Looking for the best free museums in Washington DC? This guide has them all. All museums mentioned in this article are completely free. In some cases, a timed entry reservation may be required.

Best Free Museums In Washington DC: Smithsonian Institutions

The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, with 19 of the best museums and the National Zoo. The first 17 museums mentioned below are all associated with the Smithsonian. 

Anacostia Community Museum

The Anacostia Community Museum looks into how historical and current social issues affect urban communities. The museum is located in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and it is one of the many museums and research centers that make up the Smithsonian Institution.

The Anacostia Community Museum was established in 1967 and focuses on the history, culture, and contemporary life of African Americans in the United States, particularly those living in urban communities. It is dedicated to promoting understanding and appreciation of the experiences, struggles, and achievements of African American communities, with a special emphasis on the Anacostia neighborhood itself.

The museum conducts research, collects artifacts, and presents exhibitions and educational programs that shed light on the diverse stories and contributions of African Americans throughout history. As with all Smithsonian museums, admission to the Anacostia Community Museum is free.

Hours: Everyday 11am-4pm

Location: 1901 Fort Pl SE, Washington, DC 20020

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is located within the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art. The museum is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery was opened in 1987 and is named after Arthur M. Sackler, a prominent medical researcher, and philanthropist who donated a significant collection of Asian art to the Smithsonian. 

The museum’s focus is on Asian art and culture, showcasing a diverse range of artworks and artifacts from various countries and time periods across the Asian continent.

The museum’s collection includes pieces from China, Japan, Korea, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, among other regions. It features traditional art forms like paintings, ceramics, and sculptures, as well as contemporary art and special exhibitions that highlight various aspects of Asian cultural heritage.

Like all Smithsonian museums, admission to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is free, allowing visitors to explore and appreciate the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Asia.

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 1050 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20004

Freer Gallery Of Art

The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery are two distinct collections located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Both museums are part of the Smithsonian Institution and are dedicated to the arts and cultures of Asia, but they have different collections and areas of focus.

The Freer Gallery of Art was the first Smithsonian museum dedicated solely to art. It was founded in 1923 and is named after Charles Lang Freer, a prominent art collector and philanthropist who donated his extensive collection of Asian and American art to the Smithsonian Institution.

The Freer Gallery primarily focuses on Asian art, especially East Asian art from China, Japan, and Korea, as well as American art. Its collection includes a wide range of artworks such as paintings, ceramics, metalwork, sculpture, and textiles. The museum’s Asian art collection spans thousands of years, showcasing masterpieces from various dynasties and periods. This section contains Chinese paintings, Indian sculptures, Islamic paintings, and Korean ceramics.

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: Jefferson Drive and 12th St., SW Washington, DC

Hirshhorn Museum

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is part of the Smithsonian Institution. The Hirshhorn Museum is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and it is one of the many museums and research centers that fall under the Smithsonian umbrella.

The museum was established in 1974 through a gift from Joseph H. Hirshhorn, a prominent art collector, to the United States government. It is named after him to honor his contribution to the arts and his desire to share his extensive art collection with the American public.

The Hirshhorn Museum’s collection includes a diverse range of modern and contemporary art, featuring works by renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, and many others. The museum also has a sculpture garden that displays significant sculptures by various artists.

Hours: Mon-Sun 10am-5:30pm

Location: Independence Ave SW &, 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20560

Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center – Car Required

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located near Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia. It is about a 40 minute drive from downtown Washington DC.

Buses do come here, but a car is likely the most convenient way to visit. There is ample parking available. While the museum is free, there is a cost to park and some of the special exhibits and movies require a paid ticket. 

This museum is one of the most kid-friendly activities that you can do in the DMV area. It opened in 2003 as an extension of the National Air and Space Museum. The center was named after Steven F. Udvar-Házy, an aviation pioneer, who made a substantial donation to the museum.

The Udvar-Hazy Center is a huge aerospace museum that houses an extensive collection of aircraft and space artifacts. It serves as an annex to the National Air and Space Museum, providing additional exhibition space to display larger aircraft and spacecraft that cannot be accommodated at the National Mall location.

The Udvar-Hazy Center offers visitors the chance to see the Space Shuttle Discovery, the SR-71 Blackbird, the Enola Gay (the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II), and many other iconic aircraft and space-related artifacts.

