Worth it museum memberships in DC

Love art, science, or history? Find more benefits with these annual memberships.

Editorial Team

By Editorial Team

Exhibit of an elephant in Smithsonian Museum

Is it better to pay as you go or invest in annual museum membership in D.C.?  

If you’ve moved to the capital calculate how many times you may want to visit the best museums in the city.

In just a handful of visits, museum memberships basically pay for themselves.

They also offer plenty of perks and are often housed in spectacular buildings worth visiting in and of themselves.

Discover the benefits of the best museum memberships in D.C. that are actually worth snapping up.

Museum membership for families

The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum with 19 sites including the National Zoo. it offers a lifetime’s worth of exploring.

History, science, art, and culture collide at the landmark museums that include:

  • The National Museum of American History, 
  • The National Museum of the American Indian,
  • The National Air and Space Museum, 
  • The National Gallery of Art 
  • The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

As you can see, there are a lot of must-sees under the Smithsonian umbrella.

Even though general admission is free, the Scholar membership ($75) unlocks a host of benefits.

As well as philanthropic support, the membership fee covers an annual subscription to the award-winning Smithsonian magazine delivered to your home and a 20% discount in Smithsonian Museum Stores.

Also, members can get exclusive weekday access to the Friends of the Smithsonian Reception Center located on the National Mall.

Along with discounted tickets to IMAX theaters and Einstein Planetarium.

You’ll be spoilt with options for family-friendly things to do at the Smithsonian, the jewel in the crown of D.C.’s museums. Kids love the ride stimulators at The National Museum of American History, and the Conservation Carousel at The National Zoo.

The whole family can also experience a one-of-a-kind overnight stay in the museum at the Smithsonian Sleepovers.

Museum membership for amateur sleuths

The Spy Museum offers an immersive experience into the secret world of espionage.

Located at L’Enfant Plaza near The National Mall, the new building will feature interactive stations and a state-of-the-art theater.

Fascinating exhibits range from the stories of spies to international espionage artifacts. The most talked-about include The Lipstick Pistol and a German Enigma machine from 1944.

One of the most popular experiences is the ‘Spy in the City’ event that leads visitors on an outdoor mission with a GPS-based interactive device.

Above all, an individual Operative membership ($99) offers unlimited, express access to the museum.

That’s a steal considering a one-off visit to the Spy Museum can cost between $14–21, along with a guest pass.

Museum membership for news hounds

The Newseum membership is perfect if you’re passionate about news and independent journalism that speaks truth to power.

All in all, a free press has never been so newsworthy in an era of so-called “fake news”.

The Newseum’s mission is to increase public understanding of the value of free expression through engaging interactive exhibitions. They tell the story of the history of news from the First Amendment to Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalists.

You can revisit landmark moments documented in history in the 9/11 Gallery, the Berlin Wall Gallery, and more. With an Individual membership ($75) unlimited free admission is valid for a full year.

For something different to do with colleagues, membership also unlocks discounts on team-building activities such as reporter-style scavenger hunts.

Museum membership for sealife

This museum membership is worth snapping up for the life aquatic. Discover the world’s aquatic treasures over and over at the National Aquarium with an individual membership ($75).

Covering free annual admission, see the world from below the surface with VIP express membership entry. Get up close to coral reef and blue blubber jellies, or if you’re feeling brave take a discounted behind-the-scenes shark tour.

A whale shark inside the National Aquarium in DC

For something more hands-on, try one of the interactive experiences like the Living Seashore exhibit.

Here, touch pools and tactile discovery walls reveal the hidden treasures of the beach. Just the ticket for a deep dive urban escape!

Continue your aquatic adventure back home with the free members print subscription to the museum’s Watermarks magazine.

Museum membership for all things architecture

At the National Building Museum, both students and individuals alike can benefit.  The general membership ($40 – $60) comes with free admission and reduced rates for special exhibitions.

Known as one of the most awe-inspiring places in D.C. the building’s 75-foot-tall Corinthian columns and terracotta frieze is a must-see.

Inside the National Building Museum, the history of how architecture is designed and built can be seen. Exhibitions like Flickering Treasures reveal Baltimore’s forgotten movie theaters through photography and architectural fragments.

Alongside socially conscious displays like Evicted, an immersive exhibit into the world of low-income renter eviction.

Permanent collections include the Wurts Brothers Photography and Raymond Kaskey’s civic sculpture.

living room kitchenette with detailed blue rug and wooden coffee table


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Editorial Team

Editorial Team

The Blueground editorial team covers the best things to see, do, and experience in our cities around the world.