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Free Things to Do: Events, Festivals & More in Washington, DC

@vpickering- 'Pulse' at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum - Free Things to Do: Events, Festivals and More in Washington, DC

Whenever you’re in Washington, DC, you can plan on enjoying plenty of museum exhibits, events and festivals for free, guaranteed.

With access to free museums, the monuments and memorials, the Library of Congress and more, Washington, DC is unrivaled for its many free attractions. But at any given time, you can also take advantage of free one-of-a-kind events, groundbreaking exhibits and unique festivals, making DC the capital of free events.

Check out the list below for some of the latest free happenings creating buzz around the city.

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Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital - Things to do this March in Washington, DC

Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital – Ends March 24
The longest-running and largest environmental film festival in the U.S. enlightens viewers on the state of our environment and what we can do to maintain its health. More than 100 movies will be screened at venues all over the District. The festival will also include informative discussions and social events that will inspire dialogue surrounding these wonderful films and their important themes. Many of the events are free and all are open to the public. Check the website for a full schedule.
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Anderson House Headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati - Dupont Circle - Washington, DC

‘A Revolution in Arms’ – Through March 24
Anderson House will dive into an essential element in America’s fight for its independence during the Revolutionary War in this new exhibit. When the war began in 1775, there were not many shops or factories producing weapons in America. In order to battle the well-armed British, the Continental Army had to resort to numerous resources in order to procure firearms and swords. A Revolution in Arms will showcase muskets, pistols, swords and other weapons used by American troops during the effort.
Hours
Anderson House, 2118 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

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First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas - Exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC

‘First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas’ – Through March 31
Early culinary culture is illuminated in this in-depth exhibit from the Folger Shakespeare Library. First Chefs focuses on five individuals who strongly influenced the development of the culinary arts, including Hercules, a slave of George Washington who escaped to spread his mastery of early American cooking. The exhibit expands beyond those five to additionally highlight other early modern men and women whose lives were influenced by the food culture of the day, for better or worse.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street SE, Washington, DC 20003

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@hannah.zakaria - Exterior of the National Museum of the American Indian - Free Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC

‘The REDress Project’ – Through March 31
In honor of Women’s History Month, the National Museum of the American Indian will host this outdoor art installation from Jaime Black. Empty red dresses situated outside on the north side of the building will symbolize missing or murdered Indigenous women. Black’s work serves as an alarming reminder of the gendered and racialized violence frequently dealt with by Native women.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of the American Indian, 4th Street & Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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'In the Library: The Evans-Tibbs Archive of African American Art' - Free exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

‘In the Library: The Evans-Tibbs Archive of African American Art’ – Closes April 12
Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr. was a proud DC resident and an art appraiser, collector, broker and dealer, and this National Gallery of Art exhibit honors his life and tremendous contributions. Tibbs grew up immersed in art and was an advocate and preserver of African American works, showcasing exhibits in the District and making a large donation to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which is now a vital component of the Gallery’s holdings by African American artists. In this display, you’ll see exhibition pamphlets, correspondence, records, photographs and other artifacts that document Tibbs and his family.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday
National Gallery of Art, 4th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

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@leozh - James Whistler's Peacock Room at the Smithsonian Freer | Sackler Galleries - Free Museum in Washington, DC

‘The Peacock Room Revealed’ – Through Mid-April
James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room is one of the great highlights of the Freer|Sackler Galleries, and it can now be seen in its original glory. Often outfitted with Asian ceramics, the museum has emptied the room’s shelves and exposed its walls, showcasing Whistler’s work, including peacock patterns and stunning color combinations. The room is a wondrous work of art itself, so take time to admire before a new long-term installation is put there in spring 2019.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Freer|Sackler Galleries, 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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'Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse' exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum on the National Mall - Free fall museum exhibit in Washington, DC

‘Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse’ – Through April 28
Innovative Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer will bring the largest interactive technology exhibition to the Hirshhorn in the museum’s history. Pulse will take up the entire Second Level, with three major installations using heart-rate sensors to create audiovisual experiences from visitors’ biometric data. Together, the biometric signatures will create spellbinding sequences of soundscapes, lights and animations.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, 7th Street & Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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@nittanypanda - Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery in Downtown - Free museum in Washington, DC

‘Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational 2018’ – Through May 5
The Renwick honors innovation in craft with this in-depth look at the work of four contemporary artists: Tanya Aguiñiga, Sharif Bey, Dustin Farnsworth and Stephanie Syjuco. All four use their work to convey emotion, activism and inclusiveness, using an array of forms in the process, including wood, fibers and ceramics. Expect to see work that upholds social justice and challenges cultural norms.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Renwick Gallery, 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006

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One Year: 1968, An American Odyssey - Free museum exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC

‘One Year: 1968, An American Odyssey’ – Through May 19
In the same year that the National Portrait Gallery opened its doors, America was in the midst of one of its most memorable – and turbulent – years as a country. The Gallery will feature this one-room exhibition as part of its golden anniversary, as well as to highlight the incredible and world-changing events of 1968. A collection of 30 portraits will tell the stories from the year, including the first manned orbit of the moon, the Civil Rights Act being signed into law, the turning point of the Vietnam War and the tragic deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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@abroadwife - Family at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum - Free museum in Washington, DC

‘Postmen of the Skies: Celebrating 100 Years of Airmail Service’ – Through May 27
America’s fascination with airmail service in the early 20th century will be the focus of this new exhibit at the National Postal Museum. Trace the beginnings of the service, which initially only covered DC, Philadelphia and New York City, to its eventual privatization in 1927, when businesses began building their infrastructure through airmail, which led to the country’s commercial aviation industry boom.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Postal Museum, 2 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002

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@jessipatel - Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Washington Monument - Free Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC

‘Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture’ – Through June
One of the leading figures in modern media, Oprah Winfrey, serves as the subject of this exciting new exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Watching Oprah will explore the entertainer’s early life, her wildly successful daytime talk show and her powerful influence on popular culture. You’ll be able to view artifacts from Harpo Studios in Chicago, as well as video clips, photographs and interactive elements.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. |  Timed passes
National Museum of African American History and Culture, 1400 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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‘Daguerreotypes: Five Decades of Collecting’  - Free museum exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC

‘Daguerreotypes: Five Decades of Collecting’ – Through June 2
The National Portrait Gallery celebrates its fiftieth anniversary with this exhibit that will showcase the museum’s extensive collection of daguerreotypes. These types of photographs were the first made available to the public, employing a process that involved a plate and mercury vapor. In this exhibit, you’ll be able to see portraits of icons such as P.T. Barnum, activist Dorothea Dix, artist Alfred Waud and many more.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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Smithsonian National Museum of American History

‘The American Revolution: A World War’ – Through July 9
The National Museum of American History examines the true scope of the American Revolution in this year-long exhibit set to debut in late June. The revolutionary victory at Yorktown and the Franco-American friendship that made it happen will be the focus. The exhibit will include two famous paintings by Louis-Nicolas van Blarenberghe, The Siege of Yorktown and The Surrender of Yorktown paintings and a famous portrait of George Washington from the early 1780s. The latter three will be displayed together for the first time since the late 1700s.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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'A Glimpse of Ancient Yemen' at the Freer | Sackler Gallery on the National Mall - Free art museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘A Glimpse of Ancient Yemen’ – Through Aug. 18
Located in the Sackler Gallery, this exhibit highlights south Arabia (now known as Yemen) and its prosperous trading during ancient times. Aromatics such as frankincense and myrrh came from the region to Greece, Rome and Persia, which in turn spread artistic and cultural traditions in Arabia. The exhibit features objects that were retrieved from the region in the early 1950s, painting a detailed picture of an ancient metropolis.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Freer|Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975 - Free museum exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC

‘Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975’ – March 15 – Aug. 18
The United States was at war in Vietnam and at home from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. This exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum offers nearly 100 works from 58 of the most prominent artists of the time period, including pieces by African-American and female artists, who are often left out of surveys of the era. You will see brilliant creative minds wrestling with the debate over the war as well as class and social issues that caused cultural wars all over America. Artists Respond is presented in conjunction with Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20004

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Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today - Fall art and museum exhibits in Washington, DC

‘Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today’ – Through Aug. 18
The self-portrait has taken on entirely new life in recent years, with the rise of “selfies” and the constantly evolving notion of identity. The National Portrait Gallery will draw mostly from its large collection to showcase how artists have portrayed themselves since the beginning of the 20th century, showing the importance of self-portraiture in American history and culture. More than 75 works will be displayed, including portraits by Diego Rivera, Edward Hopper, Elaine de Kooning, Josef Albers and many more.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th & F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue at the Smithsonian American Art Museum - Free art exhibit in Washington, DC

‘Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue’ – March 15 – Sept. 2
Tiffany Chung is a multimedia mastermind, and this installation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum looks to be a masterpiece. Chung’s father fought alongside American forces during the Vietnam War, and her family came to the U.S. during the post-war exodus from the country. Past Is Prologue features video interviews, photos, watercolors, texts and hand-drawn maps that reveal the jaw-dropping scale of the war and its still-echoing impact, all gathered by Chung through painstaking research. The exhibit will paint a riveting portrait of how one war drastically re-shaped contemporary society.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20004

