Washington, D.C., the capital city of the United States, is a popular tourist destination for many reasons. Many people travel there to view historical monuments, visit some of our centers of government, and to learn more about how America came into being. While there are plenty of ways to learn about our nation's history in D.C., it is also home to some of the country's best museums. And, even better, many of these museums are absolutely free to enter.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.