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

Free Events, Festivals and More in Washington, DC - No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man Exhibit at the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery

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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Smithsonian American Art Museum - Washington, DC

‘Do Ho Suh: Almost Home’ – Through Aug. 5
Famous for his use of “fabric architecture,” Korean artist Do Ho Suh receives the major exhibition treatment on the East Coast for the first time with this display at the Smithsonian American Art MuseumAlmost Home will feature Suh’s large-scale installations based on homes where Suh has lived all over the world, eye-catching with their bright colors and intricate detail. The exhibition will also debut a new work that shows Suh’s childhood home in Seoul.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20004

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'The Prince and the Shah: Royal Portraits from Qajar Iran' at the Freer|Sackler Gallery - Free museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘The Prince and the Shah: Royal Portraits from Qajar Iran’ – Through Aug. 5
In 19th century Iran, there were no selfies. Portraits and studio photographs were the only way to convey the appearance of rulers, so royal figures of Qajar such as Fath-Ali Shah (a contemporary of Napoleon) and Nasir al-Din Shah (a contemporary of Queen Victoria) used this form to showcase their grandeur and power. More than 30 pieces from the Freer|Sackler collections make up this exhibit that highlights how Persian artists made nobility shine.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Freer|Sackler Galleries, 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

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@teamgrayduck - Outside the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum at the Sculpture Garden - Free modern art museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘Does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body?’ – Through Aug. 12
Named after a line from a classic song by The Smiths, Does the body marks the first live performance exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum. Five artists will examine the relationship between the body and identity through different forms of art, including music, comedy, spoken word and dance. The exhibit will also feature an ongoing presentation of documentaries and recorded pieces that serve as introductions to Morgan Bassichis, Moriah Evans, Will Rawls, Jen Rosenblit and Mariana Valencia.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue & 7th Street SW, Washington, DC 20560

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Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden on the National Mall - Free summer concert in Washington, DC

Jazz in the Garden – Through Aug. 24
Kick back and groove to the music with sangria in hand at Jazz in the Garden on Fridays throughout the summer, held in the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. An eclectic mix of DC area jazz musicians lend a soundtrack to one of the city’s most idyllic scenes set around the sculpture garden’s central fountain. This is a free seasonal tradition that you do not want to miss. Check out the lineup and the food and drink offerings.
5 - 8:30 p.m.
National Gallery of Art, 6th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

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Friday night summer concert at The Yards Park on the Capitol Riverfront - Family-friendly things to do in Washington, DC

Friday Night Concert Series at Yards Park – Through Aug. 24
Take in river views, food, brews and tunes during Yards Park’s free Friday Night Concert Series on the Capitol Riverfront. There’s plenty of green space for you and yours to stretch out as you groove to music and savor summer time vibes. Expect a wide range of musical acts, from jazz to country to folk rock to reggae.
7 - 9 p.m.
Yards Park, 355 Water Street SE, Washington, DC 20003

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National Gallery of Art East Building - Washington, DC

In the Library: The Richter Archive at 75 – Through Aug. 24
Learn the history and development of the National Gallery of Art’s photographic archives with this special exhibit in the museum’s library atrium. The George M. Richter Archive of Illustrations on Art arrived at the Gallery in 1943, containing 60,000 photographs that helped form the department of image collections, which is now the largest collection of images of art and architecture in the world.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Monday – Friday)
National Gallery of Art, 6th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

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‘Baselitz: Six Decades’  - Free modern art exhibit at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘Baselitz: Six Decades’ – Through Sept. 16
In honor of Georg Baselitz’s 80th birthday, the Hirshhorn will feature this milestone exhibition of one of Germany’s seminal artists. Six Decades is the first major U.S. retrospective of Baselitz’s work in more than 20 years. You’ll be able to view more than 100 of his inventive figurative paintings and sculptures across the Hirshhorn’s second floor galleries, including famous pieces such as The Naked Man (1962) and Baselitz’s upside-down paintings, which gained him international notoriety.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. 
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue & 7th Street SW, Washington, DC 20560

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Student touring Anderson House in Dupont Circle - Museum off the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘Alexander Hamilton’s American Revolution’ – Through Sept. 16
With a particular play about the life of Alexander Hamilton coming to the District this summer, it’s an ideal time to learn more about the Founding Father. The Anderson House, operated by The Society of the Cincinnati (Hamilton was an original member and its second president general), will feature this fascinating, detailed exhibit that explores Hamilton’s vital role in the Revolutionary War and how this duty influenced his vision of the U.S. and its institutions. Admission is free!
Hours
Anderson House, 2119 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

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

‘Wall Flowers: Botanical Murals’ – Through Oct. 15
The U.S. Botanic Garden presents this colorful new exhibit that may reframe how you view plant life. Large-scale murals from local artists will showcase plants through powerful colors and vibrant detail, highlighting the vital role that plants play in urban environments, not just suburban or rural ones. You’ll have a chance to admire botanical art in one of the country’s most amazing botanical gardens.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20001

