5 Art Museums | DC Museum Guide

There are dozens of museums in Washington DC, so many that it can be overwhelming to decide which ones to visit. The great news is that many of these museums are free so even if you want to pack a bunch into your trip, it won’t cost you a ton of money. The bad news is most of them are pretty large so you’ll be spending a good chunk of time in each of them. I had planned to share a master museum guide broken into three sections but the post got so long, I knew I wouldn’t keep you past art. So today begins a three-part series diving into Washington DC museums, not all of them but our own personal recommendations.

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National Gallery of Art
For a wide collection of art from every period, media and artist, visit the National Gallery of Art. It’s a phenomenal collection that includes around 4,000 paintings, 3,000 sculptures, 70,000 prints, 31,000 drawings,15,000 photos and more. Notable artists the museum carries pieces from include Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Degas, Cézanne, van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Picasso, Matisse and more. Enjoy the sculpture garden, take a tour of the museum and have lunch at the Pavilion Cafe. The Cafe is located within a garden next to the museum and has a Metro sign like the ones you’ll see in Paris that gets me all nostalgic.

 The Pavilion Cafe outside of the National Gallery of Art

The Pavilion Cafe outside of the National Gallery of Art

National Museum of African Art
One of the 17 Smithsonian Museums in DC  the National Museum of African Art strictly focuses on African art and culture. According to their website, the museum “initially focused on the traditional arts of sub-Saharan Africa….but broadened its scope after 1987 to include both modern and contemporary artwork” as well. It was the first US museum to do so. The museum has collections of everything from paintings to mosaics, sculptures and architectural treasures.

National Portrait Gallery
Also included in our Free Things to Do Post, the National Portrait Gallery is another Smithsonian museum but located in Chinatown, away from the tourist rumble of the National Mall. The museum features portraits and portrait collections of celebrities, athletes, presidents, political figures and more. They offer a variety of tours that range from a half hour long to an entire day. See portraits of Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Andy Warhol, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson and more.

Phillips Collection
For those interested in French impressionism (*ahem* me), American modernism and contemporary art, the Phillips Collection has more than 4,000 pieces of artwork. The museum has artwork from Cézanne, Picasso, van Gogh, George O’Keeffe, Degas, and more. The museum also has a collection of over 1,000 photographs. It’s a much smaller and intimate space compared to many of the Smithsonian museums and less likely to be overrun by groups in case you’d like a more quiet art viewing experience.

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Comprised completely of American art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to collections that span the last three-hundred years. From photography to African American art to video games, the museum has an eclectic and vast collection of work. This museum does have a large collection of art so if you’d like a little direction, we recommend hopping on one of their tours especially the Collection Highlights Tour.

Is there a special art museum or gallery you like to visit while in Washington DC? What is your favorite type of art?

 The National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art