Washington, D.C.: Three Museums Off The Beaten Path

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Washington, D.C.: Three Museums Off The Beaten Path

Over the years, I have had many opportunities to visit Washington, D.C. On my last few visits to the nation’s capital, I decided to look for different experiences outside the famous museums in and around the National Mall area. This July, I had the opportunity to stay in the West End section so I thought I would visit some museums in the area. Over two days, I took the time to reacquaint myself with two museums I visited almost 30 years ago and one new museum that opened about two years ago.

The main entrance to the Phillips Collection

The Philips Collection

My first destination was the Phillips Collection where I was hoping to see various works of art from their permanent collection. This was a museum that I visited about 30 years ago and I had fond memories of the collection and the facility.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” on display in the permanent collection of the Phillips Collection

I distinctly remember enjoying the famous painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party” by Renoir as well as works by El Greco, Goya, Van Gogh, Rothko, Mondrian, Chagall, and Picasso. The specialness that I really liked about Phillips Collection the last time I was there was that I enjoyed seeing art displayed in an intimate home setting rather than a large art gallery.

Much had changed in 30 years. The museum had expanded and now featured an area for special exhibitions as well as the permanent collection. The facility also housed an extensive museum store and cafe. I only had time to visit the permanent collection so I spent an hour focusing on this part of the museum.

Painting No. 9 and Composition No. III by Mondrian in the Music Room

Unfortunately, many works of art that I saw the last time I was there were not on display. I asked a docent about some of the missing works and was told that paintings in the permanent collection were rotated throughout the year and that others were on loan for special exhibitions in other museums around the world. Admittedly, I was somewhat disappointed. There were a good number of paintings that I had hoped to see that were not on display.

Had I done my homework, I would not have run into this situation. After some investigation, I found out that I could have checked the museum website online to see the works of art in the permanent collection that would be on display. If you have not been to the Phillips Collection then I would definitely recommend it. My only suggestion would be to check their website to see if the paintings that will be on display are of interest to you.


The entrance to the National Geographic Museum

The National Geographic Museum

My next stop, the National Geographic Museum, was only a short distance away from the Philips Collection. My plan was to see their special exhibition on the Queens of Egypt as well as their Permanent Exhibition: National Geographic: Exploration Starts Here. Again, it was about 30 years ago that I last visited the National Geographic Museum. The museum is known for featuring changing exhibitions that revolve around the work of National Geographic researchers, photographers, and scientists as well as exhibits that focus on natural history, historical events, culture, and society in general. The exhibit themes are very much like the articles featured in the National Geographic magazine.

A bust of Queen Nefertari from the Queens of Egypt exhibition at the National Geographic Museum

I spent about 90 minutes enjoying the current special exhibition on the Queens of Egypt and gained some memorable experiences. The first was a 3-D virtual tour ofNefertari’stomb in the Valley of the Queens. At the time I visited, I was the only person in the large video room. The experience was so exciting, I did the walkthrough of the tomb three times. The next unique activity was sniffing different perfume scents that would have been used in ancient times.

Using hieroglyphic cards to create my name at the Queens of Egypt exhibition at the National Geographic Museum

My third notable experience was a display that allowed me to create my name in hieroglyphics. Prior to my visit, I did not know that Egyptian hieroglyphic symbols were based on phonetic sounds. There was a wealth of information in this exhibit and I felt that I learned a lot about not only about six of the most famous Queens of Egypt, but also a great deal of information about Egyptian goddesses, the Dei El-Medina craftsmen’s village, mummies, and Egyptian sarcophagi. I also enjoyed the videos by National Geographic personnel who were working in the field to uncover artifacts and information in Egypt. This was a very interesting exhibit for me and I considered it time well spent.

After the Queens of Egypt exhibit, I headed over to the free National Geographic: Exploration Starts Here Permanent Exhibition. I also saw this exhibit over 30 years ago. There were definitely some interesting artifacts from many famous National Geographic expeditions worth seeing, even though I seem to remember that there were more artifacts on display during my previous visit. I was very excited to see an album of photographs from Hiram Bingham’s Machu Picchu expedition, the camera used by Robert Peary at the North Pole, and videos shot from the top of Mount Everest. Overall, I only spent about 20 minutes viewing the items in this exhibit.

The National Geographic Museum can be a great place to visit if they are offering an interesting special exhibition. The Permanent Exhibition is worth seeing, especially if you are a National Geographic fan, but I think it is best to combine it with an excursion that also includes a special exhibition. In addition, the National Geographic Museum also features an extensive gift shop with a multitude of items containing their famous logo. If you are a fan, at some point you need to make the trek to the museum.


The Museum of the Bible

I decided to begin my third museum visit the next day because it involved some subway travel. My destination was a relatively new museum and a place I had not visited before, the Museum of the Bible. I became interested in visiting the museum after I read about it in a travel magazine article. I didn’t know how much time I would spend there, so I decided to start my day there and If I had extra time, I would venture over to one of my favorite Smithsonian museums. Overall, I spent 3 1/2 hours viewing exhibits and I assessed that I only saw about half of what was on display. After a nonstop bonanza of exhibit viewing, I simply could not absorb any more content. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this museum and I will definitely make a return visit.

