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Free Things to Do: Museums in Washington, DC
Find out why the District is the capital of free museums and top-notch exhibits, from groundbreaking cultural museums to free art galleries and so much more.
Washington, DC is filled with free museums, from Smithsonians including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum, to art-filled museums like the Freer|Sackler Galleries and the National Gallery of Art. Free museum experiences should be part of any trip to DC, and we have laid out some of our favorites below.
Collectively called the Smithsonian Institution, this world-renowned museum and research complex in the District consists of 17 museums, galleries and a zoo. Each one is free to enter, and across the spectrum, you can learn about the origins of man, the wonders of art, the history and future of flight and so much more.
Although donations are suggested for entry into this colossal museum, there is no admission charge. As soon as you enter the Museum of the Bible through its 40-foot bronze doors, its majesty is undeniable. Beyond its awe-inspiring grand lobby, you will find 430,000 square feet of exhibits that cover the history of the Bible, its many narrative forms and its impact on societies around the world.
To go along with the incredible monuments and memorials, the National Mall features free museums, both of the Smithsonian variety and not. You can enjoy all of them without paying a cent, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. Botanic Garden and the National Gallery of Art.
On the first Sunday of the month, one of the District’s most intriguing museums waives its admission charge. During Free Community Day, the National Museum of Women in the Arts opens up its collection and features programs that connect to its current exhibitions, helping you to discover the immense impact that women have on the world of art.
Part of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, the jumbo Udvar-Hazy Center collection houses all sorts of flying machines and gears, filling two enormous hangars with crafts like the space shuttle Voyager and a Concorde jet, as well as oddities like a flying car. Add an IMAX theater, an observation deck and flight simulators, and it’s no surprise that, along with its sister museum on the National Mall, this place draws eight million visitors annually.
Dedicated to one of the worst tragedies in world history, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum educates its visitors on the dangers of hatred and the atrocities of genocide, as well as how society can confront challenges to freedom and human dignity. Its in-depth exhibits form some of the most essential viewing that DC’s museums have to offer.
Before or after you tour the U.S. Capitol, make sure to check out its Visitor Center. The exhibition hall is filled with fascinating information on Congress and the history of the Capitol. You can also partake in a guided tour of the Halls of the Senate, Monday - Friday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Commonly held in June, the Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk grants free access to fascinating DC museums that usually charge admission. In previous years, the list has included Anderson House, Dumbarton House and The Phillips Collection, among others. You will be able to see new exhibits, take in riveting stories and hear live music at each museum. Check their website for more information.
Located just outside of DC in Potomac, Md., Glenstone Museum combines art, architecture and landscape to create a seamless, open museum-going experience that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Post-World War II art fills marvelously designed indoor and outdoor spaces on a 100-plus acre plot that also features paths, trails, streams and meadows. The museum's exciting expansion opened to the public on on Oct. 4, 2018 with an all-new building and new outdoor sculptures. Glenstone is open from Thursday – Sunday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., with visits scheduled on the hour. Make sure to book yours before you go.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the preservation of art in the Lunder Conservation Center. It’s the first art conservation facility to allow the public permanent access to view essential conservation work of paintings and other art pieces. Inside, you’ll see staff from the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum hard at work through floor-to-ceiling windows.
This nationwide event hosted by Smithsonian Magazine promotes discovery and curiosity at many of the country’s greatest museums. Simply printing a ticket allows you free entry to numerous paid museums throughout DC, a list that has included the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the National Building Museum and the Newseum in the past.
Although the White House is the main attraction, its free-to-enter visitors center also makes for a fun-filled and educational excursion. You can enjoy an interactive touchscreen tour of the White House, check out more than 90 artifacts from the White House’s collection and explore its engaging exhibit areas.