Visiting Washington DC: 10 Unique Attractions

As a follow up to my July post about visiting Washington DC, I’d like to tell you about ten museums in the District (and a suburb, in one case) that offer great tours or collections. They don’t require quite as much planning as the ones in my previous post, but they will cost you a few dollars. They are listed in alphabetical order.

  1. Photo of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate
    Mount Vernon, the plantation home of the first President of the U.S.

    George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens — Mount Vernon was the plantation house of George Washington, first President of the United States and his wife, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington. The estate is situated on the banks of the Potomac River near Alexandria, VA. General admission includes access to the mansion, the beautiful view across the Potomac River, all the surrounding colonial buildings, and the gardens, farm, and museum. Mount Vernon’s working gristmill and distillery are also open between April and October each year.

  2. Heurich House — Also known as the Brewmaster’s Castle, this museum is a Gilded Age (late 19th century) mansion in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington D.C. In 2003 the house was bought and converted into a museum to preserve the original interiors. It is is open for public tours Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 11:30, 1:00 and 2:30.
  1. Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens — This former residence of businesswoman, socialite, philanthropist and collector Marjorie Merriweather Post is known for its large decorative arts collection that focuses heavily on the House of Romanov. Included in the collection are Fabergé eggs and 18th and 19th century French art and one of the country’s finest orchid collections. A contemporary cafe with European-inspired fare is located on the grounds, open for lunch and Sunday afternoon tea.
  2. Photo Trojan Horse inside Spy Museum
    Inside the International Spy Museum

    International Spy Museum — One of the few museums in America (the world?) dedicated to the tradecraft, history and contemporary role of espionage, featuring the largest collection of international espionage artifacts currently on public display.

  3. Madame Tussauds — Since 2007, this attraction has featured wax sculptures of famous figures from politics, culture, sports, music and television. In comparison to other Madame Tussauds venues around the world, this one features more waxworks of political figures, with sculptures of all U.S. presidents displayed.
  1. National Building Museum — The former Pension Building is now a museum of architecture, design, engineering, construction, and urban planning. If you or your kids like erector sets and LEGO®, you don’t want to miss this museum (or its gift shop).
  1. National Geographic Museum — Operated by the National Geographic Society, this museum features changing photography exhibitions featuring the work of National Geographic explorers, photographers, and scientists. There are also changing exhibits related to natural history, culture, history or society.
  1. Newseum — The mission of this interactive museum of news and journalism is “to help the public and the news media understand one another better” and to “raise public awareness of the important role of a free press in a democratic society.” Their Berlin Wall Gallery includes the largest display of sections of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany. The Today’s Front Pages Gallery presents daily front pages from more than 80 international newspapers. Other galleries present topics including news history, the September 11 attacks, the First Amendment, world press freedom, and the history of the Internet, TV, and radio.
  2. Phillips Collection room with blue wall, wood floor, one bench, and wall four paintings by William Merritt Chase
    A special exhibition of William Merritt Chase at the Phillips Collection

    The Phillips Collection — This art museum in the Dupont Circle neighborhood includes art by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gustave Courbet, El Greco, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Klee, Arthur Dove, Winslow Homer, James McNeill Whistler, Jacob Lawrence, Augustus Vincent Tack, Georgia O’Keeffe, Karel Appel, Joan Miro and Mark Rothko.

  3. President Lincoln’s Cottage – President Lincoln’s Cottage is a nontraditional “museum of ideas” that takes a fresh look at Lincoln’s life and legacy in an authentic place — his beloved home. Tours of the Cottage explore Lincoln’s ideas and place his experiences here within the larger context of the Civil War and America’s struggle to reconcile competing definitions of liberty and equality. The vibrant, conversational tour provides new perspectives on Lincoln’s life, gives space for self-reflection, and connects Lincoln’s work to advance freedom with contemporary challenges to human rights.

You can certainly save money by visiting only the free attractions in our nation’s capital, but if any member of your party has a special affinity for the special collections offered by the places in this list, be sure to include them in your budget. You wouldn’t want to miss something that could become one of your favorite memories!

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