National Mall in Washington DC (1 Day/24hr Itinerary) [2022]

I’ve traveled all around the world and have seen a lot of bucket-list worthy places. And while it’s impossible to rank all of these places, in my opinion, the National Mall in Washington DC is way up there and one of the most interesting sites in the world.

If you only have one day or about 24 hours in Washington DC, I would highly suggest that you make your way to the National Mall.

But because there is so much to see there you definitely need to have a plan so that you make the best use of your time and don’t miss out on some of the more hidden attractions.

We recently spent one day exploring the National Mall and I learned a ton about how to best approach crafting an itinerary for a day tour.

In this article, I’ll break it all down for you and give you some guidance so that you can have the best experience possible at this magnificent site.

What is the National Mall?

The National Mall is not a shopping mall (sorry shoppers). Instead, it’s an expansive area consisting of open park grounds, world-class museums, war memorials, famous historical monuments, and some of the most important US government buildings.

People visit the National Mall to check out what is essentially the headquarters of US government, explore the renown museums, and perhaps most importantly, honor and reflect on all of the sacrifices made by those in the past that allow us to enjoy the freedoms we have today.

Note: Some people define the National Mall proper as consisting of a smaller area but for purposes of this article, I’m lumping all of the major attractions that border the National Mall into one area since they are all easily accessible once you’re in the general vicinity.

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The Lincoln Memorial.

What sites can you see at the National Mall?

When visiting the National Mall you’re going to see a mixture of government buildings, memorials, monuments, and museums.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most interesting sites you’ll likely want to focus on:

Government Buildings

  • Supreme Court
  • Library of Congress
  • US Capitol (Congress)
  • White House
  • Eisenhower Executive Office Building
  • US Treasury Department

Memorials and monuments

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial
  • Washington Monument
  • World War II Memorial
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  • Arlington National Cemetery/The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (across the Potomac)
  • US Marine Corps War Memorial (across the Potomac)


  • National Gallery of Art
  • Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
  • National Archives Museum
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • Hirshhorn Museum
  • Smithsonian National Museum of American History
  • Smithsonian Castle
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • National Portrait Gallery (few blocks away)

Food and snack huts

You can find a lot of food and snack huts throughout the National Mall. As you would probably guess the prices will be expensive but you can purchase things like water bottles, chips, and hot food items like burgers, pretzels, etc.

One thing that surprised me was the number of bathrooms. There are some permanent bathroom facilities but also rows of portable toilets in case you need to go.

Hotel Review: AC Hotel Washington DC Convention Center

Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

What is the best way to see the National Mall?

Walking + Uber

I would highly recommend you to consider walking throughout the National Mall.

If you are able-bodied this will be the best way to see the National Mall and it’s a beautiful walk to do when the weather permits.

My preferred way of exploring is to walk until you basically are not enjoying the walking anymore and then rely on a ride sharing service like Uber to get you back to your hotel to recharge or simply take you to your next destination.


I saw quite a few bike stations around the National Mall and it seems like a great way to get around. I just don’t like to bother with locating the stations and dealing with a bike so I prefer to just walk via foot.

If you want to rent a bike you can look into services like Capital Bike Share.


Like every other major city that attracts a lot of tourists, you can choose to do a hop on hop off bus tour. These can be a great way to get around but it does mean having to rely on a bus and dealing with certain stops.

Some of these bus tours have audio recordings that can give you more insight into the sites so it’s not a bad way to see the National Mall.


Driving does not seem like a very practical way to see the National Mall because of limited parking and traffic.

However, if you get familiar with the different parking areas and are comfortable driving you might be able to make it work.

Also, if you are driving in the early morning or evening parking will be more readily available and driving is much more doable.

What order should you visit the sites at the National Mall?

The good news. There is no wrong way to explore all of the memorials and museums in the National Mall. You could start at either side or even in the middle.

The bad news. That doesn’t really help your planning at all.

So to help give your visit some structure, here are three major tips:

Don’t worry about planning exact visit times

Unless you are planning on attending some type of specific tour or timed-entry attraction, you don’t have to plan out your visit times to any of the below locations and you can just check them out at your own pace.

Set a practical limit for your sites

If you only have one day you should draw the line somewhere on the number of sites you plan to see because one day is simply not enough time to see it all.

This is especially true with sites like museums that eat up huge chunks of time.

Start from the east side

I would recommend following the path that we did starting on the east side of the National Mall and then work towards the west.

Below, I’ll walk you through the itinerary we did and provide you with more tips to avoid some of the mistakes we made.

Note: For this itinerary to work, you want to get started early – no later than 8am.

National mall sites (itinerary)

Supreme Court

I’m probably a little bit biased because of my lawyer background but I thought stepping on the steps of the Supreme Court was extremely cool.

It’s a beautiful courthouse and it’s a shame that it’s a bit tucked away behind the US Capitol Building, but I guess there was really nowhere else to put it in the National Mall by the time they built it in the 1930s.

US  Supreme Court

If you don’t want to settle for glimpses of the Supreme Court’s exterior, you can head inside to check out more.

The Supreme Court does not offer guided tours of the facility but there are self-guided exhibitions you can check out. They also have lectures that they offer which are available on days that the Court is not in session.

These lectures are available Monday through Friday on a first-come, first-served basis and are free of charge. They usually begin every hour on the half-hour beginning at 9:30 am with the final lecture at 3:30 pm.

Note: Due to coronavirus these tours may not be available.

Right next door to the Supreme Court is the Library of Congress — a beautiful building known for being the largest library in the world.

Also, if you’re a Shakespeare fan you can check out the Folger Shakespeare Library whenever it opens back up.

Supreme Court door

US Capitol Building

Right next to the Supreme Court is the US Capitol Building.

Construction of the US Capitol Building began in 1793 and in 1800, Congress met in the first completed portion, the north wing.

Something a lot of people don’t know is that there is a huge US Capitol Visitor Center located underneath the US Capitol Building.

In fact, the visitor center is about 3/4 the size of the Capitol!

During normal times you can book tours of the Capitol Building and check out the Visitor Center but due to the pandemic these are currently not available.

When they do open up, advanced reservations will likely still be recommended or even required.

US Capitol Building

After you make your way past the Capitol Building you are now in close proximity to several of the best museums in Washington DC.

My personal preference is to focus on all of the outdoor sites in the National Mall first.

This is an ideal strategy for a few reasons.

