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3 Must-See Museums in Washington DC and How To Visit

From the Phillips Collection to the Smithsonian, these top spots are worth visiting.

Inside a Washington DC museum
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From modern art to the art of journalism, and from natural history to the history of spying—Washington DC's museums have it all. Read on for the best ways to visit the famous Smithsonian collections, plus other unique exhibits across the capital.

1. The Smithsonian

A huge elephant in the foyer of The Smithsonian in Washington DC.
Inside the Natural History Museum.Foto: Tinnaporn Sathapornnanont / Shutterstock

For diverse exhibits.

Found around Washington DC, the Smithsonian Institution is made up of 19 free museums, many of which are must-sees set at the National Mall, including the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History, and the National Museum of Natural History.

How to Visit: For an in-depth experience at a Smithsonian museum, book a small-group or private tour with a guide whose commentary will bring the exhibits to life. Also keep in mind that while you can visit any Smithsonian museum for free, timed passes are required for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (reservable online with a limited number of same-day walk-up passes available on weekdays only).

2. The International Spy Museum

A big exhibit at the The International Spy Museum in Washington DC.
At the International Spy Museum.Foto: DavidNNP / Shutterstock

For spy gear.

This perennial favorite for kids and adults is home to the world’s largest collection of espionage-related artifacts.

How to Visit: Save time by buying your ticket in advance to The International Spy Museum. It's open daily, but hours vary seasonally, so check before you go. Plan to spend about two hours exploring the interactive exhibits.

3. The Phillips Collection

The exterior of The Phillips Collection in Washington DC.
Outside the Phillips Collection.Foto: Orhan Cam / Shutterstock

For art lovers.

America's first modern art museum, the Phillips Collection houses more than 4,000 pieces by Matisse, Van Gogh, Diebenkorn, and other masters.

How to Visit: Open Tuesday through Sunday, this collection is easily reachable on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. Consider downloading the museum’s free app to guide your visit, or pick up an interactive Discovery Pack at the admission desk if you're visiting with kids.

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