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150+ Ways to Explore the U.S. Capitol from Home with Virtual Tours, Online Museums and Experiences
Although we can’t travel right now, there are more ways than ever to explore the world from home. Luckily, virtual travel to Washington DC is no exception: the museums, galleries and institutions of my city have been hard at work for years to make their collections and experiences available online. In fact, the volume of information and resources available for a Washington DC virtual tour is seriously impressive! I’ve discovered more than 150 ways for you to experience the U.S. capital from home.
For travelers, I hope this Washington DC virtual tour guide fuels your wanderlust until you can travel again. And for locals, this is a great resource for staycations and local exploration once the museums reopen their doors. This list can also be used by teachers who are preparing for a DC class trip or as a virtual Washington DC field trip.
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Google Arts and Culture Project and Virtual Reality Tours
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Washington DC Virtual Museum Tours and Online Collections
First on our virtual tour: Washington DC is home to more than 70 world-class museums, many of which are Smithsonian Institutions. I’ve compiled the best online collections, virtual reality experiences, videos, podcasts and more for a comprehensive virtual tour of Washington DC museums.
Smithsonian Museum “Open Access”
This year, the Smithsonian Institution released millions of images into the public domain. With Open Access to the Smithsonian Museums online, you can download, share, and reuse millions of the Smithsonian’s images. This includes images and data from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo.
- View the Smithsonian’s main collections online as well
- Did you know that the Smithsonian Institution was established because a British scientist left his estate to the United States for that express purpose? Learn about the history of the Smithsonian here.
National Museum of Natural History
This Smithsonian Museum has collections that contain over 145 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human remains, and human cultural artifacts, the largest natural history collection in the world. No Washington DC virtual tour is complete without the Museum of Natural History: it’s the most-visited natural history museum in the world, and the 11th most-visited museum overall!
- View self-guided, room by room virtual tours of exhibits
- Start in the iconic Rotonda and take a virtual tour of the Museum of Natural History
- View their online Google Arts & Culture virtual museum collection
- Discover their fascinating Human Origins exhibit online
- Check out their fun and informative video series “The Dr. is In”
- Explore their Ocean Portal
- Examine early American history through the forensic anthropology exhibit Written in Bone and a 3-D tour of an excavation site in Jamestown
National Air and Space Museum
This Smithsonian Museum has two locations: on the National Mall in Washington DC and the Udvar-Hazy Center annex near Dulles Airport. Both exhibit aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, rockets, and other flight-related artifacts. It’s also a center for research into the history and science of aviation and spaceflight.
- Check out their online Google Arts & Culture virtual museum collection including museum views (which is the next best thing to being there!)
- View their current exhibitions
- Don’t miss their Apollo 11 exhibit, Outside the Spacecraft, and virtual model of the Neil Armstrong Spacesuit (use the icons on the left to view an overlay with features and information)
- View past webcasts including the Women of Apollo
- Listen to their podcasts including an (amusing and informative!) podcast on how women’s underwear design made space suits possible:
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)
The newest addition to the Smithsonians, the African American History and Culture Museum explores the richness and diversity of the African American experience and how it helped shape the nation.
- NMAAHC has excellent online resources for talking about race including targeted resources for educators, parents and caregivers and others committed to equality
- View the museum’s online open access collection
- Discover their online Google Arts & Culture virtual museum collection
- Learn through the stories of NMAAHC staff as they tell what collections they find most powerful
- Explore the museum’s Learning Lab
- Learn about the museum’s vision, planning and design
National Museum of the American Indian
The National Museum of the American Indian cares for one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native objects, photographs, and media, covering the entire Western Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego.
- Explore the National Museum of the American Indian online
- Check out their online Google Arts & Culture collection
- Don’t miss their art and history collections online, grouped by region of the Americas
- Learn about the engineering feats of the Inka Empire with a fascinating online exhibit
- View the exhibit of Patriot Nations: Native Americans in the Armed Forces
- This museum’s cafeteria, the Mitsitam Cafe, is renowned for its menu, which features Native-inspired cuisines from five regions of the Western Hemisphere. You can actually order the chef’s cookbook and prepare the recipes at home! Or try this wild rice salad recipe from Epicurious which is one of my favorites. (“Mitsitam” means “Let’s Eat!” in the Native language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples.)
