Washington DC tends to feel like it has come to a standstill during a federal government shutdown. However, this is far from the truth. While several Washington DC museums shutdown, many are still open.
You may not be able to visit the National Zoo or the Smithsonian Museums, but you do have options.
Free museum entry for Federal Employees
We love our free DC museums, but the city has several fee-based museums that are always worth a visit. Now is not the time to stay home and do nothing.
The government shutdown affects so many people. We love seeing how organizations are showing love and respect to those struggling right now by giving back, even through free museum admission.
Federal workers with an employee ID can get free entry to many of the city’s museums while on furlough. You just have to know where to ask. Keep an eye out for discounts, free admissions and specials. Many are being announced on local news stations and on the individual museum sites.
Washington DC Museums Worth the Price
Four of our favorite Washington DC museums to pay for dive into a little espionage, the history of buildings, great photos taken across the globe, and innovations in art.
National Building Museum
The National Building Museum is quite possibly our favorite fee-based museum in Washington, DC in the summer months. This is because it brings in an incredible exhibit every year that has lines out the door. Yes, these exhibits are that good.
Thankfully, the museum got wise and now offers timed tickets so you don’t have to wait in a three-hour line just to see the exhibit.
Our favorite exhibit to date—The Beach, a giant ball pit, installed back in 2015 that was designed by Snarkitecture. This creative firm showed up again with Fun House in 2018, and a mini beach in the form of “The Pool.”
Other times of the year, this museum still offers up loads of fun for kids and adults of all ages. Play Work Build can keep kids from 0 to 10 busy for hours while their parents play Candy Crush on their phone.
Building Zone, specifically designed for ages 2 through 6, introduces young architects to the elements that go into building and design. Parents are welcome to help, but don’t be surprised when the kids kick you out.
Adults will enjoy revolving exhibits like Secret Cities, a display that dives into the life within the Manhattan Project. Other great exhibits have included Evicted and Flickering Treasures; one that tells the immersive tale of low-income renter evictions, while the other celebrates the long cinematic history of Baltimore.
Read more reviews HERE
In no way associated with the government, ARTECHOUSE is protected from the effects of the government shutdown and ready for visitors to explore. This art house brings together artists and technology in news ways to challenge the way we think and look at art. Come in, pull up a bean bag and let your mind wander through experiential imagery.
ARTECHOUSE is also home to the the first U.S. Augmented Reality bar serving drinks activated with its free AR mobile app. Cheers everyone!
Read more reviews HERE
National Geographic Museum
The National Geographic Museum may be closed for installation of a new exhibit. Check the website before you head out.
The National Geographic Museum has a revolving door of exhibits going on throughout the year. There is no permanent collection to check out every day.
This museum generally features two traveling exhibits at once, so catch each while it is on display. Past exhibits include the The Greeks, Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaelogy, Spinosaurus and Mars Up Close.
Read more reviews HERE
International Spy Museum
While young children may not be as into the Washington, DC International Spy Museum, older siblings and parents will love it. Several hands-on exhibits, video programs, and computer interactives bring the exhibits to life in ways nowhere else found across the country.
The collection spans the globe of espionage, looking at the early tech, and men and women who went undercover for their government agencies.
Interactive displays include disguise, cipher, and surveillance activities. There are plenty of videos to watch, and you can even try your hand at crawling through duct work in the ceiling.
Best of all, there is an entire exhibit dedicated to the world of 007: James Bond. That’s a lot of movie memorabilia and intrigue to keep you occupied. Plus, just think of all the questions your kids will have about some of those titles. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Read more reviews HERE
United States Botanic Garden is Open and FREE
While you may not think of it as a museum, the US Botanic Garden still makes us happy throughout the year, especially during the winter months. And actually, it is considered a living museum filled with flora and fauna. Best of all—it’s FREE. All year long!
The conservatory is one of the warmest spots to visit in the city in the winter, filled with blooms that will remind you that spring will come again. Visit several times a year to see the garden at its different stages. No two weeks will ever look the same.
Just remember to look, not touch. Don’t remove the labels; don’t pick the flowers. These are for everyone to enjoy.
Washington DC Monuments and Memorials
The National Mall is still open. It’s a massive park, but trash may be piling up, despite the DC mayor arranging for DC sanitation to pick up trash from the bins. The Monuments and Memorials are also still open. Rangers just won’t be giving tours.
Other tour operators are offering tours however. You can still see the monuments at night and stroll by ole Abe.
Want to hope on a tour? Here are a few of our favorites:
- DC at Night: Historical Highlights Walking Tour: There is nothing like the monuments and museums at night.
- Hop-On-Hop Off Bus DC: We love a good bus tour to get a feel for a new city, and DC is no exception.
- Washington DC Half-Day Tour with US Capitol Priority Access: Need a guide who knows the city? Here’s your chance to ask ALL of your historic questions, including those Hamilton ones you’ve been hanging onto.
Washington DC Tours
More museums and venues open during the government shutdown
- US Holocaust Memorial Museum
- The Phillips Collection
- Washington National Cathedral
- President Lincoln’s Cottage
- National Museum of Women in the Arts
- Kreeger Museum
- Art Museum of the Americas
- Koshland Science Museum
The National Zoo is closed, but…
The National Aquarium in Baltimore is open and waiting to invite you to see their animals. Drive an hour north to Baltimore to take a peek under the sea and get your critter fix while in the mid-Atlantic region.
Want to go? Learn more HERE.
Government and Private institutions still open
Not all government buildings are closed. You can still see some of the most beautiful plants in the city at the US Botanic Garden, browse the books in the Library of Congress, and even tour the US Capital Visitor Center.
Also still open:
- Library of Congress
- US Capital Visitor Center
- Bureau of Engraving and Printing
- Mount Vernon
- Arlington National Cemetery
- Folger’s Shakespeare Theatre
- B&O Railroad Museum
Don’t forget that Baltimore is just a quick drive north of DC as well. They have plenty of museums and attractions to keep you busy when the ones you came to visit in DC are shut down.
Looking for a Washington DC Hotel? Check out the following!
- Hotel Hive – Affordable, trendy, pet-friendly hotel
- Eaton Hotel – Stay in the heart of DC
- Four Seasons Hotel Washington DC – DC luxury at it’s best
- Kimpton Hotel George – Great for families and pets
- Willard InterContinental Washington – Historic hotel right near the White House
Need a car? Get the best rental car rates HERE.
This post contains affiliate links, which means we will receive a commission off of any purchases you may make via the links in this post.