So many museums, so little time – Washington, DC

Metro Rail
Does this man look confused?  For once he isn’t, thanks to the simplicity of the DC Metro system.

Once again our jello-style planning has been tested. Lucky for us, with this lifestyle we can change the course as often as needed to fit our wants and needs.  Prior to our arrival in DC, we had shortened our 10-day stay to a week due to the government shutdown.  But when the government got their act together on our 3rd day here, we changed it back to 10 days.  Even then we knew there’s no way to see everything here in just 10 days, so we prioritized our wish list and went from there.  The Metro system is the way to get into DC, and on four days it was our mode of transportation as we hit the National Mall.  We explored not only the iconic monuments and memorials, but most importantly the re-opened (and free) world class Smithsonian museums.  I promise to post only the highlights of our gawking and learning escapades.

Metro Rail Transit
Metro Rail transit station

Our visit to the US Holocaust Museum was a compelling emotional experience.  We thought we could just breeze through it, but we couldn’t.  It was a sobering visit, and a good place to learn about that dark time in history.  Photography is not allowed, but what struck me the most was the room containing thousands of pairs of the victim’s shoes, and the “tunnel” with pictures of so many of them, which made it very real.  We were drained and exhausted after three hours of intense reading, listening and watching videos.

US Holocaust Museum
US Holocaust Museum

At the Natural History Museum, Steve made sure I got to see the dazzling 45.52-carat Hope Diamond, known for its flawless clarity and rare deep blue color.

Hope Diamond
Hope diamond

The Natural History Museum is a family favorite, but we mostly just checked out the Gem and Mineral collection.  It took hours just to examine the various mesmerizing gems and minerals of all shapes, sizes, colors and forms.

Natural History Museum
Lobby, Natural History Museum

We have already been to several Air and Space museums – the McMinville Air Museum in Oregon, the National Naval Aviation Museum, in Florida and the Space Center in Texas – but of course the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is the granddaddy of them all!  With Steve’s passion for all things that fly, this one was at the top of his list.  Although he was stationed in DC during the early 80’s and had been to this museum several times back then, so many changes and upgrades have occurred that he hardly recognized the place.

Apollo 11 Command Module
The actual Apollo 11 command module – good stuff!

Because it is the world’s largest collection of air and space vehicles, the collection has been expanded to two locations – the original museum on the National Mall and the other at the massive UDVAR-Hazy center next to the Washington-Dulles Airport.  Of course, we had to see both of them!

Air France Concorde
Concorde – the first commercial supersonic airliner.

Of course, what we saw here were not replicas, but the real historically significant aircraft and spacecraft.  Standing literally under the Space Shuttle Discovery was awesome – knowing that it flew beyond the limits of our earth.  And there was the Enola Gay, the actual aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  We also saw the Air France Concorde, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the Apollo 11 command module, the actual original Wright brother’s flying contraption, and so much more.  Overwhelming!

Space Shuttle Discovery
Space shuttle Discovery

I had to agree with Steve, this place is extraordinary.  Standing next to so many historic displays took my breath away!

Pratt & Whitney R-4360
This got Steve’s blood flowing – a massive Pratt & Whitney R-4360 turboprop assembly.

From airplanes and spacecraft, we came back down to earth at the National Health and Medicine Museum. This often overlooked and off-the-beaten-path museum has several collections of morbid anatomy on display.  The collection has real human remains (bones, tissues and parts), and an interesting display that discusses facial reconstruction.  There are also exhibits that display gruesome injuries from the battlefields of several wars and describe the medical techniques used for them at the time.

Bone remains from the battle of Gettysburg
Bone remains from the battle of Gettysburg

The emphasis here was on military medicine, documenting the effects of war wounds and disease on the human body and the remarkable changes in American medicine over the past 150 years.  There was a display that marked Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birth anniversary, including items associated with his last hours.  The physicians who cared for him and the bullet that killed him were on display.  We found this museum to be unique and well worth a look – even if you aren’t into medicine.  Thanks to our best bud Don for recommending another winner!

