85+ Free Things to Do in Washington, D.C. (With Kids or Without)
Looking for free things to do in Washington DC? Whether you are visiting DC with kids or without, we have you covered with this long list of over 85 things to do with kids in DC without spending a cent!
Free Things to do in DC
Out of the big city destinations in the United States, Washington, D.C. is by far the most kid-friendly place to visit. Not only are most attractions well-suited for visitors of all ages and capacities, but they are also free to the public.
Each destination has its own curated events and hands-on activities for the young and old. Families can spend a week in DC without spending a dime on sightseeing or activities, and yet, will leave overflowing with knowledge, fun experiences, and memories to last a lifetime.
There’s no shortage of free things to do in the capital of the United States. With great walking shoes on, you can reach many attractions that are just a stone’s throw away from each other. It’s also quite easy to navigate and hop on the Metro to get to a few fun places that are not within walking distance.
We’ve compiled a list of fun things to see and do in Washington DC that are free. To make it easier we have broken it up into the following and let you know how many options in each section so that you can skip if you wish:
- Government Buildings
- Religious Centers
- Gardens and Zoo’s
- Theater and Musical Shows & Performances
- Other free things to do in DC with kids
Unless otherwise stated, everything is suitable for kids of all ages, and best of all, free.
Museums (29) – Free things to do in DC
There are so many museums in DC that are family friendly and a lot of them are free: Make sure you also check out our Museums in DC for Kids post with our top picks!
1. African American Civil War Memorial Museum
This museum commemorates the largely ignored historic contribution of the African Americans who fought in the Civil War and preserves the sacrifice these brave men endured to end slavery and keeping the United States united under one flag.
More information: https://www.afroamcivilwar.org/
2. Anderson House
This is the historic headquarters to the Society of the Cincinnati, the hereditary society founded in 1783 that primarily safeguards the ideals and fellowship of Continental Army officers who served in the Revolutionary War such as assisting members, their widows, and orphans in need.
More information: https://www.societyofthecincinnati.org/
3. Art Museum of the Americas
This facility is the first and oldest U.S. art museum entirely dedicated to highlight art works of modern and contemporary art from Latin America and the Caribbean, and to promote democracy, justice, peace, and solidarity among its member countries.
More information: http://www.museum.oas.org/
4. Daughters of the American Revolution Museum
The Daughters of the American Revolution, aka DAR is a non-political, non-profit volunteer women’s service organization devoted to preserving American history, fostering patriotism, and fortifying America’s future through better education for kids.
More information: https://www.dar.org/museum
5. Dumbarton Oaks Museum
This Research Library and Collection features Byzantine and Pre-Columbian artifacts and Western medieval and Renaissance art. The garden, with ticket purchase, presents a breathtaking panoramic view of the entire estate.
More information: https://www.doaks.org/visit/museum
6. Frederick Douglass House
Born into slavery in the 1800s, Frederick Douglass spent his entire life fighting fiercely and tirelessly for equality, justice, inclusiveness, and the abolitionist movement. His legacy is preserved at this historic site. Live actor, tours, and other workshops for children and teens are among the programs offered here.
More information: https://www.nps.gov/frdo/index.htm
7. Freer | Sackler Galleries
The Freer Sackler Galleries are two Smithsonian museums that both care for the world’s most significant collections of Asian art. Explore Asia through exhibits of its art, performances, family programs, workshops, and other free activities at these galleries.
More information: https://www.freersackler.si.edu/
8. Historical Society of Washington DC
This center features archives, photographs, art, and other collections of diverse stories about the United States capital. This place is meant to gather visitors and residents alike, learn from each other, and build each other, and strengthen a sense of community.
More information: http://www.dchistory.org/
9. Holocaust Memorial Museum
This facility is a powerful and chilling living memorial to the Holocaust, which is the systematic persecution and murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and its allies. The museum hopes to impart a lasting lesson concerning human dignity, preventing genocide, confronting hatred, as well as preserving democratic values.