Once the exhibits are done, visitors can make their way up to the observation tower and watch and track live flights land at the Dulles Airport. The museum also contains multiple flight simulators and as well as an IMAX theater for a more immersive experience.

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy, Chantilly, VA 20151

*Admission is free, but parking may not be free

Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and it is one of the most visited museums in the world. It was established in 1946 and has become an iconic institution dedicated to the history and exploration of aviation and space flight. The museum’s collection includes a wide range of artifacts related to the history of flight, from the Wright brothers’ first powered airplane to modern space exploration.

The National Air and Space Museum houses numerous aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and related items. Visitors can see famous aircraft such as the Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis flown by Charles Lindbergh, the Apollo 11 command module that carried the first astronauts to the Moon, and many other historically significant artifacts.

The National Air and Space Museum is free, however, the museum requires a timed reservation made online prior to visiting. This museum contains 2 floors full of different space exhibits including a planetarium. Timed-entry passes do sell out, especially during the summer months so be sure to plan ahead. 

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 6th St. and Independence Ave SW Washington, DC 20560

​*Timed entry reservation

National Museum Of African American History And Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is one of the newest additions to the Smithsonian family of museums and research centers.

The NMAAHC is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and it was established by an Act of Congress in 2003. The museum officially opened to the public on September 24, 2016. It is dedicated to showcasing the history, culture, and contributions of African Americans to the United States.

The museum’s extensive collection includes artifacts, documents, photographs, and multimedia exhibits that tell the story of African American life, art, history, and achievements. It covers various aspects of the African American experience, from the early days of slavery to the civil rights movement and contemporary African American culture. It is an essential cultural and educational resource. It provides insights into the struggles, resilience, and rich cultural heritage of African Americans throughout history.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is free, however, the museum requires a timed reservation made online prior to visiting. This historic gallery will take about 2 hours to complete and is a one-mile walk end to end.

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 1400 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560

National Museum Of African Art

The National Museum Of African Art is about a ten minute walk from the National Museum Of African American History And Culture. The museum was established in 1964. It is dedicated to showcasing the arts and cultures of Africa. 

The museum’s collection includes a diverse range of traditional and contemporary African artworks, including sculptures, textiles, masks, pottery, jewelry, and other artifacts that represent the rich artistic heritage of the African continent.

Visitors to the museum can explore various exhibitions and learn about the history, diversity, and creativity of African art and cultures. The museum also hosts educational programs, performances, and events that promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of African art and its significance in the global context. It includes more than 9,000 traditional works of art from across all of Africa. 

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 950 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560

National Museum Of American History

The National Museum of American History has numerous diverse halls consisting of different parts of American history with lots to learn from our country’s past. The most known exhibit is the original Star Spangled Banner.

The flag was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1907 by George Armistead’s grandson, Eben Appleton, and it has been a treasured exhibit at the National Museum of American History ever since. It is displayed in a specially designed chamber, providing visitors with an opportunity to view this iconic symbol of American history and patriotism.

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 1300 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560

National Museum Of The American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian is devoted to the indigenous people of America and contains numerous exhibitions that rotate in and out as well as many that are permanent exhibits. It is also a research facility as well.

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 4th St SW, Washington, DC 20560

Smithsonian National Museum Of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is one of the most popular in the Smithsonian for its numerous exhibits that detail the transformation of our planet from billions of years ago. Learn about the different species, the sky, geology, and much more.

It is also home to the famous Hope Diamond and other popular attractions and historical artifacts. New York gem merchant Harry Winston purchased the diamond in 1949. Several years later in 1958, he donated the diamond to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. It is on permanent exhibition here.

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is a very large and spacious museum with thousands of different pieces of art that focus mainly on famous Americans. The gallery houses an extensive collection of presidential portraits, which provides a visual history of U.S. leadership. The “America’s Presidents” exhibition is particularly popular.

Inside the National Portrait Gallery is the Kogod Courtyard. This is an indoor courtyard with its elegant glass canopy is a favorite spot for relaxation and occasionally hosts events and performances. Visitors can eat inside the Kogod Courtyard. The Courtyard Café here carries soups, salads, sandwiches, and beverages, making it convenient for visitors to grab a bite without leaving the vicinity of the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Hours: Everyday 11:30am-7pm

Location: 8th St NW & G St NW, Washington, DC 20001

National Postal Museum

The National Postal Museum is a two story building that details the evolution of stamps, transportation, and how our packages and letters are carried today as to the different time frames years ago. It is incredibly educational and details how we got to where we are today in terms of packaging and mailing.

