Among all museums in the US, those in Washington are unique because admission is free. The National Mall is surrounded by many interesting museums you can hardly avoid. You may challenge yourself and visit them all or you can pick up depending on your interests. If museum is not your thing, there is an incredible number of memorials to see in Washington, plus the US Capitol, the Library of Congress and the National Archives for example. White House tours are also free, but subject to request through a Congress Member or your Embassy in Washington if you’re a foreigner.
Anyway, when I went to Washington two weeks ago I visited some of these places of interest. If you lack inspiration, here’s a few glimpses of things you may want to see there:
How many times did you see the Capitol’s dome blown away in movies?! Never wondered how it is inside? Well don’t miss you’re chance while in Washington. You can register for a one hour tour to discover some of the rooms and the dome. As you would suspect from the outside, the inside of the dome is beautiful and the visit is quite instructive. I liked it not only because our guide seriously looked like Gabe in The Office US, but because you get a few anecdotes on your way and a better understanding of this place in the end.
This is my favorite place in Washington. The library is incredibly beautiful with its amazing painted and sculpted hall from top to bottom. The walls are full of fantastic quotes and you also get to see the study space and the librarian’s office. I promise it will wake up your inner bookworm! Again, this visit is free and there are also several exhibitions in display.
- Abraham Lincoln Memorial
One of the most famous memorials is also one of the most crowded of course. You will have to brave the stairs and the people to admire Lincoln’s sculpture. It’s huge and impressive as expected!
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
This is a beautiful memorial for President Jefferson. You will find inspirational texts surrounding the statue of Jefferson. I strongly advise to visit this monument at sunset. Then rest on the steps and enjoy a lovely scenery.
- Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Just after the Roosevelt monument, you can walk through many inspirational quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. and discover a huge statue representing him.
This one is a cool museum to do with kids but adults may enjoy the visit too as it is quite instructive and particularly well staged. The museum is divided into various rooms covering everything related to US history: people, transports, food, money, presidents, first ladies, science etc. Next year they should open rooms dedicated to music and Hollywood, which should be even more fun. The big attraction though is the first American flag on display, along with its history and world famous hymn “The Star-spangled Banner”. My favorite spaces were the transports zone which is completely crazy with real cars, trains and ambiance noises ; the Presidents area where you will realise the terrible number of assassinations attempts (and success unfortunately) on American Presidents and deaths while on duty ; and the reconstitution of Julia Child’s kitchen which is fun. However you may skip the first Ladies room which reduces these poor women to fashion and tableware… Don’t forget to pay a visit to the shop where you can find stuff to bring back home, interesting books on politic and old editions of the New York Times.
If you like Master paintings and want to see a lovely building, the Gallery of Art is for you! The museum is vast, so I headed to my favorite painting period only and had a look at American artists which unfortunately could not find a path to my heart. If you don’t know what you may like the most or what you shouldn’t miss I can only invite you to follow the “Director’s Tour”. And if you visit with kids, you may want to follow the “Children’s Tour” For both tours you will find a logo on the panels under the paintings. My highlights and paintings I loved:
This museum displays contemporary Art in a circular (although quite ugly from the outside) building. Yes: hurrah! for once you won’t be lost after only ten minutes! I visited the Masterworks exhibition from the Hishhorn Collection and appreciated these few works:
The Gallery isn’t located around the mall but next to the Verizon Center, downtown. Among the permanent collection you can see portraits of American Presidents and a few works here and there that will grab your attention. Mostly American artists and I must admit I had a hard time trying to relating to these works meaningfully and / or aesthetically. However I really liked works by Horace Pippin who I also found at the Hisshorn Museum. My interest there was rather for the temporary exhibitions which featured jazz photographs by Herman Leonard and various artists in the American Portraiture Today exhibition.
Of course there are many more things to do depending on your interests! And to be honest, my only disappointment was the National Archives. You can see the original constitution there, but in my opinion the rest is not worthing the 30 min queue we had outside and at security check (plus another 30 min queue to see the constitution). As a matter of fact, regarding security check, be aware that most of these places do not allow you to carry food or drink in your bag. Water is accepted sometimes but check before buying a big bottle that may have to throw away.
And because everything is free it means you can spend a little bit on entertainment! The Verizon Center hosts NBA and NHL games so don’t miss the Wizzards, the Mystics or the Caps!
See more pictures from Washington here !