Due to the intensity of some of the featured video footages and photographs, this museum is more appropriate for mature audiences; however, accompanied by an adult, children are certainly welcome.
More information: https://www.ushmm.org/
10. National Gallery of Art
This art museum preserves, collects, exhibits, and fosters understanding of thousands of the most significant European and American works of art from the Renaissance to the present day. The museum also offers family workshops, seasonal concerts, public tours, teen programs, and other kid-friendly activities.
More information: https://www.nga.gov/
11. National Portrait Gallery
This gallery features portraits of individuals who have significantly contributed and shaped the history, culture, and progression of the American people. This museum offers Girl Scout programs, story time, interactive workshops, and other family programs.
More information: https://npg.si.edu/
12. National Postal Museum
This museum is devoted entirely to America’s postal history and philately. Family programs include stamp creation, writing postcards, sorting packages, and making a stamp collection.
More information: https://postalmuseum.si.edu/
13. Naval Memorial Heritage Center
This museum celebrates, honors, and recognizes the American sailor, its history, present, and future through interesting and interactive exhibits. Additionally, twice a week, the museum offers free concerts and movies on Memorial Plaza.
More information: https://www.navymemorial.org/
14. Renwick Gallery
This gallery showcases life-size, 3D, breathtaking, and vivid works of art by American contemporary and innovative artists. Many of the exhibits are interactive and captivating even to the youngest of audiences.
More information: https://americanart.si.edu/visit/renwick
15. Smithsonian American Art Museum
Featuring art from colonial period to today, African American art, Latino art, contemporary crafts, and American impressionist paintings among others, this museum is home to one of the most inclusive collections of American works of art in the world.
More information: https://americanart.si.edu/
16. Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum
This museum is devoted wholly to Washington, D.C.’s diverse populations, exploring effects of social issues and promoting unity and empowerment. Featured films and guest speakers are among the events offered here.
More information: https://anacostia.si.edu/
17. Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building
This facility is the United States’ first National museum and the second oldest of the Smithsonian museums in D.C. Visitors can admire the best-preserved example of 19th century architecture.
More information: https://aib.si.edu/
18. Smithsonian Castle
Located on the National mall with its towering red exterior, the Castle is home to the Smithsonian Visitor Center where you can learn about the Smithsonian Institution, tour the Castle, and consult with experts for activities in the Smithsonian museums.
More information: https://www.si.edu/museums/smithsonian-institution-building
19. Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
This modern and contemporary art museum house the most important, world-class collections of postwar American and European art with innovative and hands-on exhibitions and performances.
More information: https://hirshhorn.si.edu/
20. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
This museum conserves the world’s largest and most important collection of artifacts, art, and materials in the world of flight and space. Families can enjoy and learn from hands-on activities and exhibits, the Planterium, and discovery stations.
More information: https://airandspace.si.edu/
21. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
This facility collects, preserves, and archives visual arts, articles, exhibitions, books, catalogs, and other materials of visual arts in the United States.
More information: https://www.aaa.si.edu/
22. Smithsonian National Museum of African Art
This museum facilitates and inspires interest about the impact, beauty, and diversity of African arts and cultures worldwide through interesting exhibits and hands-on activities such as family game day and portrait day.
More information: https://africa.si.edu/
23. Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
The only national museum of its kind, this facility highlights the African American life, culture, and history as well as the efforts and contributions of African Americans. Families are welcomed with interactive events such as STEM in the Classroom, and music and cultural performances.
More information: https://nmaahc.si.edu/
24. Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Dedicated to everything American, this museum gives an in-depth look into America’s rich and complex history through remarkable installations and fascinating exhibits for visitors of all ages. Fun, interactive spaces include Spark!Lab and Wonderplace designed especially for children.
More information: https://americanhistory.si.edu/
25. Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
This museum highlights the Native people with an expansive collection of artifacts representing over 12,000 years of history, life, and culture. In addition to a kid-friendly activity center, among other events include basket-weaving, tipi-building, and storytelling.