The 1st Floor entrance area inside the Museum of the Bible

The first place I visited was the virtual reality presentation on Floor 1, the entrance floor. There were 3 or 4 small classroom-like sections where each participant put on an Oculus Virtual Reality headset. After that, each group viewed a 9-minute film that took us to 34 famous biblical sites. I had never experienced anything like this before, and I found the experience very exciting. In fact, I would have liked to have seen even more sites.

As I looked at the map of the museum, I noticed there were 6 floors plus a basement level. Each floor had some attractions. I determined that after the Virtual Reality experience, my main focus would be on the second, third, and fourth floors. Taking the advice of the staff, I decided to head to the third floor first to see presentations on the Stories of the Bible. The first exhibit I saw was Stories of the Hebrew Bible. It was a 30-minute walk-through experience that included movies and special effects that focused on major stories from the Old Testament. Tours left every 6 minutes or so. I didn’t feel that I learned much here. It might appeal to someone who has not been to church or synagogue in a while, but anyone with some knowledge of the Hebrew Bible would find these stories very familiar.

Museum of the Bible

I did find the special effects to be impressive. I also walked through the World of Jesus of Nazareth and found the recreated village to be a good way to teach parables and basic information about what Jesus’s life would have been like. I also enjoyed the film in the Galilee Theater on John the Baptist. The 12-minute 270-degree wrap-around film in the New Testament Theater on how the followers of Jesus grew into a thriving community didn’t seem to me to offer much useful information. It was my least favorite of the attractions on the 3rd floor. Needless to say, overall I did spend a good deal of time on this floor.

After that, I headed to the 4th Floor to see the History of the Bible exhibits. I started by viewing the Drive Thru History movie. This was a good way to begin because further clips of the movie were shown throughout the exhibit floor. I definitely found that exhibits on the 4th and 2nd floor to be more interesting to me. There were extensive exhibits on archeology and the historical development of the Bible on the 4th floor. The exhibit on the Impact of the Bible on the 2nd Floor was just fascinating, especially the section on the Bible in America. I spent an hour on each floor and I saw less than half of the artifacts, videos, and exhibits.

The glass-enclosed 6th Floor observation promenade at the Museum of the Bible

I headed up to the 6th floor to see the views of Washington, D.C. Mostly I saw nearby rooftops, but I was able to see the tops of some famous buildings in the distance. I also went to the Manna Restaurant, but it was very crowded even though it was well past lunchtime. I peaked in the World Stage Theater to see thePublic Reading of Scripture Experience. It was a light and sound attraction that included taped readings from the Bible. There was no one in the theater when I looked in. I also quickly looked at The People of the Land: History and Archaeology of Ancient Israel presentation as well as the exhibit from the Vatican Library on the entrance floor, but by this point, I was running out of energy. After this, I purchased a quick snack in the Milk & Honey Cafe and browsed through the extensive gift shop.

I felt that my experience at the Museum of the Bible was time well spent. I found it to be a place that would be of interest to someone for whom the Bible was important as a matter of faith as well as someone who was simply interested in learning more about the extended history and impact of the Bible. The museum was well organized and it contained a wealth of interesting information. The staff was very friendly and knowledgable in answering questions about the museum and collection.

I enhanced my visit by picking up a free audio guide near the entrance that contained information and audio recordings that accompanied many exhibits. It was not unusual to have an exhibit that featured a video, multiple artifacts, and as many as six audio recordings. On the 4th Floor, there were at least 20 of these locations alone. There was also a special exhibition in the basement and on certain days you could purchase tickets to attend a performance of the Broadway musical Amazing Grace. This was not a museum that you could breeze through in an hour or two. Plan to spend some time here or return for multiple visits.

Washington, D.C. features an amazing number of large, institutional museums as well as a good number of private collections, special exhibitions, focused interest museums, estates, and historical buildings. I find it most enjoyable to focus on one area of the city or a select range of places to visit. Sometimes, I focus on a less-visited section of the city and purposely avoid the large famous sites, so that I am not distracted by them. At other times, as a compromise, I focus on just one large museum and a small out of the way place such as the Folger Shakespeare Library. I seem to get more memorable experiences this way. You can develop your own plans based on your own interests, but take the risk to try something different. You will be richly rewarded and you will have your own unique Washington, D.C. experience to share with others.

Best Museums Washington D.C. | National Geographic Museum | Things to do in Washington D.C #washington-dc #museum #things-to-do-in #history #with-kids #travel #trip #vacation Best Museums Washington D.C. | The Philips Collection | Things to do in Washington D.C #washington-dc #museum #things-to-do-in #art #art-museum #with-kids #travel #trip #vacation Best Museums Washington D.C. | Museum of the Bible | Things to do in Washington D.C #washington-dc #museum #things-to-do-in #with-kids #travel #trip #vacation #bible #religion

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Barry Kramer

by Barry Kramer

Barry S. Kramer is an elementary educator who developed a love of travel after attending an educational technology conference in Beijing in the year 2000. Since then he has returned to China eight times to experience many popular attractions, national parks, and out of the way places often not visited by Westerners. He has also traveled to Russia, Japan, Tibet, northern Africa, Europe, the Middle East, as well as many places in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. His travel partners are his wife, Liping, and his daughters, Liz and Jessica.

One Response to “Washington, D.C.: Three Museums Off The Beaten Path”

Audrey Caldwell


Nicely detailed blog post. I’m a local & I had not heard about the Bible museum. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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