Washington DC virtual tour: online musuems and virtual washington dc field trip

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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.

Washington DC virtual tour

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Google Arts and Culture Project and Virtual Reality Tours

Information

Many of the sites in my list below participate in the Google Arts and Culture project, which is content from over 2,000 organizations that have partnered with Google to bring their collections and galleries online.  You can view virtual tours of many of the museums, galleries and sites, and also explore details of their collections as well as cultural and historical contexts through their online “exhibits.”

For some online experiences, a virtual reality viewer can be used to immerse yourself in the tour. The simplest virtual reality headsets use a smartphone for this, with an inexpensive viewer like Google Cardboard which you can order from Amazon.  You can use it with the Google Arts & Culture app (downloadable from the Apple Store or Google Play) or other websites with virtual reality media.


Museums  |   Art Galleries  |   Kennedy Center  |   Zoo & Gardens  |  National Mall & FireworksHistoric Sites  |  Universities  |  American Presidents


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.

Washington DC virtual tour: Smithsonian Institution Castle
I love this view of the Smithsonian Institution Building, known as “The Castle”: learn more here about its history

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.


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!

Virtual Tour: Smithsonian Natural History Museum
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History: learn more about its history here

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.  


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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. 


Dumbarton Oaks

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.

Formal terraced garden at Dumbarton Oaks with an urn statue and wisteria
Dumbarton Oaks Garden: learn more here about the history and collaboration that created this garden

National Building Museum

The National Building Museum is a museum of architecture, design, engineering, construction, and urban planning in Washington DC.


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.


Postal Museum 

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. 

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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.

Washington DC - Hirshhorn Museum virtual tour
The Hirshhorn Museum: learn more here about its architecture by Gordon Bunshaft

National Portrait Gallery

Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Portrait Gallery’s collections focus on images of famous Americans. 


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.


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 


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.


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 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.

Virtual Washington DC: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The Kennedy Center: learn more here about the Kennedy Center’s new expansion

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.


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.

Washington DC Gardens: United States Botanic Garden virtual tour
U.S. Botanic Garden: learn more here about the history of its greenhouse

Smithsonian Gardens 

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.


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.

National Arboretum: Washington DC Garden
The National Arboretum Capitol Columns: find out here how they ended up at the Arboretum!

Tudor Place

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.


Looking for more ways to explore Washington DC’s green spaces? Check out my guide to the best Washington DC gardens by blooming season.

The Best Washington DC Gardens by Blooming Season

Washington DC has more than just cherry blossoms! Find out what’s in bloom now with this guide to the best Washington DC gardens, grouped by blooming season.

Read more

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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 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.


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. 

Summerhouse at the US Capitol
View of the Capitol building and the Summerhouse on the Capitol grounds. Learn more here about why this spot (now much overlooked) was incorporated in the design

Jefferson Memorial

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.


Washington Monument

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.

Washington DC National Mall virtual field trip
Aerial view of the Washington Monument and National Mall

Tidal Basin

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. 

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!

Where To See Cherry Blossoms in DC: Maps & Tips From A Local

Last Updated on May 20, 2020 Every city is beautiful in spring, but I can’t help but think that spring …

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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.

The beautiful Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress. Learn more here about the symbolism of its design!

National Archives 

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.


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.


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.

Ducklings at Constitution Gardens & the National Mall in Washington DC

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!

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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.

National Cathedral 

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. 


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. 

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Universities

Explore these Washington DC universities with virtual tours.


American Presidents

Learn more about two of America’s most notable presidents with these online resources and virtual Washington DC tours.

George Washington

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.


Abraham Lincoln

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. 

Lincoln Memorial virtual tour

Thomas Jefferson

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.

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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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Looking for more virtual travel experiences? Check out my virtual travel guide for kids and guide to the best aquarium livefeeds and ocean webcams!

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Pinners are winners! (Thanks for sharing!)

Adrienne, The Haphazard Traveler

I used to be a hot travel mess, but I got better! I kept the name and now blog my best tips for culture and adventure travel from around the globe. Follow along for travel advice, destination info, and photography from faraway lands - and at home in Washington, D.C.