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Free Things to Do: Events, Festivals & More in Washington, DC

Free Things to Do: Events, Festivals and More in Washington, DC

Whenever you’re in Washington, DC, you can plan on enjoying plenty of museum exhibits, events and festivals for free, guaranteed.

With access to free museums, the monuments and memorials, the Library of Congress and more, Washington, DC is unrivaled for its many free attractions. But at any given time, you can also take advantage of free one-of-a-kind events, groundbreaking exhibits and unique festivals, making DC the capital of free events.

Check out the list below for some of the latest free happenings creating buzz around the city.

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@klarislvs - Woman with children at United States Botanic Garden Conservatory - Free kid-friendly attractions in Washington, DC

‘Gardens Across America’ – Through Oct. 1
Appreciate the variety and aesthetic brilliance of 20 different gardens all over the U.S. through this new exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Gardens Across America will showcase rare and endangered plants, historic estates and signature visual elements of each park. Visitors will be able to grasp the gardens’ regional characteristics, styles, origins and much more.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20001

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Whistler in Watercolor exhibit at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries - Free museum exhibit on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘Whistler in Watercolor’ – Through Oct. 6
James McNeill Whistler, creator of the famous Peacock Room at the Freer|Sackler Galleries, was also a renowned painter of watercolors. The museum will display more than 50 of these pieces, including figures, landscapes, interiors and nocturnes, in this new exhibit. Visitors will have a chance to encounter the true breadth of Whistler’s artistic work when viewing these rarely seen paintings.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Freer|Sackler Galleries, 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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‘American Myth & Memory: David Levinthal Photographs’ – Through Oct. 14
David Levinthal uses photographs of baseball players, Barbie dolls, toy cowboys and other iconic American archetypes to showcase myths and stereotypes that have been prevalent in post-World War II American society. This exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum will highlight six of Levinthal’s best-known series of photographs, all created between 1984 and 2018. More than 70 images will ask you to consider what it means to be strong, or beautiful, or masculine, or feminine, in modern America.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. 
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20004

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@classyandkate - Woman at United States Botanic Garden on the National Mall - Free museum attraction in Washington, DC

‘Celebrating New American Gardens’ – Through Oct. 15
The U.S. Botanic Garden, the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the country, celebrates new American gardens in this fascinating exhibit. Experience the latest and greatest in public gardens, which showcase plant collections, provide beautiful public spaces and highlight the changing of the seasons. Gardens created and renovated in the last five years are the focus, which means you will see only the height of creativity and innovation.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20001

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@austinkgraff - Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on the National Mall - Free art museum in Washington, DC

Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths’ – Through Oct. 20
This traveling exhibition comes to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Striking Iron will feature more than 225 works of art spanning early archaeological evidence to today. Throughout, visitors will notice how African blacksmiths were able to turn a natural resource into life-altering objects that not only served as utilities, but also displayed incredible artistry, spirituality and technical skill.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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The Way of the Kami exhibit at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries - Free museum exhibit on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘The Way of the Kami’ – Through Nov. 11
According to the Japanese Kojiki (“Records of Ancient Matters”), the Japanese islands were created when gods reached down from the heavens and stirred the Earth with a jeweled spear. This text was written in 712 and laid the mythical foundation for the religious practice of Shinto, or “the Way of the Deities”. Freer|Sackler’s new exhibit will focus on the artistic culture of Shinto, which sees gods in the landscape, in natural phenomena, in dead ancestors. You’ll learn about this captivating belief system and see rare and amusing artifacts while doing so.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Freer|Sackler Galleries, 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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Child at United States Botanic Garden on Capitol Hill - Free living museum in Washington, DC

‘It’s Hip to Be Square: The Mint Family’ – Through Nov. 23
The mint family of plants is larger than you think. While Mentha (peppermint and spearmint) and Salvia (sage) get a majority of the attention, rosemary and coleus are also prevalent members of the species. In total, more than 230 genera and 7,000 species make up the mint family, which means you have a whole lot of plant-learning to do at this new U.S. Botanic Garden exhibit that opens at the end of the month.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20001

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@jasmine.huang_ - Courtyard in the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall - Free art museum in Washington, DC

‘The Eye of the Sun: Nineteenth-Century Photographs from the National Gallery of Art’ – Through Dec. 1
To honor 180 years of photography, the National Gallery of Art hosts this exhibit that will feature roughly 140 images, many of which have never been on view before. Visitors will be able to experience the development of an artistic medium across its first 50 years, from early photos by William Henry Fox Talbot to daguerreotypes to portraiture to landscape imagery and much more.
Hours
National Gallery of Art, 4th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

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@bambamfiasco - The atrium inside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian - Free attractions in Washington, DC

