Washington DC has an extraordinarily large number of world-class museums and galleries, and the National Gallery of Art is among the very best. It houses one of the finest collections of paintings and sculptures in the world. On permanent display are works by Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Raphael, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya, Manet, Monet, Rodin, Degas, and many, many more. It’d take many hours to see everything, but even on a short visit you’re going to see something pretty extraordinary.
Although the gallery sits on a prime spot on the National Mall alongside the Smithsonian museums (and opposite the National Air and Space Museum) it is not actually a part of the Smithsonian Institution system. It is, however, publicly funded, established by an act of Congress in 1938, with Andrew Mellon providing his personal collection to get things started.
The gallery is housed in two impressive but architecturally distinct buildings and an adjacent sculpture garden; all make for beautiful spaces for showcasing art. The classical art is housed in the older of the two buildings, the West Building, and features wood-paneled galleries, marble hallways, a magnificent atrium, and indoor gardens. And even with the huge numbers of visitors the gallery attracts, it’s always possible to find a quiet spot to enjoy the art.
The modern art is housed in the East Building across the street. While it’s possible to move between them at ground level by crossing the street, a better way to use the underground walkway featuring an eye-level waterfall and a moving walkway with an animated light display. But wandering among through either building makes for quite an oasis from the bustle outside.
The most convenient metro stops are Archives/Navy Memorial (Yellow and Green lines; 0.2 miles); Judiciary Square (Red line; 0.5 miles), and Smithsonian (Blue and Orange lines; 0.7 miles).
Admission is always free, but some special exhibitions require passes. There are several cafes and eateries within the complex as well as some unusually good gift shops (one of my regular stops for holiday gift shopping).
In general, personal photography is allowed, although there are some areas where it’s restricted, so check for signs on each gallery.
Tripods are not allowed.
There’s no blanket ban on using flash, but it’s restricted in several places, as is typical in many art galleries. Many of the main spaces are quite well-lit, often with natural light, although there are also areas with low lighting.
Your bags will be searched when you enter the building and you’ll be asked to put any large bags or backpacks in the free coat check.
If you're coming in from out of town, here are some of the most popular guidebooks that can help you make the most of your visit.
And here are some interesting options for less traditional guidesbooks if you'd like an emphasis on exploring DC on foot or diving into some of the region's rich history.