Washington, D.C. has dozens of museums that explore subjects ranging from art and history to national heroes and international culture. Most of the museums have changing exhibits to keep visitors interested in returning to see something new. The following guide highlights some of the top exhibits that are on view now in the nation's capital. All of the museums also host a wide range of public events including lectures, concerts, films and more.
- Pulse by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Ave and 7th St. SW Washington, D.C. Visitors' biometric data fuel this exhibit by Mexican Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at the Hirshhorn, one of the most-visited modern art museums in the U.S. Watch as your heartbeat powers a gallery full of blinking bulbs in the artist's Pulse Room exhibit, one of thrilling high-tech installation that are part of this interactive work. The exhibit explores themes around agency, mortality, and ownership, according to the Hirshhorn's director Melissa Chiu. (On display Nov.1 through April 28, 2019)
- Titanic: The Untold Story - National Geographic Museum, 17th and M Sts. NW Washington, D.C. Learn something new about the most famous shipwreck ever at this National Geographic's blockbuster exhibit that delves into the depths of how famed oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-at-Large Robert Ballard discovered the sunken Titanic. This exhibit elaborates on previously classified about the link between the boat's discovery and a top secret Cold War mission. (On display through Jan. 1, 2019)
- Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor - Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW., Washington, D.C. Self-taught artist Bill Traylor created more than one thousand works of art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum curated 155 of his paintings and drawings into the first major retrospective ever organized for an artist born into slavery. Traylor was born into slavery in Alabama and historical milestones like Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration are reflected in his art. (On display through March 18, 2019)
- Watching Oprah - National Museum of African American History, 1400 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. This exhibit at the new Smithsonian museum on the National Mall is a must for Oprah fans. Learn about her life and impact on American life through original artifacts from The Oprah Winfrey Show and the icon's own personal collection. Note that due to the popularity of the new museum, free timed-entrance tickets may be required to visit. (On display through June 2019)
- Objects of Wonder - National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. A new exhibition will present hundreds of rarely displayed objects from the extraordinary collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “Objects of Wonder: From the Collections of the National Museum of Natural History” will explore the breadth, scope and splendor of the world’s most extensive natural history research collection—more than 145 million artifacts and specimens. The exhibition will examine how scientists use Smithsonian collections to enlighten and illuminate our understanding of nature and human culture. (On display through 2021)
- Japan Modern: Prints in the Age of Photography - Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, D.C. The phrase "disrupt" is in the news constantly now as industries face technological change, but that's nothing new: in this exhibit, see how Japan's traditional woodblock-printmaking industry reacted to the advent of the printing press and photography, and how this vibrant art form adapted to stay relevant in the age of photography. (On display through Jan. 21, 2019)
- Ruby Slippers and American Culture Displays - National Museum of American History, 14th Street and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. The ruby red slippers worn by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz are back! The famous sequin heels will return to view at the National Museum of American History this fall, joined by other cultural touchstones like the Scarecrow's hat, New York Yankee Stadium ticket booth, jazz and classical instruments, and more. (Exhibit opens on Oct. 19)
- Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World - National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. Learn how to think like an epidemiologist at this exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History, which illuminates how disease outbreaks can spread faster around the world than ever before. Read case studies about HIV/AIDS, Ebola virus, and influenza, and there's even a multi-player game in which visitors will work cooperatively together to contain an outbreak before it spreads further. (Through 20201)
- Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project - National Gallery of Art, 7th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. The National Gallery of Art recently acquired four large-scale photographs and a video from photographer Dawoud Bey's series The Birmingham Project, which serves as a tribute to those who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing more than 50 years ago in Birmingham, Alabama. Bey’s diptychs pair photos of children the age of the victims of the tragedy and adults the same age these victims would've been if they had survived.
- Americans - National Museum of the American Indian, 4th St. & Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C. An Indian Chief motorcycle, Indian Chief motorcycle, the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, a Land O’Lakes butter container: American Indian images and names are everywhere, as seen in this exhibit that explores this phenomenon as seen in the history, culture, and identity of the United States. See examples of how American Indians have been part of the nation’s identity ever since the beginning. (Through 2022)
- Nordic Impressions - The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street, NW, Washington, D.C. If you can't make a trip to Scandinavia this year, head to the Phillips Collection this fall to see artwork from 53 artists from Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden in this exhibit on Nordic artists. The museum seeks to find connections within over 200 years of art from this region, diving into themes like nature and folklore, light and darkness, and social liberalism.
- Corot: Women - National Gallery of Art, 7th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. French painter Camille Corot is most known for his landscapes, but the National Gallery of Art is focusing on his figure paintings with a display of 45 works. The majestic portraits of women that Corot painted when on to inspire artists like Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque.
More About Washington, D.C. Museums
- A Guide to All of the Smithsonian Museums
- Best 5 Washington, D.C. Museums
- 10 Science and Technology Museums in Washington, D.C.
- Museums in the DC Capital Region
- Best Museums for Kids in Washington, D.C.