‘Section 14: The Other Palm Springs, California’ – Through Jan. 2020
Palm Springs, California is known as a playground for the rich and wealthy. However, the area was once a desert outpost and home to Native Americans. This exhibit focuses on the conflict that arose over a one-square-mile-tract of the city’s downtown, which formed the heart of the reservation belonging to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Section 14 will show how the area became a hotbed for issues like tribal sovereignty, economics, race and land zoning from the 1940s through the 1960s.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of the American Indian, 4th Street & Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence - Women's suffrage exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in DC

‘Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence’ – Through Jan. 5, 2020
The National Portrait Gallery honors the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment with this highly anticipated exhibit. You’ll learn about the radical women that fought slavery, the women activists of the late 1800s, the “New Woman” of the 20th century and the relentless suffragists of the 1910s through a series of portraits, cultural artifacts and biographies. The exhibit will also examine the struggles that minority women still face today, 100 years after the 19th Amendment passed. Find even more ways to celebrate the achievements of women in DC.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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@emilygoesplaces - Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden plaza - Free modern art museum in Washington, DC

‘Manifesto: Art X Agency’ – Through Jan. 5, 2020
Manifestos summarize the principles of artistic movements and groups, and the Hirshhorn looks to guide you through a century’s worth of art using the statements as a guide. Works by seminal artists such as Salvador Dalí, Jackson Pollock and Alexander Calder will serve as an introduction, followed by manifestos that inspired their work. Julian Rosefeldt’s multichannel film, Manifesto, will be displayed in its own section, while a third portion of the exhibit will showcase contemporary pieces that shine a light on political movements and social change. In conjunction with this exhibit, the Hirshhorn will present In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth) for the first time in DC, a participatory installation that will be on the outdoor plaza from June 8-23.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. 
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and 7th Street SW, Washington, DC 20560

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@pradook8 - Visitors outside Smithsonian Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC - No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man Exhibit

‘Ginny Ruffner: Reforestation of the Imagination’ – Through Jan. 5, 2020
Ginny Ruffner has mastered sculpture and glass, and has now spread her artistic wings into Augmented Reality. Ruffner weaves the technology into her glass sculptures to create an interactive experience for observers. In this exhibit at the Renwick Gallery, visitors will download an app that superimposes digital images of growing appendages and mythical flowers onto Ruffner’s barren sculptures of tree stumps, creating two realities to explore in the process.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. 
Renwick Gallery, Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20006

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Michael Sherrill Retrospective at the Renwick Gallery - Free things to do in Washington, DC

Michael Sherrill Retrospective – Through Jan. 5, 2020
The Renwick Gallery provides a retrospective on the fascinating career of artist Michael Sherrill in this exhibit that feature more than 75 objects from his oeuvre. Spanning nearly 40 years of work, the display will showcase Sherrill’s evolution from teapots and clay vessels to his stunning, nature-inspired sculptures that utilize clay, glass and metal.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. 
Renwick Gallery, Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20006

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Verrocchio: Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence - Free museum exhibit in Washington, DC

‘Verrocchio: Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence’ – Through Jan. 12, 2020
Feast your eyes on the first monographic exhibition in the United States to focus on Andrea del Verrocchio, an artist, sculptor, painter and teacher who counted Leonardo da Vinci among his pupils. The exhibit will showcase Verrocchio’s materials and techniques while also displaying 50 masterworks, including paintings, sculptures and drawings.
Hours
National Gallery of Art, 4th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

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@washingtondcua - Tour guide with group in Smithsonian National Museum of American History - Free museum in Washington, DC

‘All Work and No Pay: A History of Women’s Invisible Labor’ – Through Feb. 2020
Ideally timed for Women’s History Month, this exhibit at the National Museum of American History will highlight women’s work in the home and the corresponding issue of unwaged labor. “Costumes” for domestic work ranging from colonial times to the 1990s will show how women are expected to manage the housework regardless of class, race, culture or community. Visitors will be able to learn the inequality and unfairness of this outdated societal assumption through artifacts and images.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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Feel the Sun in Your Mouth: Recent Acquisitions at the Hirshhorn Museum - Free museum exhibit in Washington, DC

‘Feel the Sun in Your Mouth: Recent Acquisitions’ – Through Feb. 2020
More than 25 artworks acquired by the Hirshhorn over the last five years constitute this display that fills the museum’s lower-level galleries. Recent pieces sit alongside avant-garde works from the 1960s and 70s, illuminating similar themes of the poetic, the cosmic and the intuitive. Visitors will see many of these masterpieces for the first time, including notable works from Tatiana Trouvé, Alicja Kwade and John Giorno, as well as images from major Japanese photographers such as Minoru Hirata, Takashi Arai and Miyako Ishiuchi.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20560

