Washington DC is home to numerous world-class museums. It’s a fabulous choice for your next vacation if visiting art exhibits, seeing historic artifacts, and learning about the world around you is your cup of tea. While it can be difficult to choose which museums and galleries to include on your trip itinerary, here we detail five truly outstanding Washington DC museums that are worth a look.

1. The International Spy Museum

Great for kids and adults alike, the International Spy Museum offers a fascinating peek into the world of espionage. Exhibits explore the history of the trade, as well as how it’s employed by contemporary governments. The museum’s phenomenal collection of spy artifacts is the largest in the world.

Upon arrival, you will be given an undercover mission, complete with a new identity and an RFID-enabled badge to use throughout the museum. Explore exhibits that showcase famous spies like Mata Hari and Sir Francis Washington, all while playing along with your undercover assignment; 700 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC) 

2. The National Museum of African American History and Culture

This branch of the Smithsonian Institution, opened after many years of legislative efforts in 2016, showcases the tremendous richness and diversity of African-American culture, as well as the immense struggles the group has collectively faced. The building itself is symbolic, with exhibits on slavery that begin in the basement to illustrate the oppression of the African-American people. One of the most popular museums in Washington DC, it continues eight levels up to represent the resilience and incredible contributions of African-Americans.

Exhibits include Harriet Tubman’s hymnal, Nat Turner’s bible, and works of art by notable African-American greats like Charles Alston and Elizabeth Catlett. Unique pieces on display like Michael Jackson’s notorious fedora are also sure to fascinate you. (Admission is free with time entry tickets; 15th St. and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, DC)

3. The National Archives and Records Administration

No visit to the nation’s capital is complete without a visit to the National Archives and Records Administration. This agency holds some of the United States of America’s most significant documents, like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. In fact, these are typically on display for public viewing in the Rotunda area of the agency’s museum.

The National Archives is much more than just its most famous exhibits, however. Founded by Franklin D. Roosevelt, this American institution is responsible for housing and making available to the public as many as 2 million cubic feet of stored records. From legislative documents to presidential papers and more, the National Archives is among the nation’s most significant repositories. (Admission is free, but appointments are recommended. 701 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington DC) 

4. The National Air and Space Museum

A kid-friendly favorite, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is a mecca of flight technology and one of the most well-known of the Washington DC museums. From its Boeing Milestones of Flight great hall, which features notable air and spacecraft (including Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis) to its many hands-on rotating exhibits, this is a museum for all ages. Here, you can touch a moon rock, sit behind the wheel of a fighter jet, or even learn about Cold War-era satellites and hot air balloons.

A “how things fly” exhibit is perfect for children of all ages and includes interactive demonstrations of the science behind flight. Be sure to check the museum’s website before visiting to get an updated list of exhibits and to learn how ongoing improvements might impact your trip. (655 Jefferson Drive, SW Washington, DC) 

5. The National Gallery of Art

There’s really no place in the world quite like the National Gallery of Art. Whether you are an artist yourself or just love to marvel at the work of the masters, this museum is a can’t-miss stop on any Washington DC museums trip. Works by renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Fra Angelico, El Greco, Titian, Vermeer, Rembrandt, William Blake, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Jan van Eyck, Matisse, Pollock, Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso are just some of the many jaw-dropping pieces included in the Gallery’s permanent collection. 

Rotating exhibits range from lunar photographs to Eastern European cinema to pastels. Be sure to check the Gallery’s website to plan your visit and get up-to-date information on what’s in store. (Located between 3rd and 9th Streets along Constitution Avenue NW Washington, DC) 

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