NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY – The centrepiece at this popular Smithsonian member is the flag that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner, the US national anthem. Other highlights include Abraham Lincoln’s top hat and Dorothy’s slippers from The Wizard of Oz.
US HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM – This harrowing museum deepens understanding of the Holocaust – its victims, perpetrators and bystanders. The galleries use artefacts, historic film footage and witness testimonies. Between March and August, you will need a museum pass to see the permanent exhibition: book well ahead.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE – The newest Smithsonian museum covers the diverse experience of African Americans with exhibits that include Louis Armstrong’s trumpet. The swish new building will be open by time of publishing.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY – Egyptian mummies, a giant squid, and tarantula feedings thrill young minds at this universally loved venue. Don’t miss the 45-carat Hope Diamond (a rare blue type), the Easter Island heads and the enormous stuffed creatures in the Mammal Hall.
NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM – Another popular Smithsonian highlight, this museum inspires kids with moon rocks, spaceships and wild simulator rides. Everyone flocks to see the Wright brothers’ flyer, Amelia Earhart’s natty red plane and the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. There’s also an on-site IMAX cinema and planetarium, plus a super-size annexe 23 miles out of town.
NEWSEUM – Budding journalists will love that this museum, charting the history of news and journalism, offers the chance to report ’live from the White House’ via the TV studio (and get the take-home video to prove it). The rest is impressive for kids and adults alike, with Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalism, a 9/11 gallery and reams of interesting footage on historic news events, such as Hurricane Katrina.
DEA MUSEUM – Nuance is not on the agenda at this museum showcasing the War on Drugs, brought to you by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Exhibits cover the last century-and-a-half of drug use, including Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ commercials from the 1980s and relics from old opium dens.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN IN THE ARTS – The only US museum exclusively devoted to women’s artwork fills this Renaissance Revival mansion. Its collection – more than 4,000 works – moves from Renaissance artists such as Lavinia Fontana to 20th-century pieces by Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe and Helen Frankenthaler.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS HOUSE – Escaped slave, abolitionist, author and statesman Frederick Douglass occupied this beautifully sited house from 1877 until his death in 1895. Original furnishings, books, photographs and other personal belongings paint a compelling portrait of this great man. The museum is a bus ride from the city centre, and visits are by guided tour.
TRANSPORT – Washington Dulles airport is 24 miles west of central DC. Fly on Qatar via Doha or United with one stopover in San Francisco or Chicago from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur (united.com). From Dulles, the Silver Line Express bus runs to Wiehle-Reston East metro station, from where it’s possible to catch a train to the city centre, taking 60-75 minutes in all. A taxi from the airport is US$60-US$68. Fares on DCs metro system start at US$1.70 (wmata.com). SmarTrip cards entitle users to US$1 off the paper metro fare.
WHERE TO STAY – On a shady residential street in the lively suburb of Adams Morgan, Adam’s Inn has inviting, homey rooms in two adjacent townhouses and a carriage house, plus a garden patio.
Chester A Arthur House B&B offers four rooms in a beautiful row house. The 1883 abode is stuffed with crystal chandeliers, antique oil paintings, oriental rugs and a mahogany panelled staircase.
Chrome-and-glass furniture and modem art frame the bold interior of The George. Its Capitol Hill location is perfect for museum sightseeing. There’s also a limited number of free bicycles available for guests.