National Gallery of Art on the National Mall during spring in Washington D.C.

©Frank Fell Media/Shutterstock

National Gallery of Art

Top choice in Washington, DC

Two buildings. Hundreds of masterpieces. Infinite enjoyment. It's easy to spend a full day at the National Gallery of Art, which showcases a whole range of artworks and masterpieces from the 11th century to the modern day. Its highlights include works by da Vinci, Manet, Monet and Van Gogh as well as more contemporary artists such as Pollock, Picasso and Calder.

An underground walkway connects the buildings and is made extraordinary by Leo Villareal's light sculpture, Multiverse. Consider joining one of the regular volunteer-led tours or taking advantage of the free, multilanguage 'Director's Tour' audioguide, which introduces the gallery's highlights. There's also a dedicated audioguide for kids.

The National Gallery of Art is not part of the Smithsonian Institution.

People look at paintings inside of the National Gallery of Art, a national art museum in Washington, D.C.
The West Building houses the oldest works in the National Gallery of Art collection ©Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

West Building

The neoclassical West Building showcases European art and sculpture from the 11th century through to the early 1900s. The building was completed in 1941 and is made from pink Tennessee marble. It was designed by architect John Russell Pope who took inspiration from the Pantheon in Rome for the  gallery's rotunda.

Spread over two floors, the highlights include Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo da Vinci, the Niccolini-Cowper Madonna by Raphael, a self portrait by Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet's Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight. There's also a compelling collection of early American furniture and decorative arts.

Free classical concerts fill the air on Sundays, fall through spring, in the West Building's West Garden Court.

The East Building pyramid of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC
The East Building of the National Gallery of Art was designed by famed architect I. M. Pei © Jorg Hackemann / Shutterstock

East Building

The IM Pei–designed East Building, completed in 1978, displays modern and contemporary art – don't miss Pollock's Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), Picasso's Family of Saltimbanques and the massive Calder mobile specially commissioned for the entrance lobby.

The National Gallery's documentary and avant-garde film program takes place several times a month in the East Building auditorium. 

An artwork called House I by Roy Lichtenstein sits in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Its brightly-colored sides in red and yellow stand out against the greenery of the gardens itself.
Roy Lichtenstein House I is one of the artworks on display in the Sculpture Garden © Dan Herrick / Lonely Planet

Sculpture Garden 

For a bit of fresh air, there's no better diversion the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden. Dotted around the greenery are a number of modern works of art. 

Our favorites include House I by Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana's pink-and-yellow AMOR, the creepy Spider by Louise Bourgeois and Magdalena Abakanowicz's Puellae (Girls) — 30 rigid, headless bronze figures.

Ice skaters in warm weather gear, including hats and gloves, skate across the ice rink in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington DC with leafless trees in the background.
The Sculpture Garden ice rink gives visitors another way to interact with the National Gallery of Art © A Blokhin / Getty Images

Ice rink

Each winter, an ice rink is erected in the Sculpture Garden. Sessions begin on the hour and last for two 45-minute sessions. Tickets cost $9 for adults and children age 13 and over and 8 for skaters age 50 and over and children aged 12 and younger. Students also receive a discount.

Nearby hotels

The closest hotels worthy of your buck can be found Downtown and in the Penn Quarter. The Tudor-style Henley Park Hotel is a beautiful ex-apartment building for Senators and Congressmen. The rooms – decked in tasteful plaids, paisleys, and dark wood furniture – are as elegant as the edifice. The property has tons of character, with a charming bar and restaurant serving afternoon tea.

For budget accommodation, try the HI Washington DC Hostel. Top of the budget picks, this large, friendly hostel attracts a laid-back international crowd and has loads of amenities: lounge rooms, a pool table, a 60in TV for movie nights, free tours of various neighborhoods and historic sites, free continental breakfast and free wi-fi.

Nearby restaurants

The National Gallery of Art has several in-house cafes. Secreted on the edge of the Sculpture Garden, the Pavilion Cafe is housed in a glass pavilion whose design was inspired by the metro signs designed by art nouveau master, Hector Guimard. Head here to enjoy a salad, sandwich or pastry accompanied by tea, coffee or wine.

Alternatively, the Cascade Café at the juncture of the National Gallery's two wings, offers views of just that: a shimmering, IM Pei–designed artificial waterfall. The cafeteria-style restaurant is divided into different stations where you pick up a tray and choose from pizza, pasta, sandwiches, barbecue and salads.

For something more substantial, head two blocks north of the National Gallery of Art, across Pennsylvania Ave NW, to find a clutch of great restaurants, including the elegant, upscale trattoria Fiola, the Texas-themed, cowboy-hat-filled smoked meat joint Hill Country Barbecue and  cutting-edge Indian grub from Rasika.

Tickets and other practicalities

Entry to the National Gallery of Art is free. It's open 10am-5pm Monday to Saturday and 11am-6pm on Sunday.


The easiest way to arrive at the National Gallery of Art is by public transport. There are a limited number of car parking spaces for visitors with disabilities only. 

There are a number of commercial parking lots and garages both to the north and to the south of the gallery. Parking starts from around $16 and is often cheaper on streets to the south.

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