Arts and Culture

Historic Sites and Museums

The D.C. area is full of historic monuments and tributes to American culture. Many of these sites are located along the National Mall  , including the Washington Monument , the Lincoln Memorial , the World War II Memorial , the Korean War Veterans Memorial , and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial . The National Archives , at the north end of the Mall, houses thousands of historic documents including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and an original copy of the Magna Carta.

Located directly south of the mall, the Tidal Basin features rows of Japanese cherry blossom trees that were presented as gifts from the nation of Japan in 1912. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt MemorialJefferson Memorial , and the District of Columbia War Memorial  are also located around the Tidal Basin.

The Smithsonian Institution  is an educational foundation chartered by Congress in 1846 that maintains most of the nation's official museums and galleries. The U.S. government partially funds the Smithsonian, making its collections open to the public free of charge. Many of these museums and galleries are clustered around the Mall, including the National Museum of Natural History , the National Air and Space Museum , the National Museum of African Art , the National Museum of American History , the National Museum of the American Indian , the Freer and Sackler art galleries , the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden , and the Smithsonian Institution Building (known as ”The Castle").

Closer to the Capitol you’ll find the National Gallery of Art . The gallery's West Building features the nation's collection of American and European art through the 19th century. The East Building, designed by architect I.M. Pei, features works of modern art. Congress also supervises the United States Botanic Garden , the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the nation. Located near Judiciary Square, the National Building Museum  was chartered by Congress in 1990 to host exhibits on architecture, urban planning, and design. The historic building was home to the headquarters of the U.S. Pension Bureau and its design was inspired by Roman palaces.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum  and the National Portrait Gallery  are located in the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture in Penn Quarter, directly across from the Verizon Center. Housed in the Patent Office Building, the site of President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Ball, a visit offers the chance to admire the Greek Revival architecture along with the exhibits. Other Smithsonian museums and galleries include the National Postal Museum  near Union Station and the National Zoo  in Woodley Park.

The Library of Congress  is the largest library in the world both in terms of shelf space and number of books. It is open to the public and features President Jefferson’s library, a Gutenberg Bible, and rotating exhibits of its materials. Also on Capitol Hill is the Folger Shakespeare Library , the world’s largest collection of the printed works of Shakespeare.

In addition to the wide range of Smithsonian facilities, there are numerous private art museums in D.C., including the National Museum of Women in the Arts , the Corcoran Gallery of Art , and the Phillips Collection , notable as the first museum of modern art in the United States. Other private museums in Washington include the Newseum, the International Spy Museum , and the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall . The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum , which was established through a public-private partnership, is dedicated to education about and remembrance of the Holocaust.

Performing Arts and Music

Washington, D.C. is a national center for the performing arts. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  home stage of the National Symphony Orchestra , the Washington National Opera , and The Washington Ballet . Each year, the Center also hosts the Kennedy Center Honors event in recognition of performing artists who have contributed greatly to the cultural life of the United States.

The city’s independent theater tradition lives on in institutions such as Arena Stage , the Shakespeare Theatre Company , the Warner Theatre , Ford’s Theatre , and the Studio Theatre , which feature both classic works and new American plays.

D.C. is also home to the United States Marine Band , which formed in 1798 before the city’s founding and is the oldest musical group in the United States. Also known as “The President’s Own”, the band grew to fame under conductor John Philip Sousa, who composed many of the most famous American marches. When not on tour, the band plays free concerts in locations such as the steps of the U.S. Capitol and the Marine Barracks in downtown D.C.

The U Street Corridor offers a lively entertainment scene, with venues featuring everything from funk and blues to punk rock. Live jazz and blues may be heard nearly every night at the restored Lincoln Theatre  – which hosted music legends such as D.C.-native Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis – offers a mix of drama, dance, music and film. Located nearby, the Black Cat  focuses on independent and alternative music, while the 9:30 Club  features well-known country, hip-hop, rock, and world music bands as headliners. Other venues for jazz and blues include Madam's Organ  in Adams Morgan and Blues Alley  in Georgetown.

More Resources

The National Park Service manages many of the city’s monuments and historic sites, and their website offers details on specific sites as well as information on the region’s history and culture, opportunities for exploring nature and science, and a guide for kids and teachers.

The Washington Post’s Going Out Guide  lists "best bets"  for museums, music, theater, and dance as well as descriptions of specific venues and reviews of shows you may have missed. The Smithsonian’s visitor information website  highlights exhibitions and events and also offers specific tips for families, groups, and visitors with disabilities.