More information: https://americanindian.si.edu/
26. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
With world-class exhibits and a vast collection of objects and research, delve into our planet’s stunning story that unfolds in this museum. Learn about our world’s billions of years of transformation as you engage in science experiments, handle microscopes, touch bugs, and enjoy a butterfly sanctuary.
More information: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/
27. National Museum of Women in the Arts is free on the first Sunday of every month.
The only museum in the world devoted solely to promoting women through the arts. Family events include teen workshops, speaking with artists, and films. This museum is free on the first Sunday of every month.
More information: https://nmwa.org/
In the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area:
28. National Museum of the Marine Corps
Serves as an enduring tribute to past, present, and future U.S. Marines, this museum boasts world-class interactive exhibits immersing visitors of all ages in the life of a Marine. Kids can spend time at the Children’s Gallery after admiring Marine figures that were crafted from the cast of a real Marine holding their positions for hours.
More information: https://www.usmcmuseum.com/
29. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
This is a companion facility to the museum located on the National Mall. Here, children can enjoy hands-on activities, the observation tower, simulators, story times, as well as marvel at a Concorde, a Lockheed SR-71, and the Space Shuttle Discovery, which was the third Space Shuttle to fly in space.
More information: https://airandspace.si.edu/udvar-hazy-center
Memorials (12)– Free things to do in DC
The grand and stately memorials are among the biggest must-see tourist attractions in the District, and if you are looking for free things to do in DC, these should be on the top of your list.
Many of these memorials are open 24/7 all-year-round, so you don’t need to worry about scheduling reservations in advance. The National Park Service Rangers conduct free tours and other special programs throughout the year that you and your family can take advantage of. For free, tip-based tours, visit DC by foot at https://freetoursbyfoot.com/washington-dc-tours/. Otherwise, we listed the memorials below in order for a self-guided walking tour. When and if you get tired of walking, the city is riddled with electric scooters and bikes available for rent.
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
- Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- Abraham Lincoln Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- WWII Memorial
8. Washington Monument
Visitors can visit and take an elevator to the top of the Washington monument for a breathtaking view of Washington, D.C.
More information: https://www.nps.gov/wamo/index.htm
- Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial
- Pentagon 9/11 Memorial
- Air Force Memorial
- Albert Einstein Memorial
Government Buildings (11) – Free things to do in DC
There are various Government buildings to visit when looking for free things to do in DC
1. Library of Congress
This beautiful architecture is the largest library in the world boasting millions of books, manuscripts, newspapers, maps, photographs, and recordings. In addition to its stellar collection, visitors can enjoy exhibits, concerts, summer movies on the lawn, and classes.
More information: https://www.loc.gov/
2. U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court of justice in the United States for all cases emerging under the Constitution or the laws of the U.S. Here, visitors can go on a self-guided tour, attend court sessions, and partake in educational programs such as Courtroom Lectures, court-related exhibitions, and Visitor Film.
More information: https://www.supremecourt.gov/
3. Folger Shakespeare Library
This is an independent research library that houses the largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare in the world. In addition to finding rare materials from the early modern period, families can enjoy Shake Up Your Saturday where visitors are encouraged to develop acting skills and experience Shakespeare.
More information: https://www.folger.edu/
4. Embassies – Passport DC
During the month of May, embassies in Washington, D.C. open their doors and provide visitors a chance to travel the world as they learn about different cultures, experience scrumptious food, phenomenal art, traditional dances, fashion, and music. Children are sure to be enthralled as they witness martial arts demonstrations, sari wrapping lessons, craft-making, henna demonstrations, and dance performances.
More information: https://www.culturaltourismdc.org/portal/signature-events
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the Department of Defense. Spanning about 6.34 million square feet and serving over 26,000 employees, the Pentagon is one of the world’s largest office buildings and one of the most secure places in the United States. Despite its massive size, but because of its architectural design, it only takes about 7 minutes to walk from one end to another. U.S. citizens must request a tour well in advance, while international visitors must request via their home country’s embassy.
