The best way to do Washington, DC? For free, thanks +to these no-admission museums on the National Mall
To go with its monuments and memorials, the National Mall boasts an impressive lineup of free museums. Visitors should take advantage of the wide range of experiences on hand, from immersing themselves in classic art to marveling at the wonders of aviation and our natural world. Let your wallet breathe and explore these free museums during your next trip to the nation’s capital.
National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art’s collection spans two major buildings – one classical, the other modern – and encompasses a six-acre sculpture garden containing a rotating display of permanent works and traveling exhibitions. The permanent collection spans ancient to contemporary art, including the likes of da Vinci, Degas and Calder, while the museum offers public programming (think art history movies and classical concerts) and hands-on activities for kids. And if you’re visiting during the winter, be sure to hit the outdoor ice-skating rink located in the center of the sculpture garden.
National Air & Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum boasts the world’s largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft, including Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright brothers’ original 1903 flyer, astronaut space suits and a lunar rock sample. In fact, the collection has grown so large that there’s a dedicated annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Va.
National Museum of Natural History
The most visited natural history museum in the world, the National Museum of Natural History boasts an incredible rotating collection of 127 million items including dinosaur bones, the Hope Diamond, ancient Egyptian mummies and so much more. Prepare to be amazed, engaged, dazzled and more when you experience the museum’s 31,000-square-foot Deep Time exhibit, where you can journey back millions of years and see dinosaur fossils, learn about past mass extinctions and their resounding effects and witness the evolution of life from the oceans to ashore.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
The Hirshhorn Museum is known for its extensive collection of modern and contemporary art from around the world, including significant works by Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Yayoi Kusama. The sculpture garden is a must-see, as it includes the famous Wish Tree by Yoko Ono.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture opened on the National Mall in September 2016. Sporting a sleek design and a wealth of new exhibits, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a powerful, inspiring experience for all who visit. During peak season (March through August), timed passes are required on weekdays before 1 p.m. and on weekends. For full details, please visit the museum passes guide.
The Freer | Sackler Galleries
The vibrant and colorful world of Asian art is all around at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, which make up the Smithsonian Institution’s Museums of Asian Art. One of DC’s most beautiful buildings, the Freer was the first Smithsonian museum devoted solely to art when it was first built, while the Sackler houses decorative and devotional objects from across Asia. Together, the collections hold more than 25,000 objects spanning 6,000 years. The museums recently underwent extensive renovations, with reinstalled and restored exhibitions and special new features featured throughout both galleries.
National Museum of African Art
The Washington Post called the National Museum of African Art the most “important research facility for African art in America.” The museum boasts a broad collection of 9,000 pieces, including sacred objects, textiles, ancient Egyptian carvings, musical instruments and so much more.
Smithsonian Institution Information Center in the Castle
An iconic landmark along the DC skyline, the Smithsonian Castle is the perfect place to begin your day of exploration. You can find important information on each Smithsonian museum and marvel at the structure’s striking architecture.
U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Money is an essential aspect of everyday life – they’ve even made songs about it! At the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, you can witness how our currency is made, through more than 10 processes that show just how much goes into making a single note. Admission is free, but tickets are required for entry during busy season. Tours are offered every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., with evening hours added March through August.
United States Capitol Visitor Center
The U.S. Capitol Building is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world and the center of American democracy, where congress conducts business, debates laws and passes bills on behalf of the American people. The free-to-visit U.S. Capitol Visitor Center is also one of DC’s most popular museums, welcoming millions of visitors each year. Tip: if you’re planning to tour the Capitol and see Congress in session, make sure to plan your visit in advance!