Enjoy free summer activities in Washington, DC, including Smithsonian museums, holiday celebrations and much more.
Whether you're planning a summer trip to DC or celebrating the season as a local, we’re here to remind you of all the free things to do this summer in the District. From Smithsonian museums to can't-miss events and festivals to monuments and memorials, summer in Washington, DC makes for an unforgettable time, and it doesn’t have to hurt your wallet.
Marvel at DC's incredible Fourth of July fireworks
It’s not summertime in the nation's capital without an epic Independence Day celebration featuring fireworks soaring over the iconic National Mall. After the music of 'A Capitol Fourth' concludes, the night sky lights up with a colorful display that you will never forget. Make sure to stay tuned to the event website for details. We've also compiled a list of the best spots to watch the Fourth of July fireworks in Washington, DC, as well as other ways to celebrate Independence Day in the District.
Take a nighttime stroll around the monuments and memorials
If you think DC’s National Mall is stunning during the day, you’re in for a treat when you explore its monuments and memorials on a summer night for the first time. The Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and World War II Memorial are all stunning in moonlight, as is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Picturesque moments await, which you should tag with #MyDCcool.
Catch an outdoor movie in one of DC’s scenic neighborhoods
Summertime and movies go hand-in-hand. Yes, the biggest blockbusters are in theaters, but step your movie-going experience up a notch and relax outdoors while taking in a classic film or one you’ve never seen before. These outdoor movie screenings, which feature beautiful scenery, are often free to attend and all have social distancing and mask policies in place. Turn a summer night into a monumental memory.
Check out the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall
The free Smithsonian Folklife Festival salutes different international cultures every year on the National Mall with craft exhibits, live music, cooking demos and an expansive marketplace full of pottery, books, textiles, toys, sculptures, clothing and more. The 2022 edition will focus on the United Arab Emirates and feature Earth Optimism programming.
Spend an afternoon at the National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden
The National Gallery of Art and its gorgeous outdoor sculpture garden make for the ideal spot for an afternoon stroll. Inside the West Building, you can discover thousands of essential works, organized by period and national origin and arranged in spectacular and comprehensive galleries across two floors of exhibition space.
Make a summer voyage to the Smithsonian's National Zoo
The Smithsonian's National Zoo awaits you, offering a free, family-friendly afternoon of seeing lions, tigers, bears, pandas and many, many more. Note that the Zoo is currently celebrating its 50th Pandaversary. Also, make sure to check out the calendar for can't-miss events.
Pay your respects at the National Native American Veterans Memorial
The National Native American Veterans Memorial is a fitting and outstanding addition to the grounds of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, located at 4th Street & Independence Avenue SW. The intimate space was designed by architect Harvey Pratt and opened on Veterans Day, 2020. The memorial is specifically tailored to inspire remembrance, reflection and healing as visitors contemplate the immense sacrifice of Native soldiers.
Experience the National Museum of African American History and Culture
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is a state-of-the-art building that addresses nearly every aspect of the African American experience, covering the arts, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, athletics and much more.
Gaze at lotus flowers and water lilies at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens equals paradise for nature lovers, with its famous water lilies and lotus flowers providing picturesque scenery. The gardens even host an annual festival in honor of the plants, usually in July (note that the celebration could be virtual this year). There’s also plenty of space for picnicking and you may even spot some wildlife during your adventure!
Let the kids roam at one of the city’s splash zones
There’s nothing like some water-themed fun in the summertime. DC has plenty of options, including the Capitol Riverfront's Yards Park and its 11-inch basin and dancing fountains, Canal Park’s interactive fountain, Georgetown Waterfront Park’s 50-foot space and Petworth’s spray park.
Cool off in the Kogod Courtyard
Sharing a building with the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Kogod Courtyard makes for a perfect spot for an afternoon cool-down. There is plenty of space to lounge, an incredible roof that lets in natural light and even a cafe so that you can power up with a snack or drink.
Discover Yayoi Kusama at the Hirshhorn all summer long
The Hirshhorn has been collecting the prolific work of Yayoi Kusama since 1996. The museum’s 2017 survey of her work traveled to five North American art museums, introducing Kusama’s spellbinding visions to record audiences. Now through Nov. 27, the Hirshhorn display five of Kusama’s works from the museum’s permanent collection, including two of the artist’s transcendent Infinity Mirror Rooms. One with Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection is a tribute to the life and practice of the visionary artist. Free timed passes are required.
Travel back in time at the National Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History is located on Constitution Avenue NW and runs along the National Mall. Through research, in-depth exhibits, extensive collections and public outreach, the museum presents America’s history in all of its complexity. The museum's collection features more than three million artifacts, from Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz to sheet music written by DC legend Duke Ellington.
Get wild with the Capital Fringe Festival
During the edgy Capital Fringe Festival (July 11-24), you can catch out-there performances from local creatives, including improv dramas, punk rock shows and colorful dance shows. Events take place at libraries, museums, galleries and other locations throughout the District. Make sure to check out the festival's website as it gets closer for programming information.