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15 Things to Do on Memorial Day Weekend in Washington, DC

Rolling Thunder Memorial Day Route over the Arlington Memorial Bridge

Pay tribute to America’s heroes in the nation’s capital during this start-of-summer holiday.

There’s no better place to spend Memorial Day weekend than Washington, DC. Memorials are our specialty, and the nation’s capital celebrates with unique and meaningful events and exhibits designed to recognize the selfless service of our active duty military and veterans.

1 Attend the largest Memorial Day parade in the country
Attend the largest Memorial Day parade in the country American Veterans Center

The National Memorial Day Parade ushers marching bands, youth groups, floats, performers and, of course, veterans, down Constitution Avenue. This televised parade is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and honors those who have served or presently serve in the U.S. military. This year's parade is scheduled for Monday, May 29 at 2 p.m. Arrive early for the best viewing options.

2 Honor vets at the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally - Memorial Day Events in Washington, DC

The Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally brings together motorcycle riders from all over the U.S. to honor POWs and MIAs who served their country during the Vietnam War. This “ride for freedom,” which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, draws more than 900,000 riders, featuring a route that starts at the Pentagon and winds through West Potomac Park. The rally goes down on Sunday, May 28 at 8 a.m.

3 Salute the sacrifice of vets at the National Memorial Day Concert

National Memorial Day Concert, United States Capitol, Washington DC

PBS’s National Memorial Day Concert salutes the sacrifice made by the men and women in uniform as well as their families. The free annual concert is held on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Sunday, May 28 from 8 – 9:30 p.m. Actors Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna will host the proceedings, which will feature numerous other celebrity performers. 

4 Pay your respects at National Mall memorials
Pay your respects at National Mall memorials Elvert Barnes

The National Mall features plenty of ways to honor American servicemen and women. Visit the magnificent National World War II Memorial and its famous effervescent fountain. Stop to pay your respects at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial; take a piece of paper from one of the volunteers and etch a name from the famous wall included in the former. Admire the steely faces of the 19 servicemen depicted in the Field of Service at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

5 Spend an idyllic summer evening watching Major League Baseball

Washington Nationals - Things to Do This Spring and Summer in Washington, DC

Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals will challenge the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park for three consecutive days: Friday, May 26 at 7:05 p.m., Saturday, May 27 at 4:05 p.m. and Sunday, May 28 at 1:05 p.m. While you’re there, try Washington’s signature half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl, grab a cauliflower sandwich at G Sandwich Shop by Mike Isabella or sample a delicious Shake Shack burger. For the best seats, buy tickets online in advance.

6 Observe the Flag-In during Memorial Day Weekend
Observe the Flag-In during Memorial Day Weekend Memorial Day Flowers

The Arlington National Cemetery is the country’s largest military cemetery, with thousands of veterans and members of their immediate family resting there. On Memorial Day (May 29), servicemen and women place American flags at more than 250,000 grave, with the Memorial Day Roses Foundation providing free roses to visitors who come in tribute.

7 Hear inspiring sounds at the National Memorial Day Choral Festival
Hear inspiring sounds at the National Memorial Day Choral Festival National Memorial Day Choral Festival

Held on Saturday, May 27 at the Kennedy Center, the free National Memorial Day Choral Festival is a powerful concert experience that features a 300-voice choir accompanied by the U.S. Airforce Orchestra. The musicians and singers come together in perfect harmony, performing patriotic classics in honor of those who have fallen while defending the U.S.

8 See “The Face of Battle” at the National Portrait Gallery

 Americans at War, 9/11 to Now - Exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery’s new exhibit, The Faces of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now, examines the cost of ongoing war through incredible portraits of soldiers. Several leading photographers and artists have contributed to the 56 works inside, which show the immense sacrifice and extraordinary experiences of common soldiers. The museum is free to enter.

9 Kick back with the sounds of jazz at the Sculpture Garden

Jazz in the garden

With the dawn of summer comes Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden, a popular Friday evening event embarking on its 17th season. On May 26, catch a performance by the United States Coast Guard Dixieland Jazz Band at 5 p.m. Food and beverages are available at the nearby Pavilion Café.

10 Welcome summer by visiting Georgetown’s waterfront
Welcome summer by visiting Georgetown’s waterfront The Washington Harbour

Georgetown’s river waterfront is home to tons of great restaurants – many, including SequoiaTony and Joe's Seafood Place and Farmers Fishers Bakers, offer patio seating in warm weather – and plenty of outdoor activities. In summer, children (and adults, too) can splash in the sprinkler-style water fountain, watch the boats and feed the ducks. Before or after, get your shopping on in the historic neighborhood.

11 Encounter historical reporting inside the Newseum
Encounter historical reporting inside the Newseum Sam Kittner / Newseum

Newseum showcases important historical events through the lens of journalism, revealing the intricacies of some of the world’s most famous conflicts and incidents. Must-see exhibits include 1967: Civil Rights at 50, the 9/11 Gallery, the Berlin Wall Gallery and Inside Today’s FBI. The family will also enjoy the fascinating NBC News Interactive Newsroom.

12 Discover the impact of World War I on artistic expression at the National Air and Space Museum

Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall - Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum is one of the most popular museums in the nation, and the dynamic locale features an exhibit like few others in its history this summer. Artist Soldiers shows how war art drastically changed during World War I, when depictions went from heroic and romanticized to first-person accounts by professional artists and soldiers themselves. The exhibit is perfect for a Memorial Day visit.

13 Witness the majesty of the Iwo Jima Memorial

@michaeldphotos - sunset at Marine Corps Memorial

Located just outside of the Arlington National Cemetery, the Iwo Jima Memorial (also known as the Marine Corps War Memorial) is one of the most moving monuments in the region. From 6 a.m. to midnight, you can view this breathtaking sculpture that depicts the six American soldiers who raised the second American flag at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, signifying a U.S. victory in the Pacific during World War II.                

14 Learn enthralling Civil War history at the Clara Barton Missing Solders Office Museum

Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum - History & Heritage in Washington, DC

The famous Clara Barton lived at the site of this DC museum in Chinatown during and immediately after the Civil War. The building was set for demolition in 1996, until Richard Lyons (an employee of the General Services Administration) discovered artifacts that revealed the building’s incredible story. Inside, you can be treated to a guided tour of preserved rooms where Clara Barton helped families who had tragically lost loved ones during the bloodiest war on American soil.

15 Catch a spaced out new production at the Kennedy Center
Catch a spaced out new production at the Kennedy Center

The Washington Ballet’s Artistic Director, Julie Kent, will present Frontier, her first-ever commissioned work during this Kennedy Center production. Kent’s piece is heavily inspired by President Kennedy and his desire to make America an artistic, cultural and intellectual power, including his determination for the U.S. to be the first country to put a man on the moon. Choreographer Ethan Stiefel actually met with members of NASA to discuss space travel, so movements will be inspired by the concept of "zero gravity." Another unique aspect: the lead astronauts will be played by women. This production, which runs May 25-27, will also feature pieces choreographed by Antony Tudor and Sir Frederick Ashton.

Would you like to continue making plans for a visit to DC? Check out our events calendar.