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Shaping Clay in Ancient Iran at the Freer | Sackler Gallery on the National Mall - Free art museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘Shaping Clay in Ancient Iran’ – Through September
Pottery was an art form in ancient Iran, where waterfowl and rams with curled horns roamed. Ceramics of the time showcase potters using distinct shapes and decorations in their experiments with clay, indicating that even utilitarian pieces could be turned into works of art. The exhibit will feature jars, bowls and other ceramics that dare as far back as 5,200 BCE.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Freer|Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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@ray.payys - Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on the National Mall - Free Museum in Washington, DC

‘Nature’s Best Photography’ – Through September
Make your way to the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History to discover the best nature photography in the world. More than 26,000 photos were entered into the Windland Smith Rice International Awards, with 60 of the finest submissions selected for inclusion in this visually marvelous exhibit. In addition to photos, you’ll see a video of manta rays and sharks feeding and a display that shows how cameras have evolved.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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@classyandkate - Woman at United States Botanic Garden on the National Mall - Free museum attraction in Washington, DC

‘Celebrating New American Gardens’ – Through Oct. 15
The U.S. Botanic Garden, the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the country, celebrates new American gardens in this fascinating exhibit. Experience the latest and greatest in public gardens, which showcase plant collections, provide beautiful public spaces and highlight the changing of the seasons. Gardens created and renovated in the last five years are the focus, which means you will see only the height of creativity and innovation.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20001

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Child at United States Botanic Garden on Capitol Hill - Free living museum in Washington, DC

‘It’s Hip to Be Square: The Mint Family’ – Through Nov. 23
The mint family of plants is larger than you think. While Mentha (peppermint and spearmint) and Salvia (sage) get a majority of the attention, rosemary and coleus are also prevalent members of the species. In total, more than 230 genera and 7,000 species make up the mint family, which means you have a whole lot of plant-learning to do at this new U.S. Botanic Garden exhibit that opens at the end of the month.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20001

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@bambamfiasco - The atrium inside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian - Free attractions in Washington, DC

‘Section 14: The Other Palm Springs, California’ – Through Jan. 2020
Palm Springs, California is known as a playground for the rich and wealthy. However, the area was once a desert outpost and home to Native Americans. This exhibit focuses on the conflict that arose over a one-square-mile-tract of the city’s downtown, which formed the heart of the reservation belonging to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Section 14 will show how the area became a hotbed for issues like tribal sovereignty, economics, race and land zoning from the 1940s through the 1960s.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of the American Indian, 4th Street & Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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@washingtondcua - Tour guide with group in Smithsonian National Museum of American History - Free museum in Washington, DC

‘All Work and No Pay: A History of Women’s Invisible Labor’ – Through Feb. 2020
Ideally timed for Women’s History Month, this exhibit at the National Museum of American History will highlight women’s work in the home and the corresponding issue of unwaged labor. “Costumes” for domestic work ranging from colonial times to the 1990s will show how women are expected to manage the housework regardless of class, race, culture or community. Visitors will be able to learn the inequality and unfairness of this outdated societal assumption through artifacts and images.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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@emilygoesplaces - Henry the Elephant at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘Game Change: Elephants from Prey to Preservation’ – Through Feb. 1, 2020
Elephants are one of the most fascinating species in the world, and their conservation is essential. This exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History shows how the public attitude towards elephants has drastically shifted since the late 19th century, when big game hunting was popular. Now, care and concern for these animals is a must in order to save them. Find out why in this exploratory and historic display.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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Magnificent Obsessions Why We Collect exhibit at the National Museum of American History - Free Smithsonian museum on the National Mall in DC

‘Magnificent Obsessions: Why We Collect’ – Through July 1, 2020
The phenomenon of collection is the focus of this new exhibit at the National Museum of American History. Learn about pioneering collectors who helped shape Smithsonian Libraries through their infinite curiosity and desire to preserve the past. You’ll encounter the sheer diversity of the Smithsonian’s collections and how the institution continues to preserve historic treasures and modern items.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC

‘Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas’ – Through 2020
Africa’s southwest coast teemed with rare sea creatures after the South Atlantic Ocean basin formed some 120 million years ago. In this exhibit, discover fossil remnants of these giant reptiles, including mosasaurs, plesiosaurs and sea turtles. You’ll also learn how these ancient creatures help us understand ocean ecosystems today. Highlights include a 23-foot-long reconstruction of a predatory mosasaur, an animated mural full of sea monsters and the skull of the South Atlantic’s oldest sea turtle species.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum - Washington, DC

‘Americans and the Holocaust’ – Ongoing
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum features this in-depth exhibit that details the American response to the Holocaust and Nazism. America’s own racism, antisemitism, xenophobia and isolationism had an impact on this response, as did the amount of information available to Americans in regard to what was happening in Europe. The few American individuals that sought to help the Jewish people are also highlighted.
10 a.m. – 5:20 p.m.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, Washington, DC 20024

