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16 Ways to Celebrate Independence Day in Washington, DC

Fourth of July Fireworks over the Lincoln Memorial - Things to Do Independence Day Weekend in Washington, DC

Savor summer’s biggest holiday – the Fourth of July – in the best of places: the nation’s capital

The District 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 entertaining places where revelers can experience the fun and spirit of Independence Day in the most American of settings.

1 Honor the Founding Fathers (and documents) at the National Archives
Honor the Founding Fathers (and documents) at the National Archives Ryan Healy

Original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are all on display at the National Archives. After seeing these essential and historic documents, meet the Founding Fathers who helped establish the birth of a nation with programming featuring costumed actors in Revolutionary-era attire.

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

National Independence Day Parade - Fourth of July Family Friendly Activities in Washington, DC

Line up along Constitution Avenue to observe DC’s annual National Independence Day Parade. Expect to see fife and drum corps, military servicemen and women, elaborate floats and VIPs galore. The parade begins at 11:45 a.m. and is held between 7th and 17th streets.

3 Experience a free concert at the U.S. Capitol
Experience 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. The grand finale features jaw-dropping fireworks over the National Mall.

4 Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival (June 29 – July 4, July 6-9) is one of DC’s greatest summertime traditions. The free event is held on the National Mall, with concerts, a marketplace, food, dances and presentations all part of the festivities. This year, the festival focuses on the circus arts and the culture of migration.

5 Catch America’s pastime at Nationals Park
Catch America’s pastime at Nationals Park Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals annually play at Nationals Park on Independence Day, holding an 11:05 a.m. game to accommodate the activities throughout the city the rest of the day. This year, Dusty Baker’s boys will take on the New York Mets, their main challengers for the National League East crown in 2017. Expect an exciting game and a lively atmosphere at Nats Park for the early holiday game.

6 Chill out at Capitol Riverfront’s Canal Park
Chill out at Capitol Riverfront’s Canal Park Capitol Riverfront BID

Located near Nationals Park, Canal Park is a popular urban meeting place with a view of the U.S. Capitol. This sustainable park in the burgeoning Capitol Riverfront neighborhood delights visitors with 42 dancing water jets, green spaces with tables and umbrellas, and a wood-fired pizza restaurant called Il Parco.

7 Enjoy a gourmet meal and riverside views at The Washington Harbour
Enjoy a gourmet meal and riverside views at The Washington Harbour Tony and Joe's Seafood Place

The Washington Harbour in Georgetown is an ideal location for a celebratory dinner before or after watching fireworks. The restaurants in this waterfront plaza provide convenient access to a viewing spot, as well as simple riverside relaxation. Make sure to make a reservation at Farmers Fishers Bakers, Sequoia or Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place.

8 Pay homage to America’s Presidents at the National Portrait Gallery
Pay homage to America’s Presidents at the National Portrait Gallery Hrag Vartanian

The National Portrait Gallery's America’s Presidents exhibit is ideal for an Independence Day visit for obvious reasons. The collection (currently housed in a temporary installation while the main gallery is renovated) displays images of all 44 past presidents, including beautiful sculptures and famous paintings. The temporary installation also includes Hindsight is Always 20/20, a piece by artist Luke DuBois that uses word clouds to show the lexicon of each commander-in-chief.

9 Marvel at the DC skyline while cruising on the Potomac River

Odyssey Cruise on the Potomac River in Washington, DC

Enjoy a lunch or dinner cruise with Entertainment Cruises, which will provide stunning views of DC monuments and landmarks from an on-the-water perspective. There's also Embark DC, which offers customized tours that depart from the Georgetown waterfront, and Potomac Riverboat Company, which features a variety of narrated cruises on the river.

10 Watch the fireworks matinee at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Watch the fireworks matinee at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Jon Humiston / George Washington's Mount Vernon

Get out to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, about 30 minutes south of the city 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 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.

11 Spend Independence Day with the animals of the National Zoo
Spend Independence Day with the animals of the National Zoo @evan.thornton

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. You can also see Bei Bei, the adorable panda that has caused a sensation since her birth in August of 2015. Line up early at the Panda House (around 9 a.m.) for the best viewing opportunities.

12 Become part of the Hive at the National Building Museum

The National Building Museum’s annual Summer Block Party series brings a dynamic, interactive installation to its larger-than-life Great Hall. This year's installation, Hive, features more than 2,700 wound paper tunbes soaring to the upper reaches of the museum. Hive will start buzzing on July 4 and continue all summer until Labor Day with work designed by the reputable architectural firm Studio Gang. Stay tuned for more information about special programming, including concerts and after hours events.

13 Stay at a hotel with a five-star view

The Embassy Row Hotel - Rooftops in Washington, DC

When making hotel reservations for Independence Day, find out if your hotel offers a fireworks-viewing station for guests. Hotels with rooftop bars are especially festive – be sure to check out the W Hotel and its POV Lounge. Both the Rosewood Washington, D.C. in Georgetown and The Embassy Row Hotel in Dupont Circle have stylish rooftop pools with bar service as well.

14 Have fun with history at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Have fun with history at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Dig deep into our country’s history at the fascinating National Museum of American History, an activity that aligns perfectly with the holiday. Observe the flag that inspired our national anthem, then take your young historians to Wegmans Wonderplace, an interactive and educational exhibit geared towards kids. There is also the dynamic Spark!Lab, where kids can experiment and invent on their own terms. The museum is free to enter.

15 Take in a spectacular show at the Kennedy Center
Take in a spectacular show at the Kennedy Center Jati Lindsay / John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

If you’re in town for the weekend leading up to the Fourth, the Kennedy Center has outstanding programming to enjoy. The entire family can savor Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic play, The Sound of Music (June 13 – July 16), while the adults are in for some laughs during The Second City’s Almost Accurate Guide to America: Divided We Stand (June 17 – Aug. 13). Millennium Stage also offers free, family-oriented performances.

16 Check out the John F. Kennedy exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Check out the John F. Kennedy exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Smithsonian American Art Museum

In honor of the centennial of JFK’s birthday, American Visionary: John F. Kennedy Life and Times at the Smithsonian American Art Museum pulls from several libraries to showcase photography that displays the incredible life that Kennedy had, from his war hero days to his tragic death in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Some photos in the display are iconic, while some have never been seen in public before. The museum is free to enter. If you’re interested in other JFK centennial events, check out these other ways to celebrate the JFK centennial.

Need to make more summer plans? Find out why your visit to the nation's capital will be the best summer ever.