50 Free Washington, D.C. Attractions: Museums and More

Explore Dozens of Free Museums and Historic Landmarks in the Nation's Capital

Washington, D.C. is a fascinating city with dozens of free attractions. There is so much to see in the nation’s capital that you can easily save money by spending your leisure time exploring free museums, parks, memorials, and historic sites. Here’s a guide to dozens of Washington, D.C. attractions with no admission fees.  (Listed in alphabetical order)

  • 01 of 50
    ••• Photo © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    1200 U Street, NW. Washington, D.C. Located in the historic U Street Corridor, this attraction honors the African American struggle for freedom in the United States. A Wall of Honor lists the names of 209,145 United States Colored Troops (USCT) who served in the Civil War and the museum showcases artifacts from this time period. The museum offers educational workshops and a variety of free public programs.

  • 02 of 50
    ••• Photo © Education Images/UIG Premium Ac

    One Air Force Memorial Drive, Arlington, VA. The memorial honors the millions of men and women who have served in the United States Air Force. Located in Northern Virginia just across the river from Washington DC, the unique design features soaring spires that can be seen from a great distance across the capital region. 

  • 03 of 50
    Anacostia Museum
    ••• Anacostia Museum. © Smithsonian

    1901 Fort Place SE, Washington, D.C. The museum of African American history and culture offers exhibitions, educational programs, workshops, lectures, film screenings and other special events that interpret black history from the 1800s to the present. Founded as the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum and opened in 1967, the museum was envisioned by S. Dillon Ripley, then-Secretary of the Smithsonian, as an outreach effort by the Smithsonian to the local African American community.

  • 04 of 50
    ••• © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Located across the Potomac River from Washington at the west end of the Memorial Bridge, Arlington, VA. This popular attraction serves as a cemetery and a memorial to America's war heroes. More than four million people visit Arlington National Cemetery each year, attending graveside services and special ceremonies to pay tribute to veterans and historical figures. You can take your own free walking tour or pay a small fee for a shuttle bus tour. 

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  • 05 of 50
    US Botanic Garden
    ••• US Botanic Garden. © VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm

    First Street, SW, between Maryland Ave. and C St. Washington, D.C. The living plant museum located on the National Mall showcases an impressive state-of-the-art indoor garden with approximately 4,000 seasonal, tropical and subtropical plants. The U.S. Botanic Garden is administered by the Architect of the Capitol and offers special exhibits and educational programs throughout the year.

  • 06 of 50
    ••• Bureau of Engraving and Printing. © Getty Images

    14th and C Streets, SW, Washington, D.C. This is a free attraction for all ages and especially popular for families with school-age children. Visitors take a 30-minute tour and see how U. S. paper currency is printed, stacked, cut and examined for defects. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing also prints White House invitations, Treasury securities, identification cards, naturalization certificates, and other special security documents.

  • 07 of 50
    C & O Canal
    ••• C & O Canal. © Rachel Cooper

    The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, a national historic park that dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries, stretches 184-miles from Georgetown in Washington DC along the Potomac River to Cumberland, Maryland. The tow path is a popular place to walk, bicycle and picnic. National Park Service Rangers offer guided tours and educational programs.

  • 08 of 50
    ••• Photo © MATTES Renà / hemis.fr

    E. Capitol St. and First St. NW, Washington, D.C. The U. S. Capitol Building is open to the public for guided tours only. Visitors learn about the work of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and the impressive architecture of the most recognizable historic buildings in Washington, D.C. The Capitol Visitor Center serves as a museum with educational exhibits that highlight the history of the iconic building as well as the legislative branch of government.

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  • 09 of 50
    ••• DAR Museum. Photo © DAR Museum

    1776 D Street NW. Washington, D.C. The museum of the Daughters of the American Revolution is often missed by visitors. The collection features more than 30,000 examples of decorative and fine arts, including objects made or used in America prior to the Industrial Revolution. Next door, DAR Constitution Hall is a venue for concerts and public events.

