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The Smithsonian Institution, which includes museums, research centers, and education centers, is by far one of the best parts of visiting Washington, DC. In fact, it has 21 libraries, 19 museums, nine research centers, and a zoo. With the exception of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, you can enter each building of the Smithsonian for free. This provides a fantastic resource for visitors who don’t want to break the bank!

One of the best ways to see the Smithsonian Institution is by booking a spot on one of USA Guided Tours’ amazing DC tours. That way, you won’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, and you’ll learn a lot of history from your expert tour guide. USA Guided Tours passionately offers a full range of guided tours – including bus and walking tours, along with private or group tours – currently offered throughout DC and the surrounding areas, and tours in New York City.

Overview of the Smithsonian Museums in DC

With a whopping 19 museums to see, it’s vital that you plan your time appropriately. Most visitors will only make it to a few museums, and we definitely encourage you to add the National Museum of African American History and Culture to your trip.

Other highlights of the Smithsonian include:

  • National Museum of American History
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • National Museum of Natural History
    • If you were to go to the four main museums that we’ve recommended, you’d get to take in the history of the natural world, space, American history, and African American History, all in one trip!

      National Museum of Natural History contains thousands of years of animal exhibits and education

      Are the Smithsonian Museums free, you might ask? As answered above, they absolutely are, unless you plan a visit to the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Every museum has been built “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” and there are no payment hurdles in anyone’s way.

      The Smithsonian Museums are such wide-ranging in their depth and rich historical content, our local tour guides included several in our list of the top 15 museums to visit in Washington DC.

      The National Museum of African American History and Culture 

      The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is one of the Smithsonian’s newest attractions. Although it was established in 2003, it wasn’t ready for visitors until its grand opening in 2016. It is the largest museum dedicated to African American history and culture in the world and offers a stunning collection of artifacts.

      The NMAAHC may have taken more than 100 years to go from its original conception to opening its doors, but the wait just made it even better. During its first full year in 2017, it quickly climbed the ranks to become the fourth most-visited of all the Smithsonian museums.

      One of the most significant features of this museum is its special exhibitions. For instance, the “Power of Place” allows visitors to learn about the many different ways that African American identities and communities have formed throughout the nation. An emphasis is placed not only on geography but also on imagination and memory. There are 10 place studies in this exhibit, and they show everything from the race riots in Tulsa to the birth of hip hop in the Bronx.

      The National Museum of African American History and Culture

      To gain a deeper understanding of everything the NMAAHC has to offer and more, you can book our African American History & Culture Tour. We’ll take you on a three-and-a-half-hour tour that includes guided stops at the White House (outside only), Black Lives Matter Plaza, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial, the Emancipation Memorial, the Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Statue, and the African American Civil War Memorial. After which, you can take in the splendor of the NMAAHC in the self-guided final stop.

      The cost of the tour from USA Guided Tours is $89 per adult and $79 per child. Getting into the NMAAHC is free, although you’ll need a timed entry ticket, which is included. The location of the NMAAHC is 1400 Constitution Ave NW in Washington, DC, and it is open from 12 pm to 5:30 pm on Mondays, and from 10 am to 5:30 pm on Tuesday – Sunday. The only day the NMAAHC closes is Christmas.   

      Other Smithsonian Museums in DC

      You could literally spend weeks exploring the museums of the Smithsonian. With 19 spots to choose from, the most difficult thing you’ll have to do is narrow down your options.

      Some other noteworthy choices include:

      • National Portrait Gallery
      • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
      • Smithsonian American Art Museum
        • The National Portrait Gallery contains magnificent artwork featuring significant Americans. It is open seven days a week from 11:30 am to 7 pm and only shuts its doors on Christmas. Visitors are welcome to enter the National Portrait Gallery free of charge at the corner of 8th and G Streets NW in Washington, DC.

          Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden contain contemporary artwork. It is not necessary to get a timed entry pass unless you’re planning to visit a special exhibit. Free admission is granted to every visitor on a daily basis. Head to the corner of Independence Ave and 7th Street in Washington, DC. This museum is open from 10 am to 5:30 pm.   

          The Smithsonian American Art Museum features four centuries of American art and crafts. It is open daily from 11:30 am to 7 pm. It is not necessary to have a ticket for free entry. To take in everything that the Smithsonian American Art Museum has to offer, go to the corner of 8th and G Streets NW in Washington, DC.

          National Museum of American History

          This museum’s mission statement is “empowering people to create a just and compassionate future by exploring, preserving, and sharing the complexity of our past.” This is accomplished by its wide range of exhibits and collections, including First Ladies’ Inaugural Gowns – which is especially noteworthy for fashionistas – and the original Star-Spangled Banner made in 1813.

          There are also special topics explored, including:

          • African American History
          • American Culture
          • Asian Pacific American History
          • Disability History
          • Food History
          • Infectious Disease History
          • Innovation
          • Latino History
          • LGBTQ+ History
          • Philanthropy
          • Religion
          • Restorative History
          • September 11
          • The Nation We Build Together
          • Women’s History
          • World War I

          Admission is free of charge, and tickets are not needed. The National Museum of American History is open daily, except Christmas, from 10 am to 5:30 pm. It is located on Constitution Ave NW, between 12th and 14th Streets in Washington, DC.

          Washington, DC Sightseeing

          National Air and Space Museum

          The National Air and Space Museum offers out of this world collections and exhibits such as the Wright Brothers’ Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module. Each of these monumentally important artifacts from American history will grant you a greater understanding of everything that’s gone into conquering the sky, followed by space.

          The Washington, DC location (there is another location in Virginia) requires free timed-entry passes. You can visit the museum daily, except for Christmas, from 10 am to 5:30 pm. Go to the corner of 6th Street and Independence Ave SW to visit this museum. Please note that the public entrance is off of Independence.

          National Museum of Natural History

          Would you like to see billions of years’ worth of evolution? The National Museum of Natural History manages to squeeze it all in! Here you’ll see everything from an African bush elephant to the Hope Diamond on display, as well as the Butterfly Pavilion. You can also enjoy the Lights Out exhibit, a journey through fossil history, and a model of a 52-foot-long mega-toothed shark.

          Admission is free, and no ticket is required. The museum is open from 10 am to 5:30 pm seven days a week, except Christmas. To find the National Museum of Natural History, go to the corner of 10th Street and Constitution Ave NW in Washington, DC. You can enter the museum from Madison Drive, Constitution Ave, or the National Mall. 

          Which Smithsonian Museums Do You Want to Visit?

          The Smithsonian Institution brings history and art to life, and best of all, it’s completely free (except for Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum)! With 19 museums to choose from, the hardest portion of your visit may be selecting what places you can fit into your trip.

          Would you like to see a ginormous mega-toothed shark, and learn about the history of the planet and its many evolutions? Check out the National Museum of Natural History.

          Does African American culture call to you more? Going to the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a wonderful experience to learn the history.

          Does going to space speak to you, or the history of manned flight? You’re definitely going to want to go to the National Air and Space Museum.

          Perhaps you have a special interest you want to learn more about the history of in the US? The National Museum of American History has got you covered!

          Whatever you’re hoping to see, USA Guided Tours can make the experience even better. We run a wide range of tours in Washington, DC, and you’ll be led by an expert tour guide. Instead of simply perusing the museums, you can enjoy a more educational and memorable experience!

          Of special interest is our African American History and Culture Tour. You’ll get to see the NMAAHC, plus enjoy several other stops, including the White House, MLK Memorial, Lincoln Park, and the African American Civil War Memorial. Book your tour with USA Guided Tours right now to ensure your seat!

          To view our full selection of Washington DC tours and guided experiences, click the button below:
          Washington, DC Sightseeing