The National Postal Museum is located right next to Union Station, the city’s main train station, making it easily accessible for visitors. If you are taking the train into the city or taking the metro, this museum has a convenient location next to several train lines. 

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 2 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002

Renwick Gallery

The Renwick Gallery is near the White House and contains many frequently changing exhibits from both up-and-coming artists and experts. Unlike traditional art museums that might house famous paintings from classical artists, the Renwick focuses on artworks that showcase innovative and creative approaches to craft and design.

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW #1, Washington, DC 20006

Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) is definitely worth a visit, especially if you have an interest in American art and history. The museum, located in the heart of Washington, D.C., offers a rich and diverse collection of artworks that span from the colonial period to contemporary times.

The SAAM houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of American art, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, folk art, and decorative arts. The museum’s collection showcases the artistic expressions and cultural developments that have shaped American identity over the centuries.

Hours: Everyday 11:30am-7pm

Location: 8th And G Streets, NW Washington, DC 20004

The Smithsonian Building Institution: Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Building Institution, also known as the Smithsonian Castle, is currently under renovation for the next 5 years. It is often referred to as the “Castle” because of its distinctive Norman-style architecture, reminiscent of a castle. 

Located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Castle serves as the administrative office of the Smithsonian Institution and also houses the Smithsonian Visitor Center, providing visitors with information and orientation to the Smithsonian museums and the National Mall.

Hours: Everyday 8:30am-5:30pm (Inside currently closed, but you can still view from the outside)

Location: 1000 Jefferson Dr SW, Washington, DC 20560

National Archives Museum

The National Archives Museum is home to some of the most important documents to the United States of America, including the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Entry to this museum is completely free, however they recommend timed passes to avoid long lines. This museum is a must-see for all citizens of the United States since it visually shows what everybody learned about in their history classes in school.

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 701 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20408

Free Museums In DC: Monuments

All of the DC Monuments are free to visit. Sometimes it is nice to have a DC itinerary where you visit the monuments at night, especially on extremely hot and humid days in Washington DC. 

The following below are the main highlights.

Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial opened in 1922 and is located at the end of the national mall. It is a 19 foot statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in his chair gazing out across the reflecting pool in front of him. There are 36 columns surrounding it representing the 36 states in the union at the time of his death. This monument stands as a tribute to the 16th President of the United States and is located near the different war memorials on the National Mall.

Location: Lincoln Memorial Cir, Washington, DC 20037

Hours: 24 hours a day / 7 days a week

Washington Monument

The Washington Monument is a historical monument built to commemorate George Washington. It Stands at 555 feet high and is about 55 feet wide at its square base. It went under a 10 million dollar renovation job for 3 years and reopened in 2019. Tours are booked online due to the high volume of tourists, but are free with $1 service fee per ticket. 

After going through security, visitors will be transported to the observation deck where they can have a great overseeing view of notable landmarks like the Capitol Building, the National Cathedral, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and much more.

Location: 2 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20024

Hours: Everyday 9am-5pm

National Mall

The National Mall is a large grassy park that is home to many of the DC monuments and Smithsonian museums. Though not technically a monument, it is easy to spend time at the National Mall. It is also free. You can bring a blanket and some food and settle in for a few hours in between sightseeing. 

The National Mall stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building, which is about 1.9 miles. Near the Lincoln Memorial, there are multiple different war memorials. As you progress further down the mall past the Washington Monument to the Capitol, you will reach many of the Smithsonian Museums including the National History Museum and the National Air and Space Museum. The National Mall is the place to go to see many of the different monuments and memorials that DC has to offer.

Location: Washington, DC

Hours: 24 hours a day / 7 days a week

Free Museums In DC: Non-Smithsonian Institutions

The museums below are also free museums in Washington D.C., but are not associated with the Smithsonian. 

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Holocaust Museum is located geographically in the same cluster as the Smithsonian museums, however, contrary to popular conception, it is an independent entity, with its own governance structure. However, the museum and the Smithsonian regularly participate in joint projects.

The museum is a powerful and moving institution that provides a deeply impactful and educational experience for visitors. The museum’s primary focus is on the history and consequences of the Holocaust, the genocide carried out by the Nazi regime during World War II, in which six million Jews and millions of others were persecuted and killed.

