An Art Lover's Guide to Washington, D.C. in 24 Hours

Photo of Nicole Hampton
6 October 2017

The arts and history go hand-in-hand, and Washington, D.C., is filled to the brim with both. Boasting more than 75 museums, as well as renowned theater companies and attractions such as the esteemed John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, D.C. offers something cultural and unique at every turn. Whether you’re a resident who wants to get to know the art scene, or you’re a tourist ready to see as much as possible, read on for galleries to explore if you have only 24 hours to spare in the U.S. capital.

Get Intimate in The Phillips Collection

No, it’s not a museum of nude art. It’s just an intimate setting perfect for a solo trip or a date. The Phillips Collection was America’s first museum of modern art, and was originally based at founder Duncan Phillips’ family home. They have fantastic exhibitions you can get tickets for, and entrance to the rest of the museum is by donation during the week and a nominal fee on the weekends.

The Phillips Collection | © art around/Flickr

Celebrate Art by Women

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is the first and only major museum in the world exclusively dedicated to female artists. They hold more than 5,000 works by trailblazers, such as Frida Kahlo and Mary Cassatt.

Museum Women in the Arts | © NCinDC/Flickr

Admire the Stone

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is a modern art museum with impressive architecture and contemporary art collections. If that weren’t enough, it also features multiple gorgeous sculpture gardens, and the Lerner Room provides a great view of the D.C. skyline.

Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden | © Jeff Kubina/Flickr


You don’t have to subscribe to National Geographic magazine to appreciate the gorgeous antiques and cultural items from around the world found at the National Geographic Museum. Plus, they’re much bigger and better in person. The museum offers a wide variety of photographs and rotating exhibits from scientific explorations that examine the diversity of different cultures and the wonders of the natural world.

National Geographic Museum | © greyloch/Flickr

Sister Galleries

The Freer and Sackler are sister museums that have more than 25,000 pieces of Asian art. The museums regularly host events and exhibitions that any art lover will find remarkable.

Asian Art | © Jun Seita/Flickr

The Reason Social Media Exists

Artechouse is an innovative interactive experience for people of all ages. Having just opened in June 2017, the museum has gotten a lot of press on social media, and for good reason. They will have a new immersive exhibit every few months, and each will combine technology, music, arts, film and fun in this new-age destination where visitors experience art with all their senses.

Artechouse | © kellybdc/Flickr


Get a big taste of the country’s art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), which has one of the largest and most extensive collections of American art worldwide. This museum is also housed in one of the oldest public buildings in the city.

Smithsonian American Art | © Sam-H-A/Flickr

Go Shopping at Renwick …

… even if it’s just to window shop. The Renwick Gallery is part of SAAM but has its own space downtown and features some new and eye-catching works that are more 3-D than other museums. Crafts, jewelry, textiles, and other decorative art is their forte. The gallery supports local and national artists, and, the best part is, if you like something enough, you can take it home with you.

Renwick Gallery | © Robert Lyle Bolton/Flickr

Take a Selfie with Someone Famous at the National Portrait Gallery

No, you won’t find a Kardashian at the National Portrait Gallery—perhaps all the more reason to go. What you will find are portraits of the greats of American history, from presidents to poets. The gallery features paintings, but also photographs and sculptures of the people who defined the United States. It’s in the Donald W. Reynolds Center, where SAAM is also located.

Portrait Gallery | © Héliodore Baalbek/Flickr

Behind the Scenes

Ever wonder what the conservation of art actually consists of? At Lunder Conservation Center, you can see employees from the National Portrait Gallery and SAAM working tirelessly to preserve masterpieces. This art facility is the first to allow daily access to view the conservation work essential to the art world.

Lunder Conservation Center | © davidgalestudios/Flickr

Cookies Policy

We and our partners use cookies to better understand your needs, improve performance and provide you with personalised content and advertisements. To allow us to provide a better and more tailored experience please click "OK"