Skip Navigation

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 External Web Site Disclaimer , including the Washington Monument External Web Site Disclaimer, the Lincoln Memorial External Web Site Disclaimer, the World War II Memorial External Web Site Disclaimer, the Korean War Veterans Memorial External Web Site Disclaimer, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial External Web Site Disclaimer. The National Archives External Web Site Disclaimer, 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 Memorial External Web Site Disclaimer, Jefferson Memorial External Web Site Disclaimer, and the District of Columbia War Memorial External Web Site Disclaimer are also located around the Tidal Basin.

The Smithsonian Institution External Web Site Disclaimer 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 External Web Site Disclaimer, the National Air and Space Museum External Web Site Disclaimer, the National Museum of African Art External Web Site Disclaimer, the National Museum of American History External Web Site Disclaimer, the National Museum of the American Indian External Web Site Disclaimer, the Freer and Sackler art galleries External Web Site Disclaimer, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden External Web Site Disclaimer, and the Smithsonian Institution Building (known as ”The Castle" External Web Site Disclaimer).

Closer to the Capitol you’ll find the National Gallery of Art External Web Site Disclaimer. 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 External Web Site Disclaimer, the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the nation. Located near Judiciary Square, the National Building Museum External Web Site Disclaimer 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 External Web Site Disclaimer and the National Portrait Gallery External Web Site Disclaimer 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 External Web Site Disclaimer near Union Station and the National Zoo External Web Site Disclaimer in Woodley Park.

The Library of Congress External Web Site Disclaimer 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 External Web Site Disclaimer, 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 External Web Site Disclaimer, the Corcoran Gallery of Art External Web Site Disclaimer, and the Phillips Collection External Web Site Disclaimer, notable as the first museum of modern art in the United States. Other private museums in Washington include the Newseum External Web Site Disclaimer, the International Spy Museum External Web Site Disclaimer, and the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall External Web Site Disclaimer. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum External Web Site Disclaimer, which was established through a public-private partnership, is dedicated to education about and remembrance of the Holocaust.

Back to top

Performing Arts and Music

Washington, D.C. is a national center for the performing arts. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts External Web Site Disclaimer home stage of the National Symphony Orchestra External Web Site Disclaimer, the Washington National Opera External Web Site Disclaimer, and The Washington Ballet External Web Site Disclaimer. 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 External Web Site Disclaimer, the Shakespeare Theatre Company External Web Site Disclaimer, the Warner Theatre External Web Site Disclaimer, Ford’s Theatre External Web Site Disclaimer, and the Studio Theatre External Web Site Disclaimer, 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 historic Bohemian Caverns External Web Site Disclaimer, and the restored Lincoln Theatre External Web Site Disclaimer – 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 External Web Site Disclaimer focuses on independent and alternative music, while the 9:30 Club External Web Site Disclaimer features well-known country, hip-hop, rock, and world music bands as headliners. Other venues for jazz and blues include Madam's Organ External Web Site Disclaimer in Adams Morgan and Blues Alley External Web Site Disclaimer in Georgetown.

Back to top

More Resources

The National Park Service manages many of the city’s monuments and historic sites, and their website External Web Site Disclaimer 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 External Web Site Disclaimer lists "best bets" External Web Site Disclaimer 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 External Web Site Disclaimer highlights exhibitions and events and also offers specific tips for families, groups, and visitors with disabilities.

Back to top

This page was last reviewed on