National Health and Medicine Museum
Bullets and shrapnel removed from wounds

We noticed a National Building Museum on our map and decided to see what that was about.  It included a display called “Americas Great Places, the Guastavino family”.  We had not heard that name before, but their architectural legacy can be seen under the lofty vaults and domes of this beautiful building.  There are several iconic structures attributed to the Guastavino’s, notably Grand Central Terminal, the Boston Public Library and the U.S. Supreme Court building, to name a few.

Guastavino Family
Guastavino family
National Building Museum
Lobby of National Building Museum – that ceiling is WAY up there!

We also dropped by the National Archives, where, along with a big crowd of kids, we managed to peek at all the original Charters of Freedom in America.  No photography allowed, but to just see the original 200+ year old Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights sort of capped our own history trail education.

National Archives
We happened to get inside the National Archives, along with a bunch of kids.

We spent a few hours at the National Museum of the American Indian and observed that the museum is really a cultural celebration of Indians from the past and present.  Eight galleries recount the history of individual communities from their perspective.  And, they have a very good (although a bit pricey) cafeteria there.  Thanks to Greg and Michelle for telling us about this one!

Extensive collections at the National American Indian Museum
Collections unearthed from way back – 1491

As an afterthought we stopped by the National Art Gallery, West building.  Not being art lovers, we just breezed through and then out we went.  But not before I snapped this Madonna and Child, a painted and gilded paper mache and stucco, circa 1550.

Madonna and Child
Madonna and Child, circa 1550.

Believe me, that was a lot of museums to visit!  After four solid days we had headaches from learning more than we wanted to.  We also became veteran Metro riders and walked miles and miles.  Our legs and brains hurt, yet we had barely scratched the surface in this city.  It seems like going through all of these world-class museums could take a lifetime.  There is something for everyone in the nation’s capital, and worthy of a visit – despite the bickering politicians.

Here are a few sights I captured during our visit:

Reflection Pool
Reflecting Pool with the Washington Monument (still under repair) in the background.
House of Congress
A happy person takes a break from her arduous touring.




  1. I think you two could easily have accompanied Lewis & Clark. You are such energetic explorers. I’ve been to some of the places you have described and photographed but I feel like I’ve just been there again! Thank you.

  2. Incredible story and photos. DC looks like a great place. I didn’t realize that had so many museums. We are going to the Mexican Riviera for 3 weeks to explore the Mayan ruins, jungles and beaches. Have a great time back east.

  3. As many times as we have been to DC, I have never heard of the National Health and Medicine Museum! We are most definitely going to check this out! This is my kind of place.

    I was exhausted just thinking about all that you saw in four days! Now you can understand why we only would see one museum with each trip in to DC. I don’t think I will ever be able to visit the Holocaust Museum…way to emotional for me.

    Glad the government cooperated so you could get the full Washington experience:)

    • Truly a good place to visit! We have been many times, and have visited countless museums but you turned up some new ones for us: we haven’t yet made it to the Holocaust Museum; I hadn’t heard of the National museum of Health and Medicine and i have a few others on my checklist for next trip! Looks like you guys had a great time exploring what DC has to offer!

  4. Awesome pictures! We spent almost two weeks in DC and like you barely scratched the surface of things to see & do! And the Metro is the best transit I’ve ever seen. The first day there I returned the rental car and we bought the week long passes on Metro. Be sure to check out Gettysburg and the Eisenhower’s home while in the area, very moving (and sobering) when you do the walking tour of the battlefield.

  5. What a great tour…places we have not heard of or seen.

    Love your candid shots when out and about….especially the Washington Monument. The weather sure was nice for all your miles of walking. You smile says it all!

  6. You two are always in motion. A lot of ground was covered while you were in DC. I have been wanting to see the Holocaust Museum for some time. Glad you got to take it in.

    • You are absolutely right LuAnn we are continuing to cover lots of ground here while here. We wont be back on the East so we are doing as much as we can.
      There is only one downside to the Holocaust museum, the crowd. We were there first thing in the morning because it is quite popular but the good thing is, everyone is respectful and quiet the whole time.

  7. What a whirlwind tour you took me on, Mona. I love museums, but I think I would also have found my brain hurting with all that knowledge. Marvellous pics. That lobby with its soaring pillars is stupendous. 🙂

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