When it comes to Washington, DC, museums are not in short supply, and thankfully, neither is free admission! If you're looking to explore the wonderful museums that DC offers without breaking the bank, then you've come to the right place. We've compiled the best museums that are free every day (yes, really, every day).
Take a look at our list below and find someplace fun - and free! - to check out with the family.
1. 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. Open daily from 10am to 5:30pm
2. National Museum of Natural History
From the iconic African elephant display to butterflies, fossils and ancient human history, the National Museum of Natural History is one of the most visited of the Smithsonian museums. The museum houses a collection of more than 145 million specimens and truly is a bucket list item that every family should try and check off (and for the 8-12 year old set, a sleepover in the museum might just be a summer must). Open daily, except for Christmas Day, from 10am to 5:30pm.
3. National Art Gallery
Whether it be a painting, a sculpture, or a drawing, some of the most iconic pieces of art are housed in the National Art Gallery in Washington DC and a must for any family looking to explore great art with the kids. Special events, including all-ages drop-in art making, help bring the museum to life for young visitors. Don't forget to explore the outdoor Sculpture Garden on a nice day, and in the wintertime, for a fee, try taking a lap around the outdoors ice rink. The gallery is open throughout the year (with the exception of December 25 to January 1) from 10am to 5pm Monday through Saturday and 11am to 6pm on Sunday.
4. 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. The museum is open every day, except for Yom Kippur and Christmas Day, from 10 am to 5:20pm. While admission is free, timed tickets are required for admittance into the permanent exhibit.
National Air and Space Museum. Photo by Pedro Szekely/CC BY 2.0
5. National Museum of African Art
With over 11,000 pieces in the collection, visitors are invited to celebrate the beauty and diversity of Africa's art at the National Museum of African Art. Public programs, including the interactive African drum circle, are open and available to the entire family. The museum is open daily from 10am to 5:30pm, except for Christmas Day.
6. National Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History is one of the most kid-friendly spots on our list. From the Spark!Lab, where young visitors' innovative spirits are encouraged, to Wegman's Wonderplace with hands-on exploration of small town American life for the 0-6 crowd, this museum should be on every family's bucket list. Traveling exhibits, including the 2019's Superheroes, will be especially exciting for the entire family. Open daily, except for Christmas Day, from 10am to 5:30pm.
7. The Freer Gallery of Art / Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
These two art galleries, both located at the National Mall, are among the Smithsonian's many museums. 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 ImaginAsia 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. The galleries are open daily, except for Christmas Day, from 10am to 5:30pm.
8. 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 basketweaving, exploring different modes of transportation from snowshoes to skateboards, and playing inside a life-sized tipi, imagiNATIONS will help bring history to life for each member of the family. Don't forget to stop in at the museum cafe, Mitsitam; it's one of our favorite spots to eat on the National Mall. Open daily, except for Christmas Day, 10am to 5:30pm.
Visitors engage with a touch screen in the "Power of Place" exhibition. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of African American History and Culture /Leah Jones
9. National Air & Space Museum
With thousands of air and space objects on display, science enthusiasts will love the National Air & Space Museum. 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). Open daily, except for Christmas Day, 10am to 5:30pm.
10. U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
For families interested in how money is made, check out the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing for a free 40-minute tour, which includes a film and currency exhibits. While admission is free, the tours are only available Monday through Friday and subject to Federal holiday closures. For the most up-to-date hours, be sure and visit the website.
11. National Museum of African American History and Culture
Children can witness and learn the rich and fascinating history and culture of African Americans at the NMAAHC. With occasional special events for young children and families, plus beautifully curated exhibits, this museum should be on every family's bucket list. While admission to the museum is free, timed tickets are required. Open daily, except for Christmas Day, 10am to 5:30pm.
12. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
A visually rich experience, the Hirshhorn will captivate kids and give them a great first experience with art. Children aged six and under, and their guardians, are invited to storytime at the Hirshhorn, on Wednesdays and Sundays, September through July. For a full schedule, visit the events calendar. Open daily, except for Christmas Day, from 10am to 5:30pm
For families who would like to explore DC on the cheap, check out the National Zoo, US Botanic Garden, the National Mall and Memorials, and the Tidal Basin. While they don't fall into the "museum category," they don't charge admission either and are great destinations for families.
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