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Tours at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art

Tours

Students looking at pictures

Experience the museum’s collections in a deeper and more meaningful way. Our free, hour-long, on-site tours led by knowledgeable docents will inform and engage you while providing a unique look at the museum, and our free online tours bring the museum to you.

With a range of topics, there is something for everyone. Reserve your tour today to begin your journey of discovery.

On-site Tours

Enjoy some of the finest works of art on a free, hour-long, docent-led tour and learn about commonalities and differences in cultures, aesthetics, and ideas. No reservations required.

Please visit the museum’s events calendar for details of all tours currently on offer.

Review our visitor policies and admission information before planning your visit.

Walk-in Tours

  • an in-gallery view of a drinking horn with spout in the shape of an animal from the exhibition Feast Your Eyes.

    Permanent Collection Highlights Tour

    Celebrate our museum’s centennial with a tour featuring Charles Lang Freer’s collection of Asian and American art. Join our docents on an interactive journey to explore the highlights of the museum’s outstanding collections, including the famous Peacock Room. No reservation needed.

    Tour schedule
  • a smiling woman interacts with a 3d printed mold and a man stands in the foreground

    Anyang: China’s Ancient City of Kings

    Join a tour of the special exhibition Anyang: China’s Ancient City of Kings, featuring artworks excavated from the capital of the ancient Shang Dynasty (ca. 1250 BCE–ca. 1050 BCE), including jades and bronze vessels. Learn about the advanced technology of bronze casting, explore intricate and sophisticated designs of ritual objects, and discover famous “oracle bones.”

    Tour schedule
  • painting of a man in a turban working on a painting or drawing in his lap.

    Sketch & Discover Tour

    11 a.m.–12 p.m., first Sunday of every month; meet at the Freer information desk

    We read books about the art we love, and we can explore so many materials online. But how much time do we get to spend with objects in person? And how will we see those objects differently when we use a pencil and a sketchbook—not because we are artists but because sketching can help us see and understand art traditions and artworks in a different way?

    Join docent Sushmita Mazumdar every first Sunday of the month as she guides you to use pencil and paper to consider the unique ideas and expressions of Asian artists from various traditions spanning the continent across centuries. All materials will be provided. No reservation needed.

    Tour Schedule
  • A colorful, softly painted watercolor scene of figures walking and pushing carts of flowers before a row of shopfronts.

    Whistler's World

    American artist James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room is a highlight of the National Museum of Asian Art, and his ideas and influence can be felt throughout the museum. Experience Whistler’s paintings, watercolors, pastels, and prints along with objects by Asian artists that inspired his style and subjects. Join a walk-in, docent-led tour to explore the many sides of Whistler.

    Tour Schedule
  • Painting of a woman dressed in kimono, holding a Japanese paper fan, in front of a folding screen.

    Women of the Freer

    The National Museum of Asian Art invites you to celebrate the women in our collection—ancient and modern, human, and divine. This docent-led tour will introduce you to influential women and their little-known stories.

    Tour Schedule
  • Cranes on a gold background

    Family Fun

    Join our docents for engaging and collaborative hands-on activities that are geared toward families with children ages 5 and up. Exciting stories, scavenger hunts, sketching, and other activities will bring the whole family together to imagine, create, and learn.

    Events for Kids & Families

Group Tours

You can schedule a private on-site tour for a group of ten or more visitors by going to the on-site tour request form. Please use the Notes section if you would like to customize your tour to feature specific topics or a special exhibition.

We also offer these tours in other languages: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Spanish, and Cantonese.

Self-Guided Visits

Groups with ten or more visitors are welcome to experience the National Museum of Asian Art as a group on their own schedule and at their own pace. Advanced registration is encouraged.

Bringing a self-guided group:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the exhibitions that will be on view during your visit.
  2. Review the “things to know” below.
  3. Complete the request form for self-guided groups at least one week in advance of your visit.
  4. See the plan your visit page for general information about hours, public transportation, and parking.

Group Visit Guidelines

  • All groups must provide at least one chaperone per ten students. Chaperones must remain with their assigned group at all times and assist with encouraging museum rules, managing the group, and modeling good behavior.
  • Please provide clipboards if students will be writing to discourage the use of walls and display cases as writing supports.
  • Pencil is the only writing implement permitted in the galleries.
  • Photographs may be taken of the permanent collections but not of loan objects or exhibitions; please be aware of “no photography” signage in the galleries.
  • Please indicate any accessibility requests in the “additional notes” section of the request form.

I agree to the following:

  • The group leader/contact will respond to the tour scheduler in a timely manner to confirm the reservation.
  • Arriving late for a reserved tour will result in a shorter tour.
  • Arriving more than 20 minutes late for a reserved tour will result in cancellation. A new form will need to be submitted to request another reservation.