First, this will allow you to stay in a mindset of remembrance when visiting the monuments and war memorials.

It’s also a great plan because if you are visiting when the temperatures can get warm you can check out all of the sites early in the morning when the weather will be cooler.

Then, when things start to heat up you can head indoors to the museums.

And finally, some of these museums don’t open until 10am so if you get started early (around 7am to 8am) you can explore a lot of the National Mall before the museums even open their doors.

Note: If you do choose to hit up the museums at this point, check out the section at the bottom of this article on the National Mall’s museums.

US Capitol Building

Once you pass the Capitol Building you can make a quick stop to the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial which is just west of the building. Ulysses S. Grant was a U.S. President and Civil War general for the victorious Union Army.

After that, you’ll then be heading west on the National Mall.

I would suggest staying on the south side so that you can make a short side trip to the one of the newest monuments dedicated in 2020: the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial.

If you’re putting off visiting the museums, the next visit will be the Washington Monument.

Washington Monument

The Washington Monument — which honors the first president of the US: George Washington — is the most iconic symbol of Washington DC.

Built on July 4, 1848 and dedicated on February 21, 1885, this marble obelisk stands 555 feet tall — ten times the width of the base.

If you look closely at the Washington Monument, you’ll notice the two different colors of the monument.

During the construction they basically ran out of one type of stone and had to use a different type which is why the monument is bi-colored.

The monument has undergone a lot of restoration work through the decades including in 2011-2014 when it sustained damage from an earthquake

If you want to, you can head to the top of the monument but you need to book tickets ahead of time. Head to and you can try to get tickets the day before your visit.

You’ll take an elevator all the way up to the top which thankfully is not the original steam engine elevator which took 10 to 12 minutes to make its way to the top floor.

After your visit, you can turn north and head to the White House which is only about a 20 minute walk from the Washington National Monument.

But as I discuss below, we decided to save the White House for last and went straight from the Washington National Monument to the World War II Memorial.

World War II Memorial

The World War II Memorial, dedicated by President George W. Bush on May 29, 2004, is one of the most impressive war memorials in DC.

It honors the “service of 16 million members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, the support of countless millions on the home front, and the ultimate sacrifice of 405,399 Americans.”

56 Granite columns representing each U.S. state and territory at the time of World War II surround you in the middle as you contemplate the scale of people who were involved in the war.

World War II Memorial

Seeing the columns for all of the states and territories gave me a sense of the unity required to come out victorious in such a massive war.

For a war memorial, it actually felt a bit uplifting, which was weird considering it was the most costly war in terms of human life.

Ironically, I think that was one of the biggest criticisms of this monument — it was a bit too “celebratory” and “pompous” for some.

As you wander, spend some time locating your state’s column on the perimeter of the memorial while paying respects for those from your home who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Then head to the center of the memorial where you’ll find the pool which I think still goes to the name of Rainbow Pool.

There’s a bit of controversy on whether or not it’s disrespectful to get in the water of Rainbow Pool, which is something visitors do on hot days.

At the time of our visit, signs indicated that putting your feet in the water was okay but wading was not. So use common sense there.

At the back, there’s a wall of 4,048 gold stars which was designed to remind visitors of all of the sacrifices made by over 400,000 Americans. Each star represents 100 US deaths.

Tip: Don’t forget to look for Kilroy

World War II Memorial wall of stars

After you make your way past the World War II Memorial, you have a choice to make.

You could go ahead and make a loop around the Tidal Basin which is where you find sites like the Jefferson Memorial.

Or you could put that loop off until later and simply keep going west where you will encounter the famous Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

We chose to put off the Jefferson Memorial until later which I think is a good call but you really can’t go wrong with either way.

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

Built in the 1920s, the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is not only a place where you can catch a beautiful reflection of the monuments, surrounding trees, and sky.

It’s also a place to reflect on all of the people and events that have shaped our nation’s history over the centuries.

When we arrived at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, I was a little bit disappointed to find out the pool was not filled up all the way.

I’m not sure how often that happens and perhaps it was due to some cleaning but it took a little bit away from the beauty of the Reflecting Pool if I’m being honest.

At least we still had the ducks, I guess.

At any rate, we chose to walk along the north side of the Reflecting Pool so that we would arrive at the next location, the: Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

When people talk about war memorials in DC it seems like the most moving of these is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Just how important is this memorial?

At the dedication on November 11, 1982, there was a 56-hour reading at Washington National Cathedral of all the engraved names of the dead.

Undoubtedly, the listed names of 58,318 Americans on the shiny black granite wall will leave you with a lasting impression of the sacrifice that so many people made.

The order of the names is a little confusing but basically they are listed in chronological order of the time of passing.

The earliest death begins in the middle of the memorial (at the high point) and then names follow chronologically to the right until you get to 1968.

At that point, the names resume on the short end of the west panels and then follow chronologically towards the center. This way the first and last deaths meet up with each other in the middle.

Image via

There’s also a code of sorts used on the memorial.

As the NPS states:

Those declared dead are marked by a diamond; those MIA are marked by a cross. If the person currently marked as MIA returns alive, a circle is placed around the cross. If his remains are identified, a diamond is superimposed over the cross.

For me, knowing how brutal the tactics were in this war it was very moving to see all of these names. I could only imagine the stories those people could tell.

Other elements to check out include the: The Three Serviceman statue, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, the In Memory plaque, and a flagpole that flies both the U.S. and the MIA-POW flag.

Find a bench near these to rest your legs and plan out your next move, which likely will be the Lincoln Memorial.

Interesting fact: the Salem Witch Memorial was inspired by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial

I like that we started at the east end of the National Mall because it built up lots of anticipation for the Lincoln Memorial.

There’s something about the Lincoln Memorial that just feels so uniquely inspiring and powerful.

I think it’s a combination of Lincoln’s tragic assassination and honestly just growing up with the Lincoln Memorial on the back of all our pennies and five dollar bills.

Either way, if we are talking about the monument with the biggest “oooh” factor it is hands-down the Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial statue

Modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, and dedicated in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial is a masterpiece.

You’ll find 36 fluted Doric columns rising 50 foot high columns and surrounding the temple (one for each of the 36 states in the Union at the time).

The 19-foot sculpture of Lincoln, which took four years to complete, possesses some subtle symbolic meaning if you look closely.

The creator positioned Lincoln’s hands so as to display his two most important qualities.