Smithsonian Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History: Kenneth E. Behring Center collects, preserves, and displays the heritage of the United States in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific, and military history.
- Explore the museum resources online, including a multimedia site dedicated to its Star-Spangled Banner exhibit (I make everyone who visits me in DC go to this exhibit!)
- Discover the museum’s multimedia content
- Explore their Stories From the Museum blog including the first female military doctor Mary Walker, conservation efforts for the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, and the American flag that flew on the craft that guided vessels to Utah Beach on D-Day
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is the United States’ official memorial to the Holocaust. The USHMM provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history. It is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.
- Browse the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s online collection
- View their online Google Arts & Culture virtual museum collection
National Museum of Women in the Arts
The National Museum of Women in the Arts is the only museum in the world solely dedicated to celebrating the diverse artistic achievements of women.
- Explore their online museum collection of works by women artists including virtual exhibits for Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico and Delita Martin: Calling Down the Spirits
- Browse their online Google Arts & Culture collection
National Geographic Museum
The National Geographic Society (NGS) is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations in the world. Its museum in Washington DC features changing exhibitions featuring the work of National Geographic explorers, photographers, and scientists.
- Explore their current exhibit Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall
Dumbarton Oaks is a historic estate in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC. The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection was founded here by Robert Woods Bliss and his wife Mildred Barnes Bliss, who gave the property to Harvard University in 1940. It also has extensive gardens, which are one of my favorite places in the city.
- View their online Google Arts & Culture collection
- Explore virtual tours of the Dumbarton Oaks Garden
National Building Museum
The National Building Museum is a museum of architecture, design, engineering, construction, and urban planning in Washington DC.
- View their online Google Arts & Culture collection
- Explore with a National Building Museum virtual tour
- View their new online exhibit Documenting Crossroads: The Coronavirus in Poor Minority Communities
National Women’s History Museum
The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM), is a proposed museum and an American history organization that researches, collects and exhibits the contributions of women to the social, cultural, economic and political life of our nation in a context of world history. The museum is currently online, with plans to establish a physical museum on the National Mall.
- Explore the National Women’s History Museum collection online
- View their online Google Arts & Culture collection
The Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of stamps and philatelic material in the world.
Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens
Hillwood is a decorative arts museum in Northwest Washington DC. The former residence of businesswoman, socialite, philanthropist and collector Marjorie Merriweather Post (of the Post cereal empire), Hillwood is known for its large decorative arts collection including Fabergé eggs, 18th and 19th century French art and one of the country’s finest orchid collections.
- Explore the Hillwood Museum collection from home, including virtual museum collection and video library
- See what’s in bloom in the Hillwood Gardens
Washington DC Art Galleries: Online Collections & Virtual Experiences
No virtual tour of Washington DC would be complete without exploring the city’s art galleries. Check out the best online museum collections and experiences from DC’s world-class galleries.
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden
The Hirshhorn Museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution, and was endowed in the 1960’s with the permanent collection of Joseph H. Hirshhorn. It currently focuses its collection-building and exhibition-planning mainly on the post–World War II period, with particular emphasis on art made during the last 50 years.
- Experience the Hirshhorn from home with the #HirshhornInsideOut including artist and curator-led insights and art activities for all ages
- Explore virtual tours of the the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Gardens
- Listen to their Artist Talks lecture series on Soundcloud
- Check out their online events on Facebook
National Portrait Gallery
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Portrait Gallery’s collections focus on images of famous Americans.
- Explore their Google Arts & Culture collection online including the exhibit Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence
- Don’t miss their Presidential Portrait Collection and Portraits of African Americans
- Listen to the National Portrait Gallery podcast PORTRAITS: Real People, Real Stories
- No visit here is complete without a moment in the Kogod Courtyard (be sure to use the navigation to look around!)
National Gallery of Art (NGA)
The National Gallery of Art preserves, collects, exhibits, and fosters an understanding of works of art. The Gallery’s collection of paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture, and other arts traces the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas.
