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.
Typically, held in June, the Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk grants free access to fascinating DC museums that usually charge admission. Located just outside of DC in Potomac, Md., Glen stone 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. Although the White House is the main attraction, its free -to-enter visitors center also makes for a fun-filled and educational excursion.
The Firstborn Museum is known for its extensive collection of modern and contemporary art from around the world, including significant works by Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Mayor Kusama. The museum hosts engaging public programming year-round, but one of the most exciting times to visit is during Native American Heritage Month in November.
The Washington Post called the National Museum of African Art the most “important research facility for African art in America.” The museum boasts a broad collection of 9,000 pieces, including sacred objects, textiles, ancient Egyptian carvings, musical instruments and so much more. An iconic landmark along the DC skyline, the Smithsonian Castle is the perfect place to begin your day of exploration.
At the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, you can witness how our currency is made, through more than 10 processes that show just how much goes into making a single note. The building is home to the three most important documents in American history: the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Another highlight for visitors is the David M. Rubinstein Gallery, which features numerous a 17-foot touch screen summarizing the national debate around essential issues such as citizenship and free speech, as well as one of four surviving originals of the 1297 Magna Carta. Visitors should take advantage of the wide range of experiences on hand, from immersing themselves in classic art to marveling at the wonders of aviation and our natural world.
National Archives Visit the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom and see the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution of the United States. The White House Contact your member of congress for reservations for a free, self-guided tour.
The Lincoln Memorial Dedicated to the 16th president and the work he did to guide the country through the Civil War. International Spy Museum View artifacts and exhibits that chronicle the history of espionage around the world.
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site Visit the home of this famous American abolitionist. Ford’s Theater Tours are available of this site, where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.
National Postal Museum You’ll find a generous selection of artifacts related to the history of the US Post Office as well as stamp collecting. National Building Museum For the left-brained folks, seek out exhibits here on engineering, architecture, construction, and more.
The Wilderness Society Gallery Support conservation efforts while enjoying photography exhibits that celebrate America’s natural beauty. Note that opening hours, ticketing policies, and procedures may vary.
The Smithsonian Institute consists of almost 20 museums and the National Zoo … and all are free to visit. If you have time and means to get out of the city, the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Annex is a highlight for aviation lovers.
This incredible art museum isn’t actually part of the Smithsonian Institution, but it is often grouped in because it is free and located on the National Mall. Connected with an illuminated tunnel and indoor waterfall, you can avoid going outside to get between the two buildings.
This museum is technically free, but advanced reservations are required during peak travel dates (March – October) if you want to visit the permanent exhibit. The USMC explores in chronological order the events leading up to, during, and the aftermath of the Holocaust.
Located just off the historic U Street Corridor once known as Black Broadway, the African American Civil War Museum honors the 209, 125 members of the United States Colored Troops who fought during the American Civil War. Be sure to go across the street to visit the African American Civil War Memorial.
Washington DC has enough always- free museums to keep you occupied for weeks, but if you’re interested in some small specialty museums, you may want to find out how to save on admission costs to these. The museum houses the gun used by John Wilkes Booth, the coat and top hat President Lincoln was wearing, and more.
If you weren’t able to do so, or you just don’t have the time, you can explore the White House Visitor Center which is always open to the public for free without tickets. These are still free but require contacting your congressperson or the International Visitors Desk to get them.
If you end up finding that many of the things you want to explore have tickets, you may want to look into a tourist discount pass. There are also historic homes that are now National Park sites, like Frederick Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune, and the Sewall-Belmont House.
You can visit the Heinrich House (Brew masters Castle) to attend one of the many events for free. Camden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 3 published books about the city.
She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, TOP, and numerous other DC papers. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 25 countries.
National Archives Museum Head into the Rotunda of the National Archives Museum and come face to face with the original and founding documents of the United States, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. Visitors will also want to go beyond the famed Rotunda and spend some time in the public vaults, where they can listen to audio recordings from the Oval Office, telegrams that Abraham Lincoln sent, and interactive exhibits to bring these archives to life.
Special events, including all-ages drop-in art making, help bring the museum to life for young visitors. The gallery is open throughout the year (except December 25 to January 1) from 10am to 5pm Monday through Saturday and 11am to 6pm on Sunday.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum For older children, a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will help teach a painful era in human history as well as celebrate the strength and survival of the human spirit and cultivate a respect for life. While admission is free, timed tickets are required for admittance into the permanent exhibit.
Public programs, including the interactive African drum circle, are open and available to the entire family. From the Spark! Lab, where young visitors' innovative spirits are encouraged, to Legman's Wonder place with hands-on exploration of small town American life for the 0-6 crowd, this museum should be on every family's bucket list.
They boast of the most expansive collections of Asian art, dating from Neolithic times to the post-modern era, and have activities and events planned just for families. With the Imagination Family Programs, kids and grownups are invited to participate in open studio time on select weekends throughout the year.
The galleries also host kid-focused art workshops that, while free of charge, do require advanced registration. National Museum of the American Indian Besides the wonderful exhibits, both permanent and traveling, families will love the imaginations Activity Center at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Filled the interactive exhibits and hands-on activities, like giant basket weaving, exploring different modes of transportation from snowshoes to skateboards, and playing inside a life-sized tip, imaginations will help bring history to life for each member of the family. Don't forget to stop in at the museum café, Miriam; it's one of our favorite spots to eat on the National Mall.
Photo courtesy of the National Museum of African American History and Culture /Leah Jones The museum also hosts family days, special free showings of One World One Sky: Big Bird's Adventure in the Einstein Planetarium and more.
If you'd like to see Space Shuttle Discovery up close, consider visiting the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA (just a short drive outside of DC). While admission is free, the tours are only available Monday through Friday and subject to Federal holiday closures.
If you're looking to explore the wonderful museums that DC offers without breaking the bank, then you've come to the right place.