DC’s Winter Museum Guide: How to get your culture fix in the cold

January 25, 2016

We walk by them every day. We’ve all played tour guide at them when we have family or friends in town. Let’s not forget the question that your mom always as you walk by:You live so close! How often do you go? Its free!


With over 225 museums in D.C., it’s fair to say D.C. has no shortage of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural  exhibits and artifices. Not only do we have a bunch of options, many are internationally renowned and have free admission! In fact, its hard to mention DC’s “free museums” without mentioning the Smithsonian Institute.


For those who don’t know: Established in 1846, the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex. In addition to its 19 museums and galleries, it contains the National Zoological Park, and  has nine research facilities which house a combined 138 million objects, works of art, and specimens. In 2014, 28 million people visited the museum and the National Zoo. With such a vast portfolio, it comes as little surprise that the Smithsonian’s fiscal year 2015 budget is close to $1 billion ($819.5 million) (60% federally funded and 40% endowments/donations/other means for those wondering how such a huge institution is kept alive).


As you probably have seen by now, the District Ninja team loves finding the closest metro accessible places. While trekking to one of D.C.’s museums in the frigid cold, we realized we haven’t helped those DC visitors who have come to visit our fine city during some of our colder months by showing them the museums that are closest to a metro station.  Accordingly, The District Ninja team decided its time find out which museums are closest to a D.C. metro station (we chose 200 meters as the benchmark to save everyone some frostbite!).



This map provides a illustration of all 56 museums in the data set in D.C. To help give people an idea of where things are in respect to parts of the city we have added DC’s ward-boundaries. Before we set out to find the “most metro accessible” museums, we wanted to get a general idea of where the museums in D.C. are distributed. We can quickly see that D.C.’s museums are very concentrated in certain areas of the city. Wards 2 and 6 account for a significant percentage of all the museums. Of course,this is not arbitrary. Ward 2 is home to the National Mall. That being said, it’s interesting to see that despite dozens of museums in D.C., they are heavily concentrated.


Here we have narrowed down the list to just those museums within 200 meters of a D.C. metro station. The year on each bar graph represents the year the museum opened to the public. It’s interesting to see that once we scoped down the distance to 200 meters among this batch, no metro station has more than two museums. If you drag your mouse over each entry, you can learn more information about the museum such as the admission, hours of operation, and even the square foot in order to get an idea of its size (and how long it may take to walk through) . You’ll notice for some museums like the American Poetry Museum, we were unable to list the square footage. This is because the data was not available! We reached out to them, but as of the timing of this post, have yet to hear back. If you are reading this from the America Poetry Museum (or for some reason know its square footage) Please tweet us @DistrictNinja or email us at DistrictNinja1@gmail.com


In order to help you decide which museums to visit we have compiled some interesting facts and links about each metro accessible museum.  Enjoy!


Heurich House Foundation

Metro Stop: Dupont Circle


As DCist accurately noted, we’ve all probably walked by it over a 100 of times. Built at the end of the 19th century, the Heurich  House Museum is a 7,100 square foot Victorian mansion that houses furnishings and decorations of the late-Victorian era. The house contains the possessions of Christian Heurich, A German emigrant who arrived to the United States with $200 in his name, but ultimately became one of D.C.’s original brew masters. He founded the Christian Heurich Brewing Company, which allowed him to become the District’s second largest-land owner and largest non-governmental employer. Following Christian Heurich’s death in 1945, his widow deeded the house to the Washington Historical Society. Sadly we do not know of an active brewery on site but we can appreciate the goodness that he has brought many generations later!


The National Archives

Metro Stop: Archives (of course!)


Since 1937, the National Archives and Records Administration (“NARA” or Archives”) has served as America’s record keeper. In the early 20th century, federal agencies continued to grow at a rapid pace and continued to require more office space. Congress reacted by enacting legislation that among other things, called for a massive building project in the Penn Quarter area to create more federal agency office space. The Commission that had the final say on all buildings built under the legislation decided that that the”top priority was the construction of an Archives building along Pennsylvania Avenue NW.” Today, the National Archives has grown to over 19,000 square foot of public viewing space. The Archives have also established a significant digital foot print. Today, you can access over 100 million records of American history on the museum’s website.