One hand is clenched, which represents Lincoln’s strength and determination to finish the war.

The other hand rests open representing his compassionate, warm nature.

Even the steps outside are rich with history as this is where Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

You can look for the exact location on the steps where King delivered the speech as there is an inscription. Be prepared for the goosebumps.

Inside the memorial, engraved on the interior walls, you’ll find the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, which he made only 41 days before his assassination.

Above the inscriptions, you can find a 60 foot by twelve foot mural painted by Jules Guerin which is meant to portray the governing principles of Lincoln’s life.

There are also some bathrooms and exhibits underneath the memorial.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is one of the lesser talked about memorials in DC even though it saw 33,686 US deaths.

In fact, the war as a whole has sort of lived in the shadow of Vietnam considering that the Korean War happened before Vietnam but didn’t have a memorial until 1995 (built after the Vietnam Memorial in 1982).

For that reason, I felt a special obligation to spend some time honoring the fallen of “the Forgotten War.”

That plan was kind of ruined when we arrived because there was a lot of ongoing construction and it was just not the ideal time to visit.

With that said, I would like to go back when the memorial has been renovated.

At this memorial you’ll find 19 stainless steel statues, a wall of remembrance, and I’m sure some impressive new features that will be finished soon.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

After you visit the Korean War Memorial you now have another decision to make of whether or not you want to proceed towards the Jefferson Memorial and knock out a few more sites around the Tidal Basin.

Or, you can do what we did and proceed to Arlington National Cemetery.

You could of course do both but that will involve a lot of additional walking and time. If you plan on hitting up some of the museums I would not try to walk to both of these locations as that will eat up a lot of time.

Arlington National Cemetery

We chose to walk from the National Mall to Arlington National Cemetery.

We did not see any other tourists making this walk so I don’t think a lot of people choose to make the way to the National Cemetery by foot.

However, I would recommend making the walk.

For one, it’s a pretty cool walk and you get to cross the Potomac River as well as the state lines for Virginia. (It’s not every day you get to walk across state lines in the US.)

But more importantly the Arlington Memorial Bridge is an incredibly symbolic bridge to America.

Built in 1932, Arlington Memorial Bridge is a symbolic bridge that crosses the Potomac River, a body of water which once divided the Northern and Southern states.

Moreover, it connects the Lincoln Memorial to Robert E Lee’s Memorial as part of an intentional act of symbolism that represents the nation coming back together post Civil War.

To access the cemetery you’ll need to go through security so this is not your ordinary cemetery wide open to the public.

Inside the cemetery, there are tram tours that depart every 30 minutes, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. However, we opted to just walk around on our own.

I’m definitely not a big “cemetery person” but Arlington National Cemetery is quite beautiful and unlike any cemetery I’ve ever visited. It’s vast, historic, and peaceful.

Arlington National Cemetery

Within the cemetery there are many different sites to see.

The most famous is probably The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Since 1921, it’s been the home to an unidentified World War I service member. Unknown military members were added from later wars in 1958 and 1984.

It’s also just been a sight of mourning and reflection for all of those in the military.

Changing of the guard ceremonies go on throughout the day and you just need to time your visit so that you can witness one of them.

Luckily, this isn’t hard to do.

The ceremonies happen every hour on the hour from October 1 through March 31, and every half hour from April 1 through September 30. They are all free to observe.

Every movement from the guards is extremely precise and symbolic like the 21 steps they take and the directions they face, so it’s cool to learn a little bit about the symbolism before you check out the ceremony.

Be extra careful about being noisy or standing in the wrong area and definitely do not trespass to the area where the soldiers are guarding the Tomb.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guards

Another interesting site is the gravesite of John F Kennedy, where you can observe the eternal flame.

If you are into checking out gravesites you can also check out the final resting place of Robert Kennedy, William Howard Taft (former president), and Thurgood Marshall.

There is also the Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, which has a fascinating and sort of comical history related to the cemetery. Tickets are required to enter the Arlington House.

John F Kennedy grave
Gravesite of former president, John F Kennedy.

If you have the extra energy you can also make your way to the US Marine Corps War Memorial, which is a creation modeled after a Pulitzer Prize winning photo taken at Iwo Jima (arguably the most famous war photo of all time).

Dedicated in 1954, it honors all Marines who have given their lives in defense of the United States since 1775.

After we finished up at Arlington Cemetery, we ended up taking an Uber back to our hotel room to freshen up a little bit and grab lunch which ended up being a fantastic idea and good use of time.

We were able to recharge and then head back out to check out the museums and eventually the White House. (Read more about the museums below.)

If you go this route just keep in mind the museums do not stay open very late (5pm to 5:30pm) so you need to make sure that you get back to the museums with as much time as you think you’ll need to explore.

Consider going back to the Jefferson Memorial in the evening after you have explored the museums and visited the White House.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

We carved out some time the next morning for us to visit the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, which is on the Tidal Basin (where people flock to see cherry blossoms in early spring).

We figured that a morning visit would be pretty epic because our visit would coincide with the sunrise and we would probably have the site to ourselves.

Well, we were right — we were able to visit the memorial by ourselves. Just us two and good ole TJ.

But for some reason the lights were off.

This meant that we checked out the large sculpture of Thomas Jefferson in the dark which to be completely honest was a little bit creepy.

Still, I think this is one of the must-see memorials if you only have one day so I would do whatever you can to make time for it.

Nearby to the Jefferson Memorial you can also check out the:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  • George Mason Memorial

If you want to hang out in the Tidal Basin a little longer and get a unique vantage point, consider renting Tidal Basin paddle boats.

We didn’t rent paddle boats but I’ve done paddle boats before in the UK and they can be a work out so be ready to get your legs pumping!

Thomas Jefferson Memorial lights off

The White House

We decided to save the White House until the end of the day.

For one, temperatures would be a lot cooler and I just thought that ending our tour with the White House would be the right way to go.

There’s been a lot of construction around the White House recently as they have been installing a fence that is twice as high as the old fence and also more durable and secure.

Believe it or not, someone was able to successfully jump the fence and even make their way inside a few years ago.

As long as there are no closures I think you can check out the White House from both the north and south side.

For us, we were only able to check it out from the north view which is a really nice view.

If you want a tour of the inside of the White House that’s possible but you have to plan that well in advance and write to your local Congress representative.

