The Getaway
30 Museums in Washington, D.C. You Can Visit For Free

Washington, D.C. isn't just the political epicenter of the United States; it's the heartbeat of a nation's story, a living testament to its past, and a beacon for its future. When you stroll down its avenues, you're not just walking on concrete – you're treading on the very pages of history. But here's the best part: D.C. doesn't just let you witness history from a distance; it invites you in, lets you touch it, feel it, and immerse yourself in it. How, you ask? Through its world-class museums.

Imagine stepping into a place where you can trace the evolution of flight, from the Wright brothers' first plane to the space shuttles that touched the stars. Or a place where you can stand face-to-face with a T-Rex, feeling both its grandeur and the eons of time that separate you. Picture a hall where the vibrant tapestry of American culture, from jazz to modern art, unfolds before your eyes. These aren't just figments of imagination; they're real, tangible experiences that D.C.'s museums offer. And guess what? Many of them won't cost you a dime.

So, if you're planning a trip to D.C., or if you're a local who's yet to explore the wonders of your own backyard, here's a piece of advice: don't just stop at the monuments. Dive deeper. Venture into the museums that beckon with open doors and no entry fees.

Advertisement

01 Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

space museum Washington, D.C.

If you're ready for a change of pace from the memorials and monuments, take a stroll down the Smithsonian National Mall to the National Air and Space Museum. This museum houses the largest collection of aviation memorabilia in the world, including the 1903 Wright Flyer and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. Spaceflight enthusiasts can check out historical objects like astronaut spacesuits as well as a piece of genuine moon rock brought back during the Apollo 17 mission.

This free museum is located on Independence Avenue at 6th Street SW and is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except during the spring and summer when it stays open until 7:30 p.m.

Advertisement

02 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

memorial Washington, D.C.

Though this site can be difficult to visit, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum helps to educate travelers about this tragic period in history. The museum serves to memorialize those who suffered and to help ensure that the events of the holocaust will never happen again. These stories are told through film, photography, artifacts, personal stories, and special exhibitions. This free museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but note that timed passes are required from March through August in order to view the museum's permanent collection.

Advertisement

03 National Gallery of Art

Inspire your budding artist without spending a dime at Washington D.C.'s National Gallery of Art. This free museum boasts a broad-ranging collection with examples from everything from ancient to modern art, including masterworks by Picasso, Gaugin, Monet, and da Vinci, as well as the world-famous sculpture garden. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue NW between 3rd and 9th Streets NW, is open every day of the year except Christmas and New Year's Day. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

art gallery Washington, D.C. Pgiam / Getty Images

04 Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian Washington, D.C.

Let your imagination run wild at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the most popular natural history museum in the world. This huge museum is home to more than 140 million items representing every aspect of the natural world. Marvel at gems like the famed Hope Diamond, ponder ancient fossils and even get hands-on in the museum's education center. This free museum, conveniently located on the National Mall, is open every day except for December 25 from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with extended hours to 7:30 p.m. in the spring and summer.

Advertisement

05 Smithsonian Institution Information Center in the Castle

Even though your visit to Washington, D.C. takes you to the heart of the country who rejected rule by the monarchy, you can still include a visit to a castle on your itinerary. The Smithsonian Institution Information Center in the Castle, also simply called the Smithsonian Castle, is a beautiful landmark that also serves as the perfect first stop to help you organize your trip to other free Smithsonian institutions in the city. Visitors will find a coffee bar, comfortable seating, and interactive maps with information about the city's 17 Smithsonian Institution locations.

free admission Washington, D.C. AndreyKrav / Getty Images

06 U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Instead of spending money, learn about how it's made at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. View millions of dollars being printed at this location that also produces treasury securities, military commissions, award certificates, ID cards, and even invitations. To get the most out of your visit, try a guided tour of the Bureau. Tours are offered daily from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and are free, but you will need a ticket if you visit from March through November. Tickets are distributed on a first-come, first serve basis from a booth at Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, which opens at 8 a.m. each weekday.

