Cultural Experience | Washington DC

Discovering DC: The National Mall

Visit a multitude of museums in a matter of minutes in Washington D.C

When I was in 3rd grade, I made my first trip to Washington, D.C. As a Baltimore native, I am fortunate enough that the nation’s capital isn’t too far away. With so many museums and historic monuments, it makes sense that the National Mall was a prime destination for field trips during my youth. I remember my teacher telling me we’d have lunch “on the Mall” during our field trip. I pictured a large shopping center filled with food stalls and stores. However, I was a little confused when I arrived on the Mall to find a grassy area filled with museums.

I quickly adjusted and grew to love the museums. When I chose my college, University of Maryland stood out to me because of its proximity to DC. I’m now just 7 miles away from the capital, and I’ve made several trips to visit the mall during my time at school. Now, I don’t just visit for leisurely fun; I currently intern on the Mall for a branch of the Smithsonian.

One of the best parts of my job is definitely visiting the museums. I usually take an hour each day to visit an exhibit or two. Fortunately, it fits within my job description. I work with social media, so taking pictures at exhibits totally counts as finding relevant content. I sometimes can’t believe that I get to spend almost every afternoon visiting some places that others only get to see once in a lifetime.

I hope that you’re able to make it to the Mall one day! If you’re visiting any time soon, here’s a handy guide I’ve put together for you:

Smithsonian Institution aka “The Castle”:

Smithsonian Castle

This building in the middle of the mall is the crown jewel of the Smithsonian. It’s technically an information center, but it does feature some artifacts from all of the museums along the Mall. The castle is the best place to start your journey through the mall. Here you’ll find information on each of the museums and friendly guides willing to help you. You’ll also find some human remains. That’s right. The castle serves as the final resting place for James Smithson, the founding donor of the Smithsonian Institution. If crypts creep you out, you can just visit the castle’s quaint cafe for a quick lunch, and if you visit when the weather’s nice, you can take your food outside and enjoy it in the beautiful garden.

National Museum of American History:

National Museum of American History Ruby Slippers

I’m a pop culture junkie, so the National Museum of American History is my personal favorite. Here you’ll find Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of oz, Julia Child’s Kitchen, the original flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner, and many more important artifacts from our nation’s history. Half of the museum is currently undergoing renovation and is scheduled to open with new exhibits in 2015 and 2016. From what I’ve seen, the exhibits look like they’re worth the wait. Luckily, some of the most iconic items are still on display such as the long running exhibition of the First Ladies’ gowns.

National Museum of Natural History:

National Museum of Natural History atrium

Dinosaurs, diamonds, and deep ocean artifacts (oh my) are just some of the items you’ll find in the National Museum of Natural History. My favorite section is the dinosaur section. Unfortunately, the fossil hall is closing down for major renovations until 2019. However, a 5 year renovation means a major overhaul, so it’s going to be pretty awesome when that section re-opens. Patrons can still see some dinos on display at other parts of the museum, including the Nation’s T-rex. If dinosaurs aren’t your thing, then perhaps you’ll like the gemstones or butterfly pavillion. There’s certainly a lot to see here.

National Gallery of Art:

National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art encompasses two buildings that are connected by an underground tunnel. Even if you don’t know a Monet from a Manet, it’s still a relaxing place to walk around. The two buildings house everything from renaissance artwork to modern pieces. I enjoy the French impressionist paintings in particular. The gift shop between the two buildings has some lovely artwork to take home, and there’s a cute cafe that’s great for relaxing indoors. I like to have lunch there if the weather’s too chilly to enjoy the outdoors.

Sculpture Garden:

Sculpture Garden

This spot is the best for enjoying some quiet time outside. I like to sit by the large fountain and enjoy some fresh air. It’s also nice to stroll through the garden and admire the cool artwork. In the winter, the fountain becomes an ice-rink where you can skate for two hours at a time. Basically, any time of year is a great time to check out this landmark.

National Museum of the American Indian:

National Museum of the American Indian

This museum is really underrated. The outside architecture is stunning, and the objects inside are just as awesome. Native Americans have a rich history that spans our entire continent, and all types of artwork and craftwork can be found in this museum. The journey through the museum starts with a wonderful video that reinforces the mission of the museum. People usually gravitate towards the Natural History Museum or the American History Museum, but it’s fun to explore some of the lesser known museums like this one.

National Air and Space Museum:

National Air and Space Museum

I think every child has wanted to be an astronaut at some point in his or her life. The National Air and Space Museum allows us to fulfill those fantasies. Here, you can view famous objects from the early history of flight all the way up to present space exploration. There’s also a planetarium and IMAX theatre.

Hirshhorn Museum:

Hirschhorn Museum

The Hirshhorn museum is another one of the many art museums on the mall. As the name suggests, it houses the permanent art collection of Joseph H. Hirshhorn. It also features various temporary exhibits throughout the year. The doughnut-like structure of the building makes it fun to explore. The museum also has its own sculpture garden.

National Museum of Asian Art (Freer/Sackler Galleries):

Freer/Sackler Galleries

These two galleries offer a wide variety of art from asian cultures. I found myself at peace strolling through the buddhist and hindu exhibits. While the American History Museum focuses on the main points of our culture, it’s nice to learn about artifacts from other cultures. Definitely check out the stunning peacock room while you’re there. I’d provide a picture, but it just doesn’t do it justice.

National Museum of African Art:


National Museum of African Art:

Photo Credit: National Museum of African Art Instagram

This museum began as a display in a series of row homes located in Washington, D.C. As  the collection grew, the museum relocated to the National Mall. In addition to housing various african art, the museum also features cultural events and gatherings. As pictured above, the events look like a lot of fun.

U.S. Botanic Gardens:

U.S. Botanic Gardens

While not officially a part of the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Botanic Gardens are still on the mall. The large greenhouse features plants from all over the continental United States, as well as some species from Hawaii. It’s cool to walk through a variety of climates all within a matter of minutes.

Courtney Guth

University of Maryland | 31 stories

Courtney Guth is a senior English major at the University of Maryland College Park actively seeking an answer to the age-old question, “so what are you going to do with that?” Her answer currently involves working in communications and development for a small non-profit in Washington, D.C. If she’s not exploring the nation’s capital, she’s probably watching an old movie, attempting to cook, or losing her voice at a Maryland Terrapins’ game. She believes the adage that “the world is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page” but why just read when you can write?

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