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20 Ways to Celebrate Independence Day in Washington, DC

Fourth of July Fireworks in Washington, DC

Washington, DC is a capital place to experience July Fourth fun

The nation’s capital celebrates the Fourth of July with a bang. Along with viewing the dynamic fireworks show on the National Mall, visitors can celebrate America’s birthday in dozens of venues and in a multitude of ways. Here is a list of 15 entertaining places where revelers can experience the fun and spirit of Independence Day in the most American of settings. And a quick reminder: it's never too early to start making Inauguration plans, too.

1 The ultimate celebration takes place at the National Archives
The ultimate celebration takes place at the National Archives Ryan Healy

The Declaration of Independence, which was signed exactly 240 years ago to the day, is on display at the National Archives. After seeing the document, meet the Founding Fathers who helped establish the birth of a nation with programming involving costumed actors in Revolutionary-era attire.

2 Wave the stars and stripes at the National Independence Day Parade
Wave the stars and stripes at the National Independence Day Parade Esther Westerveld

Line up along Constitution Avenue with thousands of other Americans and catch the National Independence Day Parade. Expect to see everything from fife and drum corps and military servicemen and women to elaborate floats and VIPs galore. The parade begins at 11:45 a.m. and is held on Constitution Avenue between 7th and 17th streets. 

3 Catch a free concert at the U.S. Capitol
Catch a free concert at the U.S. Capitol A Capitol Fourth

Find a spot on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for A Capitol Fourth, which begins at 8 p.m. The concert commonly features a star-studded lineup of musicians and a performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture by the National Symphony Orchestra during the grand finale of the fireworks over the National Mall. Get a sneak peek of the concert (with fewer crowds) and attend the full dress rehearsal held on July 3 at 8 p.m. Gate’s open at 3 p.m. and it’s recommended you get there early and arrive by 6 p.m.

4 Experience Basque Country at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Experience Basque Country at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Francisco Guerra, Smithsonian Institution

Sip a glass of Rioja Alavesa wine on the National Mall and feel like you’re in the heart of the Basque Country at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, June 29-July 4 and July 7-10. Artists, artisans and performers will bring the culture to life through concerts, a festival marketplace, dances and presentations at this annual free festival. Music lovers will want to catch the Sounds of California program, which celebrates the rich musical diversity of communities from around the Golden State.

5 Chill out at Canal Park
Chill out at Canal Park Capitol Riverfront BID

Canal Park is a popular urban meeting place with a view of the U.S. Capitol. This sustainable park delights visitors with 42 dancing water jets, green spaces with tables and umbrellas and a wood-fired pizza restaurant called Il Parco. On Friday nights, including July 1, Capitol Riverfront hosts a free concert in Canal Park.

6 Enjoy a gourmet meal and fireworks riverside
Enjoy a gourmet meal and fireworks riverside Tony and Joe's Seafood

The Washington Harbour in Georgetown is an ideal location for a celebratory dinner before the fireworks show. The riverfront restaurants in this waterfront plaza provide convenient access to a viewing spot. Make your reservations at Farmers Fishers Bakers or Tony and Joe’s Seafood with waterfront dining or the fresh-food favorite, Fiola Mare.

7 See “America’s Presidents”
See “America’s Presidents” Hrag Vartanian

A presidential election year is an interesting time to explore The National Portrait Gallery, specifically the “America’s Presidents” exhibit. This permanent collection displays images of 43 American Presidents, including Gilbert Stuart’s official state portrait of George Washington. Besides paintings, sculptures and cartoons, the exhibit features a film celebrating Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Bill Clinton.

8 Go play at Georgetown Waterfront Park
Go play at Georgetown Waterfront Park Victoria Pickering

Georgetown Waterfront Park is a modern park operated by the National Park Service. With refreshing water features, Potomac River overlooks, a labyrinth and a shady pergola, explore a bit, then settle in for the evening of spectacular fireworks from the stadium-style steps. The vistas here are hard to beat.

9 Stay up late at the Air & Space Museum’s 40th birthday party
Stay up late at the Air & Space Museum’s 40th birthday party Eric Long / National Air and Space Museum

One of the most exciting Fourth of July weekend highlights is the grand reopening of the National Air and Space Museum's permanent exhibit, Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, on July 1. New to the main hall exhibit are jumbo jet engines, a lunar module and a model of the Star Trek Starship Enterprise. As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, that same Friday evening, the museum will also host the free All Night at the Museum event, from 8:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. You’ll never get another chance like this to visit the museum into the wee hours of the morning. Enjoy special tours, demonstrations, giveaways, food and films on space and aviation.

10 Tour the city from a cool, breezy perspective
Tour the city from a cool, breezy perspective Entertainment Cruises

Take a ride on one of Washington, DC’s Potomac River cruises. Besides viewing the monuments and memorials away from the National Mall, you’ll join other enthusiastic boaters on the water. Board a cozy, six-seater on an Embark DC sightseeing boat at The Washington Harbour in Georgetown, or take to the seas on an Odyssey cruise from the Southwest Waterfront. Advanced reservations recommended.