I agree to the following:

  • The group leader/contact will respond to the tour scheduler in a timely manner to confirm the reservation.
  • The group leader/contact will communicate any special needs as “additional information” on the request form. Subject to availability, the museum can provide:
    • tours in some foreign languages (please specify)
    • tours for visually impaired visitors
    • sign language interpreters
  • The group leader/contact will carefully read the written confirmation and logistical information, including which building the group should enter, that will be provided two weeks before the experience.
  • Arriving late for a reserved tour will result in a shorter tour.
  • Arriving more than 20 minutes late for a reserved tour will result in cancellation. A new form will need to be submitted to request another reservation.
  • To cancel or change tours, the group leader/contact should call the tour scheduler immediately at 202.633.1012. (For same-day or weekend cancellations and changes, please also call 202.633.0470.)
  • The students participating in this experience are within the recommended ages listed on the field trips page.
  • At least one chaperone must be provided per ten students.
  • Chaperones will remain with their assigned group at all times.
  • Chaperones must assist with encouraging museum rules, managing the group, and modeling good behavior.
  • Students will not be given assignments by teachers or chaperones to complete during guided tours. (Docents will have activities prepared for students.)
  • The following rules will be shared with students and chaperones in advance of the visit and reinforced by teachers and chaperones throughout the tour:
    • Food, beverages, and gum are not permitted.
    • Please walk—do not run—in the galleries.
    • Please do not lean on cases.
    • Use your eyes, not your hands, to examine objects on display.
    • You may speak at a regular level in the galleries, but please do not shout.
    • Please make sure there is enough room for people to get around your group and through nearby entryways.
    • Photographs may be taken of the permanent collections but not of loan objects or exhibitions; please be aware of “no photography” signage in the galleries.
    • When you arrive, all bags must be inspected.
    • When you arrive, all student coats, bags, and lunches will be deposited into a large storage cart. If this is not an ideal situation, you may choose to leave these items on the bus. Contact us at AsiaTours@si.edu with any logistics questions.

Virtual Tours

Join a free, docent-led, virtual tour to explore highlights of the museum’s collections that showcase the richness and diversity of Asian art. Register here to select a date.

You can also request a free virtual tour for your group of ten or more adults. Our May schedule for reserved virtual tours is full. Please consider joining a public virtual tour in May.

Virtual Tour Topics

Book a virtual tour of the special exhibition Anyang: China’s Ancient City of Kings, featuring artworks excavated from the capital of the ancient Shang Dynasty (ca. 1250 BCE–ca. 1050 BCE), including jades and bronze vessels. Learn about the advanced technology of bronze casting, explore intricate and sophisticated designs of ritual objects, and discover famous “oracle bones.”

The creation of art is a universal human endeavor, but what connects artworks across cultures, and what sets them apart? Freer Gallery of Art founder Charles Lang Freer wrote, “For those who have the power to see beauty, all works of art go together.” The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art is home to more than 46,000 objects, with strengths in arts of the Islamic world; the ancient Near East; South, East, and Southeast Asia; and the United States. On this museum highlights tour, your group will enjoy selections from diverse regions and time periods, exploring commonalities and differences in cultures, aesthetics, and ideas.

The arts of the Islamic world encompass a great diversity of traditions far ranging in geography and historical period—from North Africa to India and since the advent of Islam in the late seventh century. The National Museum of Asian Art holds one of the country’s finest collections of arts of the Islamic world, with particular strengths in illustrated manuscripts and ceramics. Explore selections from the museum’s more than 2,200 Islamic art objects in an interactive online tour with one of our docents.

The revered sakura, or cherry blossom, has been celebrated in landscapes, figure paintings, and prints by artists from medieval Japan to Katsushika Hokusai and beyond. Long after the cherry blossoms fall in Washington, DC, you are invited to embrace hanami, the traditional Japanese custom of “flower viewing,” by going cherry blossom viewing in the museum’s Japanese art collections!

In traditional Chinese literati culture, painting is esteemed as one of the “Three Perfections” alongside poetry and calligraphy. The Freer Gallery of Art houses one of the most important collections of Chinese painting outside of Asia, including masterworks and representative pieces from diverse genres and categories. In this online tour, participants will view stunning imagery and will examine refined brushwork in a selection of Chinese handscrolls, hanging scrolls, and more.

Ceramics is one of the most significant forms of Chinese art, and Chinese ceramics are among the most prized examples of the art form globally. A Chinese invention, porcelain ceramics are so identified with the country that they are still called “china” in the English-speaking world. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art houses an impressive collection of Chinese ceramics spanning more than four thousand years, from the Neolithic period to the early twentieth century. Highlights include works from renowned kilns and representative pieces from diverse genres and categories. Participants in this online tour will take a close look at beautiful ceramic works, gaining an appreciation of the creativity, artistic expression, and technical mastery of Chinese potters while also learning about the evolution of ceramic art in China.