When you’re viewing the White House from the north entrance, it’s hard to see the corridors for the “45 second” commute leading to the East Wing and West Wing, so the White House complex looks a lot smaller than it actually is.

For those that don’t know, the West Wing is where most of the “stuff” happens as that is where you’ll find the Oval Office, the Situation Room, the Cabinet Room, the Press Room, etc.

As you admire the White House you’ll probably see Secret Service members scoping out people from the top of the building and even making patrols through the lawn.

Don’t climb on the fence but feel free to stick your arm through the fence to get a good shot with your camera/phone.

The White House

The White House is nearby a couple of additional big-time attractions.

Just next-door is the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), which is located next to the West Wing, and houses a majority of offices for White House staff.

Just a few blocks away there is the Ford’s Theatre which of course is where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

It has a museum now with lots of exhibits from the tragic assassination and you can still view the balcony Lincoln sat on when everything happened.

Museums at the National Mall

We spent about two hours checking out the museums which is not nearly enough time to fully explore them but if you only have one day, it’s enough time to see and appreciate some of the major highlights.

There are a ton of museums in the National Mall and surrounding area and some of them are 100% free.

Tip: None of the museums were super crowded when we visited but if they do get crowded consider going through the back entrances which might be quicker.

Below, I’ll highlight four of the most interesting museums to check out (in my opinion) and then also provide you with a list of additional museums you might be interested in.

Highlights: Artwork by Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Johannes Vermeer, and other legendary artists.

National Gallery of Art Leonardo da Vinci

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Highlights: Dinosaurs, cool interactive exhibits, all-around good time.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Highlights: Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, model of the starship Enterprise, Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer airplane

National Archives Museum

Highlights: Viewing of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

Additional museums you may find worthwhile:

  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • Hirshhorn Museum
  • Smithsonian National Museum of American History
  • Smithsonian Castle
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • National Portrait Gallery

You could easily spend 2 to 3 hours at a few of these museums and eat up your entire day.

So if you only have one day my suggestion is to choose two of the museums are the most interesting to you and plan on visiting those. Try to give yourself up to three hours between the two museums if you can. Typically, this will mean reserving museum time between 2:30pm and 5:30pm.

Final word

Visiting the National Mall is an experience that you will never forget. Even if you only have 24 hours, you can still see some monuments, museums, and government buildings that will blow your mind. If you follow the itinerary above and get started around 7am you should have a jam-packed day full of amazing experiences.

Smithsonian magazine’s free Museum Day is Coming Back!

Last year coronavirus canceled just about everything including Smithsonian magazine’s free Museum Day.

But this year it is coming back so just to make sure that you are ready.

If you are not familiar with this day, it offers free admission to more than 1,000 museums, zoos, and cultural centers located all across the country.

The free museum day will be on September 18 which falls on a Saturday.

How to get a ticket:

To get a ticket you will have to select a museum and download a ticket from the Smithsonian Magazine website.

If you click on that link you can use the filter on the left to filter museums based on states which I think is the easiest way to search.

I searched through Texas and Arizona and found quite a few museums that I had never heard of but that looks pretty cool to visit like the Museum of Southern History in Houston Texas.

Some of the museums look very random but could make for a cool Saturday morning visit, especially since you won’t have to come out of pocket.

Tickets will be available to download beginning at midnight on Wednesday, August 18, 2021.

You are allowed to download one ticket per email address but each ticket allows entry for two people.

If you like museums and like to visit them for free you should also check out the Bank of America Museum on US program.

Bank of America Museums on Us Review (Free Dates) [2021]

For over 20 years Bank of America has offered special privileges for getting into museums across the country. The program is known as the “Museums on Us Program” and it allows you to get into museums all around the US for free.

In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about the program, including which cards are eligible and which weekends are free. I also have a full list at the end of the article with every participating museum.

What is the Bank of America Museums on Us Program?

The Bank of America Museums on Us Program is a special program that allows Bank of America customers to visit museums all around the US free of charge on a select weekend each month. Keep reading below to see exactly which customers have access and what weekends are free. 

What Bank of America cards are eligible for the Museums on Us Program?

You can get free entry into select museums with the credit cards or debit cards from the following institutions: 

  • Bank of America
  • Merrill Lynch
  • U.S. Trust

Note: (Business cards or personal cards should work).

You will also need to show a photo ID when you use your card to get in for free (although not always). Also, you can only get free entry for the cardholder — guests must pay separate entrance fees. If you add an authorized user they should be able to get in for free.

I’ve also seen parents add their kids to their checking accounts so they have their own debit cards but have read mixed reports with the success of doing that so be warned that it might not always work (even though it appears that it should). 

Bank of America has some pretty solid credit cards you might want to pick up like the co-branded Alaska Airlines credit card, Virgin Atlantic card, and Asiana card. (Since some of these cards are less common and don’t have the Bank of America logo on them in obvious fashion, you might have to take a little bit of extra time to show the museum that these cards are eligible.)

Here are a couple of their other cards you might be interested in:

Bank of America Premium Rewards

  • Earn unlimited points – 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points per $1 on all other purchases Calculate Rewards
  • 50,000 bonus points – a $500 value – after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Get up to $200 in combined Airline Incidental and TSA Pre-Check /Global Entry Statement Credits

The Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card comes with no annual fee so with a card like this you’re able to hold on to the museum benefit for free. Of course, since debit cards also work you might just stick with your debit card if you already have an account with Bank of America.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

Bank of America Cash Rewards

  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings 
  • Plus, earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases Calculate rewards
  • Earn 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1%

Before applying for these cards, just make sure you are aware of the credit card application rules.

What 2021 weekends are free? 

With the program, you can enjoy free admission on the first full weekend of every month. So the first Saturday and Sunday of a given month are eligible when both the Saturday and the Sunday fall in that month. Here’s a list of all of the free weekends for 2021 below.   

  • January: 2 & 3
  • February: 6 & 7
  • March: 6 & 7
  • April: 3 & 4
  • May: 1 & 2
  • June: 5 & 6
  • July: 3 & 4
  • August: 7 & 8
  • September: 4 & 5
  • October: 2 & 3
  • November: 6 & 7
  • December: 4 & 5

If you don’t want to keep track of which weekends are the free dates then you can sign up for email reminders. These should arrive in your inbox every month and you can sign up for them here.

