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Free Things to Do: Summer in Washington, DC

Enjoy free virtual and in-person summer activities in Washington, DC.

Whether you're planning a summer trip to DC or celebrating the season as a local, we’re here to remind you of all the free things to do this summer in the District. From reopened museums to holiday events to virtual and in-person opportunities, summer in Washington, DC makes for an unforgettable time, and it doesn’t have to hurt your wallet.

As you plan your seasonal excursion, please make sure to check out our travel status update and what's open and reopening in the city.


Marvel at DC's incredible Fourth of July fireworks

It’s not summertime in the District without an epic Independence Day celebration featuring fireworks soaring over the iconic National Mall. After the music of 'A Capitol Fourth' concludes, the night sky lights up with a colorful display that you will never forget. Please note that plans for this year's Fourth of July celebrations have not yet been announced and will likely be impacted by COVID-19. Make sure to stay tuned to the event website for details. In case in-person revelry is an option, we've compiled a list of the best spots to watch the Fourth of July fireworks in Washington, DC.


Take a nighttime stroll around the monuments and memorials


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If you think DC’s National Mall is stunning during the day, you’re in for a treat when you explore its monuments and memorials on a summer night for the first time. The Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and World War II Memorial are all stunning in moonlight, as is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Picturesque moments await, which you should tag with #MyDCcool.


Catch an outdoor movie in one of DC’s scenic neighborhoods


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Summertime and movies go hand-in-hand. Yes, the biggest blockbusters are in theaters, but step your movie-going experience up a notch and relax outdoors while taking in a classic film or one you’ve never seen before. These outdoor movie screenings, which feature beautiful scenery, are often free to attend and all have social distancing and mask policies in place. Turn a summer night into a monumental memory.


Visit the Smithsonian Folklife Festival's virtual marketplace

One of DC’s most beloved summertime traditions, the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall, will continue with a virtual marketplace this year, as the 2021 in-person edition has been postponed. The festival has transferred its famous bazaar to the digital realm, where you can browse through handmade products from Armenia, Mexico, Peru, Kenya, Brazil and more.


Spend an afternoon at the National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden

The National Gallery of Art reopens its West Building on May 14, and its gorgeous outdoor sculpture garden is already open, making for the ideal spot for an afternoon stroll. Inside the West Building, you can discover thousands of essential works, organized by period and national origin and arranged in spectacular and comprehensive galleries across two floors of exhibition space.


Make a summer voyage to the Smithsonian's National Zoo

The Smithsonian's National Zoo will reopen on May 21. Its long-awaited return will be a welcome addition to the list of summer activities in the nation's capital, making for a free, family-friendly afternoon of seeing lions, tigers, bears, pandas and many, many more. Visit the Zoo's website for additional details of its reopening.


Pay your respects at the National Native American Veterans Memorial


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The National Native American Veterans Memorial is a fitting and outstanding addition to the grounds of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, located at 4th Street & Independence Avenue SW. The intimate space was designed by architect Harvey Pratt and opened on Veterans Day, 2020. The memorial is specifically tailored to inspire remembrance, reflection and healing as visitors contemplate the immense sacrifice of Native soldiers.


Experience the National Museum of African American History and Culture


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This monumental museum will officially reopen to the public with timed entry and safety policies in place on May 14. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is a state-of-the-art building that addresses nearly every aspect of the African American experience, covering the arts, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, athletics and much more. Make sure to visit the museum's website for more information regarding its reopening.


Gaze at lotus flowers and water lilies at he Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens


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Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens equals paradise for nature lovers, with its famous water lilies and lotus flowers providing picturesque scenery. The gardens even host an annual festival in honor of the plants, usually in July (note that the celebration could be virtual this year). There’s also plenty of space for picnicking and you may even spot some wildlife during your adventure!


Let the kids roam at one of the city’s splash zones

There’s nothing like some water-themed fun in the summertime. DC has plenty of options, including the Capitol Riverfront's Yards Park and its 11-inch basin and dancing fountains, Canal Park’s interactive fountain, Georgetown Waterfront Park’s 50-foot space and Petworth’s spray park. Please keep social distancing in mind when visiting these parks.


Cool off in the Kogod Courtyard


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Sharing a building with the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Kogod Courtyard makes for a perfect spot for an afternoon cool-down. There is plenty of space to lounge, an incredible roof that lets in natural light and even a cafe so that you can power up with a snack or drink. Fortunately, the entire building reopens on May 14, just in time for summer.


Discover Georgetown GLOW all summer long

After the 2020 edition was postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis, Georgetown GLOW has returned with a two-part series of outdoor installations, with the first lighting up DC’s most historic neighborhood through June 27. The region’s only free, curated, outdoor public light experience is open to all both day and night, and you can read up on the spring edition’s artists and installations (there are five in total) on Georgetown GLOW’s official website. The summer edition will run from July 2 – Sept. 26.


Travel back in time at the National Museum of American History

The National Museum of American History, which reopens on May 21, is located on Constitution Avenue NW and runs along the National Mall. Through research, in-depth exhibits, extensive collections and public outreach, the museum presents America’s history in all of its complexity. The museum's collection features more than three million artifacts, from Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz to sheet music written by DC legend Duke Ellington.


Go virtual for free with the Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle

Usually held in-person on Pennsylvania Avenue, the National Capital Barbecue Battle will offer a virtual experience this year, from May 28 to June 30. The event will feature free live streamed performances from Dirty Heads and Elle King along with BBQ recipes, an online kids' zone, health and wellness information, a sports experience and more.

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