More information: https://pentagontours.osd.mil/Tours/
6. The White House
Housing The Executive Branch of the United States government, the White House is the official workplace and residence of the president of the United States and every president dating back to the 1800s with John Adams. The White House is open to anyone. U.S. citizens must submit a request through one’s Member of Congress, while international visitors must contact their home country’s embassy located in D.C.
More information: https://www.whitehouse.gov/
7. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Families can learn more about the U.S. paper currency and how it’s made as they take a 40-minute tour which includes a video and a tour of the production process.
More information: https://www.moneyfactory.gov/washingtondctours.html
8. National Archives
The National Archives preserves and documents government and historical records such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Magna Carta.
More information: https://www.archives.gov/dc
9. FBI Building
The public can’t technically visit the FBI Headquarters; however, the FBI Education Center can still be toured by U.S. citizens and permanent residence holders with advance planning by submitting a request to your Congressman.
More information: https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/fbi-headquarters/the-fbi-experience
10. U.S. Capitol
Often referred to as the Capitol Building houses the United States Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. Visitors can enjoy a tour of the beautiful building, watch Congress in session, and learn about the different works of art throughout the Capitol.
More information: https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/
11. Ford’s Theatre
This popular tourist destination is the historic site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. This theatre not only exhibits where the assassination occurred and explains the lasting impact of it, but it’s also a live theatre that regularly presents musicals, plays, dramas, and other live performances. Tickets are $3.
More information: https://www.fords.org/
Religious Centers (4) – Free things to do in DC
Free things to do in DC include many religious centers.
1. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
This is a beautiful Shrine that is a definite must-see for visitors. Everyone is welcome to attend church service, but even if you and your family are not religious, there are plenty of things to do and see such as listening to organ recitals, viewing breathtaking art, learning about the history, walking in the garden, and simply admiring the architecture.
More information: https://www.nationalshrine.org/
2. Franciscan Monastery
Another beautiful church for visitors to enjoy. There are daily pilgrimages and seasonal tours of the beautiful garden. Visit the shop that helps employ Christian artisans.
More information: https://myfranciscan.org/
3. Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle
Visit this cathedral to attend service, see extraordinary mosaics and murals, and listen to choirs and instrumental groups.
More information: https://www.stmatthewscathedral.org/
4. Washington National Cathedral
Visit this cathedral on Sundays and enjoy a free tour of the grand architecture, attend Sunday service, listen to uplifting music, and admire splendid murals, statues, and mosaics.
More information: https://cathedral.org/
Parks (5) – Free things to do in Washington DC
If you are looking to chill out or go for a walk, there are plenty of fantastic parks in DC that are family friendly.
1. Gravelly Point
Located within the George Washington Memorial Parkway near Ronald Reagan airport, this picturesque park has a big open field and plenty of space to play sports, ride bikes, and best of all, watch airplanes loudly descend just above your head.
More information: https://www.virginia.org/listings/OutdoorsAndSports/GravellyPoint/
2. Hains Point
A convenient spot near the Potomac river to relax, enjoy the scenery, go fishing, biking, running, or simply playing at the playground.
More information: https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/250015
3. Meridian Hill Park
A beautiful park that boasts a dramatic thirteen-basin cascade fountain, Joan of Arc and Dante statues, and a James Buchanan Memorial.
More information: https://www.nps.gov/places/meridian-hill-park.htm
4. Rock Creek Park
A hidden gem in the nation’s capital, this park offers trails, wild animals, majestic trees, biking, picnic areas, tennis, horse trails, kayaking, canoeing, playgrounds and more.
More information: https://www.nps.gov/rocr/index.htm
5. The Yards Park
Located by the Anacostia river, this waterfront destination provides dancing fountains, Friday night concerts, workout sessions, and other special events and festivals throughout the year.
More information: https://www.capitolriverfront.org/yards-park
Botanical Gardens and Zoos (7) – Free things to do in DC
Lots of options for free things to do in DC if you are looking to get close to nature.