There are some reports of people getting turned away when special events are taking place. These don’t appear to be that common but it’s something that you want to be on the lookout for when the special event doesn’t have an exclusive entrance. In those cases, you can try to reason with the ticket desk and just assure them you won’t be entering in the special exhibition but YMMV. 

Tip: Many museums offer free entry on certain days of the week/month/year so always be on the lookout. You can search for some free days here. Just be warned that free days at museums sometimes have ridiculously long lines so you might want to avoid them if you don’t like dealing with crowds. By the way, you might want to read my tips for visiting museums.

What type of admission do you get? 

The Museums on Us Program will grant you general admission into these museums. Thus, if there is a special exhibit which requires you to pay for entry, you likely won’t get free access to that exhibit. Also, some museums have fast-track lanes and you likely won’t get access to those either (though it never hurts to ask). 

The price of admission to these museums will vary but it’s not uncommon to get about $15 to $25 worth of value from a free general admission ticket. Some museums may try to up-sell you to more expensive tickets (at a discount) when you enter so be prepared for that. 

What type of museums participate?

I have a full list of all of the museums in the program below, but you can expect a wide variety of museums in this program. Some museums are very well known like the Art Institute of Chicago, the Met in New York, etc. 

However, you will also find a lot smaller museums that you probably have never heard of. The great thing about those museums is that even if you’re not in love with them when you visit, at least you can get into them for free. And without a doubt, some of them will be hidden gems with some interesting art and artifacts to check out. 

List of Bank of America free museums

Below is a list of all of the museums that participate in the program. Keep in mind that they are constantly adding new museums so you should always check to see what the latest museums are. I will try to keep this list as updated as possible but if you want to check your self you can do that here.

Update: It appears that Bank of America no longer publishes the entire list of eligible museums and you have to search for them individually based on your region. Still, the list below could be helpful in finding potential museums to visit –just be sure to verify that they are still in the program.








Little Rock




Laguna Beach

Long Beach

Los Angeles

Mountain View


Orange County

Palm Desert

Palm Springs




San Diego

San Francisco

San Jose

San Luis Obispo

Santa Barbara








New Britain




District of Columbia




Coral Gables

Daytona Beach

Fort Lauderdale



Jensen Beach


Miami Beach




St. Petersburg



Vero Beach

West Palm Beach


















Des Moines



















Grand Rapids



St. Paul


Kansas City


Las Vegas


New Hampshire


New Jersey

Cherry Hill






New Mexico


Santa Fe

New York





Garden City



New York



Roslyn Harbor

Stony Brook



North Carolina














Oklahoma City






Chadds Ford




Rhode Island



South Carolina











El Paso

Fort Worth


San Antonio










Bank of America Art Conservation Project

Bank of America also oversees an art conservation project. They provide grants to nonprofit museums to conserve historically or culturally significant works of art that are in danger of degeneration, including works that have been designated as national treasures. Each year they take new grant submissions so if you think you might qualify you should look into it.

Final word

Getting a free general admission ticket to museums every month is a great perk. The only drawback I see is that you don’t get access to the special exhibitions and you might have to forgo other passes like FastTrack. But it doesn’t get much easier than just showing your card to get free access so I am a big fan of this program.

The Rijksmuseum Guide: (Tickets, Skip the line, Artwork) [2018]

The Rijksmuseum, meaning “state museum” in English, is the most visited museum in the Netherlands and for good reason. There’s a lot to see and admire. This article will take you through some of the highlights of the Rijksmuseum’s artwork and show you how you can book tickets and skip the line!

If you’d like to go straight to finding Rijksmuseum tickets click here. 

Intro: Rijksmuseum

The museum, which was originally built in 1885 and recently underwent a €375 million renovation, hosts Rembrandt’s most famous works along with the works of  several other famous artists, such as Johannes Vermeer and Van Gogh.

The thousands of art pieces are brilliantly displayed throughout this immaculate museum and visitors will often find the rooms and corridors housing these timeless art pieces to be equally as impressive as the pieces themselves.

Rijksmuseum entrance
The entrance to the Rijksmuseum.

The Museum’s exterior

The first thing that will impress you upon arriving is the exterior of the museum.

On the outside you’ll find a combination of Gothic and Renaissance architecture along with an artful mix of bricks and sculptures which pay homage to the greats.

Once you’re inside, the decor gets a little bit modern with state of the art lighting and beautiful glass ceilings that cast natural white lighting throughout the lobby area.

While the recent renovations that were completed in 2013 took a whopping 5 years longer (10 years total) than expected to complete, suffice to say, those renovations were quite worth the effort and the wait.


Rijksmuseum Lobby

Go early… and bring your camera!

We arrived about 5 minutes before 9am, the time that the museum opens.

I highly recommend you arriving at opening time because there will only be a couple of handfuls of people in the museum for the first 30 minutes.

Also, after we had been in the museum for a couple of hours (around 11am), the crowds were picking up pretty heavily and I was told that it only gets worse until about 3-4pm. So again, if you want to experience the museum without battling the crowds do your best to line up at opening time.

If you plan on visiting you should probably book your tickets online.

You won’t save any dinero but it will allow you to bypass the cashier desk line and so you’ll be able to save a few minutes. One adult ticket is €17.50. And don’t forget to bring your camera, as the the Rjkmuseum is one of the few museums that allows cameras!

The amazing presentation of the Night Watch

I always take advantage of arriving early and head straight to the premiere exhibits to see them before the crowds begin to gather. In this case, it was clear that it would be Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

The quickest route to the Night Watch is through the doors on the right side of the entrance area (if you are facing the “Iamsterdam” sign).

From that entrance you head through a couple of galleries towards the stairs and you pop out right next to the painting. (The museum is arranged by centuries on different levels and the maps are great so you should be able to find your way around relatively easy).

Rijksmuseum Rembrandt's Night Watch.
Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

The entire presentation of the Night Watch was brilliant.

I thought they did a superb job of centering the painting in a huge room with other large works and completed it with a beautiful Rembrandt Moniker across the top.

My one complaint with the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris was that the presentation was a bit mediocore, and I think the Rijksmuseum did a more-than-sufficient job of paying tribute to this famous artist.

Rijksmuseum Rembrandt's Night Watch.
The Night Watch

The real name of the Night Watch?

For any reader not aware, “Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijnis” is the most famous Dutch painter of all time and one of the greatest painters (and printmakers) to ever walk the face of the earth.

