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Best 5 Washington DC Museums

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Washington DC has dozens of wonderful museums to appeal to a wide range of interests. From large publicly funded institutions to small historic homes, you’ll learn a great deal and find some welcome surprises when you visit many of Washington DC’s museums. To help you plan a great visit to the nation’s capital, here are my personal favorites.

Do you have favorites of your own? Share your experience.

1. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Museum

© Smithsonian Institution
There is something for everyone at this museum. Natural history appeals to all ages and there are so many artifacts that you can’t possibly see them all in one visit. The dinosaur exhibits are fascinating and great for kids. The Family Hall of Mammals is especially fun to explore as well as the Sant Ocean Hall. I love the cinematography and stunning scenery in the IMAX films and wish I had time to see them all.

Visiting Tips: This is the most popular Washington DC museum for families. Arrive early in the morning to avoid crowds. Purchase IMAX tickets in advance or as soon as you arrive. If you are visiting with kids, be sure to see the Discovery Room where there are lots of hands-on activities. Allow at least 2-3 hours.

2. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

© NASM
This fabulous museum gives visitors a close-up view of air and space travel with 22 exhibition galleries, displaying hundreds of artifacts including the original Wright 1903 Flyer, the "Spirit of St. Louis," and the Apollo 11 command module. The IMAX films and the Planetarium are great for all ages.

Visiting Tips: This is one of the busiest Washington DC museums. Arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds. Purchase IMAX or Planetarium tickets in advance or as soon as you arrive. Allow at least 2-3 hours. There’s also an annex location near Dulles International Airport - The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which can be easier to get to from the suburbs and is usually not as crowded as the National Mall location.

3. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

© Getty Images
The museum is a memorial to the millions of Jews who died during the Nazi regime in Germany during World War II. The exhibits tell the horrific story of genocide and teach the dangers of hatred and prejudice. Visiting this museum is an emotional experience so be sure that you have enough time and stamina. The permanent exhibits are not recommended for children under 11 years old. There is a separate exhibit for ages 8 and up that tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of a young boy.

Visiting Tips: Free Timed Passes are required for the permanent exhibit. Timed passes are distributed for the same day on a first-come first-served basis. Allow 2-3 hours.

4. Newseum

© Newseum
The six-level, high-tech and interactive attraction traces the history of news reporting from the 16th century to the present day. My favorites exhibits are the Pulitzer Prize Photo Gallery (shows the award winning images captured since the 1940s), Today’s Front Pages (shows 80 newspaper front pages from around the world, updated daily) and the 9/11 Gallery (looks at how the media responded to the tragic event). There are 15 theaters including a 4D immersive experience. You could easily spend most of the day here watching the footage of decades of historic events.

Visiting Tips: Start at the top level and work your way down to the ground level. This is a fascinating attraction and well worth the $20 entrance fee. Allow at least 4 hours.

5. Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens

© Mount Vernon Ladies Association
The home of George Washington is often overlooked by visitors because it is located outside of the city. It is a “must see” attraction. If you visited years ago, it is worth a second look. The estate is set along the shores of the Potomac River and is the most scenic tourist attraction in the Washington, DC area. The historic mansion is restored and decorated as it was when Washington lived there. The museum and education center features 25 state-of-the-art galleries and theaters that tell the story of Washington's life. This is a great attraction and has plenty of interactive activities for the whole family.

Visiting Tips: Arrive early to avoid crowds. Allow at least 4 hours.

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