  • 10 of 50
    ••• Photo © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Ohio Dr. SW Washington, D.C. The 300+ acre park features many of Washington's famous cherry trees, has terrific views of the city and is a popular place for biking, running, fishing and picnicking. There is a golf course, tennis center and swimming pool. The park is within walking distance of the Tidal Basin and the National Mall and offers a respite from the busier tourist destinations. 

  • 11 of 50
    Ford's Theatre
    ••• Ford's Theatre. © Paul Whitfield/Getty Images

    10th and E Streets, NW Washington, D.C. The historic theater where Lincoln was assassinated is a national landmark and also functions as a live theater. Visitors can enjoy a short talk by a National Park guide and learn the fascinating story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. On the lower level, the Ford's Theatre Museum displays exhibits about Lincoln’s life and explains the circumstances of his tragic death. The Education Center, housed in a building directly across the street from the theater, features two floors of permanent exhibits addressing the immediate aftermath of Lincoln’s death and the evolution of Lincoln’s legacy; lecture and reception space; and two floors of education studios. 

  • 12 of 50
    Fort Dupont
    ••• Fort Dupont. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

    Randle Circle, SE, Washington, D.C. The 376 acre park is located east of the Anacostia River in southeast D.C. Visitors enjoy picnics, nature walks, Civil War programs, gardening, environmental education, music, skating, sports, theater and concerts. The park is especially popular during the summer months for its free outdoor concert series. 

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  • 13 of 50
    FDR and Fala
    ••• FDR and Fala. © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    1850 West Basin Dr. SW Washington, D.C. The memorial dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt features four outdoor gallery rooms depicting the 12 years of FDR’s presidency. The memorial includes ten bronze sculptures of President Roosevelt, his wife Eleanor Roosevelt and World War II. Located on the southwest end of the Tidal Basin, the attraction offers great views of the cityscape.

  • 14 of 50
    ••• © National Park Service

    1411 W Street SE Washington, D.C. Located in the Anacostia neighborhood of Southeast D.C., the National Historic Site honors Frederick Douglass' life and accomplishments. Douglass freed himself from slavery and helped to free millions of others. Learn about Douglass and take a guided tour of  his home at Cedar Hill. This site is known as having one of the best views of Washington, D.C.

  • 15 of 50
    Sackler Gallery
    ••• Sackler Gallery. © Smithsonian

    Independence Avenue at 12th Street, SW. Washington, D.C. The adjoining Smithsonian art museums, located on the National Mall,  feature a world-renowned collection of Asian art including paintings, ceramics, manuscripts, and sculptures. The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Auditorium provides free performances of Asian music and dance, films, lectures, chamber music, and dramatic presentations.

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    Hirshhorn Museum
    ••• Hirshhorn Museum. © Smithsonian Institution

    Independence Avenue at 7th St. SW, Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian's museum of modern and contemporary art is comprised of approximately 11,500 artworks, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, photographs, collages, and decorative art objects.

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  • 17 of 50
    Iwo Jima Memorial
    ••• Iwo Jima Memorial. © Rachel Cooper

    Marshall Drive, between Route 50 and Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, VA. This memorial, also known as the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, is dedicated to the marines who gave their lives during one of the most historic battles of World War II, the battle of Iwo Jima. Located across the Potomac River from Downtown, the attraction has panoramic views of the nation's capital.

  • 18 of 50
    Jefferson Memorial
    ••• Jefferson Memorial. © National Cherry Blossom Festival

    15th Street, SW. Washington, D.C. One of Washington's most popular attractions, this dome-shaped rotunda honors the nation's third president. The 19-foot bronze statue of Jefferson is located on the Tidal Basin, surrounded by a grove of trees making it especially beautiful during cherry blossom season in the spring. The lower level of the memorial has a bookstore and a few exhibits about Jefferson's life and legacy.

  • 19 of 50
    ••• Photo © Hisham Ibrahim/Getty Images

    2700 F. St. NW, Washington, D.C. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is the home to the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington Opera, Washington Ballet and American Film Institute. Performances include theatre, musicals, dance, orchestral, chamber, jazz, popular, & folk music; youth and family programs and multi-media shows. Free daily performances are held on the Millennium Stage in the Grand Foyer.

