There are basically four major attractions in Washington, D.C. They are the White House, the United States Capitol, the various memorials and monuments, and the National Mall Washington DC museums.
All of them are located on or very close to the National Mall, which is without question the most important focus of tourism in the capital of the United States. A national park site, the National Mall is basically a long expanse of lawns, flanked by trees and two wide avenues. It runs for 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) from the United States Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and is lined with several world-class museums. This is where you need to be when visiting Washington, D.C.
I would recommend trying to visit Washington, D.C. in the spring season, when the city is colored beautifully by the pink and white blossoms of its many trees. Particularly the area on the banks of the Potomac River, within easy walking distance from the National Mall Washington DC museums and the other attractions, is especially scenic this time of year.
While you can spend a few days on the National Mall, visiting all landmarks properly, you could also just as well dedicate only one day to a visit. You can easily get a feel for Washington, D.C. in a full day, including time to the top 3 National Mall Washington DC museums. (If you would like to stay longer and visit more museums, I encourage you to book a place to stay in Alexandria, a vibrant historic city just across the Potomac River.)
Top 3 National Mall Washington DC Museums
National Museum of Natural History
As a nature lover and history buff, this is my absolute favorite museum on the National Mall. Managed by the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of Natural History is open 364 days of the year and is free to visit to everyone. I’m not the only one who loves it, though, as this is, in fact, the world’s third most visited natural history museum and the most popular museum in all of North America.
The National Museum of Natural History has a collection of a mind-boggling 126 million artefacts, from cultural remains and human skeletons to minerals and meteorites to fossils of extinct plants and animals. It employs more than 1,000 people, including 185 natural history scientists, which is the largest team of scientists studying cultural and natural history employed anywhere in the world.
National Air and Space Museum
Also run by the Smithsonian Institution, the National Air and Space Museum is, in my opinion, the most fascinating and unique of all the top 3 National Mall Washington DC museums. Its collection of historic airplanes, rockets and spacecraft is the most extensive on earth and attracts a huge amount of visitors—it is the world’s fifth most visited museum. The National Air and Space Museum is free of charge as well.
It houses a breathtaking number of historically significant aircraft and spaceships, including the Chicago (the first plane that flew around the globe), the Wright Flyer (the very first actual airplane), the Apollo 11 Command Module, the Apollo Lunar Module, the Spirit of St. Louis (used by Charles Lindbergh to fly across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time), and a number of ballistic missiles and fighter jets from both World Wars.
National Gallery of Art
As opposed to the two National Mall museums above, the National Gallery of Art is not a Smithsonian Institution museum. That doesn’t make it less amazing, though. This phenomenal art museum is free to visit and is one of the absolute largest museums in North America.
The museum houses one of the world’s finest art collections, including everything from the Flemish Primitives and the Italian Renaissance to surrealism and modernism. Basically, all world-renowned painters are represented—there are works by people such as Raphael, Rembrandt, El Greco, Rubens, Manet, Monet, van Gogh and Picasso, among many, many others. The National Gallery of Art also has an extensive collection of prints—75,000 of them—and illustrated books. There is a collection of sculptures and decorative arts as well.
These top 3 National Mall Washington DC museums will keep you occupied for a full day in Washington, D.C. if you want to dedicate a whole day to exploring museums, that is. To avoid so-called “museum fatigue”, however, I would recommend picking one or two of them, covering it or them in greater detail, and spending some time outside on the National Mall as well. The White House and the many monuments are worth seeing, too.