Did you know the National Gallery of Art was a gift to the U.S. from Andrew W. Mellon? In 1936 Mellon offered to both fund the National Gallery of Art and donate his personal collection to get it started. Mellon is the real MVP! Sadly, he died before the gallery opened.
When the NGA first opened in 1941, the collection consisted entirely of Mellon’s 126 paintings and 26 sculptures. Today the National Gallery of Art is home to some 124 thousand works by more than 13 thousand artists from the Renaissance to present day!
- Admission is FREE (good lookin’ out Mellon)!
- It’s open every day of the year except Christmas and New Years (and when the government shuts down).
- NGA has the only Leonardo Da Vinci painting, Ginevra de’Benci, in the whole Western Hemisphere.
- The largest mobile ever created by Alexander Calder is in the East Wing.
I know what you are thinking, that’s A LOT of art!
Don’t worry, whether you are a DC native, National Gallery of Art enthusiast, or touring DC for the weekend, Museum Hack’s renegade tours have you covered!
To help you plan your visit, we’ve included a FAQ and logistical information section below on this page – scroll down to check out the details, including dining options, parking, and what you can and can’t bring into the museum. You can even take a quick virtual tour in the “Things to See at the National Gallery of Art” section just below!
👋 Hi! Want to visit the museum with an expert guide?
Check out our renegade tours.
5 Things to See at the National Gallery of Art
Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo da Vinci
This is the only da Vinci in the entire western hemisphere! If that’s not enough of a selling point for you, here are some fun facts to convince you why else it’s definitely worth seeing.
- It’s hella old – 540 years and counting.
- It has a front AND a back. That’s like having two Da Vinci’s in one.
- There’s a crest on the back.
- A close look at the seal on the back upper right corner tells the story of how our lady Ginevra came to the NGA (if you know how to read it). Curious? Here’s a hint: It involves Lichtenstein, a tea, and the FBI!
- The woman who posed for the painting is the one and only Ginevra de Benci. She was a poet. Only one line of her poetry has survived history. If you come on our tour, you’ll find out what it is!
The Portrait of Countess Ebba Sparre - Suspected Lover of a Queen
This woman was the intimate friend of Queen Christina of Sweden. Was she also her lesbian lover? We may never know. But there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that this may have been the case.
Here’s the scoop:
Queen Christina took the throne of Sweden in 1632, at the age of 18. One of her ladies in waiting was Ebba Larsdotter Sparre. Queen Christina quickly nicknamed Sparre “la belle Comtesse”, and spent all her spare time with Sparre. When out together, she often called attention to Sparre’s beauty. She introduced her to the English ambassador as her ‘bed-fellow’, assuring him that Sparre’s intellect was as striking as her body. After a few years, Sparre was married off to a man of Queen Christina’s choosing, and soon thereafter the Queen completely changed her lifestyle, found a new hobby and became a Catholic. That was rather a big deal at the time! Sweden = Lutheran = no Catholic Queen possible. Christina was forced to abdicate the throne because once you go Catholic you never go back.
Little Dancer by Degas
Degas only exhibited one sculpture in his entire life, and you’re looking at it!
When it was shown in Paris at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881, everyone hated it (one critic said she looked like a monkey), so Degas hid it away and no one saw it again until after he died. When his heirs opened his studio, they found dozens of sculptures, including this one. They hired a foundry to reproduce each one once, but decided to make 28 copies of this one. So she’s everywhere: the Musee d’Orsay, the Met, MFA Boston… but this one here? This is the original!
- The tutus worn by the bronzes vary from museum to museum.
- If you look closely you can see human hair in her braid!
The East Wing
The East Wing is the modern and contemporary wing of the National Gallery of Art. You can get to it from the west building through an attached underground light tunnel. Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by the last Calder in existence hanging from the ceiling.
When asked to give the piece a title, Calder replied, “You don’t name a baby until it is born.”
Unfortunately, he died one year before the finished mobile was hung, so he never witnessed the “birth” of his last major commission and it remains unnamed.
But there are plenty more to see! NGA boasts the world’s largest display of works by Alexander Calder (40+ works).
In the East Wing, you’ll also find artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Mark Rothko and a giant blue cock on the roof. Get your mind out of the gutter – it’s a rooster. We keep it classy here at the NGA.
