Visiting Washington, DC: Ten Free Museums

If you’ve been following along with this series on visiting Washington, D.C., you’re now well versed regarding tours of government buildings and museums that charge an entrance fee. One of the things we locals love about our fair city, though, is how many FREE attractions we have. Most people know about the things you will find on Capitol Hill and the National Mall, but this city is also home to a host of other wonderful collections of history and culture. Here are ten free museums you may want to try to fit into your itinerary when you visit:

Anderson House

Explore the Society’s historic headquarters, Anderson House, a National Historic Landmark in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Since 1938, the Society has made its headquarters at Anderson House, where it has worked to advance its mission to honor the men and women who won American independence in the Revolutionary War. The tour reveals the history of the Society of the Cincinnati, the significance of the American Revolution, and the lives and collections of the home’s first owners, Larz and Isabel Anderson.


Photo By: Ser Amantio di Nicolao (Wikimedia Commons)

Art Museum of the Americas

This museum, formally established in 1976 by the Organization of American States, is primarily devoted to exhibiting works of modern and contemporary art from Latin America and the Caribbean. Their collection represents numerous significant artistic trends that have developed in Latin America, including new figuration, geometric abstraction and lyrical, conceptual art, optical and kinetic art, among other movements.

DAR Museum

The collections of this women’s service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children, include over 30,000 objects — decorative arts, costumes, quilts and needlework — reflecting the material culture and social history of the United States prior to 1840. If you can’t make it to DC, you can take a Virtual Tour of the museum’s period rooms, view Current and Past Exhibitions, or see Featured Museum Objects online.

Folger Shakespeare Library

Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger welcomes scholars, arts lovers, teachers, students, and other visitors. It is home to the world’s largest collection of materials relating to Shakespeare and his works, from the 16th century to the present day, as well as a world-renowned collection of books, manuscripts, and prints from Renaissance Europe.

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

Remember this from history class? Ford’s Theatre was the site of the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. After being shot, the mortally wounded president was carried across the street to the Petersen House, where he died the next morning. Together, the theater and the house are administered as a single historic site by the National Park Service. (At the Library of Congress, you can also see the items Mr. Lincoln had in his pockets that night.)


Library of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

The National Park Service would love to show you around the last home of Frederick Douglass. He lived here from 1878 until his death in 1895. His home provided the backdrop to his active political and warm family life. The spacious estate and well-furnished rooms are a testament to Douglass’ lifelong struggle to overcome entrenched prejudice. His personal belongings, home furnishings, books, photographs of family and friends can be seen in the very place where Douglass and his family used them. They provide a unique insight into his personal and public life, family, home, and interests.

Gallaudet University Museum

The world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students provides this venue for sharing cultural information, history, and stories through its artifacts, films it screens, and artwork. It promotes the open exchange of ideas about what it means to be deaf – and conversely, what it means to be hearing. (Hint: It’s relatively close to the National Arboretum.)

National Postal Museum

This Smithsonian museum a few blocks north of the US Capitol houses one of the largest philatelic and postal history collections in the world. Visitors can walk along a Colonial post road, ride with the mail in a stagecoach, browse through a small town post office from the 1920s, receive free stamps to start a collection and more.


Chinese Juniper

US National Arboretum

If you’ve got a green thumb, make time to visit this gem of the United States Department of Agriculture. Many of the ornamental and flowering trees and shrubs and herbaceous garden plants found in cities, towns, and home landscapes throughout the United States were developed by USNA scientists. My favorite highlights of this attraction are the National Herb Garden and the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. The former is the largest designed herb garden in the nation — with annual, perennial, and woody herbal plants; the latter is one of the largest of its kind in North America. And best of all, they’re open every day except Christmas! (They’re not accessible by Metro train, but they do have a Capital Bikeshare station at their R Street entrance.)

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