Memorable Museum Visits in the DMV

Memorable Museum Visits in the DMV

Fun fact: there are 86 museums in the District of Columbia, 291 in Maryland and a whopping 522 in Virginia! With such an expansive breadth and availability of cultural, social, historic, scientific, agricultural, and academic options to view public collections of visuals, artifacts and memorabilia, there is literally a museum for everyone in the family! Another fun fact: the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area is lucky enough to have within its perimeters the largest complex of museums in the world – the world-renowned Smithsonian, featuring 21 museums and the National Zoo!

Here are a few notable museums that will surely catch your fancy.

  • The Smithsonian Museums

The Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History

The National Museum of American History pays homage to the can-do attitude of victory during the war years of World War II through its inspiring and thoughtfully designed garden area located on the east side.

During the war, food was scarce and military rations were distributed. To complement the rations and potentially combat insufficiency of food for civilians and troops alike, many organizations including government agencies and schools collaborated to provide physical seeds and gardening instruction to help people grow their own food. The results yielded millions of victory gardens successfully created and maintained in spaces of all sizes, including window boxes and in some cases, community plots.

The Victory Garden is an excellent physical demonstration of a real moment in history. The museum switches out its crops periodically as it grows heirloom vegetables and flowers that were widely available in the 1940s while the war was going on.

  • The Evidence Room Installation at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

On June 12, 2019, the Hirshhorn debuted three large rooms containing architectural elements including cabinet-like structures, wire boxes and ladders. The intent was to recreate the rooms containing gas chambers at Auschwitz, a complex of concentration camps in which the German Nazi regime mass murdered millions of European Jews and people in other ethnic groups between 1933 through 1945. This period of history is known as the Holocaust.

The subject matter of this installation is shocking. The history of how the Hirshhorn chose to create this display is just as riveting. In 1993, American historian Deborah Lipstadt published “Denying the Holocaust,” a book that stated British author David Irving had deliberately distorted evidence about the Holocaust in a way that spun accurate facts into his incorrect assumptions. In 1996, Irving sued Lipstadt for defamation and in 2000, Lipstadt won.

During the nearly 4-year trial, many expert witnesses testified, including a Dutch expert of architecture and history, Robert Jan van Pelt, whose work focused on the Holocaust. Sixteen years after the trial ended, an architectural convention in Venice, Italy officially commissioned what would become The Evidence Room installation at the Hirshhorn, of which Van Pelt would end up co-creating with a team of architectural experts.

Though the museum installation itself is safe to view, the physical presentation of the architecture is designed to transport the viewer to a dangerous time in which a Nazi leader ordered the mass murder of millions of innocent people. Parents are strongly urged to determine how and if they will visit the exhibit together with their children, or if the troubling historic events should only be discussed as a family.

  • National Air and Space Museum and Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

The Smithsonian famously refers to these establishments as one single museum with two distinct locations. The space museum, located in Washington, D.C., and Udvar-Hazy, located in Chantilly, Virginia, both offer gigantic open-space halls containing actual, real space shuttles and other spacecraft flown during NASA missions.

Knowing children constantly imagine great things about the solar system, our galaxy, and how to fly into outer space, these two locations provide the perfect artifacts and objects to keep families entertained for hours.

  • National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute

Not exactly a museum, the zoo is a beautiful, lighthearted facility to visit fascinating species of animals, including monkeys, reptiles and the stars of the show – the pandas. Every day, the zoo offers live demonstrations of different animals eating, playing, jumping, flying, and on special occasions, giving birth or caring for newborn animals.

The National Zoo is located in Washington, D.C., and the Conservation Biology Institute is located in Front Royal, Virginia. Only the zoo is open to the public, while the conservation facility does a lot of work to save wildlife species from becoming extinct.

Other Great Museums

  • National Law Enforcement Museum

This is an interactive museum designed to give the public unique views into the life of law enforcement officers. The museum features interesting workshops and events in which guests are invited to solve crimes, go on scavenger hunts, review forensic pathology, collect evidence like a crime scene investigator, and even Go On Patrol in a driving simulator.

  • National Building Museum

This museum provides exquisite eye candy to viewers of all ages. It features architecture, design, engineering, construction and urban planning artifacts, exhibits and events for all ages. Its many exhibits get viewers to stop and think about buildings through unique lenses of history, culture and people. Of special significance is its Brick City exhibition featuring international destinations made exclusively from Lego toy bricks, on display through the spring of 2025.

  • Lucy Burns Suffragist Museum and Workhouse Arts Center

This museum in Lorton, Virginia was once a corrections facility from 1910 – 1998, known as the Workhouse. Famous people including the inventor of Washington, D.C.’s go-go music, Chuck Brown, and suffragists such as Lucy Brown all served time there. As years passed, overcrowding and problems caused the jail to close. Eventually, one-fourth of the total area where the facility used to be became the Workhouse Arts Center with the museum on its campus. Open only on Fridays through Sundays and by appointment, this small museum showcases its large prison history. The Workhouse Arts Center is not a museum at all, but it actively offers lively arts programming in the form of classes, concerts and art exhibits.


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