Smithsonian Museums, Washington D.C.
You could easily spend your entire trip just looking through all of these museums - there are many more than most people know about. Besides the big favorites like the Natural History Museum and the National Air and Space Museum, there are the Museum of African Art, the Design Museum, the Portrait Gallery, the Postal Museum, and more.
One of my favorites was the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where you can find modern and contemporary artwork by the likes of Brancusi, Jackson Pollock, Thomas Hart Benton, and Louise Bourgeois. Admission to all the museums is free and they're open every day except Christmas.
One of the obligatory stops on your Washington tour will no doubt be the Smithsonian Museum. It is impressive, for sure, and has a fame of being the one of the most popular museum attractions in the world, right up there with the Mona Lisa. One of the star attractions of the Smithsonian has to be the Hope Diamond and the diamond collection, they are stunning!
The star of the show is the Hope Diamond (45.5 carats). It was donated to the Smithsonian in 1958 by Harry Winston. The Hope has a long history of ownership and an equally long and often difficult to believe reputation for bringing terrible misfortune to those who have owned it. Many of these tales have been established to be barely believable if not outright false.
I definitely recommend that you take a good look at the diamonds, the collection is exceptional. That room is somewhat dark, which is deliberate, to bring out the amazing properties of the diamonds. The Hope Diamond, for example is a blue diamond, that gives off a reddish hue when exposed to light.
Once you have struggled with the crowds gasping at the diamonds I would recommend that you go back into the minerals and geology exhibit, it is far less crowded and is an amazing collection. You will get an exhibit of each of the elements and an explanation of why adding a few atoms of this or that makes quartz (for example) look totally different. It is a well laid out, well described exhibit that you can enjoy quite slowly.
Significantly, it includes a collection of 16,850 distinct meteorites.
Definitely don't miss this one!
The Smithsonian Institution is truly amazing, and with so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to know which ones you most want to visit during your time in Washington, D.C. When I went, my friends and I went to the Air and Space Museum, the Art museum, spent almost a whole day at the Natural History Museum, and then regretted that we didn't have more time at this museum, our favorite, the National Museum of American History.
Whether you're a history buff or not, there will be something to interest you at this museum. Into fashion? They have a whole collection of all of the First Lady's inaugural gowns. Like classic movies? They have the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in the Wizard of Oz. Is Abraham Lincoln your favorite president? They have a whole area devoted to him, including his suit and his signature hat. Are you a Seinfeld fan? They have the Puffy Shirt there. Play with Barbie or G.I. Joe growing up? They have originals. They have artifacts from all of the wars, George Washington's uniform from the Revolutionary War even, the original Star Spangled Banner, and so much more that we didn't get to see!
There's truly something that anyone in your group would enjoy seeing at this museum, so don't overlook it next time you're making the difficult choice of which Smithsonian to visit.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is held in the two weeks around 4th of July. The whole area immediately adjacent to the Smithsonian will be filled with great exhibits, performances. (please see the website for schedules)
The Festival celebrates the cultural heritage of the world. You will have wonderful exhibits about dancing, folk arts, eating, cooking. One exhibit, for example, that i remember was particularly well done, was the Silk Road exhibit where they showed items from the places that were along what used to be the Silk Road. It was fascinating.
There are plenty of food concessions and prices are fairly reasonable. I have also found some great photo opportunities at this festival in previous years and sometimes there are some real interesting things available for sale.
It is especially important that you stay well hydrated. For example, this year (2012), temperatures in Washington in the first few days around the start of the Festival were close to 100F, so make sure not to over-exert yourself and drink LOTS of fluids.
The Sackler Gallery, which shares the building with the Freer Gallery, is the Smithsonian's specialized museum in Asian art. This covers both the near and far east. In my own experience their collections of Egyptian and Islamic art are exceptional. There is a section dedicated to China and Korea, which usually features ceramics. Their Japanese art is heavy on graphics and illustration. Their Islamic collections feature a section on Mughal India, metalworking, manuscripts, and a divine collection of calligraphy.
Another section of the Gallery features American painter James Whistler. The only connection I can think of it is his famous decoration of the Peacock room in London, which is replicated at the museum.
This museum is one of the smaller ones on the Mall, it has always had great exhibits that are tastefully displayed, well lit and well explained. Check their websites, the exhibits tend to change often. This is one of the parts of the Smithsonian I recommend highly.
