Summer in the City,  Travel Tips

The Best Smithsonian You’ve Never Been To


Starkid, 2007, by Owusu-Ankomah; on display at the National Museum of African Art

(Before I tell you about what I’m up to in Iceland, I’d like to wrap up writing about my adventures in DC this summer. You can expect a post about my first impressions of Iceland on Saturday.)

The National Air and Space Museum is awesome; that’s why it attracts 9 million visitors annually. The National Museum of Natural History is home to dinosaur skeletons and the Hope Diamond. And the National Museum of American History is home to the original star spangled banner, which honestly is an impressive sight. I also wouldn’t pass up the chance to see the only da Vinci in the Americas or a stunning self-portrait by Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art.

However, if and when you tire of these big name Smithsonians, I recommend you pay a visit to the National Museum of African Art.

In stark contrast to some of the Smithsonians, which sprawl across multiple city blocks, from the outside, the Museum of African Art looks as if it could be breezed through. The lobby is sparse and unsure of itself, but once you notice the stairs, you’ll realize that this museum continues for multiple floors underground. The architecture of the building’s interior is influenced by African design, and specifically reminded me of Morocco.

If possible, you should visit before the exhibit African Cosmos: Stellar Arts concludes on December 9th. It features art about astronomy and astrology from different African countries and cultures, and the works span multiple time periods from ancient Egyptian to modern South African artists. This conception of Africa’s art throughout time is evident in the entire museum, which strives to give visitors a greater understanding of the complexity of African art and culture.

If you’re looking for a non-Smithsonian to visit during your time in DC, I have one more recommendation for you. Depending on your interests, you may wish to check out this museum even before you run out of free options. My mother and I went when she visited for a weekend, and we certainly thought it was worth the $10 entrance fee. The National Museum of Women in the Arts only exhibits works by female artists, from Mary Cassatt to Judy Chicago. And I think it’s a must-see for any card carrying feminist.


I mean, come on! There’s a Georgia O’Keefe next to a Frida Kahlo in this room of the National Museum of Women in the Arts!

What’s your favorite lesser known museum in DC?

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.

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