Five Great Washington, DC Museums


The Newseum / photo: Sam Kittner, Newseum

by Donna Manz

Washington, DC is not only the capitol of the United States, it’s also the museum capitol of North America. Many of its museums, such as the Smithsonian complex, are federally funded and free to visit.

But there are also several good Washington museums that are not federally funded. Although some charge admission (and can be relatively costly), they are quite interesting and well worth a visit.

To help you separate the cream of the cultural crop from the chaff we’ve put together a list of non-government funded D.C. museums that are so interesting to visit, even locals pay a premium to see them.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum / photo: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum / photo: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Unlike most tourist spots, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is not the place to go for a joyful excursion but rather a place to reflect on the evil that man perpetrates on man.  The museum’s mission is research and education and its chronology of the Holocaust is a piercing view into the darkest period in 20th  century-Europe.  Personal references to the victims and the use of their names gives life to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.  The single time I visited the memorial museum I left feeling as if I had merely glossed over the resources and displays there.
Admission: admission is free, although from March through August a free pass is required to enter the Permanent Exhibition.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: 14th Street and Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington, DC 20024.
Tel: (202) 488-0400

The International Spy Museum / photo:  International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum / photo: International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum, an easy walk from the White House, is just about my favorite D.C. museum … probably because I remember some of the events depicted here, including the Robert Hansen spy case. Hansen lived about two miles from my house and it was an odd feeling looking at photos of Hansen’s “drop” point knowing I passed it frequently. There are all kinds of spy devices here, even an area dedicated to the pigeon spies of World War II.  (Okay, the pigeons didn’t know they were spies but they did intelligence work carrying tiny cameras in World War I). There’s also a special James Bond exhibit honoring 50 years of Bond movies, interactive spy games and even Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone. The museum is laid out in a clandestine manner and is one of those experiences best appreciated over several visits.
Admission: timed tickets are $14.95 for children (7-11 years); $19.95 for adults (12-64 years); 65 years+, law enforcement and military $15.95. 
The International Spy Museum: 800 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004. Tel: (202) 393-7798

CIS exhibit, the Crime Museum / photo: The Crime Museum

CIS exhibit, the Crime Museum / photo: The Crime Museum

The Crime Museum

The Crime Museum, formerly the National Museum of Crime & Punishment, maintains a permanent collection and offers monthly events as well as special exhibitions, such as the current dog-fighting exhibition that runs throughout 2013.  Its forensics workshops, appealing to the NCIS set, sell out quickly and the CSI Summer Camp is particularly popular. The museum features many interactive exhibits, from a virtual shooting range to a forensics lab.  You’ll also find Ted Bundy’s car here as well as several items from Ted Kaczynski, aka the “Unabomber.”
Admission: prices range from $15 to $28 (children under five are free); labs and workshops are additional. Tickets are both date and time-specific and can be purchased online at a savings of about $5 each. 
The Crime Museum: 575 7th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20004. Tel: (202) 393-1099

Pulitzer-Prize winning photos, the Newseum / photo: Sam Kittner, the Newseum

Pulitzer-Prize winning photos, the Newseum / photo: Sam Kittner, Newseum

The Newseum

The Newseum is unique among cultural institutions in that it focuses its exhibits and interactive resources on the roles that media played in history, from the Berlin Wall and JFK’s assassination, to the Unabomber and hundreds of other newsworthy incidents.  “G-Men and Journalists” – media accounts of the FBI tracking down famous gangsters – is probably one of its most popular collections.  Inside the Newseum are five theatres showing films highlighting major events, re-broadcasts of news reports and sporting events. It’s a fun, informative place that kids enjoy as much as adults.
Admission: youth (7-18) $12.95; adults $21.95; 65 years+, military and students $17.95; children (6 and younger)
are free.  All tickets are non-inclusive of tax and valid for two consecutive days. A family four-pack, valid for one day only, is $59.95 plus tax.
Newseum: 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001. Tel: (202)

Mount Vernon / photo: Robert Goodwin

Mount Vernon / photo: Robert Goodwin

Mount Vernon

Although it’s technically not in Washington, D.C., Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate in Virginia, deserves to be included in any summary of capitol attractions since it draws a lot of visitors who come to the District of Columbia. And, after all, the nation’s capitol is named for him. Washington and his wife Martha lived at Mount Vernon for more than 40 years and the estate, on the banks of the Potomac River just 16 miles from the White House, has been restored and preserved.  I love visiting Mount Vernon in the spring when the trees and flowers are blossoming and in mid-fall when warm colors take over the grounds.
Admission: $8 for children (6 – 11 years);  $17 for adults (12 – 61 years); $16 for 62 years+.  Children five and under are free.
Mount Vernon: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA 22309. Tel: (703) 780-2000

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  1. Julie Kupersmith says

    As always, great article, well written. The Holocaust Museum and Mt. Vernon are not to be missed!! We have not been to the others, but will plan to go the next time we are in DC.

    • says

      Thanks, Julie …. the exhibits in the Holocaust Museum sear into your memory … much like the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam! Such a brilliant young mind on such a cloistered child …. the walk from Leidesplein to Anne Frank House is lovely … tree-lined canal.
      Warmly, Donna

  2. says

    Donna has always been one of my favorite writers. Love the article and now I have to go check out the links you’ve listed. Thank You. Keep writing and traveling! Aloha JOE

    • says

      aaaah …. and Aloha Joe is my favorite Hawaiian music resource! Every time I hear your station online, I imagine I’m back in Hawai`i nei …
      Mahalo nui loa for the kind words, too, Aloha Joe! I believe you are hosting a tour group to the Hawaiian Music Awards again this year. aloha, Donna

  3. says

    I really love reading your articles, there are full of useful information!
    I feel well prepared for my next trip over the big sea, thanks to Donna :-)
    The Mount Vernon place looks great to me as well, even not being at DC, I think it’s worth a visit!
    Greetings from Germany,

    Markus Germann
    Viatorius Tours Germany

    • says

      Danke schon, Markus ….

      I hope to show you around my DC when you come to visit the U.S. once again ….

      Hope to meet you when I’m in Bavaria in December! Love your posts on your FB page!

      Regards and best wishes,
      Donna Manz

  4. sandy gerner says

    donna..your articles are always informative…our most recent trip included our two grandsons ages 10 and 8 years, so we omitted those places which might have been too emotionally difficult…we did enjoy mt. vernon, but the crowds were more than i ever remembered…the boys loved the spy museum, especially the gift shop!

    • says

      Thanks, Sandy, for taking the time to write …. I, too, love the Spy Museum —- cracked up over Maxwell Smart’s “shoe-phone.”
      Mount Vernon usually is slowest in the fall … school groups fall back as do tourists 😉
      Warmly, Donna

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