From fireworks by the monuments to biking tours around town and holiday festivities, there are so many ways to explore DC this summer.
Sunny days, loads of free things to do and a cultural scene that doesn’t go on summer vacation make Washington, DC a cool place to be in hotter months. Check out the National Mall, where free festivals and museums lure, catch exciting baseball action at Nationals Park or make a splash at the District’s waterfronts. No matter which adventure you choose, you’ll find the capital city fascinating in summertime.
Kick off summer with Memorial Day weekend celebrations
There’s no better place to spend Memorial Day weekend than the District. Memorials are our specialty, and DC celebrates with unique and meaningful events recognizing the service and sacrifice of our active duty military and veterans. Experience the country’s largest Memorial Day parade, hear thousands of motorcycles roar through the District during the final Rolling Thunder "Ride for Freedom" and more during this start-of-summer holiday.
Discover free and affordable summer fun
Family on National Mall near Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture - Summer Vacation in Washington, DC
As you plan your family trip to DC, we’re here to remind you of all the free things to do this summer in the District. From Fourth of July fireworks and holiday concerts to special events like the Memorial Day parade, summer in the District makes for an unforgettable time that doesn’t have to hurt your wallet.
Take yourself out to the ballpark
There are plenty of reasons to check out DC’s Major League Baseball team, the Washington Nationals, who play their home games at Nationals Park on the bustling Capitol Riverfront. The state-of-the-art ballpark boasts terrific views, friendly fans and plenty of great places to eat, some of which offer up local brews and specialties from DC restaurants. During the fourth inning, the popular Presidents Race features costumed, jumbo-headed commander-in-chief lookalikes running – and sometimes cheating – their way to glory. And don't forget to score an exclusive discount and save big on Nationals tickets. Just go to the single game tickets page, select the game you wish to attend and enter the promotional code VISITDC to experience one of baseball’s most exciting teams in action.
Celebrate the Fourth of July amidst the monuments
There’s probably no city that’ll give you a more all-American, patriotic Independence Day than Washington, DC. Take in the pomp-and-circumstance-filled National Independence Day Parade in the morning along Constitution Avenue NW, then stake out a spot on the National Mall or across the Potomac River near the Marine Corps War Memorial (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial) in Arlington – or check out these other spots to watch the fireworks. The fireworks typically start just after 9 p.m. Basking in the rockets’ red, white and blue glare with a backdrop of glowing white monuments and memorials is an unforgettable – and highly Instagrammable – thrill.
Make a splash at DC's waterfronts
With two rivers, the Potomac and the Anacostia, and a number of fantastic waterfronts in different neighborhoods, DC is full of things to do on and near the water. Choose from awesome waterfront views, an array of stylish riverfront restaurants and plenty of waterfront activities for the perfect summer day in the District.
Explore music, crafts and more at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
The Smithsonian’s annual summer cultural treat brings crafters, musicians, cooks and artists to the National Mall for a free, fascinating festival taking place from June 29-30. This year’s event focuses on the social power of music. Expect plenty of family-friendly demonstrations, concerts and even more great reasons to check out this can't-miss summer festival.
Paddle a boat past the monuments
Family canoeing on Potomac River past Kennedy Center, Washington DC
You’ll get a new perspective on iconic structures like the Lincoln Memorial and the Kennedy Center if you see them via kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard. Rent boats and boards from Boating in DC's boathouses in Georgetown or on the Capitol Riverfront, then take off on your own or via a guided tour. Bird-watching and a good workout come with the deal.
Spot wildlife and water lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Dream you’re in a Monet painting at this serene, off-the-beaten-track park near Anacostia, where hundreds of water lilies, aquatic bamboo and wild flowers can be reached via boardwalks and pathways. Critters from blue herons to turtles also thrive here, and summer might be the most pleasant time to visit. Rangers lead free nature walks daily at 2 p.m.
Chill out on a rooftop or kick back on a patio
Friends at the O-Ku sushi restaurant rooftop near Union Market - The best rooftop bars and restaurants in Washington, DC
It's always the right time to take your outdoor dining experience to new heights by heading to these rooftop bars and restaurants. If terra firma is more your thing, the District is filled with delightful outdoor patios and beer gardens for your warm weather pleasure.
Catch a new museum exhibit
Family at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall - Free kid-friendly museum in Washington, DC
DC is a gallery-goers’ paradise, with showplaces devoted to everything from modern art to postage stamps. In a class all of its own, start your adventure at any of these DC museums, or for a truly interactive experience head to on of DC's kid-friendly museums and hands-on attractions that will transport the whole family from the ho-hum of touring to the “Wow!” of experiencing. In addition to the fabulous slate of museums along the National Mall, the District is also home to a vast collection of cool museums off the Mall.
Panda spot at the National Zoo
The free-to-enter Smithsonian National Zoo has the happy, totally cute honor of housing three pandas – cub Bei Bei, born in August 2015, and parents Mei Xang and Tian Tian. Watch them climb trees and gobble bamboo at the Panda House, or check out the red pandas, smaller Asian animals known for their climbing abilities.
Bike wherever you like
Yes, Capitol Hill is genuinely an incline, but most of DC’s major tourist zones are flat and filled with green spaces, bike lanes and trails. Capital Bikeshare, one of the largest cycle-share systems in the country, makes it easy to rent wheels and zip around town for an hour or a day. There are over 3,000 bikes and 300 stations around town.
Catch an outdoor flick
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. Find out when and where to catch an outdoor screening and turn summer nights into summer memories.
Groove to the smooth sounds of jazz
The DC Jazz Festival honors one of America’s greatest art forms with an annual summer showcase in DC. Many of the concerts are free, but there are so many more reasons to check it out. If that doesn't satisfy your jazz fix, don't miss out on Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden, a popular Friday evening event embarking on its 18th season.
Don't miss out on these signature summer events
There are seemingly endless can't-miss summer events and festivals where you can discover everything from the wonders of barbecue to interactive art. In fact, there are so many amazing choices that it can be tough to figure out which to attend. No worries – we’ve got you covered with some of the season’s biggest festivals perfect for having the best summer ever.
Go back in time at the National Museum of Natural History's Hall of Fossils
Fossils at the Natural History Museum's Deep Time exhibit - Free things to do on the National Mall in Washington, DC
On June 8, 2019 the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History will debut its new 31,000-square-foot fossil hall with this epic exhibit that connects our planet’s very distant past to the present and future. Visitors will be transported to ancient ecosystems, navigate through the evolution of life across billions of years and encounter roughly 700 fossil specimens along the way, including a T-rex and a woolly mammoth.
Enjoy a free performance at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Each year, Shakespeare Theatre Company hosts its special Free for All series, in which performances of one of The Bard’s classic plays are made available to the public, free of charge. This year's performance takes place from July 10-21 and will feature a contemporary take on Hamlet. Free tickets can be retrieved via online lottery or in-person the day of the show – visit their website for more details.
Savor delicious deals during Summer Restaurant Week
Summer in the District would not be complete without Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week, which runs this summer between Aug. 12-18. Throughout the promotion, over 100 restaurants across the DC area offer three-course, prix-fixe meals for brunch, lunch and dinner, with brunch and lunch priced at $22 and dinner at $35. And while you're dining out this summer, don't forget to check out DC's hottest restaurants.
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