Museums and exhibits to visit during Welcome Week

A comprehensive guide of popular spots and hidden gems that every D.C. wonk should know

Museums and exhibits to visit during Welcome Week
View of the U.S. Capitol from the Greenspun Family Terrace at the Newseum

Welcome to AU, new Eagles!  As you settle into your new home in the nation’s capital, put that U-pass to work and explore all that the city has to offer. We’re talking about museums, monuments, memorials, and that’s just the M’s. And don’t worry: The Metro isn’t as complicated as it seems

Where to Visit First 

These first few museum suggestions are kind of like prerequisite courses — you should visit them first to ease your way into D.C. museum culture. Each of these museums is either on or near the National Mall, which makes them popular with tourists and can be found easily via public transportation. Visits to these museums can also be tied in with a trip to all the monuments. 

National Museum of Natural History

Situated near the Washington Monument, the National Museum of Natural History is an ideal first stop on your museum excursion. Immerse yourself in exhibits such as “Outbreaks: Epidemics in a Connected World” and “The Last American Dinosaurs: Discovering a Lost World” to learn more about diseases and the demise of dinosaurs, respectively. There’s plenty more to see beyond those exhibits including mammals, minerals and a Mega-toothed Shark

Must-See: Henry, the iconic 13-feet tall African Bush Elephant that stands in the entryway of the museum

Address: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20560

Directions: Take Metro’s Blue, Orange or Silver line to the Smithsonian stop 

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Admission: FREE

National Air and Space Museum

Let your mind soar to new heights at the National Air and Space Museum. The U.S. celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in July, and now you can look at the space suit Neil Armstrong wore. You can also learn about the art of flying in the “How Things Fly” interactive exhibit. Going to the National Air and Space Museum may only feel like one small step for you, but it should also be seen as one large step for you beginning to integrate yourself into D.C. culture. 

Must-See: Skylab Orbital Workshop, a modified space for viewers to walk through an  see how a three-crew team would have to live during a flight.

Address: 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, D.C. 20560

Directions: Take Metro’s Blue, Orange, Silver, Yellow or Green lines to the L'Enfant Plaza stop

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Admission: FREE

National Portrait Gallery

From the presidential portraits to an enormous electric map of the United States, the National Portrait Gallery is three floors of pure wonderment. See eye-to-eye with hundreds of famous figures in history as you amble through the art-covered halls. If you’re interested to see which portraits the gallery offers beforehand, you can search their database here

Must-See: Former President Barack Obama and Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s portraits. All the presidential portraits are worth your time, but the Obamas’ portraits may just leave you awestruck

Address: 8th St NW & F St NW, Washington, D.C. 20001

Directions: Take Metro’s Red, Green or Yellow lines to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop 

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Admission: FREE

Galleries and Hidden Gems

The Renwick Gallery and the National Postal Museum are located at different metro stops than most of the other museums, but are worth the extra trip. The Hirshhorn can also be considered a hidden gem — some of its exhibits are so strangely captivating you’ll leave wondering what you saw and satisfied you went.

Renwick Gallery

Located within walking distance of the White House, the Renwick Gallery is an American art museum that offers engaging interactive exhibits such as “Ginny Ruffner: Reforestation of the Imagination” and more traditional art exhibits like “Michael Sherrill Retrospective.” Beyond looking at the gallery’s installed exhibits, take some time to just admire some of the small gems the gallery has to offer, like the twinkling lights hanging above the stairs in the center of the gallery. 

Must-See: David Best’s Temple, an all-wooden temple. Visitors are encouraged to honor those they have lost in this exhibit. They may leave behind a written message on a piece of wood provided by the museum.

Address: Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20006

Directions: Take Metro’s Red line to the Farragut North stop, or the Blue, Orange or Silver lines to the Farragut West stop. 

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Admission: FREE

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden 

The Hirshhorn is a complex yet welcoming museum that offers some of the most unique and attention-grabbing modern art you may ever see. Before you even enter into the round space, you are greeted by a car crushed by a rock with a sweet smile. Once you’re inside, you’ll be introduced to exhibits such as “Barbra Kruger: Belief + Doubt” and “What Absence is Made of.” Spend some time exploring inside, but  don’t forget to go back out to enjoy the museum’s sculpture garden. 

Must-See: Ron Mueck: Untitled (Big Man), a twice-life sized sculpture of a nude person slumped in a corner. At first glance, see the meticulous attention to detail, from the blemishes on his head to the veins beneath his skin. Look closer, and you may notice details that make him less realistic after all.

Address: Independence Ave SW &, 7th St SW, Washington, D.C. 20560

Directions: Take Metro’s Blue, Orange, Silver, Yellow or Green line to the L'Enfant Plaza stop

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Admission: FREE

The Culture House

If you’re looking to add more color to your life (and your Instagram), check out the Culture House, sometimes also referred to as the Technicolor Church or the Blind Whino. What once was a church is now a renovated art gallery that features a variety of artists and art mediums, including some local D.C. artists. Go to the Culture House to be at the edge of where “community meets creativity,” but make sure you look at the calendar before you leave because it is only open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

Must-See: A 360-degree look at the outside of the Culture House to be greeted by a rainbow explosion of color. If you can believe, this was once just a white building. 

