Friday Question of the Day – What’s Your Favorite Museum in DC?


It’s been a long time since we’ve talked museums and since it’s one of my favorite things about living in the District – what’s your favorite museum? Smithsonian and non Smithsonian? Favorite one that you don’t mind paying for?

86 Comment

  • Newseum, by far. It’s expensive, particularly compared to the free Smithsonians, but it’s amazing. The Pulitzer prize photo exhibit is life-changing, and the other permanent and temp exhibits are always gripping.

    • +1 and +++1 on the Pulitzer exhibit. The photo where the photographer later killed himself after taking still breaks my heart.

    • skj84

      +100 on The Pulitzer exhibit. It brought me to tears the first time I visited. Same with the 9/11 exhibit. Seeing the radio antene from the North Tower took my breath away.

    • A lot of watered down history. The Tim Russert shrine is reason enough to skip it.

      • Obviously you haven’t been there in a while. The Tim Russert exhibit is long gone. Same space now has a cool exhibit on newspaper reporting the day after Lincoln was shot.

    • +1. I went to one of those night time cocktails at the museum events there. Very strange to be buzzed, and then walk through there. Also it has a great view.

    • If you have a Bank of America credit card, you can get in for free the first weekend of every month. Take advantage!

      • HOLY MOLY you just made my day!! Can’t believe my BOA credit card is actually good for something!! Thank you!

  • Museum of Crime and Punishment. So very well done and so much more to see than the spy museum.

  • National Building Museum. Great for kids and adults.

    • I love the National Building Museum – the tour and history of the building itself is my favorite part! I always recommend it to out of town guests looking for something different.

  • Renwick Gallery. It’s an amazing building with some really great art. I can’t wait until it reopens this November.

  • You can never go wrong with the National Gallery of Art (East and West wings). I look forward to the renovated East wing: it is one of my favorite buildings in DC.

    • One of the most overrated art museums in the country and poorly laid out. Hopefully the Corcoran merger will help the collection and remodeling will make the East Wing more functional. The basement is liek a shopping mall. The fancy cafe should be removed in the old wing to improve the traffic pattern.

      Terrible place for kids. The Portrait Gallery/American Art museum is one of the few art museums where I’d take children. the pop culture emphasis and the Kogod atrium make this much better for kids.

    • +1. I love the National Gallery of Art. Beautiful space and so much to see. I also like the free concerts you can occasionally see there as well.

  • The Phillips Collection (honorable mention goes to the Newseum)

  • Though not really a museum, the Library of Congress Jefferson Building is my favorite building to visit in DC. The interior is just spectacular.

  • The Hirshhorn. They always seem to have something that’s weird and surprising and that challenges me in just the right way. The outdoor sculpture garden is great, much less busy than the other sculpture garden, and recessed and therefore quiet. The museum has the lowest attendance of the Smithsonians, so it also feels like it’s the scrappy underdog.

    • This too is my favorite. The view from their third floor balcony is incredible.

    • +1, the temporary exhibitions at the Hirschhorn have been the high-points of my museum-going in DC.

      Another shout-out to the Newseum while I’m at it. Really fantastic, I always tell tourists to go when random people ask me what they should do downtown.

    • +1 πŸ™‚

    • I like the sculpture garden. I’ve been weirded out by too many of their interior exhibits, though. LOL I’m an artist myself, but I’ve seen the stuff that nightmares are made of in there!

    • I hadn’t been to the Hirshhorn until recently. I liked the concepts a lot, but if you’re viscerally affected by the exhibits you can’t get out of it until you get all the way around. In a way, it’s really great that you’re completely immersed, but if you have panic attacks it’s probably not the place for you.

  • Free: Smithsonian Portrait Gallery/Museum of American Art, National Gallery of Art, and Freer/Sackler (especially for the free Asaisn films and concerts).

    Paid: Newseum, Corcoran, Phillips

    • +1 The portrait gallery by far is the best museum with the unique traits of its costs, its beautiful courtyard, and the fact that you are surrounded by food, coffee, and other buildings unlike the (reasonably priced) food desert of the National Mall.