1. U.S. National Arboretum
The Arboretum features beautiful gardens filled with an incredible array of plants and flowers. The picturesque grounds and the 22 columns which were a part of the U.S. Capitol from 1828 to 1958 provide opportunities for wonderful family photos.
More information: https://www.usna.usda.gov/
2. United States Botanical Garden
Committed to demonstrate the significance of plants to the overall well-being of mankind, the U.S. Botanic Garden features not only a wide variety of plants including rare and endangered ones, but also family activities such as the Plant Explorer’s Field Journal, Junior Botanist program, playing in the garden, and a holiday show with concerts, plant-based creations, and a train room.
More information: https://www.usbg.gov/
3. Smithsonian National Zoo
Open 364 days a year, this free zoo boasts Giant Pandas, Sumatran tigers, sloths, and cheetahs. The kids will love watching orangutans travel along the O-Line – a 50-foot high suspended cable track, pet farm animals, and watch Asian elephants up close.
More information: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/
4. White House Garden Tours
Two weekends in a year during spring and autumn, the public can visit the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, South Lawn of the White House, Rose Garden, and White House Kitchen Garden. Free timed tickets are required and may be obtained near the corner of Constitution Ave. and 15th St NW.
More information: https://whitehouse.gov1.info/visit/white-house-garden-tour.html
5. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Visitors at this park enjoy painting, having picnics, photographing wildlife, relaxing, leisurely walks, and wildlife viewing. The historic ponds and the lush aquatic vegetation are a sight to behold.
More information: https://www.nps.gov/keaq/index.htm
6. Dumbarton Oaks
Located in the charming Georgetown neighborhood, this historic estate is a library, museum, a garden, and a Harvard University research institute. While there is a fee to visit the garden in the summer, in the winter it is completely free. Admission to the museum is also free daily except Monday when it’s closed.
More information: https://www.doaks.org/
7. Tudor Place Self-Guided Garden Tour
This grand residence is one of America’s first National Historic Landmarks. It is also one of the last intact urban estates in America dating back from the Federal Period. Visit the garden on a self-guided tour for a small fee ($3).
More information: https://www.tudorplace.org/
Theater and Musical Shows & Performances (5) – Free things to do in DC
Usually these options cost, however there are some free options
1. National Harbor’s Movies on the Potomac
Located just south of Washington, D.C., National Harbor offers a great night out atmosphere for families with a fantastic view of the Potomac, incredible fireworks display, and free movies.
More information: https://www.nationalharbor.com/movies-on-the-potomac/
2. Sculpture Garden: Jazz in the Garden
The National Gallery of Art’s summer tradition provides tourists and locals alike a fun evening at the Sculpture Garden with jazz music and dancing.
More information: https://www.nga.gov/press/jazz.html
3. National Theatre
Visit the National Theatre on Saturday mornings for a series of free, interactive events for children filled with puppets, dancing, music, and other performances!
More information: http://thenationaldc.com/saturday-morning-national/
4. Kennedy Center
Every evening at 6 p.m., the Kennedy Center hosts free performances for everyone featuring international, national, and local talents. Seating is limited, so be sure to go early.
More information: https://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/programs
5. Jazz Series: Take 5! At the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Every third Thursday, the American Art Museum hosts free concerts in the Kogod Courtyard. Grab refreshments from the café or pack your own dinner, while you enjoy some lively music.
More information: https://americanart.si.edu/events/jazz-series-take-five
DC Outdoor Films – Free things to do in DC
Every week, this organization hosts a free movie screening around sunset. There are many locations throughout the DMV area.
More information: hhttp://www.dcoutdoorfilms.com/
Military Band Summer Performances – Free things to do in DC
Every summer of each weeknight of week, the military bands perform at the west side steps of the U.S. Capitol. Bring lawn chairs and food and enjoy some great music from some of America’s service members.
