Today was dedicated to the museums of DC, a lot of the free to visit Smitsonian museums are on the National Mall, one of the others being the National Portrait Gallery which I visited yesterday. I have never seen so many museums in one space and all lined up next to each other, it is quite unique but I loved it so much and the impressive buildings create stunning backdrops.
The plan was to start at the Washington Monument in the centre of the Mall and work my way east to the Capitol building so the first stop was the National Holocaust Museum. As you would expect it was a sombre experience, the real items, photos and stories really touched the heart. The entrance divided the group into seperate elevators depending on your gender and explained what the unfortunate went through. As you made your way through the exhibits, headphones told stories whilst there was a memorial at the corner of the museum where you could remember and look back. The moving experience of these type of museums are so precious, they allow you to really understand what happened and put everything into perspective.
Next was the newest museum on the Mall which only opened in 2016 and it’s modern building shows that. This was the National Museum of African American History & Culture and it gets incredibly busy between March & August so ensure you get a timed pass for entry if you are visiting during this peak period. There are such a wealth of topics covered in here from politics to athletics and slavery to music, it is an extraordinary place where some areas are quite upsetting but some give great hope and happiness. I would recommend taking a moment to sit in the Contemplative Court at the end of the museum where a circular waterfall rains into the center of the room with surrounding quotes on the walls, a nice relaxing place for reflection of the museum.
The third stop was the National Museum of American History which was a different more modern history museum experience for me compared to the hundreds of years old artifacts I experience in the British ones. Nonetheless, I loved how there was such a range of vibrant exhibits covering all sorts and details such as all the different types of coffee cup lids! The transport section was particularly enjoyable for me as I love the styles of the trams and trains that were used in America in then 19th century. The original star spangled banner (the flag that inspired America’s national anthem) is what stands out here though, protected in a covered dark room to keep away dust and damage.
Next door the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History had a very different feel to it, the grand architecture provided an impressive background for a huge collection which I certainly needed more time to delve into. The rooms I did visit were some of the best displays I have seen, the human evolution area fascinated me, it is particularly interesting and slightly odd to see our closest species in the form of Neanderthal’s and Homo sapiens. Next I crossed the Mall to the oldest building on the Mall and home of Smithsonian to visit the Institution building also known as the castle. It is a great place to start, especially if you ware new in Washington wanting to discover which museums appeal to you or just to explore the 19th century architecture. On my visit, a robot was wandering around which responding to peoples questions plus gave us a little dance, a sneaky look at the future of tour guides maybe!
One of my favourite type of museums to visit are aviation museums and the National Air & Space Museum didn’t let me down. The large open foyer area is filled with aircraft’s hanging from the ceiling plus there is loads happening with simulators to ride and regular science demonstrations. The museum holds many iconic spacecrafts and accessories including a wonderful exhibition on the Wright flyer, one of the world’s first successful flights as well as Neill Armstrong’s actual space suit from the moon landing.
By this point, my legs were feeling the pain from walking the many floors and stairs of all the museums but I was focused on fitting in at least 1 more stop. So I continued to the National Gallery of Art for a quick wander, though modern art is more my thing so you can nicely get to the modern collection in the East wing via a very cool and brightly lit subway bypassing the road.
Closing time came so that was the end of my tour around pretty much as many museums as I could! I stopped for a well-earned rest on the beautiful mall gardens opposite the Capitol Building with views of the museums and the monument ahead. I am a great fan of open green spaces in big cities so Washington certainly ticked that box for me. Once re-energized I got closer to the Capitol and wandered around the perimeter to finish the day.
The visits to each museum got shorter and shorter as time went on as I packed so much into my day, I could have easily spent a whole afternoon in each one. Though I was happy that I saw the highlights of each museum in this short stay in DC, it was also a great bonus that nearly all of the Smithsonian Museums are free entry. There are many more free museums on the mall and around the centre that I didn’t get to, this is just a taste really, but it really shows the abundance of attractions and culture in the city. Overall DC really impressed me, it felt slightly quiet for a capital city in August but this just made it more enjoyable and relaxing for me, I would love to return to explore the museums in more detail some day and see more of the capital.