11 Watch the fireworks matinee at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Watch the fireworks matinee at George Washington’s Mount Vernon vgm8383 via Flickr

Get out to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, about 30 minutes south of Washington, DC by car or bus, for an all-day, turn-back-the-clock Fourth of July. Marvel at gorgeous scenes of the Potomac River from the back of the Founding Father’s estate, and listen to Revolutionary War-era music while savoring Colonial-style ice cream. The event also includes a special day-time fireworks display.

12 Spend Independence Day with the animals
Spend Independence Day with the animals

Smithsonian’s National Zoo offers free programs from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Observe elephants in training, help to feed the fish, meet a Great Ape keeper or explore a rainforest habitat. Hoping to see Bei Bei, the adorable panda cub born in August of 2015.  Zookeepers recommend lining up at 9 a.m. at the Panda House for the best viewing opportunities.

13 Go under the sea with 'ICEBERGS'
Go under the sea with 'ICEBERGS' National Building Museum

The hotly anticipated and immersive ICEBERGS installation held inside the National Building Museum's Great Hall opens to the public on July 2. Step through this uniquely designed experience and you’ll get a glimpse of what it’s like under the ocean’s waterline from the ground floor — or see it from above the waterline on the third balcony of the massive space. The exhibit was designed by James Corner Field Operations, the same urban design firm who developed New York’s High Line.

14 Stay at a hotel with a view
Stay at a hotel with a view

When making hotel reservations for Independence Day inquire whether your hotel offers a viewing station for guests. Hotels with rooftop bars are especially festive. Popular destinations include The W Hotel with its POV Bar. The Graham Hotel in Georgetown has a 360-degree view of Georgetown’s historic rooftops. Both Capella Hotel in Georgetown and The Embassy Row Hotel in Dupont Circle have stylish rooftop pools with bar service.

15 Enjoy a Neighborhood Fourth of July Parade
Enjoy a Neighborhood Fourth of July Parade María Helena Carey

For a smaller spectacle than the National Independence Day Parade, attend a neighborhood version in Barracks Row on Capitol Hill. Participants in the parade distribute beads, the Marine Commandant’s band performs and Capitol Hill’s Continental Soldiers march. Or get your Fourth of July parade fix in the Palisades neighborhood, just northwest of Georgetown, which has become a hot spot in the city to experience a small-town Fourth of July parade vibe. Locals line up along the Whitehaven Parkway at 11 a.m. for the parade, which has been running since 1966 and concludes with a free picnic at the Palisades Rec Center for a neighborhood celebration with hot dogs, watermelon, pony rides and moon bounces. 

16 Enjoy the U.S. Air Force Max Impact Band
Enjoy the U.S. Air Force Max Impact Band A1C Philip Bryant/U.S. Air Force

Head to the Air Force Memorial in Arlington and enjoy the U.S. Air Force Max Impact Band from 6-9 p.m. Following the concert, look toward the National Mall and spot the fireworks’ colorful bursts and blasts, as they light up the sky around DC's iconic skyline.

17 Ever wonder what the Declaration of Independence actually means?
Ever wonder what the Declaration of Independence actually means?

Visit the Smithsonian American History Museum to watch “We the People,” a 20-minute film investigating the meaning of democracy and freedom. The film travels back to July 4, 1776, the nation’s first Independence Day, to the present, honoring each generation’s contribution to the building of America.

18 Enjoy a moonbounce, live music and more

Storey Park in the NoMa neighborhood kicks off its annual community celebration with a moonbounce, live bands, food trucks and street performers. This friendly green space is just blocks from Union Station.

19 Celebrate Tudor Place Historic House & Garden’s 200th Birthday
Celebrate Tudor Place Historic House & Garden’s 200th Birthday

Head to Georgetown for Tudor Place's 200th birthday party. Get there early if you want cake baked by Dog Tag Bakery. While you’re there, play some old-school outdoor American games, take a self-guided garden tour and make some patriotic crafts with the kids. Inside the museum, you’ll find exhibits often involving the 18th- to 20th-century collections of the home’s former inhabitants, the Custis-Peter family. 

20 Spend the Fourth in Capitol Riverfront
Spend the Fourth in Capitol Riverfront David Galen

The Washington Nationals are in town all Fourth of July weekend. Catch Friday night's game against the Cincinnati Reds, guaranteed to end with a bang during the Postgame Freedom Fireworks, or watch your kids run the bases after Sunday's matinee. On July 4, the Nats kick off a three-game home stand against the Milwaukee Brewers. Nearby, The Yards Park provides a scenic riverfront space with water for the kids to splash around in, and it also hosts free Friday night concerts all summer long. While you're there, grab a bite on the Osteria Morini patio, cool down with a treat from Ice Cream Jubilee or stop by Bluejacket brewery for a cold beer. 

Looking for more Fourth of July inspiration? Check out our top spots to catch the fireworks in Washington, DC.