The Sculpture Garden
If you’ve spent a day at the museum and find yourself needing some fresh air, check out the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden just next door!
This six-acre garden was designed as an outdoor gallery for monumental sculpture. Whether you’re into monumental sculpture or not, it’s a great place for a rest in the midst of the Mall. Pack a picnic, buy a pitcher of Sangria and relax in the sun. it’s a great way to kick off your weekend!
During the summer they put on a popular Jazz in the Garden concert series every Friday. In winter they turn the fountain into an ice rink. You can rent skates and try it out, or just grab a festive cocktail and sit on the sidelines.
Hacks for Visiting the National Gallery of Art
- The NGA has THE BEST gift shops in all of DC. Make sure you check ‘em out!
- There are four dining options on site, but if you’re fighting museum fatigue, we recommend the gelato in the lower level cafe. è delizioso!
National Gallery of Art: Logistics and FAQs
Luggage, backpacks, umbrellas, and any other item that cannot be carried reasonably and safely in the galleries must be checked.
You can check luggage up to the size of a carry on in the coat check, but it must be presented for X-ray screening.
Leave your laptops, cameras, fur coats, and any other items of substantial value at home – the coat check wont look after them for you.
Phone: (202) 737-4215
Address: 6th and Constitution Avenue NW Washington, DC 20565
Dining in the National Gallery of Art
Check out the variety of cafés around the premises for a soup, salad, hot or cold beverage, or even full entree. Your options include:
- Garden Café
- Espresso & Gelato Bar
- Cascade Café
- Terrace Café
- Pavilion Café
The NGA can even arrange for group dining for larger parties, just make sure to make your reservations at least two weeks in advance!
The NGA hosts a variety of events including concerts, lectures, and film screenings for children and teens. Check out the full calendar on their website!
Monday–Saturday from 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. + Sunday from 11:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
Closed: December 25th, January 1st and during government shutdowns
Aside from limited parking set aside for visitors with disabilities, there is no public parking facility at the National Gallery. Parking is available on surrounding streets and in commercial garages.
Monopods, tripods, and selfie sticks are NOT permitted in the galleries or auditoriums.
Drones and other unmanned aerial devices or systems are NOT permitted on the property and grounds of the Gallery.
NGA is located near several Metrorail stops, the closest at Archives–Navy Memorial–Penn Quarter on the Green and Yellow lines.
Metrobuses stop along 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
For maps and more information, visit the WMATA website.
A limited number of strollers are available to be borrowed inside each of the museum’s entrances and are allowed throughout most of the museum.
What’s Allowed Inside
Backpacks are okay but must be worn on one shoulder only.
You better hide that water bottle! Water bottles can’t be seen outside of your bag on the museum floor.
Why We Know So Much About The National Gallery of Art
Our company, Museum Hack, leads renegade tours of the world’s best museums, including at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Our guides are experts in the obscure, and collectors of amazing hidden stories about the art and museum; many of which the museum staff isn’t allowed to share.
When you come on a tour of the National Gallery of Art with Museum Hack, expect:
- Fun games! Tell us which artworks you’d match with an emoji. Recreate the famous Watson and the Shark painting in a tableau vivant posing contest. Create your own High School Superlatives with the portraits.
- A world of gossip. Find out the story of Whistler’s ex-mistress, who later posed nude for the well-known painting, Origine du Monde. Why Turner and Constable, two artists who hated each other in life, are now hanging side by side in the same gallery.
- Subversive stories. There’s a painting of a woman with a really fabulous, fancy, LARGE hairdo. Why? Because she was a spy for the crown who would hide secrets woven into her hair. A Vermeer painting that’s only “attributed” to the artist, as it’s authenticity is still in question!
- Hidden insights. The museum often leaves out the best, most interesting information, like where to find the Queen’s official dwarf. At first glance, you might think that he’s a kid, but we can set you straight. There’s also a secret room downstairs that has pictures of monkeys doing human things (most casual visitors don’t know how to find it)!
- Zany photos. We love museum selfies! Art museums always make great backgrounds. We’ll even challenge you to use your camera to complete challenges and play games during the tour.
No matter how many times you’ve visited the National Gallery of Art, we’ll show you the “Un-highlights” you have never seen or heard of before.
🚩 Visit the museum with an expert guide...
Check out our renegade tours!