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United States Department of the Interior Building in Washington, DC

‘People, Land & Water’ – Ongoing
The vitality of the Department of Interior is relayed through this state-of-the-art exhibition at the Interior Museum. People, Land & Water features more than 75 artifacts, a 14-minute film, a multimedia presentation that details the Department’s relevance and history and a timeline that showcases the interplay between the Department’s nine bureaus and their missions.
8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (Monday-Friday)
Interior Museum, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240

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@dartavv - Atrium in the National Gallery of Art's East Building - Free modern art museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘Spaces: Works from the Collection, 1966-1976’ – Ongoing
Five essential minimal and post-minimal sculptures will each be given their own individual gallery in this new exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. The East Building and its fascinating architecture will be showcased in this arrangement, as the pieces and their appearance will also be shaped by the space around them. Works by Fred Sandback, Robert Morris and Barry Le Va will be featured, among others.
Hours
National Gallery of Art, 6th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

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@washingtondcua - Tour guide with group in Smithsonian National Museum of American History - Free museum in Washington, DC

America’s Listening – Ongoing
The Smithsonian National Museum of American History features a new wing dedicated to American culture. The experience begins in the gateway with America’s Listening, an in-depth look at the history of recorded sound that showcases five major innovations that still impact how we experience movies and music today. Among the artifacts on display are Thomas Edison’s phonograph, Emile Berliner’s gramophone, Ray Dolby’s noise reduction system and Alexander Graham Bell’s graphophone.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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Dorothy's ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz - On display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC

Ruby Slippers and American Culture Displays – Ongoing
One of the National Museum of American History’s most famous artifacts returns. Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz will be on display in the new wing focused on American culture, in addition to the Scarecrow’s hat from the same film. Other notable objects on display: a Yankee Stadium ticket booth, a video game wall, jazz instruments and a famous stained-glass window from the Victory Company’s headquarters in New Jersey.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on the National Mall - Free Museum in Washington, DC

‘Good as Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women’ – Ongoing
The National Museum of African Art recently received a significant influx of gold jewelry into its collection, leading to this new exhibit that examines the cultural significance of gold in the West African nation of Senegal. The Wolof concept of sañse (which roughly translates to “looking and feeling good”) is at the center of stylish Senegalese women often wearing gold, a notion that will be covered in detail, along with the production, display and circulation of gold in the country.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC - The Best Things to Do This Spring in DC

National Cherry Blossom Festival – March 20 – April 14
The nation’s greatest springtime celebration returns to fill four weeks with free family events, many with Japanese influences, a nod to the gift of the trees in 1912 from the Mayor of Tokyo to the citizens of Washington, DC. Among the signature events: the Pink Tie Party (March 22); the Opening Ceremony (March 23); the Blossom Kite Festival (March 30); Petalpalooza (April 6) at The Wharf and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade (April 13).

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Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence - Women's suffrage exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in DC

‘Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence’ – March 29 – Jan. 5, 2020
The National Portrait Gallery honors the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment with this highly anticipated exhibit. You’ll learn about the radical women that fought slavery, the women activists of the late 1800s, the “New Woman” of the 20th century and the relentless suffragists of the 1910s through a series of portraits, cultural artifacts and biographies. The exhibit will also examine the struggles that minority women still face today, 100 years after the 19th Amendment passed. Find even more ways to celebrate the achievements of women in DC.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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National Mall during the National Cherry Blossom Festival Kite Festival - Top reasons to visit Washington, DC

Blossom Kite Festival – March 30
Head to the Washington Monument grounds for this free kite-flying extravaganza, one of the most highly anticipated events of the National Cherry Blossom Festival . The entire family can watch expert kite fliers from all over the world participate in the Hot Tricks Showdown, a stunt kite-flying event. Make sure you bring your camera and a kite of your own!
10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Washington Monument Grounds, 17th Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW

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'Empresses of China's Forbidden City, 1644-1912' - Free museum exhibit at the Smithsonian Freer | Sackler galleries in Washington, DC

‘Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644-1912’ – March 30 – June 23
The Freer|Sackler galleries present the first-ever, in-depth exhibition on the women of the Qing dynasty, which lasted roughly 260 years. Empresses will elaborate on how Qing women were vital to the success of the dynasty and were in no way passive – the empresses rode horses, performed royal duties, traveled and exerted influence in the arts, religion and politics. The exhibit will feature numerous relics, including paintings, royal portraits, Buddhist sutras, costumes, jewelry and furniture, many of which came from the imperial complex used by the empresses known as the Forbidden City.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Freer|Sackler Galleries, 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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The Best Events and Festivals Happening in Washington, DC

No city provides as many world-class activities for free as Washington, DC. Discover 100+ free things to do in the ‘Capital of Free!’