Last Updated on January 21, 2022 by Jim Ferri
Welcome to Washington, DC, the museum capitol of North America…
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
by Donna Manz
There are many unique museums in Washington, DC. So many, in fact, that some people consider the city to be 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, DC museums that are not federally funded. Although some charge admission (and can be relatively costly), they are quite interesting and well worth a visit.
Here are three non-government funded Washington DC museums that are so interesting to visit, even locals pay a premium to see them.
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.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
14th Street and Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW
Washington, DC 20024
Tel: (202) 488-0400
Open: six days a week (closed Wednesdays) 10am – 5:30pm
Admission: although admission is free, from March through August a free pass is required to enter the Permanent Exhibition.
The International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum, is only a 15-minute walk south of the Smithsonian, 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.
This is a truly unique museum in Washington DC where are all kinds of spy devices, 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.
Open: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm / Saturday 9:00 am – 7:00 pm / Sunday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Admission: Adult (13-64): $26.95 / Youth (7-12): $16.95 / Child (6 and under): Free (ticket required) / 65+, Military, Law Enforcement, Intelligence Community, College Students (with valid ID): $23.95
Although this Washington museum is technically not in Washington, D.C. but in Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate in Virginia, it 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.
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway
Mount Vernon, VA 22309
Tel: (703) 780-2000
Open: 365 days a year, including holidays / April – October: 9am – 5pm / November through March: 9am – 4pm
Admission: children (6-11 years): $15 / adults (12 – 61 years) $28 / 62+ $16. Children five and under are free. Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, veterans, first responders, nurses, medical professionals are eligible for a discount. Recipients of the Purple Heart receive free admission.
Note: The Museum and Education Center remains open to guests for one hour after closing.