk around it to see outdoor sculptures and duck inside if you have time to see what they have going on.

For a comprehensive list, special events that might coincide with your trip and to look up hours and rotating exhibits, see the Smithsonian website.

5 thanks

answered by
Luke from Atlanta

Museum of Natural History is excellent, and so is the National Air and Space Museum, at least for nerds like me.  

 If you're really into aerospace I have to recommend the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center out by Dulles. The SR71 is worth the trip for those who are interested.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Museum of Natural History (attraction)
  2. National Air and Space Museum (attraction)
  3. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (attraction)
3 thanks

answered by
Linda from Corrales

If you don't make a stop at the Library of Congress, just across the street from the Capitol, you're missing something incredible.  A hidden gem.  Looking down into the reading room makes you think you are looking at the Brain of the World.  

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Library of Congress (attraction)
2 thanks

answered by
Jim from Washington, DC

Smithsonian cannot be done in a day or even two.  Pick 1-2 museums and stick to them.  National Gallery of Art is wonderful but huge. Freer Sackler Gallery of Smithsonian on the south side of the Mall is great smaller museum; very good holdings in Chinese/Japanese/Near Eastern art, plus some 19th c. American, i.e. James McNeil Whistler.  Odd but true:  great American Indian food at Mitsitam Cafe in National Museum of the American Indian, 2 blks north on same side of Mall.  I recommend it; very good.  Don't be snookered by food trucks; they are OK but ordinary comp. to Mitsitam,

Jim Steed

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Smithsonian (attraction)
  2. National Gallery of Art (restaurant)
  3. Freer Sackler Gallery of Smithsonian (attraction)
  4. Mitsitam Cafe (restaurant)
  5. National Museum of the American Indian (attraction)
2 thanks

answered by
Carly from Wisconsin

The National Mall is a great place to start. There is the Lincoln Memorial with the blossom trees, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is a nice walk and interesting quotes along the walls.

The National World War II MemorialWashington Monument and Vietnam War Veteran's Memorial are a must. MLK Memorial is newer to the mall and has a great view of Thomas Jefferson Memorial

As for Museums, they are all great, I would suggest 2 a day to space it out, its a lot of walking and you could spend 2 to 4 hours in each one. There is a newer National Museum Of The American Indian that has many levels and interactive exhibits. The National Museum of American History has different exhibits you can pick and choose from.

While there, we stumbled upon the Albert Einstein Memorial - go inside the building - its free and there is great artwork everywhere! I would suggest the The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to catch a live music show there.

No matter what people tell you Baked & Wired has better cupcakes than Georgetown cupcakes. 

2 thanks

answered by
nancy from Texas

All very good answers but no one mentioned the National Zoological Park, which is part of the Smithsonian although not located with most of them.  It's not a huge zoo but laid out nicely and it has pandas!!!   You can't go wrong visiting, IMO.  

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. National Zoological Park (attraction)
2 thanks

answered by
Tristan from Florida

Two worth checking out

1. National Air and Space Museum was really cool. I loved all things NASA when I was younger so it was really interesting for me to come and actually see ships that had been in space. 

2. Museum of Natural History- I loved seeing the animals and there have been a few movies that have been filmed here! Seeing dinosaur bones is really cool, they were huge!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. National Air and Space Museum (attraction)
  2. Museum of Natural History (attraction)
2 thanks

answered by
Margot from Washington, DC

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. National Museum of African Art (attraction)
  2. Museum of Natural History (attraction)
  3. MLK Memorial (attraction)
1 thanks

answered by
Georgia from Long Island (New York)

all the answers are great- and truly, it really depends on what you are interested in.  even if you are strolling through, I wouldn't count on seeing more than 2 a day. National Museum of American History has the most variety, from First Lady gowns to Dorothy's slippers, to Julia Child's kitchen to the history of transportation.  National Air and Space Museum is just as interesting but on the opposite side of the Mall.  either of these can use up most of your energy standing.  for a bite I am partial to the Pavilion Café

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. National Museum of American History (attraction)
  2. National Air and Space Museum (attraction)
  3. Pavilion Café (restaurant)
1 thanks

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