The Night Watch is Rembrandt’s most famous work of art and is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 most famous paintings in the world. It depicts a captain (in black) telling his lieutenant to get the troops moving as they move into formation.

For the purists out there, the real name of the painting is Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq or The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch. 

The name “Night Watch” was erroneously attributed to the painting because it looked as though Rembrandt was depicting a night scene due to his heavy use of shadows and the presence of a dark varnish on the painting (that varnish has since been removed).

Because it’s a shorter name and it is how everyone refers to it, I’ll just stick with: Night Watch.

The Night Watch Rembrandt
Rijksmuseum Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

Why is the Night Watch famous?

The painting is famous because it’s huge, it showcases Rembrandt’s profound skill for using light and shadows, and also because it was one of the first paintings of its kind to portray an “action scene” with multiple subjects essentially caught in a snapshot.

It’s interesting that a portion of this large work was in effect cropped when it originally appeared at the Amsterdam Town Hall.

Luckily, there’s a small re-creation of the painting to the right so you can see what aspect was cut off the canvas.

The painting has also endured some other “croppings” as a few individuals had the audacity to slash the painting with knives and one individual even threw out acid on the painting. Clearly, these were some very disturbed humans but the good news is that you really can’t even tell that the painting has undergone such damage.

Replica of the Night Watch with the full original scene depicted

After Rembrandt finished this painting, his popularity began to dip significantly (most art historians attribute this to a change in artistic taste by the masses).

In fact, Rembrandt’s later life was actually pretty sad as he went bankrupt and lost pretty much everyone he cared about including his wife, later mistress, and his only son.

While the National Gallery has several of his works, there are many other Rembrandt pieces of art to admire at the Rijksmuseum. In an effort to not spoil everything for readers, I’ve only included a small fraction of the photos I took at the museum.

Below are a couple of my other favorite Rembrandt pieces I came across.

Portrait of Johannes Wtenbogaert, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, 1633

Self-portrait, Rembrandt
Self-portrait, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, c. 1628

After taking a close look at several of these paintings, I really was able to finally comprehend the level of mastery that Rembrandt had of manipulating light and shadows.

I later learned that this technique of using light and shade to produce such stunning effects is called “chiaroscuro” and was pioneered by Leonardo da Vinci and later perfected by Rembrandt. It’s pretty phenomenal and is something that is hard to appreciate by just looking at photos of his works.

I tried to capture this element of Rembrandt’s paintings in my photos but it’s just not the same.

I think you actually need to be there standing only a few feet away from these paintings to actually comprehend how legendary of an artist Rembrandt was. And once you finally do get so close, it’s almost impossible to deny Rembrandt’s legacy.

The “Gallery of Honour”

The Gallery of Honour

Stained glass window in the Gallery of Honour
Stained glass window in the Gallery of Honour

After viewing the Night Watch and other Rembrandt works we wandered through the “Gallery of Honour.”

This is a grand corridor where many of the other famous paintings from renowned artists of the 17th century are hung in the alcoves. Apart from Rembrandt’s work, Johannes Vermeer’s work is the most renown that you’ll find.

Vermeer’s work was largely unknown and even attributed to other artists up until sometime in the late 1800s.

His work focuses on everyday scenes with women usually serving as the subject. Personally, I’m not sure the biggest fan of his work but his painting The Milkmaid, is one of the most famous paintings in the world and that’s intriguing in its own right and worth your time.

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660

Apart from the two stars of the museum, there are of course a number of other exceptional paintings to check out. Again, as tempting as it is for me to go on a posting spree of these paintings, I’m just adding a couple of them here to give you a taste of you’ll come across at the museum.

A Ship on the High Seas Caught by a Squall, Known as ‘The Gust’, Willem van de Velde (II), c. 1680

At the Rijksmuseum you’ll also find a lot of Biblical scene paintings.

Rembrandt painted many himself, though the ones that caught my eye were not by Rembrandt. The painting below depicts Adam and Eve and what was fascinating to me was noticing some of the background details.

For example, the animals at the bottom and the white cloud man in the bottom left who is actually supposed to be God warning Adam and Eve about the fruits in the Garden of Eden.

The Fall of Man, Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem, 1592

Another painting that grabbed my attention was Lot and his Daughters by Hendrick Goltzius, 1616, a painting relating to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. What I thought was most interesting was that this particular artist was a skilled painter despite having a deformed drawing hand. It’s amazing to me what humans are capable of despite what others would view as great hindrances.

Some of the other paintings that struck me were the still life paintings.

You don’t typically think of looking at painting of cheese and grapes to be engaging but the detail and realism in many of the still-life paintings was pretty phenomenal.

The other thing that was interesting was finding out what the messages were behind these paintings. I was pretty amazed (and usually completely wrong) at what some of these paintings were meant to depict, but hey that’s art, right?

Banquet Still Life, Adriaen van Utrecht, 1644

As a side note, I recommend that you download the free Rjkmusuem app from the app store.

I put it on my iPhone and actually listened to it on the train the morning I left for Amsterdam so I had a pretty good idea about what was going on in some of the paintings and other works of art. The app is a great tool not only for the audio commentary but also for helping you get around the museum and search for specific works.

Dutch culture on display in miniature form

In addition to the paintings, there are several exhibits worth noting that give great insight into what Dutch culture was like over the past few centuries. I think my favorite thing to see was the model of the Dutch ship William Rex. 

It’s an intricate work and gives you a great look at how Dutch war ships looked in the 17th Century. You can see the extreme attention to detail that went into building this model ship that interestingly enough was actually built at a shipyard where other war ships were being built.

There are also a number of other war-time objects like a canon, some giant clunky firearms and many others.

Model of the William Rex, Cornelis Moesman, Adriaen de Vriend, 1698

Cannon of the Amsterdam Admiralty, Gerrit Koster I, 1615

The museum also has a large display of Dutch furniture throughout the galleries.

Many of these desks and cabinets are pretty exceptional with intricate carvings but what I found most interesting were the doll houses.

This one called the Dolls’ House of Petronella Oortman exhibits what an affluent house back in the 17th century looked like. The rooms and all of the furniture inside of the houses are exactly proportional and if you just looked quickly at some of the photos of the rooms you’d think you were seeing a life-size display. Definitely check that out.

Room from one of the doll houses


The famed delftware was interesting and some of the objects, such as the violin and the flower pyramids were pretty cool.

