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Free Things to Do: International Experiences in Washington, DC
Explore these free things to do with international flavor when you visit Washington, DC.
As the nation’s capital, DC is, by nature, an international city. Through free events, festivals, museums and activities, DC shows its global side. So, during your family trip to Washington, DC, make sure to check out all the wonderful international things to do that we’ve detailed below.
The domed Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Brookland stands as the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America and one of the ten largest churches in the world. Free guided or self-guided tours are available of the massive edifice, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and includes numerous shrines to her and a three-story high mosaic portrait of Jesus. The Basilica is open every day of the year.
The 60-foot-tall, intricate Chinatown Archway is a signature of DC’s Chinatown neighborhood. It’s also a classic Instagram spot and overlooks one of the busiest intersections in the city, at 7th and H Streets NW. The Archway, which was constructed in 1982, features 7,000 tiles and 272 painted dragons and is filled with an array of colors.
Located right next to the Newseum, the Embassy of Canada features a free-to-enter art gallery that is open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday. The gallery rotates exhibits, so make sure to check the website before you go to see what’s currently being displayed. These exhibits typically focus on work from Canadian and international artists.
The vibrant and colorful world of Asian art is all around at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, both located on the National Mall and part of the Smithsonian Institution's museums. The two galleries completed extensive renovations in the fall of 2017, so there are numerous new exhibits, design elements and works to enjoy.
The U.S. National Arboretum is home to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, a stunning collection of legendary, miniature Japanese and Chinese trees. The Japanese art of bonsai goes back more than a thousand years, with beautiful trees grown in artful containers. The art of penjing is an even earlier version of bonsai, with each having a calming effect on the observer. Learn of this fascinating art and its conservation elements for free at one of the city’s most beautiful locales.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art possesses the largest publicly held collection of African art in the United States, with roughly 12,000 objects in total. Its mission: to teach visitors about African art in order to create a dialogue that crosses cultural boundaries. Spanning from the ancient to the contemporary, the museum provides a comprehensive look at the history of artistic expressions in Africa, presenting the continent through a creative lens that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Passport DC is an annual month-long celebration of international cultures that includes two chances to enter embassies in the District, free of charge. The 2018 editions of these embassy open houses occur on May 5 (the Around the World Embassy Tour) and May 12 (the European Union Embassies’ Open House). Each tour provides you with a glimpse into the art, culture and practices of societies from all over the world.
Located near the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, DC’s best spot for viewing cherry blossoms, the Japanese Lantern is a remarkable stone statue that is lit during the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival. The famous Lantern was gifted by the governor of Tokyo in 1954, standing as a symbol of the friendship between Japan and America.
For two weeks each fall, the Kids Euro Festival brings talented European children's entertainers to the nation's capital. The festival, which takes place Oct. 20 – Nov. 4, 2018, features performances, concerts, workshops, movies, storytelling, puppetry, dance and magic for the whole family. The best part? All of the performances and workshops are free to the public.
Head to the Brookland neighborhood, also known as “Little Rome,” to learn more about the life and teachings of Saint John Paul II, who hailed from Poland, at the free-to-enter Saint John Paul II National Shrine. The shrine, open daily, features an interactive exhibit dedicated to the former pope and two intricate places of worship and reflection.
The Old Korean Legation building was constructed in 1877 and served as the house of Seth Ledyard Phelps, a Civil War naval hero and diplomat. The facility was the venue for conducting diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Korea until Japan stripped Korea of its sovereignty in 1905. The building returned to Korean hands in 2012, and now, you can discover detailed history of U.S.-Korea relations and the accomplishments of the original Korean Legation in its free-to-enter museum on the third floor.
If you’re looking for more fun and free things to do, there are plenty of other options. Discover 100+ free things to do in Washington, DC.