  • 20 of 50
    ••• © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Daniel French Drive and Independence Avenue, SW. Washington, D.C. Our nation honors those who were killed, captured, wounded or remain missing in action during the Korean War (1950 -1953). Nineteen figures represent every ethnic background. The statues are supported by a granite wall with 2,400 faces of land, sea and air support troops. A Pool of Remembrance lists the names of the lost Allied Forces. The memorial is within easy walking distance to the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

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  • 21 of 50
    Lafayette Park
    ••• Lafayette Park. © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    16th & Pennsylvania Ave., NW (across from the White House), Washington, D.C. The seven-acre park provides a prominent arena for public protests, ranger programs and special events. Buildings surrounding the park include the White House, the Old Executive Office Building, the Department of the Treasury, Decatur House, Renwick Gallery, The White House Historical Association, Hay-Adams Hotel and The Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • 22 of 50
    Library of Congress
    ••• Library of Congress. Library of Congress

    101 Independence Ave, SE, Washington, D.C. The world’s largest library contains more than 128 million items including books, manuscripts, films, photographs, sheet music and maps. Visitors can explore the library and navigate books through page-turning technology and learn how America’s greatest thinkers were inspired. The Library of Congress is one of the city's most beautiful buildings and a "must see" for architecture lovers.

  • 23 of 50
    Lincoln Memorial
    ••• Lincoln Memorial. © Tetra Images/Getty Images

    23rd St. NW, Washington, D.C. The memorial is one of Washington, D.C.'s top attractions and occupies a prominent space on the National Mall. It is a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln, who fought to preserve our nation during the Civil War, from 1861-1865. The Lincoln Memorial has been the site of many famous speeches and events since its dedication in 1922. The historic site also has one of the best views of the city. 

  • 24 of 50
    MLK Memorial
    ••• MLK Memorial. © Rachel Cooper

    West Basin Drive SW and Independence Avenue SW, Washington D.C. The memorial honors Dr. King’s contributions and vision for all to enjoy a life of freedom, opportunity, and justice. There is a bookstore and ranger led activities. With its location on the west end of the Tidal Basin, the site is a great place to enjoy the outdoors and pay tribute to those who have worked to defend civil rights for all Americans.

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  • 25 of 50
    ••• Milestones of Flight. Photo © Eric Long/NASM

    Independence Ave. at 7th St. SW Washington, D.C. NASM displays the largest collection of air and spacecraft in the world. Visit here and learn about the history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight. There are IMAX films and planetarium shows several times a day. The museum is one of the most popular in Washington D.C.and appeals to all ages. 

  • 26 of 50
    National Archives
    ••• National Archives. © lillisphotography

    700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Washington, D.C. The National Archives and Records Administration stores and provides public access to the original documents that set up the American government as a democracy in 1774. See the United States Government's Charters of Freedom, the U. S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.

  • 27 of 50
    ••• National Building Museum. © Maxwell MacKenzie

    401 F Street NW Washington, D.C. The museum examines America's architecture, design, engineering, construction, and urban planning. Exhibits include photographs and models of buildings in Washington, DC and offer insight into the history and future of our built environment. The museum offers a variety of educational programs and special events, including informative lectures, interesting demonstrations and great family programs.

  • 28 of 50
    ••• Photo © Medioimages/Photodisc

    Wisconsin & Massachusetts Ave. NW Washington, D.C. The Cathedral is an impressive structure, English Gothic in style, with exquisite architectural sculpture, wood carving, gargoyles, mosaics, and more than 200 stained glass windows. The top of the Gloria in Excelsis Tower, the highest point in Washington, D.C. offers dramatic views of the city. The grounds include beautiful gardens and a gift shop.

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    National Gallery of Art East Building
    ••• National Gallery of Art East Building. © National Gallery of Art

    7th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C.'s most popular attraction for art lovers is a world-class museum that displays one of the largest collections of masterpieces in the world including an international collection of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 13th century to the present. A six-acre sculpture garden includes 17 major sculptures by internationally renowned artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Mark di Suvero, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and Tony Smith. Free jazz concerts are held in the garden on Friday evenings during the summer months.

