The Most Beautiful Art Museums in Washington, DC

Don’t be the local who takes these for granted

two paintings with an exit outside to plants

The Great Hall at the Kreeger Museum

While D.C. may be known best for holding the seat of U.S. political power, its artistic prowess is not to be underestimated. Not only was it the first American city to implement the famed City Beautiful philosophy — which brought aesthetic consideration to the forefront of urban planning — but it is also home to some of the most beautiful art museums and galleries in the country. Certainly, the famed Smithsonian museums comprise 21 institutions (including the National Zoo), but art buffs have dozens of additional galleries and museums where they can spend a few hours or even a few days. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite art galleries in Washington, D.C. where you can explore everything from ancient Assyrian works to modern mixed media.

National Mall

Perhaps the most quintessential of D.C. (and perhaps U.S.) art museums is the National Gallery of Art — or the NGA, to D.C. residents. The West building, which is the larger of the two structures comprising the gallery, offers thousands of paintings and sculptures ranging from medieval periods to the late 19th century. The East building offers up the NGA’s modern collection. Plan on allocating plenty of time if visiting either (or both) museums, given the sheer size of the permanent collection and special exhibits. 

Constitution Ave. NW

white round sculpture in a garden, trees, one red tree, grass

The Kreeger Museum Sculpture Garden

Anna Savino


The intimate Kreeger Museum is the perfect art gallery for folks looking to spend a couple hours in one of D.C.’s most coveted neighborhoods and its most coveted museums. The contemporary collection has found its home in the former residence of Carmen and David Lloyd Kreeger, major players in the D.C. cultural scene in the mid-to-late 20th century. 

2401 Foxhall Rd NW

National Mall

Tourists absolutely must visit the National Portrait Gallery, and locals should visit regularly. The institution not only houses the portraits of U.S. presidents, but a wide range of other famous Americans and works by American artists. As a Smithsonian museum, the Portrait Gallery maintains an emphasis on education in its ever-rotating exhibits. 

8th St NW & G St NW

man and woman looking at art of a woman holding her face, looking directly forward, under a white arch


Joy Asico/Asico Photo

The newly renovated National Museum of Women in the Arts celebrates female artists, not just of the moment, but going back to the 16th century. Since opening over 37 years ago, the museum has amassed a collection that spans over 5,500 works from more than 1,000 artists; one of its most famous pieces is the only Frida Kahlo painting in the city, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky

1250 New York Ave NW

National Mall

The cylindrically-shaped Hirshhorn is a must-see museum for contemporary art lovers, where visitors will find modern masterpieces from artists like Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama and Damien Hirst. On sunny days, be sure to pay a visit to the stunning sculpture garden as well, which contains a range of monumental (and subtle) pieces. 

Independence Ave SW & 7th St SW

National Mall

Located practically at the doorstep of the White House, the Renwick is one of the smaller Smithsonian art museums celebrating contemporary American art. Beyond the pieces you’ll find inside, the building itself is worth marveling at, given that it was designed by architect James Renwick Jr. in 1858 with the intent of being the country’s first structure built specifically as an art museum. 

1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW #1

sculpture/artifact in a glass display

Freer|Sackler Gallery of Art

National Museum of Asian Art

National Mall

In the National Museum of Asian Art, you’ll find a stunning collection of works from East, South and Southeast Asia, as well as pieces from the Islamic world and ancient Egypt. Visitors will find pieces that date all the way back to the Neolithic era, as well as more modern works, spread across two buildings. Perhaps the most famous exhibit is the Peacock Room by James McNeill Whistler, an immersive display of decorative arts in the style of East Asian interior design. 

1050 Independence Ave SW

Dupont Circle

The impressive Phillips Collection represents some of the finest work from the 19th and 20th century in Europe and the United States, with pieces from Renoir, Klee, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Whistler and O’Keeffe. The museum also serves as the perfect backdrop for broader cultural experiences, including their occasional concert series. 

1600 21st St NW

National Mall

The African art museum in the Smithsonian collection spans the African continent and includes not only traditional and contemporary art, but also an extensive collection of photographs and books. As the first U.S.-based museum exclusively focused on African art, it remains the country’s largest collection of the continent’s works. 

950 Independence Ave SW


One of the newer museums in D.C., the Rubell Museum is located in what was once a historically Black public school in the southwest D.C. neighborhood. The contemporary art collection includes representation from diverse artists across diverse media, including painting, photography, video and mixed-media installations. 

65 I St SW

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