Food is an important part of holiday celebrations throughout the world. You can join our docents to investigate works of art across Asia to discover how people in the past and the present celebrated through food and rituals. What foods were important and how they were grown or made? How and when were certain foods eaten? What special meaning did some foods have and why? What rituals and foods are still part of cultural traditions that people observe today? Explore food culture and celebrations through art.

Encounter the beauty and diversity of Buddhist religious art across Asia on this docent-led online tour. From Buddhism’s origins in India and Nepal to its eventual arrival in Japan and Indonesia, participants can follow the journey of Buddhist art throughout the continent. This route features works from the exhibition Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia and selections from the permanent collections. Participants will receive an introduction to sites of contemplation and sacred power in Buddhist art and practice.

In addition to his travels throughout East Asia, South and Southeast Asia, and West Asia, museum founder Charles Lang Freer visited Egypt three times between 1906 and 1909. Freer saw Egyptian art as an important part of his vision of universal beauty. His acquisitions included valuable Biblical manuscripts, glazed ceramics, glass, and other artifacts dating back thousands of years to pharaonic Egypt. Join your docent on this online tour to explore Freer’s vision, retrace his travels, and look carefully at the objects he acquired during his visits.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art houses an excellent collection of Korean art, especially ceramics. Charles Lang Freer (1854–1919), founder of the museum’s Freer Gallery of Art, acquired nearly 500 Korean art objects. When the museum opened its doors in 1923, Freer’s assembly of Korean art was considered unparalleled in quality and historical scope, and the collection has been expanded over the years.

This docent-led online tour will feature works of art from the museum’s collections of Korean art. The tour will provide participants with the opportunity to take a close look at and gain an appreciation of the beauty of these artworks, including Korean celadon—one of the world’s best-known types of ceramics—while also learning about the history of Korean art and listening to interesting stories about how these works were acquired.

Leap into the year of the dragon in 2024 with a virtual tour of our collections! On the tour, visitors will explore popular legends, learn to identify auspicious messages, and uncover the symbolism of animals, plants, and colors associated with the Lunar New Year.

How are human relationships to the natural world expressed in art across cultures? How have artists throughout time celebrated the beauty of Asian landscapes? From flora and fauna to sea and sky, explore nature motifs in the museum collections in this online tour. Join our docents for an exploration of the natural world through art—perfect to get you ready for warmer weather and for being outdoors in the summertime.

American artist James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room is a highlight of the National Museum of Asian Art, and his ideas and influence can be felt throughout the museum. Experience Whistler’s paintings, watercolors, pastels, and prints along with objects by Asian artists that inspired his style and subjects. Join a virtual, docent-led tour to explore the many sides of Whistler.

Virtual Tours of Past Exhibitions

If you missed an exhibition when it was on view, you can still request a virtual tour.

Immerse yourself in the ambience of an Indian city with a tour of the special exhibition A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur. Established in 1553, Udaipur was the capital of the Mewar kingdom in northwestern India. The exhibition features paintings commissioned by Udaipur’s royal court between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries. Colored with opaque dazzling pigments, these large paintings on paper and cloth feature topographical landscapes of Udaipur’s palaces, lakes, and hillsides. Join this tour of Udaipur’s painted world and experience the moods of its court ceremonies, festivities, hunting grounds, and temples.

Virtually visit the exhibition Fashioning an Empire: Safavid Textiles from the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha. View extraordinary seventeenth-century textiles, full-length portrait paintings from the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, and beautiful illustrated manuscript folios from our collections.

One of our docents will share the art and culture of Safavid Iran (1501–1722), including textiles with sumptuous surfaces, original designs, and technical sophistication. These luxury textiles played a critical role in the social, cultural, religious, and economic life of Safavid Iran. Used for clothing, furnishing, and movable architecture, fabrics also functioned as important symbols of power and as ubiquitous forms of artistic expression.

The tour began on March 1 to coincide with Nowruz, the celebration of the Persian New Year.

The Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) is widely recognized for a single image—Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa, an icon of global art—yet he produced thousands of works throughout his long life. Tour the former exhibition Hokusai: Mad About Painting, which featured works from the world’s largest collection of paintings, sketches, and drawings by Hokusai. The exhibition included works large and small, from six-panel folding screens and hanging scrolls to paintings and drawings. Together, these works reveal an artistic genius who thought he might finally achieve true mastery in painting—if he lived to the age of 110.

This online tour, featuring the 2019–20 exhibition of the same name, highlights Iranian postrevolutionary women’s photography in the museum’s collections. Discover nuanced and compelling stories of Iran through the contemporary lenses of Hengameh Golestan, Newsha Tavakolian, Shadi Ghadirian, Malekeh Nayiny, Gohar Dashti, and Mitra Tabrizian.