Before coming to Amsterdam I knew of delftware ceramics but never realized how rooted it was in Dutch culture. There’s a variety of ceramics, glass, and other decor inside the museum and if you are interested in such things you’ll have plenty to see.

Violin, Anonymous, c. 1705 – c. 1710

The bibliotheek (library)

The library in the museum is pretty stunning and I felt as if I was in a movie when I walked in.

And it’s not just there for show; it’s an actual art history library with the biggest collection in The Netherlands. You’re not allowed to talk in the library so make sure you’re aware of that upon entering because it’s pretty much a vacuum of silence in there.

We first entered the library from the third floor.

I didn’t see any “no photography” signs and several others were taking photos as well so I went ahead and got a few shots. Later, we entered the library on the first floor and there was a no photography sign.

Perhaps they just don’t allow photography on the first floor where others would be distracted at the reading desks?

Nonetheless, here’s a shot of it.

The bibliotheek (library)
The bibliotheek (library).

Van Gogh

There’s only one work of Van Gogh at the museum but you can’t really expect there to be much considering that the Van Gogh museum is literally next door.

Van Gogh painted a lot of self-portraits and I’m not sure if there was anything special in particular about this one, though I do think it’s a great painting.

Self-portrait, Vincent van Gogh, 1887

It was actually my first time to see a Van Gogh painting in real life so I got pretty excited even to only see a small taste of his work.

I originally had intended on visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as well but they were wrapping up some renovations and I decided that I’d rather wait for those renovations to conclude so that there wouldn’t be any missing pieces of art when I finally visited.

Rijksmuseum Tickets

I highly recommend that you purchase your Rijksmuseum tickets online to make your life easier. Also, you might want to consider skip the line tickets if you really want to make your visit as smooth as possible.

Skip the line tickets

You can purchase skip-the-line tickets here

Standard tickets

  • Adults: € 17.50
  • Children aged 18 and under, Museumkaart holders, I Amsterdam City Card, members of ICOM, ICOMOS, the Rembrandt Association (Vereniging Rembrandt), KOG, Stadspas, Vrienden van de Aziatische Kunst, Vrienden van het Rijksmuseum, BankGiro Lottery VIP-KAART: free admission
  • Holders of CJP or EYCA: 50% reduction on regular ticket price

Package tours and tickets

Consider lumping in your museum tickets with other attractions in Amsterdam.

Canal cruise tours

Hop-on Hop-off Bus & Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum Hours

  • The museum is open : 9:00 to 17:00 daily, all days of the year: so the museum is also open on Christmas day, Boxing day and New Year’s day
  • The Rijksmuseum’s ticket desk closes at 16:30
  • The Rijksmuseum Gardens, Rijks Shop and Café are also open to visitors without a ticket from 9:00 to 18:00.

Hotels near the Rijksmuseum

Here’s a list of hotels near the Rijksmuseum you might be interested in checking out.

  • Van der Valk Hotel Sassenheim-Leiden
  • Van der Valk Hotel Hoorn
  • Bilderberg Hotel Jan Luyken
  • Max Brown Hotel Museum Square
  • Amsterdam Marriott Hotel

You can search for hotels near the Rijksmuseum here. 

A perfect size 

I think that the size of the museum is great. It’s just large enough that there is plenty to see but not too big so that you’re overwhelmed with options. I stuck with my approach of focusing my time on about half of the museum so as to see that half more in depth.

Because of that I was not able to see much of the different exhibits in the museum, such as the Asian Pavilion and some of the special collections. If I could go back I would have designated a full three hours instead of two so that I could have seen more.

Overall impressions

Overall, I have to say that this was one of my favorite museums that I’ve visited.

Recently I’ve been on a bit of a museum kick and while I had highly anticipated my visit to see this one, I had no idea how impressive it was going to be. If you’re a fan of some of the greats, such as Rembrandt and other Dutch artists and if you’re interested in Dutch history then this is a must-see destination in Amsterdam.

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers: Finding Inspiration at the National Gallery in London

When I’m standing in front of the bright yellow painting of Sunflowers at the National Gallery, among a herd of other tourists jockeying for position in front of me with their obnoxious selfie-sticks swinging over my head and their camera flashes shooting off without any consideration, I’m honestly not even concerned about the frenzy. Instead, I can’t help but ponder the thoughts of optimism that went into the thousands of brush strokes that lay behind the protective glass barrier of this painting. Exactly 100 years before I was born, one of the greatest artists of all time was in a happy and hopeful state of mind as he was creating a bright masterpiece, and little did he know it would come just before a chain of events that would take him to his darkest, albeit most creative place, and ultimately bring about his own tragic demise.

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I’d been waiting for months to visit the National Gallery in London but it seemed like every time I tried to put it in my itinerary things happened that just kept me away. However, I finally made it to the Gallery last week and got to admire some of the best work from two of my favorite artists: Vincent Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Van Gogh was really the focus of my visit, however, and in particular the painting Sunflowers.

Sunflowers was the major painting I not only wanted to check out but had to. I’ve always found Van Gogh to be one of the most talented and inspiring artists of all time. To me, he’s that cliche creative mastermind who while artistically brilliant, struggles with dealing with his own depressive thoughts and destructive emotions. Why it’s always the most talented creative minds who seem to have to deal with these things the most, I’m not sure. I guess it just comes with the genius territory some times.

But within this somewhat cliched story is the story that starts with Sunflowers and later reveals the demise of one of the greatest artists of all time. The story is not only fascinating but also relatable and a bit inspiring to me.

Back in 1888 (exactly 100 years before I was born), Van Gogh moved to Arles, France, where he wanted to set up a community of artists with one famous artist, Paul Gauguin, as his mentor. It was a time of optimism and excitement for Van Gogh as he looked forward to breaking away from his loneliness, sharing his beautiful artwork, engaging with other artists, and learning a great deal from his anticipated mentor. I think of Van Gogh’s vision of this community sort of like those utopian-like thoughts we have sometimes about our futures working out in some ideal way that holds true happiness for us and where everything just works out perfectly. Of course those ideas virtually never work out the way we envision, but I think pretty much everyone can relate to having thoughts like that at some point in their lives.

Van Goghs Yellow House 1888
Van Gogh’s Yellow House, 1888

The sunflowers had special significance for Van Gogh and overall he painted seven different versions of them. In Dutch culture, sunflowers symbolized devotion and loyalty. The various stages of decay of the sunflower also represented the cycles of life and death. In addition to these symbolic meanings, the color yellow also stood as an emblem for happiness and optimism to Van Gogh and thus he desired to produce sunflowers as a gift to his new mentor, Gauguin.

