The Best Art Museums to Visit in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. is one of the top destinations in the world for art lovers with its extensive selection of museums ranging from large internationally renowned institutions to small privately owned galleries. Visitors can see a remarkable collection of works by masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, Rembrandt, Goya as well as works by notable contemporary artists such as Calder, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and many more. Exhibits change throughout the year so you can always find new things to see. 

  • 01 of 08
    National Gallery of Art East Building
    ••• National Gallery of Art East Building. © National Gallery of Art

    The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. is a world-class museum with a collection of more than 130,000 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, decorative arts, and furniture traces the development of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present. The museum occupies two buildings and includes an extensive survey of works of American, British, Italian, Flemish, Spanish, Dutch, French and German art.

    With its prime location on the National Mall, surrounded by the Smithsonian Institution, visitors often think that the museum is a part of the Smithsonian. It is a separate entity and is supported by a combination of private and public funds. Admission is free. Be sure to visit the Sculpture Garden, a 6-acre beautifully landscaped space with 17 modern sculptures by internationally renowned artists. The museum offers a wide range of educational programs, lectures, guided tours, films, and concerts.

  • 02 of 08
    reynolds.jpg
    ••• National Portrait Gallery. © Smithsonian Institution

    The Smithsonian American Art Museum shares space with the National Portrait Gallery in a historic Greek Revival building that is one of the oldest public buildings in Washington, D.C. The American Art Museum is home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. More than 7,000 artists are represented in the collection, including major masters such as John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Joseph Cornell, Jacob Lawrence, Helen Frankenthaler, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, David Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Lee Friedlander, Roy Lichtenstein, Nam June Paik, Irving Penn, Martin Puryear, Robert Rauschenberg and Bill Viola. Be sure to visit the National Portrait Gallery and see the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House.

  • 03 of 08
    Renwick
    ••• Renwick Gallery. Photo © Smithsonian Institution

    The Renwick Gallery is a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum that is located on Lafayette Square in a historic building across from the White House. It was renovated in 2015 and highlights American crafts and contemporary arts from the 19th to 21st centuries. The gallery features unique works of art including clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood.

    The building was designed in 1859 by the distinguished architect James Renwick Jr., who also designed the Smithsonian’s “Castle” and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Visit the gift shop for a unique selection of beautiful jewelry, textiles, glass, ceramics, books, and handmade gifts from local and national artists.

  • 04 of 08
    Phillips Collection
    ••• Phillips Collection. Photo © Wikimedia Commons

    The Phillips Collection is a private modern art museum located in the heart of Washington, D.C.’s historic Dupont Circle neighborhood. The museum displays one of the world’s most distinguished collections of Impressionist and Modern American and European art. The setting is unconventional, featuring small rooms, a domestic scale, and a personal atmosphere.

    Artists represented in the collection include Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Claude Monet, HonoréDaumier, Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Mark Rothko, Milton Avery, Jacob Lawrence, and Richard Diebenkorn, among others. The permanent collection has grown to include more than 1,000 photographs, many by American photographers Berenice Abbott, Esther Bubley, and Bruce Davidson, and works by contemporary artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Wolfgang Laib, Whitfield Lovell, and Leo Villareal. The museum also produces award-winning and in-depth education...MORE programs for students and adults.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08
    Hirshhorn Museum
    ••• Hirshhorn Museum. Photo by Tony Savino/Corbis via Getty Images

    Located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Hirshhorn is one of 19 Smithsonian museums. It is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and one of the world’s leading voices for 21st-century art and culture. The permanent collection is comprised of approximately 12,000 artworks, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, photographs, collages, and decorative art objects. The collection includes arts of traditional historical themes addressing emotion, abstraction, politics, process, religion, and economics. 

    Known for its striking Gordon Bunshaft-designed architecture, the museum has 60,000 square feet of exhibition space inside its elevated circular building and nearly 4 acres outside in its multilevel Sculpture Garden and Plaza.

  • 06 of 08
    Freer Gallery
    ••• © Smithsonian

    The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery share connected buildings on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and comprise the Smithsonian’s museum of Asian art. The museums contains one of the most important collections of Asian art in the world, featuring more than 40,000 objects dating from the Neolithic period to the present day, with especially fine groupings of Islamic art; Chinese jades, bronzes, and paintings; and the art of the ancient Near East.

    Exhibits also include masterworks from Japan, ancient Egypt, South and Southeast Asia, and Korea, as well as a noted collection of American art.  The Freer-Sackler presents a full schedule of free public events, including films, lectures, symposia, concerts, and discussions.

  • 07 of 08
    National Museum of Women in the Arts
    ••• National Museum of Women in the Arts. © Tom Field

    The National Museum of Women in the Arts is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to celebrating the artistic achievements of women. The permanent collection features more than 3,000 works of art including a wide range of styles and media by women from the 16th century to the present. Special programs and tours are designed to highlight the works of specific artists, composers, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and dancers.

  • 08 of 08
    Kreeger Museum
    ••• Kreeger Museum. © Art Around

    The Kreeger Museum is a private museum located in Washington D.C. at the former home of David and Carmen Kreeger. The Kreegers were art collectors who amassed  more than three hundred works of art (paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures), mainly from the 18th century to the present.

    The collection includes works by Claude Monet paintings, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Pablo Picasso,  Edvard Munch, Max Beckmann, Jean Dubuffet, Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Calder, and more.  The permanent collection also includes outstanding examples of traditional art from west and central Africa and Asia. The museum hosts lectures, concerts and educational programs for children and adults.