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    National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
    ••• National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. © Rachel Cooper

    400 block of E Street, NW Washington, D.C. The memorial honors federal, state and local law enforcers for their dedication and sacrifice. Bronze sculptures depict a series of adult lions protecting its cubs, symbolizing the protective role of law enforcement officers. Blue-gray marble walls are inscribed with the names of more than 17,500 officers who have been killed in the line of duty (dating back to 1792).

  • 31 of 50
    ••• NMAA. © Smithsonian Institution

    950 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian museum, located on the National Mall near the Smithsonian Castle, features a collection that includes ancient as well as contemporary works from Africa. There are special events, storytelling, demonstrations and children’s programs.

  • 32 of 50
    ••• NMAH. © Smithsonian Institution

    14th Street and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. The museum displays more than 3 million artifacts of American history and culture, from the War of Independence to the present day. The Smithsonian's world class museum offers a wide range of exhibits that demonstrate the diversity of America’s history and culture. Special tours and programs are scheduled daily.

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  • 33 of 50
    ••• National Museum of the American Indian. Photo © John Steiner/Smithsonian Institution

    4th St. and Independence Ave., SW. Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian museum showcases Native American objects from ancient pre-Columbian civilizations through the 21st century. Multimedia presentations, live performances and hands-on demonstrations bring the Native American people’s history and culture to life. The museum also features films, performances of music and dance, tours, lectures, craft demonstrations and special programs.

  • 34 of 50
    ••• NMAAH. Alan Karchmer/Smithsonian

     400 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. The newest Smithsonian museum documents the history of African American life, art, history and culture. The exhibits and educational programs focus on topics such as slavery, post-Civil War reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, and the civil rights movement. Artifacts range from items such as Harriet Tubman's hymn book (1876) to Muhammad Ali's headgear (1960) to Gabby Douglas Olympic items (2012). 

  • 35 of 50
    ••• NMNH. © Smithsonian Institution

    10th Street and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. This Smithsonian museum is one of Washington, DC's most popular attractions. It houses a collection of more than 125 million natural science specimens and cultural artifacts. The museum is a favorite with kids, but has plenty to intrigue all ages. Popular displays include dinosaur skeletons, an enormous collection of natural gems and minerals, artifacts of early man, an insect zoo, a live coral reef and much more.

  • 36 of 50
    ••• © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    750 9th St. NW, Washington, D.C. The restored historic building in the Penn Quarter neighborhood houses two museums in one building. The National Portrait Gallery presents six permanent exhibitions of nearly 20,000 works ranges from paintings and sculpture to photographs and drawings. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home of the largest collection of American art in the world including more than 41,000 artworks, spanning more than three centuries.

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    National Postal Museum
    ••• National Postal Museum. © Smithsonian Museum

    2 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. The museum displays the largest stamp collection in the world and examines the development of the postal system using interactive displays. This museum is located under Washington's old Main Post Office near Union Station.

  • 38 of 50
    ••• Photo © Smithsonian National Zoo

    3001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. One of the most kid-friendly places to visit in Washington, DC is the National Zoo where you can see more than 400 different species of animals. Among some of the favorites are giant pandas, other bears, lions, giraffes, tigers, monkeys, sea lions, and much more.

  • 39 of 50
    Navy Memorial
    ••• Navy Memorial. © Richard T. Nowitz

    701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, D.C. The Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center honor and commemorate the sailors of the United States Navy. The memorial is an outdoor public plaza and the Heritage Center serves as a place to learn about the history and heritage of the men and women of the sea services.

  • 40 of 50
    Washington Navy Yard
    ••• Washington Navy Yard. © Getty Images

    9th and M Sts. SE, Building 76 Washington, D.C. The former shipyard for the United States Navy houses the Navy Museum and the Navy Art Gallery with exhibits and artwork from the Revolutionary War to the present day. This is a great attraction for kids because of its interactive exhibits including naval artifacts, model ships, undersea vehicles, sub periscopes, a space capsule, a decommissioned destroyer and much more.

