Washington, D.C.: Land of the free and home of the museums

Sunny Sichi/Staff

It’s almost ridiculous how many museums Washington, D.C. has. The Smithsonian museums are the first that come to mind and make up the bulk of museums, but there’s also a huge collection of private museums. It’s easy to Google these museums, but we at the Clog wanted to give our opinions on some of our personal favorites. There’s truly something for everyone, so if you ever find yourself in the nation’s capital, take the time to wander around these epic museums.

International Spy Museum

Perfect for kids and adults alike, the International Spy Museum paints a romantic yet realistic picture of spies. It’s interactive, asking you to memorize a new identity in the beginning and having checkpoints throughout to see if you can make it past the “guards.” Most of us wanted to be a spy at some point when we were small, and this museum actually tries to teach you how. You also learn the histories of some interesting characters, such as Mata Hari, Nathan Hale and the Rosenbergs. It’s a little chilling to know that there are spies everywhere, especially in D.C., but the museum does a good job of giving you a little thrill in knowing this “classified” information.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Believe the hype. This museum is the most difficult to get into at the moment, but waking up at 6 a.m. for same-day tickets is totally worth it. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has two parts. The basement holds the history of Black people in the United States, starting with the slave trade. The upper levels have more contemporary subjects and famous Black figures in music, film, sports and more. What’s so incredible about this museum is that it tells a story that is completely ignored or watered down in history books. It tells the honest truth about the struggle, resilience, pain and triumph of the Black community in the United States. This museum definitely isn’t to be missed! Book your tickets well in advance, get same-day tickets at 6 a.m., or line up in the early afternoon and try your luck.  

National Geographic Museum

Smaller, but so informative, the National Geographic Museum truly makes you feel like you’re one of Nat Geo’s explorers. With changing exhibits, there’s always something new to learn. Currently, the two exhibits are “Titanic: The Untold Story” and “Tomb of Christ.” The best thing about Nat Geo is how it integrates different tools, such as virtual reality and 3D screens that fill up an entire room to make you feel like an explorer yourself. You’re guaranteed to come out nearly an expert on a topic that you previously never knew existed. It’s basically like an interactive Nat Geo magazine article. Once you’ve gone through the exhibits in the 17th Street building, walk out through the courtyard, past the rock sculpture and into the next building, where a standing exhibit of the National Geographic Society’s history is housed. There’s cool info on the society’s explorers, including Jane Goodall and Bob Ballard, as well as a wall with a bunch of magazine covers that’s a great photo op.

National Portrait Gallery

We’re sure many of you have seen pictures of Barack and Michelle Obama’s portraits. Well, why not see them in person at the National Portrait Gallery? They’re absolutely incredible and are just two amazing paintings in a huge collection of awesome portraits. There’s a big diversity of subjects, covering people from the presidents to Toni Morrison to artists and famous people we had never heard of. There’s also an exhibit called “UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light” by Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar. It deals with the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of minority groups in the United States and showcases the reality of our history in an extremely honest and effective way. It’s a thought-provoking example of how elevating the art and stories of people of color can draw back a curtain that has been covering up centuries of injustice.  

Renwick Gallery

Not a lot of people are aware that the Renwick is actually a Smithsonian museum, so therefore, it’s free! Woo! This incredible museum is right next to Lafayette Square, which also happens to be right in front of the White House. But this red brick castle-like house is possibly more interesting than the White House. Like Nat Geo, it has changing exhibits. At the moment, it has an exhibit on Burning Man. The museum is small and very well-designed, so it’s not overwhelming, and it has the perfect dose of art for a non-expert to digest. The Burning Man exhibit was complete with “living” mushroom art, a virtual-reality light experience and some other amazing sculptures.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum  

Sobering and incredibly informative, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum should be visited by everyone. It’s a memorial just as much as it is a museum, and you feel that throughout. It really teaches everything, including the beginnings of anti-Semitism, the prewar period, what happened during World War II and the aftermath. Not only does it cover the atrocities committed, but it also tells a story of human resistance and strength through the eyes and voices of survivors and people who were a part of uprisings and a resistance against Nazi control. You get an extremely holistic view of the entire issue, but you are also told that this museum does not hold the answers to why the Holocaust happened. It challenges you to be able to recognize the signs of injustice and to do something about it.

National Gallery of Art

“Free, fashionable and totally fantastic” is how I’d describe the National Gallery of Art. You feel like you’re in Europe when you’re here because of all the high marble walls, the French impressionist paintings and the big collection of Edgar Degas sculptures. There’s actually two buildings; the smaller one has more modern art. It’s big, so it’s definitely a place you should and will want to return to multiple times. There’s also a sculpture garden where “Jazz in the Garden” takes place every Friday of the summer.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of air-conditioned museums in Washington, D.C. While you could say what you’d like about politics and the state of the country, these art museums are a true testament to how wonderful and rich our country and world really are. The stories, art and culture that fill these museums are just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a great way to start educating yourself and appreciating new topics you’d never have known about before.

Contact Sunny Sichi at [email protected].