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.
- Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: The Doughboys, 1917-1918 - Pershing Park , 14th Street and Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, D.C. The special outdoor photography exhibition features the incredible contemporary photographs of Michael St Maur Sheil documenting the experience of American soldiers in World War I. The massive panels, on display at the future site of the National World War I Memorial, depict the battlefields of the Western Front where the Doughboys fought. The traveling exhibit was co-curated by the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. (On display Nov.9-Dec. 3, 2017)
- Wild: Michael Nichols - National Geographic Museum, 17th and M Sts. NW Washington, D.C. The exhibit exemplifies the profound impact of visual storytelling, with stunning images of wildlife and wild places through the eyes of a legendary National Geographic photographer. Keenly interested in the conservation of wildlife habitat, Nichols has collaborated with scientists on groundbreaking projects about great apes, elephants, and big cats, as well as the landscapes of Africa’s Congo Basin and the American West. (On display through Jan. 15, 2018)
- Tamayo: The New York Years - Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW., Washington, D.C. The exhibit explores the influences between this major Mexican modernist and the American art world. It reveals how a Mexican artist forged a new path in the modern art of the Americas and contributed to New York's dynamic cultural scene as the city was becoming a center of postwar art. (On display through March 18, 2018)
- Far From Home: Reflections of World War II - National Museum of the United States Navy, 805 Kidder Breese St., SE Washington, D.C. Marking the 75th anniversary of World War II, this exhibition, illustrated by the works of the acclaimed maritime artist Tom Freeman, honors the memory of those who served their country. Hearing their nations call, men and women put aside their civilian careers to swell the ranks of the Navy. Their naval service took them far from home exposing them to new places and unforgettable dangers. These are their words depicting their wartime experiences. (On display through Feb. 18, 2018)
- Slavery and Freedom - National Museum of African American History, 1400 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. The exhibit is one of many at the new Smithsonian museum on the National Mall. Personal stories highlight the economic and political legacies of slavery, beginning in the 15th century with the transatlantic slave trade, through the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Note that due to the popularity of the new museum, free timed-entrance tickets may be required to visit. (On permanent display)
- 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 2019).
- Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall - National Air & Space Museum, Independence Ave. at 7th St. SW Washington, D.C. Newly Renovated! This awe-inspiring exhibition in the Washington, DC building has looked much the same since it opened in 1976 -- but not anymore. In the new Milestones, we have combined the famous icons already on display with additional (sometimes surprising) artifact choices to show how flight transformed the world. Linking these together is new digital experience, the keystone of which is a stunning 16' x 12' touchscreen interactive wall. (On permanent display)
- The First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100 - National Museum of American History, 14th Street and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996) was a gifted American jazz artist. She had a warm and lovely voice, with notable rhythmic sense, versatility, and intonation, as well as exceptional talent at scat singing. Inventing her vocals as she sang, she produced melodic lines that put her in the category of great instrumental improvisers. In a career spanning seven decades, she created a legacy of acclaimed performances and a celebrated body of work. Learn more about the famed musician through objects from the Ella Fitzgerald Estate paired with pieces from the collections of our Archives Center. (Exhibit on display through April 2, 2018)
- The Last American Dinosaurs: Discovering a Lost World - National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. The exhibition tells the story of non-avian dinosaurs’ final years in western North America through fossil displays, murals of ancient environments, a video presentation showing behind-the-scene collaborations between scientists and paleo-artists working on the exhibit and an arcade-style game, “How to Become a Fossil.” The new FossiLab will also be open for guests to watch staff and volunteers prepare and conserve fossils. The exhibition will remain on view until the completion of the museum’s newly renovated dinosaur and fossil hall in 2019. Read more about the Dinosaur Hall expansion.
- National Children's Museum on the Move - National Children's Museum, various locations in Washington, D.C. While the museum is planning a new venue in the city, it has a partnership with the District of Columbia Public Library to host several "Exhibits on Loan" at many locations. The exhibits are geared to children ages eight and younger to showcase how people around the world eat, dress, work and live. Educational displays and interactive elements include puzzles, games and activities, as well as costumes, artifacts and other props for play.
- Nation to Nation - National Museum of the American Indian, 4th St. & Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C. The exhibit presents the story of the treaties that lie at the heart of the relationship between Indian Nations and the United States. The story includes the history and legacy of the U.S. and American Indian diplomacy from the colonial period through the present. More than 125 objects from the museum’s collection and lenders are featured including archival photographs, textiles, baskets and peace medals. Centerpieces of the exhibit are the historical treaty documents signed by both US Presidents and The Native Nations from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, artifacts of Andrew Jackson and General William Sherman and the Native wampum belts and peace pipes used during the treaty ceremonies including the Lenape (Delaware) “Penn” wampum belt, from 1682, presented by the Lenape Leaders to William Penn as part of a land agreement. (Exhibit on display through Sept. 1, 2018)
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.