- Discover highlights of the National Gallery’s collections
- View the NGA’s online Google Arts & Culture collection including Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting
- Explore the NGA’s online editions
- Learn about the design of the Gallery’s East Building by architect I.M. Pei
- Experience their virtual museum tour of Degas at the Opera
- No visit to the NGA is complete without reflecting in the Rothko room: experience a virtual tour
- Explore their open-source library of images including their
- View their collection of 40,000 photographs dating from the 1850’s to today
- Listen to the story of how Marc Chagall’s mosaic Orphée made its way from a private garden in Georgetown to the NGA’s Sculpture Garden:
Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) & Renwick Gallery
The Smithsonian American Art Museum holds one of the world’s largest and most inclusive collections of American art, from the colonial period to the present, with more than 7,000 artists represented. Explore their collection
- Experience Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collections online
- Check out SAAM’s Google Arts & Culture collection online
- Explore the many meanings of art with Smithsonian historians and researchers through SAAM’s video series Re:Frame
- Watch all of the museum’s videos online
- Experience a Renwick Gallery exhibition in Virtual Reality
The Phillips Collection
The Phillips Collection is an art museum founded by Duncan Phillips and Marjorie Acker Phillips in 1921 as the Phillips Memorial Gallery located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington DC.
- While the Riffs and Relations exhibit is on hiatus, The Phillips Collection has published a YouTube series that allows users to engage with the exhibit and its galleries
- View other featured multimedia online
National Museum of Asian Art (Freer-Sackler Galleries)
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the Freer and Sackler Galleries make up the National Museum of Asian Art and house the largest Asian art research library in the country.
- Explore the Museum’s collections online
- View the Museum’s online Google Arts & Culture collection
- Listen to the their podcast archive and Silk Road Stories of volunteers from the Washington DC community who have cultural ties to various sites along the ancient Silk Road
- Explore the Museum’s music series
National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art is the Smithsonian Institution’s African art museum, located on the National Mall. Its collections include 9,000 works of traditional and contemporary African art from both Sub-Saharan and Arab North Africa, 300,000 photographs, and 50,000 library volumes.
Art Museum of the Americas
Art Museum of the Americas is the first art museum in the United States primarily devoted to exhibiting works of modern and contemporary art from Latin America and the Caribbean.
- The Museum is currently open on a limited basis: learn more
- View the Museum’s Google Arts & Culture collection online
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The Kennedy Center is a vibrant campus of theaters and other artistic spaces that is also a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. It is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera, the Washington Ballet and thousands of annual performances of theater, dance, ballet, and orchestral, chamber, jazz, popular, and folk music.
- Explore the Kennedy Center online, including remote performances
- View a virtual historical and artistic tour of the Kennedy Center including performance spaces, terrace views and notable performances
- See the Kennedy Center’s online Google Arts & Culture listing
- Take a virtual tour of the Kennedy Center lobby and pretend you’re enjoying a glass of sparkling wine at an intermission
- Attend the Kennedy Center’s performances virtually with Kennedy Center at Home including new releases daily on their Digital Stage
- See live “Couch Concert” performances from musicians’ homes live every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4PM and see encore Millennium Stage performances on-demand
- Take a guided tour of Jazz in DC and get inspired with a seasonal playlist of classical music
National Zoo & Washington DC Gardens
Next on our Washington DC virtual tour: let’s explore the green spaces of the city with a stop at the National Zoo and beautiful DC gardens.
Smithsonian National Zoo
The National Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States and part of the Smithsonian Institution. Founded in 1889, its mission is to provide engaging experiences with animals and create and share knowledge to save wildlife and habitats.
- View the Zoo’s online Google Arts & Culture collection including Cheetah Conservation Station
- Take a virtual tour of National Zoo highlights (select a language, click “begin tour” and scroll down to start)
- Experience the Zoo from home with their live zoo webcams including the live cheetah cub cam
U.S. Botanic Garden
The United States Botanical Garden is a botanic garden on the grounds of the United States Capitol near Garfield Circle. The garden includes a nearly 30,000-square foot conservatory, the National Garden, and Bartholdi Park. It’s the oldest continually-operating botanic garden in the United states, and is known for its rare and endangered plants, 5,000 orchid specimens and its annual holiday display.
- Learn about their gardens and plant species
- Take a virtual tour of the U.S. Botanic Garden
- Check out their online events on Facebook, like free guided yoga sessions from inside the garden
The Smithsonian Gardens are landscapes, interiorscapes, and horticulture-related collections and exhibits, which extend the Smithsonian museum experience into a public garden setting, with over 180 acres of green space and 13 gardens.
