Affiliated with but not a part of the Smithsonian, the National Gallery needs two buildings (connected by an underground tunnel) to house its stunning collections (more than 110,000 objects) of painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the present. Kids love the walking escalator that traverses the two buildings and conveniently empties into the airy cafeteria where you can press your nose against the giant sheet of glass and look out onto a cascading waterfall.
The original neoclassical building, known as the West Building, exhibits primarily European works, from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, including pieces by El Greco, Monet, and Cézanne. Don't miss the room full of Renoirs, including the famous Girl with a Hoop.
Across 4th Street NW, the angular East Building is where you'll find the Calder mobile along with other abstract and modern works. Across 7th Street from the West Wing sits the National Gallery Sculpture Garden, a beautifully landscaped park of open lawns, a pool with a spouting fountain, and 17 sculptures. In warm weather, people linger for lunch on the wide rim of the pool.
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The National Gallery of Art is located on the north side of the National Mall, convenient to metro and bus stops. An information desk has a floor plan and a calendar of events. Allow at least 2 hours to tour the gallery, more for exploring other buildings.
The gallery has a number of dining options, including the sculpture garden's Pavilion Café. On Sunday evenings, October through June, the gallery hosts a popular concert series.