Hours- 1030 to 5 daily (except Christmas Day)
Security- your bags will be checked before entering the building.
Photography (with flash) is permitted in all areas of the museum except as noted.
Gift Shop- this is one of the best places to pick up fantastic gifts!
This is a wonderful museum; I have made several visits and seen new things each time. Truly, the "Museum of American History", this Smithsonian museum houses: Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz, and original Dumbo ride from Disneyland, the living room set from "All in the Family", artifacts from American Presidents, the hat Lincoln was wearing when he was shot at Ford's Theatre, the original Kermit the Frog, a faithful reproduction of Julia Child's kitchen, displays on transportation, and the "Star Spangled Banner" - the actual flag flown over Ft. McHenry which inspired the song by Francis Scott Key which later became our National Anthem. How much more American can you get?? All of this, and so much more - you cannot see it all in one day. Don't even try - take it little by little and marvel as you go along.
There are many themed gift shops if your mind should turn towards souvenirs or Christmas shopping.
As with the other Smithsonian Museums here in DC, admission is free. There are many donation boxes throughout the museum if you should feel the urge to assist financially.
Smithsonian National Museum of Art
4th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565 * (202) 737-4215 * http://www.nga.gov/
One of the Smithsonian's most fabulous of art galleries and museums. Always a fascinating gallery on exhibit from ancient or historic world to the modern era. One of my favorite places to visit in D.C. Two exhibits I caught on 2/17/09: Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age : From the 17th century comes an exquisite collection of over 48 paintings in a new genre, "the cityscape emerged" which was fostered by the booming economy of the Dutch Republic and its affluent urbanites. Presented in these themes are images of towns and cities with expressions of enormous civic pride. In addition to the paintings are 23 maps, atlases, illustrated books, prints, demonstrating this new genre. Wide-angle panoramas showing the urban skyline with its fortifications, windmills, steeples to renderings of daily life along the canals. Featured are Jacob van Ruisdael's celebrated "Haarlem with the Bleaching Fields" (ca. 1670-1675), Gerrit Berckheyde, Aelbert Cuyp, Jan van der Heyden, Jan van Goyen, Hendrick Vroom, Pieter Saenredam, and Jan Steen. Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
Pompeii and the Roman Villa Exhibit 2/17/09
The second exhibit I visited brought back memories of my Archaeology days and wanderings in Pompeii. What a blast from the past, literally. Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture from around the Bay of Naples
Archaeology and Art from the first century BC displaying the picturesque Bay of Naples which was culturally known as a retreat in B.C. for vacationing emperors, senators, and other prominent Romans. Inside their lavish seaside villas under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, treasures abound flamboyantly portraying leisure, art, life, reading, writing, exercise, painting, sculptures, and decorative arts ... enjoyment of their sensuous gardens and views, entertaining house guests and frolicking in the sun. Artists of the region painted murals on the walls, mosaics, paintings, luxury arts, and sculptures. Some of these recent archaeological discoveries are for the first time on display in the U.S. A spectacular 30 minute film is also presented telling the history of life and destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. An excellent, not to be missed exhibit. Rating: 5 stars out of 5.
Having visited Liang Bua, the site where their fossilized remains were found, we took a special interest in the display of homo floresiensis at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. This small-sized human species lived on the island Flores in Indonesia and became extinct as recently as 17,000 years ago. Because of their small size they are nicknamed the Flores Hobbit. The Smithsonian shows a reconstruction of what they may have looked like, and places them on the human evolutionary tree just one step below ourselves, homo sapiens, together with homo neanderthalensis and homo heidelbergensis.
Contrary to what was suggested in Flores, the Smithsonian does not classify the Flores Hobbit as homo sapiens having suffered dwarfism, but as a homo species in its own right.
The National Museum of Natural History was the first Smithsonian museum to open back in 1858. At that time, it was housed in the Smithsonian building (i.e. The Castle), and it moved to its current location in 1911. It is the most visited museum in North America, and the most visted natural history museum in the world. Its gem and mineral collection is especially famous for housing the Hope Diamond. With an estimated value of over US$ 200 million, this dark blue diamond is probably the most famous rock in the world.