National Portrait Gallery

Metro Stop: Gallery Place


Founded in 1962 and averaging roughly over 1 million visitors a year today, the building that houses the National Portrait Gallery was not always used to showcase art.  The Patent Office, the building which houses the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, has served many different functions and capacities since the mid to late 18th century. The building use to be a temporary barracks in the early days of the Civil War and as a hospital and morgue during the war. The Civil war also delayed the construction of the building. In addition to its civil war ties, it has a prominent space in the history of U.S. publicly constructed buildings as it is the “third public building constructed in early Washington, D.C. (after the White House and the U.S. Capitol).

As for the contents of the museum, the National Portrait Gallery practically has something for everyone ranging from “pop-culture fans, history buffs, and art lovers alike.”  It also serves as the the space for the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM).  SAAM is home to one of the largest collections of American art with inclusive and exceptional collections such as the largest collection of New Deal era art work.


Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery

Metro Stop: Smithsonian


The Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery are the Smithsonian Institute’s museums that are focused on Asian art. Freer is currently closed for renovation and will reopen in 2017. The Sackler Gallery is much younger than its sister museum, opening almost 65 years after Freer. Together, the museums serve as the largest Asian art research library in the United States.” The two museums have over 80,000 volumes, including nearly 2,000 rare books, many of which are written in and cataloged in Asian languages. In 2013, both museums recorded a collected 613,000 visitors who could view over 40,000 collections between the two museums.  Like some other museums, these museums are much more than exhibits and artifacts. As part of its educational mandate, both museums regularly have a “full schedule of public events, including films, lectures, symposia, concerts, book readings and discussions.”


National Postal Museum (City Post Office Building)

Metro Stop: Union Station


This museum’s building originally served as the Washington, D.C., post office from 1914  until 1986.  In 1993, the building became the National Postal Museum through a joint agreement between the United States Postal Service and the Smithsonian Institute. Today, the National Postal Museum  Museum has 35,000 square feet of exhibition space and its research library holds more than 40,000 volumes and manuscripts. It tells the story of the history of the post office as well as the introduction of technology to automate the postal service in general. A great museum for the technology nerd and history buff alike come find out why “neither rain nor sleet nor snow” has been possible for nearly three centuries.


International Spy Museum

Metro Stop: L’Enfant Plaza


Set to celebrate its 14th birthday this summer, the Int’l Spy Museum is the go to move for those seeking all things espionage. According to their website, the museum features the “largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on display.” The museum has made recent headlines  been in the press, but not because of  a new exhibit or collection. museum has been in recent headlines, but not for its exhibits or artifacts. This past June, the museum announced that it was packing up from its Penn Quarter location when its current lease expires in the summer of 2017. The new location would be a 65,000 square-foot building at L’Enfant Plaza. Interestingly, the museum noted that while L’Enfant may seem like a “dead” location, Penn Quarter was far less developed when the museum first opened in 2002.


German-American Heritage Museum

Metro Stop: Gallery Place


In March 2010, this museum opened up in Penn Quarter as a tribute to Americans of German descent, the history of German immigration and migration across the United States, and much more. Visitors will find a media lounge, library, exhibit space, and an auditorium for film screenings and lectures. The museum also appears to be a good choice for those in need of something quicker. Some Yelp reviewers note that it “takes less than 20 minutes” to view the museum. Whether that’s exact or not, the low time prediction can give you an idea that this museum trip would be on the shorter end.


American Poetry Museum

Metro Stop: Brookland


According to its website, this museum is an “outreach museum that serves as a space for exhibitions and education centered on the subject of American Poetry.” What’s cool about this museum is that in addition to learning about American Poetry, you can work on your own poetry skills. The museum holds various educational poetry writing workshops held throughout the year.


We hope you enjoyed this winter post which hopes to help keep you warm by highlighting the D.C. museums that are closest to a metro station. Stay tuned for more posts on how to get and about in D.C. while staying as warm as possible!


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