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November 02, 2021

11 Museums in Washington D.C. for Photography Inspiration

Planning on attending Imaging USA? This January the BEST photography conference and expo will be hosted in National Harbor in the D.C. area. That means attendees will be a quick 20-minute car ride away from our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.

We know you will want to soak up every second of everything Imaging USA has to offer, but you might want to consider arriving in the area early or staying a day or two after the conference to explore the city. Washington D.C. is filled with monuments, museums, cultural centers, and international restaurants. Our nation’s capital has more than 70 museums dedicated to educating and enchanting visitors with exhibits on art, history, science, and culture.

For photographers, the city’s museums can be a unique source of photography inspiration. Here are 11 of the city’s best museums for firing up your imagination, according to professional photographers:

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Address: 1400 Constitution Ave, SW
Hours: 10 a.m.– 5:30 p.m. daily
Cost: Free with Pass

The newest addition to the 17 Smithsonian museums in the city, the African American History and Culture Museum tells the story of how black Americans helped shape our nation. Through artwork and other exhibits, all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience.  In the words of Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the Museum, “there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history.”   

National Gallery of Art

Address: Constitution Ave., NW between 3rd & 9th St.
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Saturday
Cost: Free

One of the most popular art galleries in the city, the National Art Gallery is located in the National Mall and is free to the public. The gallery is divided into two spaces: the West Wing, which showcases traditional artwork, and the East Wing, which is dedicated to contemporary art.

National Portrait Gallery

Address: 8th & F St., NW
Hours: 11:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. daily
Cost: Free

As the name suggests, the National Portrait Gallery houses a collection of portraits of influential Americans. The gallery displays diverse collections devoted to historical figures, leaders, entertainers, and presidents.

National Museum of the American Indian

Address: 4th St & Independence Ave, SW
Hours: 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. daily
Cost: Free

At this Smithsonian Museum, you’ll find more than one million pieces that tell the story of America’s native peoples going back 12,000 years. Exhibits include native objects, photographs, and artwork from tribes that lived in present-day U.S., Canada, and South America. The National Museum of the American Indian is home to the Mitsitam Cafe, which serves up seasonal, gourmet Native American cuisine.

National Air & Space Museum

Address: 600 Independence Ave, SW
Hours: 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. daily
Cost: Free

A Smithsonian Museum, the National Air & Space Museum exhibits hundreds of aircraft, spacecraft, rockets, and other aviation-related artifacts. The museum also features a planetarium and an IMAX theater.

National Geographic Museum

Address: Constitution Ave., NW between 3rd & 9th St.
Hours: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday - Saturday 
Cost: Free

Established by the organization that publishes the magazine of the same name, the National Geographic Museum displays rotating exhibits representing our world, its people, and its ideas. The museum offers everything from artwork to photography to interactive learning stations.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Address: Independence Ave., SW & 7th St., SW
Hours: 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. daily
Cost: Free

The city’s top modern art museum, the Hirshorn showcases eclectic video, digital, technology, and performance works in a stunning Gordon Bunshaft-designed cylindrical building. The museum is surrounded by gardens filled with a permanent collection of more than 60 sculptures.

Library of Congress

Address: 101 Independence Ave., SE
Hours: 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday - Saturday
Cost: Free

The Library of Congress is a treasure trove of dazzling architecture and artwork, as well as fascinating exhibits. The largest library in the world, the Library of Congress features 40 million books and other print materials in more than 470 languages, over 74 million manuscripts, and the largest rare book collection in the continent.

O Street Museum

Address: 2020 O St., NW
Hours: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily
Cost: $15+

The O Street Museum is a sprawling mansion made up of five townhouses with more than 100 themed rooms connected by 70 secret doors. The mega-mansion offers an immersive dive into art, sports, history, literature, and science.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW
Hours: 10 a.m. - 5:20 p.m. daily
Cost: Free

Our country’s official memorial to the holocaust, this museum is dedicated to educating visitors about the horrendous and tragic event in an honest way. The museum remembers the holocaust with artwork, artifacts, films, photography, and oral histories.

National Museum of Women in the Arts

Address: New York Ave. & 13th St., NW 
Hours: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday - Saturday; 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $10

This museum spotlights artwork from the last six centuries created by women around the world. The world’s only female artist-only museum, the NMWA displays visual, literary, and performance art from greats like Frieda Kahlo as well as lesser-known, up-and-coming names.

If you haven't already, don’t forget to register for the Imagining USA photography conference. Presented by Professional Photographers of America (PPA), Imaging USA is the country’s longest-running photography expo and convention devoted to photography education, inspiration, and more. Register today for your All-Access Pass to Imaging USA for only $59. Sign up before December 1 to score early-bird pricing!