- U.S. Navy Band: Monday evenings
- U.S. Air Force Band: Tuesday evenings
- U.S. Marine Band and U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps: Wednesday evenings
- U.S. Marine Band, U.S. Army Band, U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps: Thursday evenings
- U.S. Army Band: Friday evenings
More information: https://www.aoc.gov/news/military-bands-capitol-summer-concert-series
- Sunset Parade
This is a one-hour performance paying homage to those whose “uncommon valor was a common virtue.” Featuring marching and musical units from Washington D.C.’s Marine Barracks, this free parade is a must-see when visiting D.C.
More information: https://www.barracks.marines.mil/Parades/Sunset-Parade/
Fort Reno Concert Series
This is an all-volunteer institution that hosts free shows during the summer on Monday and Thursday evenings. Families and pets are welcome to bring picnic dinners while enjoying a myriad of young and seasoned bands.
More information: http://www.fortreno.com/
This is a civic-profit organization that offers pay-what-you-will tickets to a select number of performances. The tickets are available online or at Woolly box office. Each person can get two tickets and the minimum purchase price is $5 for tickets that are worth at least $35.
More information: https://www.woollymammoth.net/box-office/pay-what-you-will-nights
Other Free things to do in DC
There are so many free things to do in DC, here are some that don’t fit in our categories above.
1. Arlington National Cemetery
A solemn destination, this cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of thousands of active duty service members, veterans, and their families. Among the must-see spots are JFK’s resting place and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
More information: https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Visit
2. Historic Georgetown
Other than the charming shops, trendy restaurants, and cobblestone streets, Georgetown offers a lively nightlife, C & O Canal bike trails, and Georgetown Waterfront park.
More information: https://washington.org/dc-neighborhoods/georgetown
3. Old Town Alexandria
Located in Northern Virginia, but easily accessible by Metro from Washington, D.C., Old Town Alexandria is rich with history, vibrant nightlife, restaurants, and picturesque views. Visit George Washington’s hometown and go on a tour, see the church he and his family attended, admire the Torpedo Factory Art Center, and learn from the Alexandria Black History Museum.
More information: https://www.visitalexandriava.com/old-town-alexandria/
4. D.C. by Foot tour
A company run by guides, this is a group that offers free and name-your-own-price walking tours 365 days of the year.
More information: https://freetoursbyfoot.com/washington-dc-tours/
5. Eastern Market
For over 130 years, this market has served the community with fresh food, events, farm-fresh produce, and handmade works of art by locals. Nestled in the heart of the historic Capitol Hill, this quaint destination is sure to have something for all ages.
More information: http://easternmarket-dc.org/
6. Union Market
An authentic market of diverse cultures and commerce, among the events this urban spot hosts are fitness programs, weekly bingo, watercolor cocktails, art galleries, and vibrant cuisines.
More information: https://unionmarketdc.com/
7. Tidal Basin and Cherry Blossom Festival
Truly a sight to behold, one of the most sought-after events in D.C. is the Cherry Blossom Festival that occurs for about two weeks in March, when the beautiful cherry blossom trees surrounding the Tidal Basin reveals its magnificent blooms.
More information: https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/
8. National Mall
Home to the stately monuments and Smithsonian museums, the National Mall is hard to miss when visiting D.C. It’s often a location for several events throughout the year such as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, 4th of July firework show, and concerts.
More information: https://www.nps.gov/nama/index.htm
9. The Wharf
Situated by the Potomac river, this waterfront destination does not disappoint with its thriving community, glorious restaurants, ice rink, kayak rentals, the fish market, activities for kids, fitness groups, and vibrant nightlife.
More information: https://www.wharfdc.com/
So many FREE things to do in DC with kids or not
I hope these free things to do in DC will fill your days whether you are visiting DC on a family holiday or live locally. Let us know if you have any other free things to do in DC with kids or not and we can add them to the list!
Author: Regine Orme is a writer and mother of 3 young children based in DC. She traveled extensively before children, and now continues to do so with her family. They have been living in and exploring Washington, DC for the past 7 years.