It’s a DC tourist’s worst nightmare: you plan a full itinerary for your trip – to see the pandas at the National Zoo, the Spirit of St. Louis at the Air and Space Museum, the presidential portraits at the National Gallery of Art – and arrive in a city where these attractions and more are closed.
Barring a miraculous 11th hour compromise, come Tuesday, October 1, the federal government – and with it, Smithsonian museums and attractions (like the National Zoo) throughout the district – will be closed for business.
But not every attraction in Washington lives and dies by the federal government. Although many of DC’s top tourist spots will be shuttered, there are still plenty of free and inexpensive attractions for visitors:
The National Building Museum (www.nbm.org)
Originally the site of the U.S. Pensions Bureau, the National Building Museum currently houses rotating exhibits on classic architecture, urban planning, and sustainability. But perhaps most impressive is the building itself – the grand foyer is flanked by 75-foot marble columns, and has played host to events including the annual “Christmas in Washington” music special shown on TNT. While there are fees for some exhibits, entrance to the grand foyer is free.
The Art Museum of the Americas (museums.oas.org) and Corcoran Gallery of Art (www.corcoran.org)
Just West of the White House, the Art Museum of the Americas houses a collection of over 2,000 paintings, sculptures, and photographs from Caribbean and Latin American artists. A couple of blocks North, the Corcoran Gallery of Art showcases everything 19th century European impressionists to modern American sculpture and photography, although the focus here is also American art. Admission to the Art Museum of the Americas is free; admission to the Corcoran Gallery is $10 for adults.
The Kennedy Center (www.kennedy-center.org)
Although the Kennedy Center receives some federal funding, earnings from performances means it will be open in spite of a government shutdown. Free guided tours are offered, but you can also roam through at your leisure – be sure to check out the impressive display of flags in the Hall of States and Hall of Nations, and the views of the Potomac River from the Roof Terrace. Want to hear some music while you’re there? Every day at 6 p.m., the Millennium Stage plays host to free performances, from string quartets to samba dancers.
Don’t Mind Paying?
There are a couple of additional options if you don’t mind paying a bit for admission. The Newseum (www.newseum.org) takes visitors from the First Amendment to today’s newspaper headlines along it’s four stories. While admission runs about $22 for adults, and $13 for kids 7 to 18, you could easily spend an entire day among the numerous interactive exhibits. Another interactive museum experience: the International Spy Museum (www.spymuseum.org), where for $21 for adults 12 and older, you can undertake your own interactive spy mission over the museum’s 20,000 square foot exhibition space.