free museums Washington, D.C. SKLA / Getty Images

07 National Archives Museum

No visit to Washington D.C. is complete without a stop at the National Archives Museum. Why is this free museum such an important place to visit? It houses three of the most important documents in U.S. history: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It is even home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, one of the documents that greatly influenced America's founding fathers. Located at Constitution Avenue NW, between 7th and 9th Streets, the museum is open every day of the year (except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day) from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

national Washington, D.C. museums Willard / Getty Images

08 The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Washington, D.C. smithsonian

Pay a visit to one of the Smithsonian's newest locations at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This free museum is unique, the only one of its kind exclusively meant to document and display various aspects of African American art, culture, and life. This large facility hosts more than 3,500 artifacts as well as exhibits including Musical Crossroads, Slavery and Freedom, and A Changing America. and Located on the National Mall, this free museum is open every day but Christmas from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Advertisement

09 U.S. Botanic Garden

Need a break from the fast pace of your Washington, D.C. trip? Take time to smell the roses - and thousands of other plants - at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Visitors to this free, kid-friendly "living plant" museum can enjoy a paradise of plant life including an entire room dedicated to orchids, a gorgeous Conservatory, and the breathtaking Bartholdi Park. Visit the Conservatory and National Garden daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Bartholdi Park every day from dawn to dusk.

history Washington, D.C. dkfielding / Getty Images

10 Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Washington, D.C. museums

What makes America unique? Come up with your own answer after visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the home of over three million artifacts that try to tell the story of what our country is all about. Visitors will see historical objects, including the Star-Spangled Banner, a hat worn by Abraham Lincoln on the night of his assassination, and other national artifacts. However, this free museum also includes treasures like Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, a collection of American cars, and sheet music written by Duke Ellington. You can visit every day of the year except Christmas Day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Advertisement

11 National Portrait Gallery: a glimpse into the faces of history

The National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution, is a treasure trove of famous American faces. From presidents to pop culture icons, the gallery's exhibitions offer a fascinating journey through American history. The Hall of Presidents is a key exhibit, but don't miss the building's architectural charm, including an entrance porch reminiscent of the Athenian Parthenon and a wavy glass roof.

Directions TerryJ / Getty Images

12 DAR Museum: a journey back in time

The DAR Museum is a unique institution housing a vast collection of historical relics and items used before the Industrial Revolution. Visitors can travel back in time and explore captivating exhibits, including the New Hampshire Toy Attic, a favorite among children where they can play with replicas of historical toys.

13 National Museum of American History: understanding what it means to be American

Perfect for history lovers and curious individuals alike, the National Museum of American History offers an engaging and fun way to learn about America's past. Built in 1964, the museum uses various exhibits to convey the message of "what it means to be an American."

"Our Planet" Special Screening With Sir David Attenborough Tasos Katopodis / Stringer / Getty Image

14 White House: The seat of power

The White House, the official residence of the President of the United States, is a symbol of power and governance. The first President to occupy it was John Adams in 1800. Known by various names in the past, such as "President’s Palace" and "President’s House," it's a must-visit for anyone interested in American political history.

The White House lucky-photographer

15 National Museum of Natural History: Exploring the Natural World

As the world's most visited natural history museum, the National Museum of Natural History offers a comprehensive look at the natural world. Managed by the Smithsonian Institute, the museum features exhibits related to everything from human evolution to exotic wildlife.

national museum of history Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

16 National Gallery of Art: A celebration of artistic mastery

Established in 1937, the National Gallery of Art houses a grand collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other works of art from all eras. From Gothic masters to contemporary art, the museum includes works by van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, and Cézanne, among others.

National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Pgiam / Getty Images

17 Smithsonian Institution Building: The castle of knowledge

Built-in 1855, the Smithsonian Institution Building, also known as "The Castle," serves as the headquarters for the Smithsonian Institution. Its stunning Gothic and Romanesque architecture is reminiscent of historic European castles and churches.

Garden and grounds in front of Smithsonian Institute Castle, Washington DC, USA Medioimages/Photodisc / Getty Images

18 House of the Temple: a peek into Freemasonry

Opened in 1915, the House of the Temple is a must-see for fans of Dan Brown's books. Housing a library, archives, and museums, this Masonic temple offers guided tours that provide insights into the building and the Freemasonry order.