      • SouthwestDC

        It’s also nice that it’s open until 7pm. I don’t think there’s another art museum that’s regularly open that late.

        • Yep, I love the National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum’s hours (11:30-7 daily) — nice to have the option of stopping by after work, which (for me, and probably for most people) is impossible with all of the museums that close at 5.

      • Agree–National Portrait Gallery is my favorite. I can pop in for 15 minutes, or roam for 2 hours. Love the mix of historical portraits and cool popular cultural stuff. My current fav thing is to go stand in front of the portrait of the four women Supreme Court Justices—it is an amazing thing.

  • binpetworth

    Dumbarton Oaks. Beautiful setting, very few visitors, and that pre-Columbian gold in the round glass room always blows me away.

  • Ally

    Hirshhorn for art. Natural History Museum for everything else. I’m a total rock & fossil nerd.

  • I can spend hours at the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles. Amazing, beautiful machines.

  • Freer/Sackler Gallery – the exhibits are always quite stunning.

    • Stunning, but frequently visitor-hostile in their presentation and impenetrably academic. When the rent-a-cop security is more friendly and engaging with visitors than your staff, that’s a problem.

      And would it kill them to keep up with basic maintenance, like painting the walls?

      Sorry for the negativity. I love the collection, but hate the way the place is run.

  • It is not a museum but Roosevelt island and Belle Haven Marina are hidden gems that give you great views of the best view of the memorials and bridges!

  • Best: Definitely the Natural History Museum, hands down.
    Worst: Crime & Punishment museum. For a museum you pay to get into, I’ve never seen so many display plaques with spelling errors and just bad copy-editing. Waste of money!

    • True, but the collection on display is a least much than the Spy Museum. Went there once on a deeply discounted ticket and still don’t feel I got my money’s worth.

    • “I’ve never seen so many display plaques with spelling errors and just bad copy-editing.” Hahaha — I’d better stay away!

    • I guess they’re trying to mimic the style of police reports?
      I vowed never to go to that place after they were using black men in jumpsuits to advertise it. Not that I was particularly interested in a glorified version of our screwed up justice system anyway.

  • 1. National Museum of Natural History (but I am biased because I spent a summer there doing my thesis research and got to explore all the back rooms); and 2. Dumbarton Oaks. The grounds and the research library are just too cool. The National Gallery is great too if you can get there before the tour groups start arriving.

  • – Newseum! It may be expensive (from a DC point of view) but the tickets are valid for 2 days, and you may want to use those 2 days if you decide to see everything.
    – Dumbarton Oaks Museum: Free, quiet, totally out of the touristic ways, and the best collection of precolombian and Byzantine art in DC.
    – Hillwood Estate: OK… this is not technically a museum, or at least not only a Museum: Great collection of French 18th century decorative Arts (Some of the tapestries even come from the French city where I grew up: Beauvais!), world-class Russian Imperial Art, enclosed in one of the most gorgeous garden in DC (Azaleas are in peak bloom right now, don’t miss it).
    – Udvar Hazy Center: Because nothing is better than this place to get your out-of-town visitors speechless, jaw dropping in front of a space shuttle πŸ˜‰

    Special mention to the Smithsonian Institution: Where in the world can you find such a high density/quality/variety of free world-class museums?!?

  • Portrait Gallery, hands down!

  • The Kreeger! It is far and away my favorite in DC. Definitely not super easy to get to, but worth the trip.

    • Yes! I remember trying to get there, walking from Tenleytown Metro… but it was worth the long walk! πŸ˜‰

    • I’ve never been to the Kreeger, but it’s on my list. Tell me, has the whole house been converted to galleries? Or have parts of it been left as they were designed for residence purposes? I like residential architecture– kitchens and bathrooms and whatnot. πŸ™‚

      • It has largely been left as it was designed as I understand….that being said the Kreegers truly designed it as an arts space. Their dining area is called the “Monet Room” and has about a dozen spectacular Monets. The kitchen/bathrooms weren’t open. It also has a stellar outdoor sculpture garden. I was mostly there for work events so didn’t get the official tour.

