I am a DC resident, and I am inspired to write this review of the National Gallery of Art after my most recent visit, when a family member was visiting.
It would take days to fully explore the National Gallery. The great thing, however, is that the Gallery is free, so, unlike most art museums, you don't have to feel guilty if you don't see the entire collection. Take your time -- you can always come back!
The buildings are both absolutely beautiful -- a classic, stately museum in the West building and a modern, clean-lined masterpiece in the East Building. Navigation of the building is fairly straightforward, especially when you have a map.
Many of the National Gallery's collections are outstanding. My advice is to study the map carefully and (perhaps with the aid of someone at an information desk) pick a limited number of galleries to explore in-depth during your visit. That will prove more satisfactory than a whip-your-way through the museum tour. I also highly recommend going on one of the docent-led tours -- I have done that a couple of times and found them extremely rewarding. The docents have done a great job of making the art accessible. It really enhanced my visit.
Beyond the art, the National Gallery has some nice dining options, including a cafe with a Jose Andres menu. It's also worth taking time to explore the stores. They have beautiful merchandise. The jewelry collection is particularly excellent; around Christmas-time, I always visit to buy jewelry for some colorful-jewely-loving family members.
Don't forget to visit the sculpture garden, too.
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