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  • 41 of 50
    ••• Renwick Gallery. Photo © Smithsonian Institution

    Pennsylvania Ave. and 17th St. NW Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian museum highlights American crafts and contemporary arts from the 19th to 21st centuries. The Renwick Gallery features unique works of art including clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood.  

  • 42 of 50
    Rock Creek Park
    ••• Rock Creek Park. © Rachel Cooper

    Washington, D.C.’s urban park extends from the Potomac River to the border of Maryland. Visitors can picnic, hike, bike, rollerblade, play tennis, fish, horseback ride, listen to a concert, or attend programs with a park ranger. Children can participate in a wide range of special programs at Rock Creek Park, including planetarium shows, animal talks, exploratory hikes, crafts, and junior ranger programs.

  • 43 of 50
    ••• Supreme Court Exterior. Photo © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    One 1st St., NE Washington, D.C. The Supreme Court is in session October through April and visitors may view sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Supreme Court Building is open throughout the year from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visitors can participate in a variety of educational programs, explore exhibits and see a 25-minute film on the Supreme Court.

  • 44 of 50
    Theodore Roosevelt Memorial
    ••• Theodore Roosevelt Memorial.

    George Washington Memorial Parkway. The 91-acre wilderness preserve serves as a memorial to the nation's 26th president, honoring his contributions to conservation of public lands for forests, national parks, wildlife and bird refuges, and monuments. Theodore Roosevelt Island has 2 1/2 miles of foot trails where you can observe a variety of flora and fauna. A 17-foot bronze statue of Roosevelt stands in the center of the island.

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    Holocaust Memorial Museum
    ••• Holocaust Memorial Museum

    100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington, D.C. The museum is a memorial to the millions who died during the Nazi regime in Germany during World War II. The permanent exhibition presents a narrative history of the Holocaust, the annihilation of 6 million European Jews By Nazi Germany from 1933 – 1945. The exhibit uses more than 900 artifacts, 70 video monitors, and four theaters showing film footage and eyewitness testimonies of Nazi concentration camp survivors.

  • 46 of 50
    ••• Udvar-Hazy. © Smithsonian Institution
    14390 Air & Space Museum Pkwy, Chantilly, VA. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's companion facility, located adjacent to Washington Dulles International Airport, provides a second location with exhibits such as the massive space shuttle Enterprise, the Lockheed SR-71 and numerous aircraft, spacecraft and other artifacts.
  • 47 of 50
    ••• © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Constitution Ave. and Henry Bacon Dr. NW Washington, D.C. One of the most visited Washington, DC attractions, the Vietnam Memorial, features a v-shaped granite wall that is inscribed with the names of the 58,209 Americans missing or killed in the Vietnam War. Across the lawn is a life size bronze sculpture of three young servicemen.

  • 48 of 50
    Washington Monument
    ••• Washington Monument. © Joe Daniel Price

    Constitution Ave. and 15th St. SW Washington, D.C. The memorial to George Washington, our nation's first president, is the most prominent landmark in Washington, DC and stands as the centerpiece of the National Mall. It is the tallest structure in Washington, D.C. and measures 555 feet 5 1/8 inches high. You can ride the elevator to the top and see a birds-eye view of the city.

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  • 49 of 50
    ••• Photo © Max Bernhardt/Getty Images

    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. The White House is the oldest public building in Washington, DC and has been the home of every president except George Washington. Public tours of the White House are limited to groups of 10 or more and must be requested through one's member of Congress. The White House Visitor Center is open to all and features a 30-minute video and exhibits about White House architecture, furnishings, first families, social events, and relations with the press and world leaders.

  • 50 of 50
    ••• © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    17th Street, between Constitution and Independence Avenues NW Washington, D.C. This beautiful structure serves as a peaceful place to remember those who served our country during World War II. The World War II Memorial is an oval shape with two 43-foot arches, representing the war's Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Fifty-six pillars represent the states, territories and the District of Columbia at the time of the war. Two sculpted bronze wreaths adorn each pillar. Small fountains sit at the bases of the two arches.