7 free museums in D.C. you need to check out

Planning a visit to Washington, D.C.? Here are some must-see, free museums to visit while you’re there.

There are so many incredible museums to visit in Washington, D.C. And the best part? Admission to many of them is complimentary. You can explore art, science, history and culture without paying a dime.

Keep reading to learn about seven of D.C.’s must-see, free museums. You’ll find out when they’re open, whether you need passes to get in and more.1 

1. National Gallery of Art 

The National Gallery of Art is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. No passes are required for entry. 

The National Gallery has rotating exhibitions, a sculpture garden and even an ice skating rink in the colder months. 

While entry to the museum is free, you’ll have to pay if you want to ice skate. The ice skating rink also has different operating hours than the museum does and may be closed due to weather. 

2. Smithsonian Castle 

The Smithsonian Institution’s signature building is known as the Castle. It’s where you can find the Smithsonian Visitor Center. The Castle is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. 

According to its website, the Smithsonian Institution “is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex.” And some of the museums you’ll read more about below—like the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the National Museum of Natural History—are part of the Smithsonian Institution. 

The Castle can be a great place to begin your Smithsonian journey. You can see highlights from some Smithsonian museums and consult with Smithsonian experts about what you should see—all while appreciating the Castle’s 19th-century architecture. 

Admission is free for all D.C. Smithsonian museums, including the Castle. And you only need timed-entry passes for the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the National Zoo.

3. National Museum of African American History & Culture 

The National Museum of African American History & Culture is a more recent addition to D.C.’s museums. It opened to the public in 2016. And according to the museum’s website, it’s “the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.”

Keep in mind that you have to reserve a free pass for a specific date and time slot. 

You can reserve passes up to 30 days in advance. Plus there are a limited number of passes available each day. You can also see whether the museum is hosting any special events you might want to check out while you’re there. 

4. National Museum of Natural History 

The National Museum of Natural History says its collections help “tell the history of the planet and are a record of human interaction with the environment and one another.” 

It can be a great place for families of all ages to go explore the history of Earth through exhibitions and interactive activities. 

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. It’s closed Mondays, Tuesdays and Dec. 25. And you don’t need passes.

5. National Museum of the American Indian

The Smithsonian says that the National Museum of the American Indian “cares for one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native objects, photographs, and media, covering the entire Western Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego.”

The museum doesn’t require passes. It’s open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, but may be closed on some holidays. It also hosts various exhibitions and events throughout the year.

6. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 

Its website says that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum “inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.”

Tickets to the museum are timed entry and can be reserved months in advance. 

A limited number of tickets will also be available for same-day reservations. You can check for these starting at 7 a.m. on the day you want to visit. 

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday. And it’s closed on Wednesdays, Yom Kippur and Dec. 25. The museum also hosts a variety of special events.

7. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

In the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, there’s a large collection of modern and contemporary art both inside the museum and outside in the garden. 

The Hirshhorn is currently open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, and closed Dec. 25. And the sculpture garden is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You don’t need passes to get into either.

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