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These Are the Most Stunning (and Free!) Museums in Washington DC


Are you interested in getting the best free history lesson of your life? Washington, DC, has no shortage of spectacular museums around the city. And guess what? Many of them are free!

In this guide, we cover the best free museums in DC for budget-weary travelers and locals alike. Whether you’re a fan of local art, space, or American or global history, DC has something for everyone.

If you want to see them all, it will undoubtedly take more than a day. Get ready to immerse yourself in rich culture and history! 🏛️

Smithsonian Castle: Striking Architecture and Information About Every Smithsonian Museum

We recommend starting at this architectural marvel before heading out to the other museums. At the Smithsonian Castle, you will find information about all of the museums and exhibits.

The castle, which until the end of the 19th century accommodated a library, laboratories, and all aspects of Smithsonian operations, today houses administrative offices and the Smithsonian Information Center. This is the perfect place to start your day and plan your route.

The building is magnificent and a must-see while in DC.

🏛 Theme: Information about every museum at National Mall
🕐 Opening times: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, daily 
Location: 1000 Jefferson Dr SW, Washington, DC 20560

Smithsonian Castle
The Smithsonian Castle near the National Mall is the perfect spot to start your day. Photo: EQRoy/Shutterstock

National Gallery of Art: Collection Spanning Classical to Modern Art

With two massive buildings filled with contemporary and classical art, what’s not to love about this gallery? The National Gallery of Art also features a six-acre sculpture garden. In the permanent art collection, you can expect to find artworks from the likes of da Vinci and Calder.

You will often find free shows, including classical concerts and the screening of art history movies. In the winter months, there’s even an ice skating rink where you can practice your pirouettes between the ​​large-scale sculptures.

🏛 Theme: Classical and modern art
🕐 Opening times: 10 am – 5 pm daily
Location: Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20565

National Air and Space Museum: Large Collection of Historic Air and Spacecraft

If you’re interested in learning about aviation history, then this is your spot. The National Air and Space Museum boasts the world’s most extensive collection of historic air and spacecraft. You can expect to find actual astronaut suits and moon rocks. 

You will also find the original 1903 Wrights brothers’ airplane, which is a sight to behold. All of this is set up in a beautifully designed building.

🏛 Theme: Historic air and spacecraft
🕐 Opening times: 10 am – 5:30 pm, Monday – Thursday
Location: 655 Jefferson Dr. SW, Washington, DC 20565

National Air and Space Museum
Enterprise at the National Air and Space Museum, October 10, 2011. It was the first Space Shuttle orbiter. Photo: kropic1/Shutterstock

The Freer Gallery of Art: Colorful Collection of Asian Art

This strikingly colorful and vibrant gallery is home to the beautiful world of Asian art and culture. The Freer Gallery of Art hosts more than 25,000 pieces spanning 6,000 years of history. After undergoing extensive renovations, the gallery reopened in July 2021. 

You can expect to find revamped exhibits in an absolutely stunning building. Since its reopening, this museum has been busy. We recommend getting there early to appreciate the pieces on display.

🏛 Theme: Asian art and culture
🕐 Opening times: 10 am – 5:30 pm, Friday – Tuesday
Location: 1050 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20560

National Museum of Natural History: Over 127 Million Natural History Pieces

One thing we can say for sure about this museum is that you won’t run out of exciting pieces to see. With more than 127 million natural history artifacts, there is something for everyone here. You will find a vast collection of ancient dinosaur bones and even the Hope Diamond.

Our favorite part about the National Museum of Natural History is the Deep Time exhibit, where you can travel back in time and experience ancient history yourself. 

🏛 Theme: Natural history 
🕐 Opening times: 10 am – 5:30 pm, Wednesday – Sunday
Location: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560

Natural History Museum
A whale model in the Natural History Museum in Washington DC. Photo: Tinnaporn Sathapornnanont/Shutterstock

National Museum of African Art: Collection of Over 9,000 Pieces of African Art

Touted as one of the most important research facilities for African art in America, at this museum, you can expect to find over 9,000 pieces of ancient African art. There are exhibits dedicated to Egyptian carvings, sacred objects, and musical instruments.

The National Museum of African Art reopened in July 2021, following renovations. The beautiful exhibits have been fully restored.

🏛 Theme: African American art
🕐 Opening times: 10 am – 5:30 pm, Wednesday – Sunday
Location: 950 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20560

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: Extensive Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is home to some stunning works of art from the likes of Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Henry Moore. This is a must-see attraction if you are in the city.

Our favorite part about this museum is the sculpture garden, which includes the famous Wish Tree by Yoko Ono. The serene plant life and running streams make this an excellent place to relax.

🏛 Theme: Significant works of art 
🕐 Opening times: Sculpture Garden, daily 10 am – 4:30 pm
Location: Independence Ave. SW &, 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20560

National Museum of the American Indian: Showcases Diversity of American Indigenous Peoples

This museum is one of the more recent permanent fixtures along the National Mall. The National Museum of the American Indian showcases the life, culture, diversity, and future of indigenous peoples throughout North and South America. You will find ancient artifacts and an enviable photographic archive from the Arctic Circle all the way down to the tip of Chile.

Don’t forget to pay a visit to the National Native American Veterans Memorial outside of the museum.

🏛 Theme: Native American culture and art 
🕐 Opening times: 10 am – 5:30 pm, Wednesday – Sunday
Location: 4th St. SW, Washington, DC 20560

National Museum of African American History and Culture: Devoted to African American Life and Art

This museum is a must-visit if you’re in DC because it is one of the most powerful and meaningful exhibitions in all of the District.

In 2007, it became the first museum in the world to have a digital presence even before completing a physical structure. The National Museum of African American History and Culture houses some of the most inspiring African American art globally including items owned by American abolitionist Harriet Tubman and Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves. 

Opened in 2016, this museum is a relatively new permanent installation, which we found to be one of the most beautiful. The curation is stunning and not to be missed. 

🏛 Theme: African American culture and art
🕐 Opening times: 10 am – 5:30 pm, Wednesday – Sunday
Location: 1400 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560

National Museum of African American History and Culture
The main entry of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo: 3000ad/Shutterstock

National Archives Museum: Home of the National Archives and Records Administration

Many may be familiar with this museum due to its prominence in the National Treasure films. The National Archives Museum houses the one and only Declaration of Independence. While some may have skipped Nicholas Cage’s performance, we don’t recommend skipping this free museum.

You can also get a glimpse of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights before heading home.

🏛 Theme: National records and artifacts
🕐 Opening times: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm, daily 
Location: 701 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20408

National Museum of American History: Collection of 3 Million Pieces of American History

If you’re interested in seeing America’s story unfold through brilliant exhibits, then this is the best museum for you. The National Museum of American History holds more than 3 million pieces from our nation’s past. This museum is a must-see for American history buffs.

Expect to find pieces from the nation’s film history, such as Dorothy’s red slippers from the Wizard of Oz. You can also feast your eyes on the original Star-Spangled Banner Flag which inspired Francis Scott Key’s poem or take a look at past presidential artifacts.

🏛 Theme: American historical artifacts
🕐 Opening times: 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM, Friday – Tuesday
Location: 1300 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560

Whether you’re an aviation aficionado or a cultural collector, the National Mall in Washington, DC, has a free museum and gallery for everyone. Take a couple of days to pick out your must-see museums and get started early to avoid the crowds! 🤩

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