Washington DC 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.
National Geographic Presents: Earth Explorers - National Geographic Museum, 17th and M Sts. NW Washington, DC. This unique hands-on exhibition will allow visitors to let their imaginations run wild as they become world explorers and embark on an epic adventure to discover new species, study animal behavior and learn about the important roles that technology, innovation and ingenuity play in making and documenting these discoveries. Visitors explore six regions of the world and can even use the methods employed by National Geographic explorers in the field. Visit a base camp in a life sized explorer’s jeep; take a simulated hot-air-balloon ride and document the migration of herds across Africa; or board a deep-sea submersible for a virtual dive to survey life at all levels of the water column—from abundant coral reefs to deep-sea thermal vents. (Exhibit on display through September 10, 2017)
You Can Grow It! - U. S. Botanic Garden, National Mall, First St. SW, between Maryland Ave. and C St. Washington DC. The indoor and outdoor exhibit showcases tips and answers to some of the questions visitors ask most frequently about how to care for plants in their own homes and gardens, including how to choose the best plant for their space and care abilities.
The exhibit will provide answers to common issues about lighting, watering, fertilizing, and pests, as well as how to rescue a plant that experiences problems. (Exhibit on display through October 15, 2017)
Amending America - National Archives - Constitution Ave. at 9th Street, NW Washington DC. Featuring more than 50 original documents, this exhibit highlights the remarkably American story of how we have amended, or attempted to amend, the Constitution in order to form “a more perfect union.” Learn about some of the 11,000 proposed (but not ratified) amendments including: H.R. 8 - to prohibit any person involved in a duel from holding federal office (1838), H.J. Res. 661 to prohibit drunkenness (1938, five years after the repeal of Prohibition), and Petition for a constitutional amendment to expel members of Congress who are absent for more than 40 percent of roll call votes (1971). (Exhibit on display through September 4, 2017)
Slavery and Freedom - National Museum of African American History, 1400 Constitution Ave., NW Washington DC. 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)
Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall - National Air & Space Museum, Independence Ave. at 7th St. SW Washington, DC. 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)
Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 Gloves and Helmet - Udvar Hazy Center, Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, VA.
The gloves and helmet have been to the surface of the moon, have traveled the world and are symbols of the accomplishments and achievements of mankind. Their beautifully crafted and engineered design allowed Neil Armstrong to live, work and survive on another world. The artifacts recently underwent conservation as part of the successful “Reboot the Suit” Kickstarter campaign. (On display through July 20, 2017)
Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait - National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC. The exhibition, the first of its kind for Viola’s work in Washington, includes 11 media pieces by the pioneering artist. Since the early 1970s, Viola has been recognized for his groundbreaking and masterful use of video technologies, creating works that explore the spiritual and perceptual side of human experience. (Exhibit on display through May 7, 2017)
Giving in America - National Museum of American History, 14th Street and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, DC. The exhibit looks at the history of philanthropy’s role in shaping the United States showcasing four major themes of American philanthropy centered on the questions of “Who Gives?” “Why Do We Give?” “What Do We Give?” and “How Do We Give?” and uses artifacts ranging from an alms box of the 1800s to a bucket used during the 2014-15 “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” which went viral on social media. The exhibit features a section devoted to an annual topic and will open with a look at “Sustainability and the Environment. (Exhibit on permanent display)
The Last American Dinosaurs: Discovering a Lost World - National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Ave., NW Washington DC. 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 DC. While the museum is seeking a new venue in the city, it has announced a partnership with the District of Columbia Public Library to open several "Exhibits on Loan" at many location. 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, DC. Opening on the museum’s 10th anniversary, 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 DC Museums
- A Guide to All of the Smithsonian Museums
- Best 5 Washington DC Museums
- 10 Science and Technology Museums in Washington DC
- Museums in the DC Capital Region
- Best Museums for Kids in Washington DC