- Learn about the Smithsonian Gardens
- Take a virtual reality tour of the Enid A. Haupt Garden and the Moongate Garden at the Smithsonian Castle
- Find out about their current and past exhibitions
U.S. National Arboretum
The United States National Arboretum is a public garden, research facility, and urban green space located in Northeast Washington DC. Comprised of 446 acres, the Arboretum is a place of research, education, and discovery as well as an oasis of open space in the Nation’s capital. It was established in 1927 and is operated by the United States Department of Agriculture.
- Learn about the garden’s collections
- See Google street view photos of the arboretum, including their bonsai, azalea and the famous National Capitol Columns which were part of the Capitol building from 1828 to 1958
Tudor Place is a Federal-style mansion in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC that was home to 6 generations of descendants of George Washington’s wife Martha Custis Washington. Tours here explore the family stories and the histories of the servants and enslaved workers. The estate’s collections include more than 15,000 decorative arts items, archival, historic and archaeological artifacts, including the largest collection of Washington artifacts outside Mount Vernon.
- Take a virtual tour inside Tudor Place with ABC News and explore their gardens
- Learn more about Tudor Place with educational resources
Looking for more ways to explore Washington DC’s green spaces? Check out my guide to the best Washington DC gardens by blooming season.
National Mall & Capitol Hill Sights
The National Mall is home to monuments including the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. At the eastern end is the U.S. Capitol, with the White House to the north. The long grassy lawns of the Mall are flanked by Smithsonian museums and other iconic Washington DC sights. Nearby, the Tidal Basin reservoir is home to the Jefferson Memorial as well as the famous DC cherry blossoms. Don’t miss these sights on your virtual tour of Washington DC, especially the 4th of July celebrations!
4th of July Fireworks on the National Mall
The Independence Day holiday has always felt extra special to me in Washington DC! Check out some of the best online videos of 4th of July fireworks in our nation’s capital below and watch this year’s fireworks live online with “A Capitol 4th” at PBS.
- The 1812 Overture & Fireworks by the National Symphony (2014)
- 2019 4th of July Fireworks from the Washington Post (skip ahead to the 43:00 minute mark when the action starts!)
- 2018 4th of July Fireworks from the Associated Press
The White House
- View the online White House Google Arts & Culture collection
- Take a 360-degree White House virtual tour and a “guided” virtual tour
- Learn about The White House
United States Capitol
The United States Capitol Building is the home of the United States Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. It’s located on Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall. The original building was completed in 1800.
- Explore with an amazing virtual tour of the U.S. Capitol
- View the Capitol’s online Google Arts & Culture collection
United States Architect of the Capitol
The Architect of the Capitol is the federal agency responsible for the maintenance, operation, development, and preservation of the Capitol complex.
- Explore the Capitol campus with an immersive virtual field trip and virtual exhibits
- Learn about the history of the Capitol complex with the Architect’s Virtual Capitol
The Jefferson Memorial is a presidential memorial built in Washington, D.C. between 1939 and 1943 to Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence.
- Take a virtual reality 360-degree tour of the Jefferson Memorial and learn about its history
- Explore the Jefferson Memorial with a virtual Google Arts & Culture tour
The Washington Monument is an obelisk on the National Mall built to commemorate George Washington, the first President of the United States. Located almost due east of the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial,the monument is both the world’s tallest predominantly stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk.
The Tidal Basin is a partially man-made reservoir between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel and the spotlight of the annual spring Cherry Blossom Festival. Memorials here include Jefferson, the Martin Luther King, Jr., the Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and George Mason Memorial.
- Explore the Tidal Basin with a virtual tour
- Experience the Virtual Cherry Blossoms Festival
- Step back in time with imagined views of Washington DC from 1800-2016
And if your bucket list includes seeing Washington DC for our spring cherry blossoms, don’t miss my guide to planning a visit including a detailed Tidal Basin blossom-spotting map!
Last Updated on May 20, 2020 Every city is beautiful in spring, but I can’t help but think that spring …
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress and is commonly considered the national library of the United States. The Library of Congress is one of the largest libraries in the world, and its collections include research materials from all parts of the world and in more than 450 languages.
