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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

5 Great DC Museums to See in a Hurry

If business travel brings you to Washington, DC, you might lament that with all those meetings lined up, you have so little time to soak up the city's cultural riches. Maybe you end up with an hour here or there, but it seems like too narrow of a window to tackle, say, the 4,000 paintings and 3,000 sculptures at the National Gallery of Art.

Art and culture lovers, don't despair. DC has plenty of smaller-scale museums that can be enjoyed in an hour or two. At these five favorites, you can sneak in a hit of history or fine art in that time slot you've got to kill between meetings or the hour you have before heading out of town. And remember, good things come in small packages—even though these museums are small, the exhibits are top notch and not soon forgotten.

1. Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art


Kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, at this pair of elegant Smithsonian galleries on the National Mall displaying the Asian art collection of Charles Lang Freer and Arthur M. Sackler. An underground tunnel connects the two, creating one comprehensive collection of Chinese jades, bronzes, and ceramics, Japanese art, Islamic artifacts, and Korean paintings. At the Freer, there's a bit of 19th century American art in the mix, too—don't miss James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room. The serene gardens and courtyards are a great place to recharge in the middle of a hectic day.

2. Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens


Though it's a bit out of the way in Cleveland Park, this lavish estate-cum-museum is well worth the trek. The former mansion of heiress and DC socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post now houses an impressive collection of 18th century art. Highlights of the eclectic collection include French decorative furnishings, Russian imperial portraits, Fabergé eggs, Beauvais tapestries, and Sèvres porcelain. Plus, the estate sits on 25 acres of land, so you can chill in the Japanese garden, rose garden, or greenhouse brimming with tropical orchids, chrysanthemums, and azaleas.

3. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden


While other Smithsonian museums on The Mall focus on historical artifacts, the Hirshhorn is a refreshing change of pace for those seeking contemporary pieces. The sleek museum boasts paintings by O'Keeffe, Miró, de Kooning, and Warhol in its small gallery spaces, and the sculpture garden, with masterpieces by Picasso, Degas, and Rodin, makes a Zen spot for a stroll. Even the most astute modern art purveyors will find something to marvel at here. If you have time to get hands-on, you'll love the interactive installations on the lower level.

4. National Museum of Crime and Punishment


CSI fans: At attention! This unusual, interactive museum in Penn Quarter showcases the history of crime, punishment, and law enforcement. The exhibits feature everything from medieval torture techniques to Depression-era mobsters to modern-day computer hackers. Practice your CSI skills in a model crime scene, refine your aim in the simulated FBI shooting range, or visit the set of America’s Most Wanted. You'll leave with a better understanding of the role of lab tech, law enforcer—and even criminal.

5. Newseum


Also in Penn Quarter, the glossy Newseum is an interactive museum dedicated to newsmaking in all its forms. Get an up-close look at historic front pages in the News History Gallery and a peek at every Pulitzer Prize-winning photo ever taken in the Pulitzer Gallery. Galleries devoted to the Berlin Wall and 9/11 explore the relationship between the press and freedom. And in the Interactive Newsroom, you can try your hand at both reporting and photography to see if you have what it takes to become a journalist (that is, if you're not already working in media!). While this museum is pretty big, it’s still worth a go if you only have an hour or two—just prioritize one or two floors.

Photos of Freer, Hillwood, and Hirshhorn courtesy of The Purple Passport. Photo of Museum of Crime and Punishment courtesy of Marcin Wichary. Photo of Newseum courtesy of Josh.