Summer Snapshot: In the Land of Museums

Spending the summer interning in a major city is quickly becoming a common experience for most college students, especially for those of us at the University of Michigan. For the politically inclined, DC, is the most likely candidate, as it is the center of national government and politics. With internship programs on the Hill, in government agencies, lobbying firms, activist groups, and in the private sector, Washington DC is teeming with interns from early June through mid-August. While spending an extending period of time in an urban environment is always an interesting experience, it can be difficult to plan pleasant daytime activities with the unbearable mid-summer heat and humidity. Museums offer the perfect air-conditioned refuge and provide patrons with a little dose of culture. While in most cities, a typical museum trip can cost anything from $10 to $30, in Washington DC many of the largest and well-curated museums offer free admission. If you are spending time in the DC this summer, as an intern or as a vistor, you should take some time to visit a few of these. It is practically impossible to see them all, but here are SHEI's top five no-cost museum picks that will give you a well-rounded taste of DC's cultural attractions. 1. The National Museum of American History

National Museum of American History. Billy Hathorn/ Wikimedia Commons.

This museum is one of the most well-known out of the many Smithsonian Institutes  across DC. Featuring a variety of exhibits and artifacts, this museum has interesting and accessible collections that are sure to attract more than your typical history buff. One of the most famous parts of the museum's permanent collection is  "The First Ladies Exhibit," which showcases a variety of gowns worn by many of the country's first ladies. Other exhibits also diverge from the typical concepts taught in American History classes, and include a variety of interesting subjects from pop-culture and music, to Civil Rights, food, and housing.

2. The National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery houses one of the most diverse and well-curated collections of international art in the country. While this museum is a favorite among art enthusiasts, it is an equally interesting place to visit for those with a more limited interest in art. The museum caters to a diverse array of artistic tastes, as it features both traditional and modern art. The traditional style West Building houses most of the museum's art, ranging from medieval European paintings to a collection of impressionist art, while the newer East Building holds more modern pieces. To fully appreciate the diversity of this museum, take a look at some of the highlights.

3. The United States Capitol

If there is one thing that every American should experience while in DC, it is a visit to the nation's Capitol. This beautiful building, which houses the United States Congress, is an interesting and dynamic place where visitors get a first hand look at how American democracy functions. Since the opening of the U.S. Capitol Vistor's Center in 2008, tours of the Capitol building are well-managed and enjoyable. While tours originate in this unique and education underground space, vistors get a chance to view many important areas in American history including the Rotunda, the Crypt, and the Old Supreme Court Chamber. Capitol tours are free, but they must be booked ahead of time, either with a Senator or Representative's office, or through the CVC, so make sure to plan ahead.

4. The National Museum of Natural History

Elephant at the entrance to the Museum of Natural History. Klortho/Wikimedia Commons.

This museum is another Smithsonian favorite, and features a wide variety of interesting and educational nature and science exhibits. While the collections at this museum are designed with visual features and basic explanations targeted at children, it can be equally interesting for adults (especially those without a background in natural science). During a trip to this museum, vistors can learn about marine life, human evolution, outer space, precious gem stones, and wild animals. Check out the museum website for current exhibitions.

5. The National Zoo

Last but not least, a trip to DC should always include a visit to the National Zoo. While this is one of the smaller zoos in the country, it is conveniently located inside the city (in the beautiful Adams-Morgan area), and houses a variety of interesting and exotic animals. Some of the zoo's highlights include the Giant Pandas (who can also be found on the back of most WMTA tickets), elephants, cheetahs, lions, tigers, and wild birds. If you are an animal lover, or are visiting the area with kids be sure to addd the zoo to your list!