Washington DC’s National Mall is home to some of the best Smithsonian museums in the country, and here’s how to visit them for less.

While there aren’t many free activity options in DC, there are a selection of free museums to choose from. Below is a list of museums you can explore for free in the National Mall. They carry all the history that might interest visitors, in one place. Visitors can delve into classic art and science and learn about the world of aviation while touring the National Mall.

Most of these museums are part of the Smithsonian Institutions – a large network of research institutions and museums – which are open daily except Christmas Day. These spots offer a great way to spend quality family time while learning on the go, and they’re accessible to people of all ages.

The National Museums of the Smithsonian Institutions

Below is a list of the free museums Smithsonian Institutions have to offer in the National Mall. They are a great way to learn a lot at no cost.

The National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is recognized as the most visited natural history museum in the world, thanks to its collections of more than 127 million collectibles. They opened in 1910 and have since collected items such as dinosaur bones, ancient Egyptian mummies, the Hope Diamond and more. They have an in-depth exhibit that takes guests back millions of years as they see dinosaur fossils from the past and learn about extinctions. They will also have the opportunity to learn about the development of life from the depths of the ocean to the shores. Parking at the mall is scarce, so it is recommended to use public transport to get there.

  • Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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The National Museum of the American Indian

The museum’s collections evoke more than 12,000 historical years and more than 1,200 Native American beliefs.

Several current exhibitions are housed at the museum, including:

  • Returning to a place of origin: Algonquian Peoples of the Chesapeake, this exhibition aims to allow guests to meet the indigenous peoples of the Chesapeake Bay with their collections of photographs, maps, traditional objects and collaborative exhibits.
  • The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire takes visitors back to Andean beliefs to experience the fundamentals of the Inka route. Visitors can expect to learn about the technologies that prepared the Inka world and ensured its legacy is possible today.

Like the rest of the museums, admission is free during working hours.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

It is the only museum that devotes its documentation to African-American life. It opened in 2016. The National Museum of African American History and Culture documents all aspects of African American cultural experiences from the civil rights movement, the arts, athletics, slavery and more. Moreover. The exterior of the building was constructed by Ghanaian-born engineer David Adjaye and it is beautifully sculpted to be a three-story bronze screen. The fretwork is a tribute to imprisoned African Americans in the American South back in history.

The museum has an amazing collection of artwork including:

  • A shawl given to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria
  • An aircraft used for training by the Tuskegee Institute
  • The official invitation to the inauguration of former President Barack Obama in 2009

The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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The National Art Gallery

This museum focuses on preserving the finest works of art by Da Vinci and other famous artists. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, the National Gallery of Art extends its walls over two buildings and preserves art from different walks of life. It has around 141,000 paintings, images, sculptures and new media dating back to the Middle Ages.

The building was undergoing renovations over the past three years and now has even finer art collections to display to those interested, such as:

  • Barbara Kruger
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Alexander Calder
  • Marc Rothko

In winter, the National Gallery of Art also has an outdoor skating rink which sits in the center of the garden. It is a big attraction for parents traveling with children.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This museum is bittersweet to visit. It serves as a tribute and memorial to the Holocaust – one of the worst cases of genocide the world has seen to date. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is solely intended to enlighten all guests who walk through their doors about the dangers of hating one another and to teach them how the world can live in perfect harmony. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5:20 p.m. and is free, however, they charge $1 to enter the exhibit where the story of the Holocaust, from 1933 to 1945, is told.

All other parts of the museum are free to enter. Some of the exhibits include:

  • Cambodia: 1975-1979
  • Genocide: the threat continues
  • Remember the Children: The Story of Daniel
  • A Dangerous Lie: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Although being in this museum is a depressing activity as it brings to mind all the tragedy the world had to go through to be here today, it teaches the visitor so much more about appreciating the lives of others and the simple act of kindness.

These museums are open to the public every day and are free. For any visitor who wants to learn more about historical events on a shoestring budget, these are the museums to start and grow from there.

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