With so many museums to choose from in Washington, I hadn't planned on going to this one. To be honest, dinosaur bones, large gems and stuffed animals don't impress me much. However, I changed my mind after seeing there was a butterfly pavilion we could walk through - so I guess it would be fair to say there's something for everyone in that museum! As with all Smithsonian museums, the National Museum of Natural History is open daily (10:00 am-5:30 pm, 7:30 pm in the summer) except for Christmas Day, and admission is free. There is, however, an access fee for the butterfly pavilion ($6), but since we hadn't paid for anything thus far on that day I really didn't mind paying for it. I very much enjoyed walking though the Pavilion and taking pictures of all the exotic butterflies and plants. I could have stayed there forever, but the tropical heat eventually had the best of me!
The Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum complex and research center, and some of the best museums I have ever visited.
Museums in Washington DC include:
Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, Arts and Industries Building, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of African Art, National Museum of American History (Behring Center), National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, National Postal Museum, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian American Arts Museum and its Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution Building (the Castle).
I only had a chance to visit 3 of the museums listed, so budget your time and plan on what you want to see most. It would probably take a whole week to see all of these museums. All Smithsonian museums in Washington DC have free admission. Check the website for hours.
Qhapaq nan: The Way of the Inka
American Indian Museum
Some of the engineering accomplishments of the Inca in building roads, civil construction.
Treaties: Great Nations in Their Own Words
American Indian Museum
Sept 21,2014- 2016
The treaties concluded between the US and the native american tribes.
Natural History Museum
Unintended consequences of climate change.
Chinese Narrative Painting
April- October 2013
Central American Ceramcs
American Induan Museum
This museum features an eclectic but very interesting collection of American artifacts. Unfortunately, the entire west wing was closed at the time of our visit (scheduled to reopen completely in 2017), which is too bad since it holds the American culture collection. However, we did get to see the original American flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1812 and the museum's collection of First Ladies' dresses. We also very much enjoyed the exhibition "The Price of Freedom", which explains US involvement in wars throughout history, from the Revolutionary War that started in 1775 to the recent war against terror. The segment that explains the role of the media in the Vietnam War was especially interesting.
As with all Smithsonian museums, admission to the National Museum of American History is free, and the museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm (7:30 pm in the summertime).
The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are both housed in a rather striking Greek Revival building that used to house the US Patent Office. When we stepped into the main lobby, the austere atmosphere of the place didn't exactly please me, but since admission is free, we decided to have a quick look around. We went straight up to the 3rd floor of the National Portrait Gallery to see the twentieth-century Americans collection. We also toured around the "Bravo" and "Champions" exhibitions, which are dedicated to art performers and sports figures. All in all, I thought it was an interesting way to quickly go over American history, like a visual end-of-the-century review, but I wouldn't compare it with the National Portrait Gallery in London. However, the building and its brand new courtyard, which were recently restored for a total cost of $300 million (which went a "little" over the initial budget of $42 million) are definitely worth checking out.
When British scientist James Smithson died in 1829, he left most of his fortune to his nephew who died without an heir 6 years later. Smithson's fortune was then bequeathed to the United States, with the express wish that it would be used to establish an institution in the nation's capital with the goal of increasing and diffusing knowledge. How exactly to honor the man's will and put this large and unexpected sum of money to good use became a hot topic for debate at Congress, but eventually the Smithsonian Institution was founded in 1846. there are now 11 museums located in the National Mall area (for a total of 18 in D.C. alone), all of which are open to visitors free of charge.
The first building to be erected was the Smithsonian Castle, designed by James Renwick, the architect behind St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC, The red sandstone Victorian building opened in 1855, and it is now home to the Smithsonian Institution Visitors Center (open daily from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm). On top of getting all the information you need to plan your visit to the Smithsonian museums, you can also visit the crypt room, where James Smithson is laid to rest in 1904. Smithson was originally buried just outside of Genoa, Italy, but his remains were brought to Washington by none other than Alexander Graham Bell.
National Museum of American History. There are great exhibits on the history of television, technology, transportation, agriculture, social and political history, labor, photography, music, and many more. Exhibits are added and closed frequently.
One of the more popular exhibits in the museum is the Star-Spangled Banner - the flag that inspired the National Anthem and which flew over Fort McHenry in 1814 during the War of 1812.
The museum is open daily except December 25 from 10 AM - 5:30 PM. Admission is free.