      • Then you should definitely come visit us at the Heurich House Museum in Dupont Circle. Our interiors are intact from 1894…like a time capsule!

  • Becks

    The Natural History Museum. Hands down! It has everything! Mummies, dinosaurs, gems, and bugs! I could spend days in the mineralogy exhibit; and have!

  • Portrait Gallery even though I sometimes never get past the atrium. This is not really a museum but a real gem-Kenilworth Aquatic gardens. Go when the lillies are in full bloom. Its absolutely stunning. Walk out on the boardwalk to the river. So beautiful. And lots of turtles!

  • National Gallery of Art and the Freer/Sackler Galleries.

  • Natural History across the board. I can go there pretty much every weekend. The American Indian Museum has the best building, but the collection (and especially the way it’s laid out– very confusing) is meh for my taste.
    For stately homes type places, Hillwood House. Love the Russian Imperialist art, and of course the gardens.
    Also, Building Museum. Every city has stately homes, and natural history, and art. Our Building Museum is just a little different.

  • National Gallery of Art and Portrait Gallery are awesome, and I’ll echo Library of Congress – Jefferson Building is always interesting and inspiring.

  • The Textile Museum, though I haven’t been to check out their new location at GW

  • National Building is the most interesting building inside and out. The Portrait Gallery/American Art museum is surprisingly unknown and always impresses visitors. Sackler/Freer is another “sleeper” and even people who aren’t big on Asian art find it interesting. Phillips is easily the best of the paid museum–well organized, coherent collection.

  • skj84

    So my one of my favorite things about DC is the access to so many wonderful museums at no cost.
    Favorite Free: American History, Air and Space, Portrait Gallery, Hirshhorn/Sculpture Garden.

    Paid: Newseum, Hillwood Estates, Phillips Collection.

  • Phillips Collection. I received a membership as a gift from family when I moved here, and it’s been my favorite ever since.

  • Spy Museum!

  • The National Postal Museum!

  • Tsar of Truxton

    Newseum is the best by far. I am surprised no one has said the Holocaust Museum though, as it is quite well done (but perhaps too depressing for consideration). The Smithsonians are pretty terrible if you are over 10 years old. I really don’t get the fascination with the Portrait Gallery either. It is just a bunch of paintings of old dudes that you read about in history class as a kid. Nothing really exciting about that if you ask me.

    • It is incredibly well-done, but I have absolutely no desire to return precisely because it’s so depressing. I don’t think I would take away much on subsequent visits.

    • I love the Portrait Gallery for the modern art wing, the portraits of John Waters, LL Cool J and Stephen Colbert and the lovely courtyard.

    • SouthwestDC

      Have you been to the American Art side of the Portrait Gallery? The folk art is about as far from “paintings of old dudes” as you can get. I also love the top floor with all the cases of sculptures and daguerreotypes hidden away in drawers. I could spend a whole day just in that area.

  • Freer/Sackler, hands down. No crowds, great space, great exhibits, great events.

  • Free: Hirshorn Museum
    Paid: National Museum of Women in the Arts (I swear the building alone is worth the visit. It’s stunning).
    Outside of DC: Udvar-Hazy Center

  • The Postal Museum blew my mind the first time I went, and I can spend hours looking through the stamp collection. Beautifully designed and in an amazing location if you don’t want to be on the Mall.
    The Holocaust Museum is perhaps the most well thought out, well-designed museum I’ve ever been to. It’s not a light visit, but it is incredibly educational and fascinating, and I love the fact that there’s only one path to move through all of history there.
    As for paid museums, I loved the National Geographic Museum’s exhibits last year, especially the photography. The food exhibit earlier this year wasn’t the best, but I’m excited to see what comes next.

  • biased opinion: Postal museum, because I worked on it
    unbiased opinion for paid: Newseum, and Building Museum is a runner up
    free: The Hirshhorn

  • saf

    Building Museum

  • The Phillips Collection!

  • African Art Museum

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