The museum offers a comprehensive and thoughtful presentation of historical facts, personal stories, artifacts, documents, and multimedia exhibits, all of which contribute to a deeper understanding of this tragic chapter in human history. It provides visitors with an opportunity to learn about the Holocaust’s causes, the horrifying events that took place, and the lessons that can be drawn from this dark period.

The exhibits are designed to evoke strong emotions and challenge visitors to reflect on the consequences of unchecked hatred and intolerance. It encourages visitors to consider their responsibility in standing against discrimination and prejudice in today’s world.

Keep in mind that the museum’s subject matter can be emotionally intense, and it may not be suitable for very young children. However, it is an essential destination for those interested in history, human rights, and understanding the impact of one of the most significant and tragic events of the 20th century.

Visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum can be a somber and sobering experience, but it is a vital reminder of the importance of preserving memory, promoting tolerance, and striving for a better and more just future.

Hours: Everyday 10am-5:30pm

Location: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC 20024

Glenstone Museum

Glenstone Museum, located just outside of Washington DC in Potomac, Maryland, was created by Billionaire Mitchell Rales and his wife Emily Wei Rales in 2006. The couple established the museum to showcase their extensive collection of post-World War II and contemporary art. 

The museum is set within a vast natural landscape, which is also an essential component of the Glenstone experience. The design and the vision behind the museum emphasize a harmonious blend of art, architecture, and nature. This museum is located just outside DC and it occupies 230 acres of land. You will need a car to travel here as it is not very easily accessible by public transportation. 

Hours: Thu-Sun: 10am–5pm

Location: 12100 Glen Rd, Potomac, MD 20854

Reservation: Recommended, can be made online

National Gallery Of Art

The National Gallery of Art is an independent art museum, not part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is located right next to the National History Museum. There is a vast sculpture garden that is also associated with the gallery that you can walk through. 

It was established by a congressional act in 1937 and is supported by public and private funds. The NGA’s collection, although it includes some American art, is more extensive and diverse, featuring art from various regions and time periods across the world.

The National Gallery of Art is renowned for its vast collection of European and American paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs. It encompasses works from the Middle Ages to the present day, showcasing major art movements such as the Italian Renaissance, Baroque, Impressionism, and more.

While both museums are located in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian American Art Museum focuses specifically on American art, while the National Gallery of Art offers a broader scope, encompassing art from diverse regions and periods worldwide. Both institutions are valuable cultural and artistic resources for visitors and scholars alike.

Hours: 10am-5pm

Location: 4th St NW, Washington, DC 20565

Historic City Post Office Building

Old Post Office Pavilion, which is a historic building located at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. The building was constructed in the late 19th century and served as the main post office in the city until the 1980s.

The Old Post Office Pavilion is an impressive Romanesque Revival-style building, known for its clock tower that offers panoramic views of the city. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. In the 1980s, the post office operations were relocated, and the building underwent extensive renovations to convert it into a mixed-use development.

The Old Post Office Pavilion was turned into a hotel in 2016 when the Trump Organization opened the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. after a $200 million renovation. However, the hotel was rebranded in 2023. 

The Hilton Group has taken over the management of the hotel and it is now the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. This hotel has luxury hotel accommodations, dining options, and event spaces. You can walk into the lobby to get a coffee or a drink and admire the impressive architecture. Jose Andres, one of Washington DC’s premier chefs has a restaurant here as well called Bazaar. 

Hours: Same as hotel hours

Location: Old Post Office Building (Clock Tower)1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NWWashington, D.C. 20004

Capitol Building

The Capitol Visitor Center is open Monday-Saturday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and all tours are led by professional tour guides. The tour includes visits to the Crypt, the Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall, but does not include the Senate and House Galleries. Reservations are recommended for a tour and can be made through the “schedule a tour” page on the Capitol Visitor Center website.

When the federal government first moved to Washington, D.C., in 1800, the Supreme Court initially met in various places, including the United States Capitol, but it did not have a permanent home of its own. For its first few sessions in the new capital, the Court met in a small room on the ground floor of the Capitol. In 1810, it moved to a larger room upstairs. However, it wasn’t until 1935, with the completion of the Supreme Court Building, that the Court had its own permanent home.

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