By Debra Simon and Brack Johnson


The cradle-of-our-civilization cities of Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia are so ingrained in the psyche of Americans that they often serve as settings for family road-trip movies. And it makes sense.


Every American knows the two places are teeming with fabled landmarks and the tourists who come to view them. But did you know they have some of the world's greatest art museums, too?


We spent memorable three-day weekends admiring art in each city and barely scratched the surface. Here's a quick look.



It's a best-kept secret, and we're letting you in on it: There are two dozen art museums in the City of Brotherly Love. Luckily, Philly has a compact city center as well as the Big Bus, an open-top sightseeing tour that allows visitors to hop on and off at various sites.


Rocky famously ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum; we could have used some of that strength to make it through this gigantic (more than 600,000 square feet!) tribute to the greats.


We loved the world-famous Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works by Renoir, Monet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne and other masters. We also appreciated architectural settings, such as a Japanese teahouse, a French medieval cloister, a Philadelphia parlor and a Gilded Age drawing room.


Nearby, the Rodin Museum features the finest public collection of Auguste Rodin's work in the United States. The only Rodin museum outside France opened in 1929 and was restored to its original splendor in 2012. The French sculptor of sumptuous bronze and marble figures is widely regarded as the father of modern sculpture.


Modern works reign at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Founded in 1963 to expose students to what was "new and happening," the institute hosted the first museum solo show for Andy Warhol and has developed an international reputation.


The Barnes is one of the most unusual major art museums on earth. Assembled by Dr. Albert C. Barnes between 1912 and 1951, the immense but once-private collection is displayed in dense groupings mixing objects from different cultures, periods and media.


For example, masterpieces by van Gogh, Matisse, Modigliani and Picasso hang next to ordinary household objects, such as door hinges and spatulas. On another wall, a French medieval sculpture is displayed with a Navajo textile.


We put our feet up at the dazzling Hilton Philadelphia at Penn's Landing, the only lodging on the waterfront in the historic district. Our spacious suite included a full-size refrigerator, a wet bar and a 65-inch flat-screen TV and gave us entrée to the executive lounge with breakfast in the morning and munchies at night.


Breaks from museum-going included swimming in the Hilton's indoor pool, which boasts views of the Delaware River, and putting a lock on the Philadelphia Hope Fence on the Penn's Landing promenade along the exterior of the hotel. The 250-foot fence, inspired by the locks placed on a bridge over the Seine River in Paris, gives visitors a spot to commemorate special moments and people.


Devoted foodies go gaga over the breadth of Philadelphia's restaurant scene – everything from the classic cheese steak that's at the heart of South Philly's rivalry of Pat's vs. Geno's to the chic vegan restaurant Vedge, where carrot pastrami is a star. We made it to as many of the headliners as we could, and we vote Geno's.





Washington, D.C
Surprise! Six of the Smithsonian's 17 institutions in the greater capital area focus on art:
American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery, home to an enormous assemblage of three centuries of work from the colonial period to today;
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, both spotlighting Asian arts;
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, a center for contemporary art;
National Gallery of Art, which traces the development of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present; including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas and the biggest mobile created by Alexander Calder;
National Museum of African Art, the largest collection in this country, with 9,000 traditional and contemporary pieces, 300,000 photographs and 50,000 library volumes; and
National Portrait Gallery, featuring paintings of the first ladies – Michelle Obama's went viral.


We were inspired to see piece after piece created by female artists at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Housed in a sumptuous building, it's the only major institution in the world solely dedicated to championing our gender through the arts. Some of the big names here are from the past, such as Mary Cassatt, and others are working around the globe today, including celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.


To explore Washington's dynamic neighborhoods, we stayed in three different sections.


Nestled in a tree-lined, Upper Northwest residential area near the Naval Observatory, the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel is a tranquil retreat with a metro edge. The Kimpton is surrounded by embassies and just steps from Rock Creek Park trails and the National Cathedral.


As one of the most historic lodgings in Washington, D.C., the Mayflower Hotel has welcomed well-heeled guests to its gilded hallways and finely appointed public spaces for nearly a century. The timelessly elegant property is centrally located in downtown.


The Fairmont, Georgetown is distinguished by swanky service and gorgeous interiors. Located in the city's fashionable West End and adjacent to M Street shopping, the pet-friendly hotel offers an extensive fitness center, an indoor pool and a serene courtyard.


Luxuriating in the upscale treatment of Fairmont Gold, we were given access to a private lounge, which provided personalized service, complimentary breakfast and evening hors d'oeuvres.


We were impressed by our dinner at the Fairmont's Juniper restaurant, where traditional fare is imbued with creative flair. Particularly drool-worthy were the cast-iron cornbread with honey jalapeño butter, mushroom bisque, Maryland crab cakes and red velvet cake. Wow – Washington, who knew?