Low angle view of a government building, House of the Temple, Washington DC, USA Medioimages/Photodisc / Getty Images

19 Hirshhorn Museum: celebrating modern and contemporary art

Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the Hirshhorn Museum is home to a grand collection of contemporary and modern art, focusing primarily on the post-WWII period. Visitors can see works by Picasso, Pollock, and Francis Bacon, among others.

Washington, D.C., art museums Robert Alexander / Getty Images

20 Smithsonian American Art Museum: a panorama of American art

The Smithsonian American Art Museum, also known as SAAM, holds one of the world's largest and most inclusive collections of American art. From traditional to contemporary, the museum showcases the diverse artistic expressions of the American people.

Washington, D.C., art museums Robert Alexander / Getty Images

21 National Museum of Women in the arts: honoring women's contributions to art

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts. With its collections, exhibitions, programs, and online content, the museum inspires dynamic exchanges about art and ideas.

22 National Museum of American Jewish History: a tribute to Jewish Americans

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History was founded to document and preserve the contributions of Jewish Americans to the peace and freedom of the United States. The museum educates the public about the courage, heroism, and sacrifices made by Jewish Americans.

23 National Museum of crime & punishment: exploring the dark side of history

The National Museum of Crime & Punishment provides a glimpse into the history of crime and its consequences, law enforcement, forensic science, and crime scene investigation. It's a must-visit for anyone interested in criminology and the justice system.

24 National Museum of the Marine Corps: honoring the U.S. Marines

The National Museum of the Marine Corps is a lasting tribute to U.S. Marines--past, present, and future. The museum's interactive exhibits, immersive multimedia experiences, and an impressive collection of artifacts provide visitors with a unique perspective on Marine Corps history.

War On Terrorism Exhibit Opens At Marine Museum Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

25 National Museum of health and medicine: The intersection of medicine and history

The National Museum of Health and Medicine inspires interest in and promotes the understanding of medicine - past, present, and future - with a special emphasis on tri-service American military medicine. As a National Historic Landmark recognized for its ongoing value to the health of the military and to the nation since 1862, the museum identifies, collects, and preserves important and unique resources to support a broad agenda of innovative exhibits, educational programs, and scientific, historical, and medical research.

26 National Museum of the United States Navy: a salute to naval history

The National Museum of the United States Navy offers a comprehensive overview of naval history. From exhibits in the old boathouse to the ship outside, there is a lot to see in this often-missed museum. Permanent exhibitions include exhibits on American submarines and artifacts from various wars and even polar explorations.

27 National Postal Museum: a stamp on history

The National Postal Museum, a Smithsonian Institution museum, is dedicated to the preservation, study, and presentation of postal history and philately. The museum uses exhibits, educational public programs, and research to make this rich history available to scholars, philatelists, collectors, and visitors from around the world.

Smithsonian Institution Opens "Art of the Stamp" Exhibit Joe Raedle / Getty Images

28 National Museum of the American Indian: celebrating Native cultures

Located on the National Mall, the National Museum of the American Indian is dedicated to spreading knowledge about native people. Visitors can learn more about the history, culture, and art of Native Americans. The museum houses artifacts from the entire Western Hemisphere and also provides a space for contemporary Native performances.

New York City Exteriors And Landmarks Ben Hider / Getty Images

29 National Museum of African Art: a window into African creativity

Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of African Art is devoted to showcasing African art and culture. Housing the largest collection of African art in the US, visitors have a chance to see more than 9000 works of both traditional and contemporary African artists.

The National Museum Of African Art & National Gallery Of Art Repatriate Benin Bronzes To Nigeria Shannon Finney / Getty Images

30 National Air and Space Museum: soaring through history

The National Air and Space Museum is home to the world's largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts. The museum encompasses all aspects of human flight, from the Wright brothers' first successful flights to the exploration of space.

Smithsonian's National Air And Space Museum Reopens To The Public After Renovation Alex Wong / Getty Images
Share

Scroll Down

for the Next Article

The Getaway Badge
Sign up to receive insider info and deals that will help you travel smarter.
Advertisement
Advertisement