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@emilygoesplaces - Henry the Elephant at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘Game Change: Elephants from Prey to Preservation’ – Through Feb. 1, 2020
Elephants are one of the most fascinating species in the world, and their conservation is essential. This exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History shows how the public attitude towards elephants has drastically shifted since the late 19th century, when big game hunting was popular. Now, care and concern for these animals is a must in order to save them. Find out why in this exploratory and historic display.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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My Iran: Six Women Photographers exhibit at the Sackler Gallery - Free museum exhibit on the National Mall in DC

‘My Iran: Six Women Photographers’– Through Feb. 9, 2020
See life through the camera lens of six different Iranian woman photographers in this highly anticipated Sackler Gallery exhibition. Each artist captures distinct moments to examine and study, from protests in 1970s Tehran and post-revolutionary life to family photo albums and life abroad for displaced persons.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC

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@evansevilla - ‘Champions’ exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery - Free museum in Washington, DC

‘In Mid-Sentence’ – Through March 8, 2020
Photographs that depict moments of communication make up this new display from the National Portrait Gallery. Pivotal moments in history are showcased throughout, from JFK’s speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech to Walter Cronkite’s meeting with Daniel Ellsberg as the “Pentagon Papers” were published.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on the National Mall - Free Museum in Washington, DC

‘I Am… Contemporary Women Artists of Africa’ – Through March 15, 2020
This new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art draws on the museum’s permanent collection to feature 28 women artists that take on topics of faith, community, racism, identity, the environment and politics in their stunning work. Utilizing a range of media, the exhibit will show visitors how these artists have powerfully contributed to the dialogues on the most important issues of our time.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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@washingtondcua - Tour guide with group in Smithsonian National Museum of American History - Free museum in Washington, DC

‘Forgotten Workers: Chinese Migrants and the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad’ – Through Spring 2020
In honor of the 150th anniversary of the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the National Museum of American History displays this exhibit that addresses the forgotten Chinese workers who heroically built the western leg of the railroad through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The result of their work is also showcased in detail, including a graphic that maps the railroad and descriptions of both the positive and negative impacts of the route.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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'One Life: Marian Anderson' exhibit at National Portrait Gallery from June 28, 2019 to May 17, 2020

‘One Life: Marian Anderson’ – Through May 17, 2020
A singer, diplomat and muse, not to mention a strong fighter against segregationist policies, Marian Anderson was an iconic figure of mid-20th century American. Her historic performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 was a monumental moment, but this National Portrait Gallery exhibit dives much deeper, displaying paintings, photos, personal effects and archival materials that highlight Anderson’s stirring and influential career.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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Mary Ann Meade / Meade Brothers Studio / c. 1850, Sixth-plate daguerreotype / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Dudley Emerson Lyons

‘Women of Progress: Early Camera Portraits’ – Through May 31, 2020
See daguerreotypes and ambrotypes of icons such as Margaret Fuller, Lucy Stone, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Lucretia Mott in this new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. While these women were doing incredible work in advancing civil rights, portrait photography was on the rise. The historic portrayals are all the more poignant in 2019, as the work of these women still reverberates today.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. 
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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Sculpture Down to Scale: Models for Public Art at Federal Buildings, 1974-1985 - Free exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC

‘Sculpture Down to Scale: Models for Public Art at Federal Buildings, 1974-1985’ – Through June 6, 2020
As can be observed in DC, monuments and public sculptures are essential to the American landscape, serving as public expressions of identity, morality and pride. This exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which opens Friday and runs through June 6, 2020, features nine models (or “maquettes”) of incredible works that were meant to be public art. You will see the true and original vision of each artist in these models, which are works of art in their own right.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20004

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Magnificent Obsessions Why We Collect exhibit at the National Museum of American History - Free Smithsonian museum on the National Mall in DC

‘Magnificent Obsessions: Why We Collect’ – Through July 1, 2020
The phenomenon of collection is the focus of this new exhibit at the National Museum of American History. Learn about pioneering collectors who helped shape Smithsonian Libraries through their infinite curiosity and desire to preserve the past. You’ll encounter the sheer diversity of the Smithsonian’s collections and how the institution continues to preserve historic treasures and modern items.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote - Free exhibit at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC

'Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote' – Through Sept. 2020
The seven-decade struggle for women’s suffrage will be illuminated in striking detail in this new exhibit at the Library of Congress. Visitors can retrace stories of diverse women who changed America. The exhibition draws from the collections of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Mary Church Terrell and other suffragists – in their own words. Photographs, film footage and rare manuscripts will transport visitors back in time as women took their place in the public square. Use #ShallNotBeDenied to share your experiences at the museum.
8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday – Saturday
Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20540