Address: 700 Delaware Ave SW, Washington, D.C. 20024

Directions: Take Metro’s Green line to the Waterfront stop

Hours: Only open Wednesday, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.

Admission: FREE (While the Culture House itself is free, some events and exhibits also may require free tickets so plan your outing beforehand.)

The Einstein Memorial 

Stand or sit next to a 12-foot tall Albert Einstein statue created to honor the scientist's birthday in 1979. If you find yourself at the Einstein Memorial soon, don’t forget to snap a picture with him and post it with the hashtag #photowithalbert

Must-See: Observe the intricacies of the statue, including the engravings of the scientist's greatest scientific contributions on the paper in his hand.

Address: 2101 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, D.C. 20418

Directions: Take Metro’s Blue, Orange, Silver line to the Foggy Bottom stop

Hours: Open 24-hours

Admission: FREE

National Postal Museum

Though we live in the age of digital communication, there is still something fascinating about postage stamps and their history. At the National Postal Museum, discover the different ways mail has been moved over time while also admiring stamps from around the world. Learn more about which historical figures were stamp collectors – you might even consider becoming a stamp collector yourself.

Must-See: Connect with U.S. Stamps - you can create your own stamp designs!

Address: 2 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, D.C. 20002

Directions: Take the Red line to the Union Station stop 

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Admission: FREE

Worth the Money 

While most attractions in D.C. are free to the public, there are a few that charge. Don’t overlook these museums — many are still worthy of your attention and time. 

Newseum

The Newseum is perfect for communication majors, news-fanatics and First-Amendment rights supporters alike. It features charming exhibits like  “First Dogs” and somber exhibits like the “Journalist Memorial” Be ready to dedicate a few hours to explore because the seven floors of the Newseum are packed with information and artifacts you won’t want to miss. That said, you should make your trip sooner than later because the museum sold its current location to Johns Hopkins University and will be closing December 31, 2019.  

Must-See: Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery. View over 1,000 award-winning photos both displayed in-person and virtually through the museum’s touchscreen galleries, including iconic photos such as “Old Glory Goes Up on Mount Suribachi.”

Address: 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C. 20001

Directions: Take Metro’s Red line to the Judiciary Square stop, or the Yellow or Green line to the Archives/Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter stop 

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Admission: Adults (19 to 64): $24.95 plus tax; Youth (7 to 18): $14.95 

There’s also a 15% off adult rate for journalists, military, teachers and college students with applicable ID.

International Spy Museum

Your next secret mission is to visit the International Spy Museum. Discover what exactly spies do in the “Spying Basics” exhibit and which spies have shaped history in the “Why Spy?” exhibit. Make sure you check-in at the Undercover Mission desk before you begin to explore the museum to play “spy” as you work your way through the exhibits. You then can be fully debriefed on your mission later that night online

Must-Do: Undercover Mission - included in museum admission 

Address: 700 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, D.C. 20024

Directions: Take Metro’s Blue, Orange, Silver, Yellow or Green line to the L'Enfant Plaza stop 

Hours: Monday-Thursday and Sunday, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Admission: Adult (13 - 64): $24.95. College student tickets can be purchased at the museum’s ticket desk or by either calling 202-393-7798.

National Museum of Women in the Arts

While this museum houses art, the museum can easily be called art itself. The National Museum of Women in the Arts has two staircases cascade down the inside of the museum and transport you to the “More is More: Multiples” exhibit and art from women artists throughout history. The museum also hosts monthly Community Days with free admission open to the public.

Must-See: “What If Women Ruled the World” by Yael Bartana, a neon yellow sign that display the title words. This piece could be a conversation-starter with your friends since it asks its viewers to consider a simple question.

Address: 1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, D.C. 20005

Directions: Take Metro’s Red, Blue, Orange or Silver line to the Metro Center stop, or the Red, Yellow or Green line to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Admission: Students: $8; Adults (19 - 64): $10; Youth (18 and under): FREE

Stay Close to Home 

Remember: Art can be found in your own backyard. 

Katzen Art Center and AU Museum

If you want to stay on campus for your art excursion, consider checking out the Katzen Arts Center and the AU art museum. The Early Fall Exhibition will open Sept. 3. 

Must-See: AU students’art featured throughout the year. Go out and celebrate your fellow students’ accomplishments.

Address: Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, D.C. 20016

Directions: On-campus

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Admission: FREE

No matter which museums you choose to explore and fall in love with this Welcome Week, make sure you are getting out of your dorm and into the city. Four years go by faster than you think, so might as well make the most of them by immersing yourself in all that D.C. has to offer. 

smirah@theeagleonline.com

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