During busy months, the popular Smithsonian museums lining the National Mall can attract overflowing crowds: The National Museum of Natural History, for instance, saw 4.2 million visitors last year. But with 20 museums and galleries, plus the National Zoological Park, not all members of “the nation’s attic” are busy. Here are the seven least-visited Smithsonian spaces—which are still worth a visit.
Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
314,068 visitors in 2019
Located steps from the White House, this museum dedicated to contemporary American and decorative arts was called “the American Louvre” when it was built in 1859. Don’t miss Wendell Castle’s popular Ghost Clock, a Honduran mahogany sculpture that looks like supple cloth draped over a grandfather clock.
1661 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC; americanart.si.edu/visit/renwick
Freer Gallery of Art
298,094 visitors in 2019
Together with the Sackler, these two linked museums comprise the national museum of Asian art. The Freer features more than 26,000 objects spanning 60 centuries, plus the most complete collection of James McNeill Whistler’s works in the world.
Jefferson Dr. and 12th St., SW Washington, DC; si.edu/museums/freer-gallery
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
148,242 visitors in 2019
With 96 percent of its gallery space located underneath the Enid A. Haupt Garden, this subterranean museum often hosts exhibits dedicated to Asian contemporary art.
1050 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC; asia.si.edu
S. Dillon Ripley Center
144,169 visitors in 2019
Entered through a copper-domed pavilion next to Smithsonian Castle, the complex hosts rotating exhibits (such as “Floral Fashions: From Bouquets to Buttonholes”) and houses the Discover Theater, which features live performances for kids.
1100 Jefferson Dr. SW, Washington, DC; si.edu/Museums/ripley-center
National Museum of African Art
129,572 visitors in 2019
This mostly subterranean collection holds about 12,000 objects, from the ancient to the contemporary. Standout pieces include a 1989 sculpture of Haitian leader Toussaint Louverture by Senegalese artist Ousmane Sow.
950 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC; africa.si.edu
Arts and Industries Building
25,967 visitors in 2019
Opened in 1881 to house the U.S. National Museum, the gorgeous building now mostly hosts special events and temporary exhibits. But even if nothing’s on, you’ll want to stop by to snap shots of its gorgeous Victorian facade or to ride the carousel just outside.
900 Jefferson Dr. SW, Washington, DC; aib.si.edu
Anacostia Community Museum
8,034 visitors in 2019
America’s first federally funded community museum tells the story of the surrounding riverside neighborhood and its local African-American history and culture. The building itself pays homage to African culture, with kente-cloth-inspired brickwork and cylindrical structures that call to mind the conical towers of the 11th-century city of Great Zimbabwe.
1901 Fort Pl. SE, Washington, DC; anacostia.si.edu