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Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote - Free women's suffrage exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, DC

‘Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote’ – Through Jan. 3, 2021
This 3,000-square-foot exhibit at the National Archives will use more than 90 items, including records, artifacts and photographs, to tell the complex story of diverse suffragists in securing women’s voting rights. The exhibit will also go well beyond 1920 to show the relentless struggle that occurred throughout U.S. history to win voting rights for all women.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Archives, 701 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408

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Museum at the Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters - Museums in Washington, DC

‘Ordinary Equality: DAR Members and the Road to Women’s Suffrage, 1890-1920’ – Through Jan. 2021
The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Museum & Archives showcases how its members helped secure voting rights for women through social reform. You’ll see photographs, biographies, letters and more that highlight the accomplishments of more than 40 women. Admission is free. Note that the museum is closed on Sundays.
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. 
DAR Museum & Archives, 1776 D Street NW, Washington, DC 20006

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Good as Gold, Fashioning Senegalese Women free exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC

‘Good as Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women’ – Ongoing
The National Museum of African Art recently received a significant influx of gold jewelry into its collection, leading to this new exhibit that examines the cultural significance of gold in the West African nation of Senegal. The Wolof concept of sañse (which roughly translates to “looking and feeling good”) is at the center of stylish Senegalese women often wearing gold, a notion that will be covered in detail, along with the production, display and circulation of gold in the country.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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@pootie_ting - Celebration at H Street Festival in H Street NE - Events and festivals in Washington, DC

H Street Festival – Sept. 21
Another one of DC’s most popular neighborhoods pulls out all the stops for this annual festival that draws thousands of attendees every year. The H Street Festival will feature live music, dance performances, family-friendly activities, contests and plenty of food vendors across its 14 staging areas, with dozens of businesses participating.
12-7 p.m.
H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002

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ZooFiesta at the Smithsonian National Zoo - Free family-friendly events in Washington, DC

ZooFiesta – Sept. 21
The Smithsonian National Zoo hosts this free event in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Bring along the entire family to enjoy live music, authentic cuisine and educational activities regarding conservation in South and Central America. Animal keepers will also be on-site for talks, feedings and demonstrations that highlight a range of animals from the region.
10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Smithsonian National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

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@beingmakeda - Art at the National Museum of Women in the Arts - Museum in Washington, DC

Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day – Sept. 21
Museums and cultural institutions all over the country will join Smithsonian Magazine in celebrating Museum Day. Each participating museum will offer free admission to anyone that presents a Museum Day ticket, which provides entry for two people. Expect special events and activities at all of the Smithsonian museums, as well as access to new and exciting exhibits.
Tickets
Citywide

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Child dancing during Fiesta DC parade - Free fall events and festivals in Washington, DC

Fiesta DC – Sept. 21-22
This annual celebration of Latino culture includes a parade and a festival on back-to-back days, both held in the heart of the District. Saturday’s Parade of Nations features Native Latino dance troupes and other local groups. Sunday’s festival will gather thousands with a beauty pageant, live musical and dance performances, plenty of food and much, much more. Both are free to attend!
More Info

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Sacred Dedication: A Korean Buddhist Masterpiece - Free Smithsonian exhibit in Washington, DC

‘Sacred Dedication: A Korean Buddhist Masterpiece’ – Sept. 21 – March 22, 2020
The Freer|Sackler worked with the National Museum of Korea to bring the oldest surviving gilded wood figure in an informal pose to the District. The sculpture of Gwaneum, recognized as the most popular deity in Korean Buddhism, was carved sometime between 918 and 1392. When the piece was first placed into worship, important texts and symbolic objects were sealed inside, a practice founded on the belief that adding dedication material to a Buddhist sculpture gave it life. The exhibit will showcase recent research and new info about the sculpture itself and what was placed inside, as well as the rituals that went into image consecration in 13th century Korea.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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Lee Ufan Open Dimension at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC

‘Lee Ufan: Open Dimension’ – Sept. 27 – Sept. 13, 2020
For the first time, the Hirshhorn’s 4.3-acre outdoor plaza will be devoted almost entirely to the work of one artist. Lee Ufan, one of Korea’s most celebrated creators who rose to prominence in the late 1960s, will present 10 new sculptures from his continuing Relatum series. It’s Ufan’s largest single outdoor sculpture project in the U.S. and the first time that his work has been exhibited in DC. Each sculpture relates to the Hirshhorn’s architecture in some way, creating what Ufan likes to call an “open dimension”.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20560

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The Best Events and Festivals Happening in Washington, DC

No city provides as many world-class activities for free as Washington, DC. Discover 100+ free things to do in the ‘Capital of Free!’