Something for nothing — now that’s a great vacation. One of the coolest things about Washington, D.C. is all the free activities, like art museums, concerts, and lots of other fun stuff that would have hefty price tags pretty much anywhere else. Don’t get out your wallet when you don’t have to. Hit some of the best places in D.C. for a heapin’ helpin’ of hot culture — free of charge.
The National Gallery of Art
Washington D.C. knows how to have fun with art, and the museums and sculpture gardens prove it. Art with LED lights? Check. Moving walkways? Check. Art in a space-age tunnel? Check. Head over to the National Gallery of Art to see the Multiverse light sculpture. The moving walkway takes you through an LED-covered tunnel between the museum’s East and West Buildings, and the experience is mind blowing.
The gallery is your go-to in D.C. if you want to see a variety of art styles from all over the world — about 141,000 works in total. The East Building has modern art to go with the building’s ultra-modern design. Alexander Calder’s colorful, super-sized mobile dangles from the ceiling — no way it would ever fit over a crib in a real nursery. The West Building is more old school, with classic columns and lots of classic art to match. If you go ga-ga over 19th century French art, you’re in the right place.
Ready to do a double take? The sculpture garden has modern pieces like Louise Bourgeois’s giant metal “Spider” sculpture and Roy Lichtenstein’s “House” that are sure to get your attention. You can also catch free live music, plays, movies, and more at The National Gallery of Art’s Evenings at the Edge, which takes place after museum hours every week.
The Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden
This doughnut-shaped museum is packed with modern art you won’t forget anytime soon. It’s the home of Yayoi Kusama’s record-breaking “Infinity Mirrors” exhibit that blew up on Instagram and turned into selfie-city almost overnight. (Think bright colors, polka dots, and mirrors — and lots of them.)
On the way into the Hirshhorn, be sure to stop and gawk at Jimmie Durham’s “Still Life with Spirit and Xitle,” a 1992 Chrysler Spirit with a nine-ton boulder crushing it. Inside the museum, you can see art like Barbara Kruger’s “Belief+Doubt” covering the walls and floors of the lower level lobby and part of the bookstore with giant phrases in red, white, and black vinyl.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is where big-name, big-time concerts, comedy, and musicals rock the house. Even better, it’s also free concert-central in the D.C. area. Catch free performances every night at the center’s Millennium Stage, including everything from comedy to a gospel brass and percussion band and old-time Irish music with step dancing. Time to get your jig on.
Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is chock-full of American art. Exhibits at the museum’s Renwick Gallery nine blocks away have included everything from tiny crime scene replicas to a room-sized piece that makes you feel like you’re in an abandoned subway station. Feelin’ jazzy? Join the other hip cats in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Kogod Courtyard for free “Take Five” jazz performances on the third Thursday of every month.
Everyone loves freebies. What are some of your top spots in Washington D.C. for free art and music? Share them with us on Facebook.