Paul Gauguin 1891
Paul Gauguin, 1891

After Van Gogh moved to Arles, France things didn’t quite work out as planned. The community he hoped to put together never came into fruition and he instead found himself isolated and lonely, eventually falling into a depression. In May 1888, Van Gogh had rented his famous “yellow house” and though he was struggling mentally, he seemed to have channeled any negativity into positive energy that allowed him to produce artwork at a freakish pace. In fact during the late summer of 1888, Van Gogh reached a peak. During which time he wrote to his brother, “I’m painting with the gusto of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse [Provençal fish stew], which won’t surprise you when it’s a question of painting large Sunflowers.”

He also painted some amazing works depicting the wheatfields at the time but during this furious surge of creativity, it was all about the sunflowers for Van Gogh. In August, in just the span of about a week, Van Gogh completed four different variations of Sunflowers. The different versions utilized different colors like blue-greens and different quantities of sunflowers in the composition.

The third version of Sunflowers found in Munich Germany
The third version of Sunflowers found in Munich, Germany

However, it was the final one that he painted, the one seen at the National Gallery, that is the most renown. It’s known for its bold yellow-on yellow-on yellow, which was highly criticized by many artists of the time for being, well… too yellow.

Van Goghs Sunflowers found at the National Gallery in London
Van Gogh’s Sunflowers found at the National Gallery in London

By the late summer of 1888, Van Gogh had maybe given up on the idea of hosting an entire artist community, but he still desperately wanted the company of Gauguin, and the sunflower paintings were largely motivated by the desire to get Gauguin to follow through with his highly anticipated visit. Finally, after producing these paintings at a ferocious rate his desired soon-to-be mentor, Gauguin finally arrived to this little house in the south of France, where the last two versions of Sunflowers were proudly displayed on his guest bedroom walls. While the genesis for the sunflower paintings was born from Gaugin, they eventually took a life of their own and became a symbol and signature of Van Gogh as he even at one time claimed “the sunflower is mine.”

Unfortunately, the relationship with Gaugin didn’t take off like Sunflowers  ultimately would. Accounts are a bit mixed as to how these two came together artistically and personally. It’s clear that they worked together for a couple of months and Ganguin even painted a portrait of Van Gogh painting Sunflowers. However, their personal relationships with each other (which some speculate may have involved more than mere mentoring) seemed to conflict.

Ganguins The Painter of Sunflowers
Ganguin’s The Painter of Sunflowers

Whether it was a product of Gaugin not finding Van Gogh’s overall artistic vision very inspiring (as the National Gallery states) or other personality clashes and disagreements, the two artists had a vehement fall-out. The conflict drove Van Gogh into an even more unstable mental state and ultimately caused him to leave Arles, only a couple of months after the arrival of Gaugin. This departure made Gaugin think even less of Van Gogh and caused an irreparable rift between the two.

The rift culminated on 23 December of 1888 when Van Gogh confronted Gaugin with a razor-blade (some state it was the other way around) but eventually backed off. Instead of hurting Gaugin, Van Gogh famously mutilated himself by cutting his own ear off (though some think otherwise). Even more astonishing, he may have attempted to give his ear to a prostitute that night. The prostitute allegedly declined to accept the ear and reported Van Gogh to the police who later found Van Gogh and luckily were able to keep him from bleeding to death and tend to his emotional breakdown. Unfortunately, the demise of Van Gogh had already begun and it would only be a matter of time until he simply couldn’t hold on any longer.

Two months later in February of 1889 the people of Arles, France had Van Gogh locked up in an insane asylum for being a public menace. For months he was locked up without any books or any way of painting during which time he suffered great hallucinations. One could only imagine what an artist, which many argue is possibly the greatest of all time, felt without being allowed such a creative outlet for so long. Not only that, but who could imagine the type of hallucinations that would materialize in the mind of such a creative genius? Luckily, in May of 1889 he would eventually enter another mental asylum (voluntarily) where he would be allowed access to paints and a canvas and he finally was able to deal better with the hallucinations and manic depressive behavior.

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Not only did Van Gogh deal with these episodes but he also painted his most famous works ever during this period, including Starry Night and one of his most famous self-portraits (seen below). In fact, if you didn’t know, Starry Night was actually the view from his window in his room while staying in the asylum. According to the National Gallery in London, Van Gogh actually only sold one painting during this time and in fact during his entire life time [Fact also disputed.] The lack of success may have played a role in the depressive bouts that Van Gogh suffered but the more likely root of his symptoms was that he suffered from bipolar disorder (which obviously was not clinically recognized during his era). The down periods became too much for Van Gogh to overcome and despite being at the peak of his creative mind, he was often at his lowest point mentally. After only about a year after painting Starry Night, at age 37, Van Gogh shot himself and committed suicide.

Van Goghs likely last self portrait
Van Gogh’s likely last self portrait.

I’ve always thought it fascinating and of course tragic that some of the most creative minds of all time struggle with such deep mental issues at times. Even the ones we would least expect, like Robin Williams and plenty of other successful individuals, fall victim to mental illness and aren’t able to escape the darkness that comes along with battling depression and all of the manic episodes. One can only imagine what Van Gogh would’ve created if he had lived to old age.

Starry Night
Starry Night

It’s a bit morbid thinking about the tragic end to Van Gogh’s life but it’s also very real. Just about every time I see a Van Gogh’s work, especially any of the Sunflowers, I think about the human life cycle and the different stages that we go through. The ups and the inevitable downs. The victories and the losses. And how this painting, while likely not representative of Van Gogh’s last moment of optimism, represents someone looking ahead and working to a bright future, despite the dark circumstances surrounding.

I also think about those I know affected by mental illness and how important it is to go out of my way to do whatever little or big actions possible to show them that there’s always hope in any situation. To me, Sunflowers does what art is supposed to do to you: move you. And even as I’m writing this today it’s reminding me that I’m not doing enough to move others and play my part to contribute just a little more to other members of society who may need a little bit of help. The person next to you may not be wielding a blade and cutting off their ear right in front of you, but you never know what they might be thinking, and what kinds of extraordinary things they may be capable of accomplishing so long as they don’t lose hope.

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