- Learn about the Library with history and online tours
- Explore the Library’s current exhibitions
- Tour the Library in 360 degrees
- Explore the Library’s video vault
The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent agency of the United States government charged with the preservation and documentation of government and historical records. The National Archives exhibits include the original United States Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, United States Bill of Rights, and many other historical documents.
- View the Rotonda of the National Archives in 360 degrees
- Explore the National Archives’ digital resources
- Discover the Archives’ exhibits online
Folger Shakespeare Library
The Folger Shakespeare Library is an independent research library on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in the United States. It has the world’s largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare, and is a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period.
- Explore the Library online including their Shakespeare Unlimited podcast
- Listen to audio recordings of seven Shakespeare plays
Want to know an adorable secret about the National Mall? The reflecting pools are home to baby ducks in spring! Check out my Washington DC ducklings guide and see photos.
Most people know about Washington DC’s cherry blossoms. But don’t miss our cutest season when ducklings hatch in Constitution Gardens and the National Mall!
More Washington DC Historic Sites
We’re not done with this Washington DC virtual tour yet! We’ve got several historic sites and more attractions still to go.
Washington National Cathedral is an American cathedral of the Episcopal Church. The cathedral is of Neo-Gothic design closely modeled on English Gothic style of the late fourteenth century.
- Explore the special architectural features of the Cathedral online including the rose window, peal bells and Darth Vader grotesque.
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service, is located in a neighborhood east of the Anacostia River in Southeast DC. The site preserves the home and estate of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African Americans of the 19th century.
- View a virtual tour of the site
- Explore the Frederick Douglass Google Arts & Culture listing
- Watch the moving short film by National Public Radio of young descendants of Frederick Douglass reading and discussing his famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?“
- Watch past Facebook Live videos while the site is closed, including reading and discussing The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass with Ranger Kevin
Explore these Washington DC universities with virtual tours.
Learn more about two of America’s most notable presidents with these online resources and virtual Washington DC tours.
Mount Vernon was the plantation of George Washington, the first President of the United States, and his wife Martha Washington. And it’s a must-see for this Washington DC virtual tour! The Mount Vernon estate is situated on the banks of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia, a half hour from DC near Alexandria.
- Explore and learn about Mount Vernon with a really cool virtual tour
- Learn about George Washington through notes and personal items as well as his most famous portrait
- Learn about the day-to-day lives of the enslaved people at Mount Vernon including known biographies
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States (1861–1865). Lincoln led the nation through its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis in the American Civil War. On April 14, 1865, just days after the war’s end, he was assassinated while enjoying a night at the theatre by Confederate sympathizer and spy John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln is consistently ranked as the greatest U.S. president.
- Explore the Ford’s Theater Google Arts & Culture listing, including a fascinating online exhibit about Lincoln’s funeral train procession
- View the digital resources of Lincoln’s Cottage
- Read about Lincoln’s writings and views on slavery
- Take a virtual reality tour of the Lincoln Memorial
- Take an online tour of the Lincoln Memorial and listen to insights from a National Park Service ranger
- View an online Smithsonian exhibition Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life
- Listen to a Smithsonian podcast and explore a little-known side of this president with Abraham Lincoln: Prankster-in-Chief
- Explore a Google Arts & Culture exhibition Lincoln from Postmaster to President
Monticello was the plantation home of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. Located about 2.5 hours from Washington DC, it’s often visited as a day trip from the city.
- Explore all of Monticello’s online resources
- Take a virtual tour of Monticello; there are both paid guided tours and free options, including a cool 360-degree tour
- View the Google Arts & Culture Monticello Tour with video insights from historians, curators and guides
- Learn about slavery at Monticello including tours and exhibits and known biographies of the people enslaved at Monticello
- Read about the fascinating life and family history of Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman who is believed to have had six of Jefferson’s children, after negotiating for her future children’s freedom when she was just 16
- Listen to stories from the “Getting Word” oral history project, which began at Monticello in 1993 to capture stories from descendants of Monticello’s African American community
I hope that this Washington DC virtual tour guide helps fuel your wanderlust until you can travel again! Pin it for later or share with someone who needs a Washington DC virtual field trip.
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