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@chivophotos - United States Botanic Garden on the National Mall - Free museum and attraction in Washington, DC

‘Botanical Art Worldwide: America’s Flora’ – Through Oct. 15
The U.S. Botanic Garden and the American Society of Botanical Artists have teamed up to bring you this juried exhibition of beautiful artwork that depicts native plants. In the Garden’s gallery space, you will be able to view 45 original pieces of art, which were juried from a selection of more than 200 entries.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20001

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‘Water, Wind, and Waves: Marine Paintings from the Dutch Golden Age’ - Free art museum exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

‘Water, Wind, and Waves: Marine Paintings from the Dutch Golden Age’ – Through Nov. 25
The Dutch had a close relationship with the water during the Golden Age, using the sea to generate their riches, to travel and, when frozen over or in the summer months, for recreation. Therefore, it’s no surprise that some of the era’s greatest artists focused on water in their work. In this exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, you’ll see nearly 50 paintings, prints, drawings, ship models and books that reflect this fascination with the marine environment from artists such as Jan van Goyen, Hendrick Avercamp and Willem van de Velde the Elder.
Hours
National Gallery of Art, 6th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

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Smithsonian American Art Museum - Washington, DC

‘Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen’ – Through Jan. 6, 2019
Trevor Paglen captures landscapes unlike any other artist would, incorporating the infrastructure of surveillance into his ground-breaking and sometimes unsettling photographs. This new exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum serves as a mid-career retrospective on Paglen in which his early photographs, recent sculptures and work with artificial intelligence will be featured. Contemplating Paglen’s visuals will also have you contemplating the role of privacy in our society, an important, of-the-moment topic.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20004

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‘Let’s Get It Right: Work Incentive Posters of the 1920s’ exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History - Free museum exhibit on the National Mall in Washington, DC

‘Let’s Get It Right: Work Incentive Posters of the 1920s’ – Through Jan. 6, 2019
The tyranny of overbearing employers of the early 20th century will be on full display in this new exhibit at the National Museum of American History. Let’s Get It Right will feature 16 posters, including creations from Mather and Co. and the Parker-Holladay Co. and a World War I notice, that use images and sayings to “inspire” employees, but instead clearly attempt to lessen disagreement, influence attitudes and force workers into longer hours for lower wages.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Museum of American History, 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

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‘Sense of Humor’ exhibit at the National Gallery of Art - Free museum in Washington, DC

‘Sense of Humor’ – Through Jan. 6, 2019
The National Gallery of Art’s Sense of Humor exhibit pulls from the gallery’s collection to showcase how works of art can make us laugh. Renaissance caricatures, English satires and 20th century comics will all be on view, indicating how print became the primary vehicle for humor in art. You’ll see works from Alexander Calder, Jacques Callot, the Guerilla Girls and many more.
Hours
National Gallery of Art, 6th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

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'UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar'  - Free Museum Exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC

‘UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar’ – Through Jan. 6, 2019
Two contemporary artists highlight misrepresentations of minorities in American portraiture in this new National Portrait Gallery exhibit. Ken Gonzales-Day uses photography of sculptures, busts and ethnographic casts to create installations that show how the notion of “Otherness” has become intertwined with race, while Titus Kaphar defaces his paintings to reveal how portraits of American icons have coded racial differences and left out African Americans from their representations.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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@manishmoghe - Visitors at No Spectators Burning Man exhibit at the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery - Cutting-edge art exhibit in Washington, DC

‘No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man’ – Through Jan. 21, 2019
The Renwick Gallery hosts the first major national exhibition to focus on the large-scale participatory work from the annual gathering of bohemians who construct a city of 70,000 in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for one week every year. No Spectators will take over the entire building, even extending outdoors, with sculptures positioned throughout the surrounding neighborhood in parks and on streets in a collaboration between the museum and the Golden Triangle BID. Overall, this extensive exhibit will showcase room-sized installations, costumes, jewelry and more.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Renwick Gallery, Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20006

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‘Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs’ - Exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC

‘Diane Arbus: A box of ten photographs’ – Through Jan. 21, 2019
Diane Arbus was a major figure in the acceptance of photography as a legitimate art form. The portfolio that is the subject of this exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, A box of ten photographs, was a catalyst for photography’s evolution. The exhibition will detail the history of the project, its innovation and how Arbus came to be such a vital artist, even posthumously.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20004

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@preparingforpeanut - Child in Smithsonian National Postal Museum - Museum off the Mall in Washington, DC

‘Alexander Hamilton: Soldier, Secretary, Icon’ – Through March 3, 2019
View original mail sent and signed by Alexander Hamilton when he served as the first Secretary of the Treasury in this enthralling exhibit from the National Postal Museum. You’ll also be able to see portraits of Hamilton and his contemporaries on stamps, in addition to enjoying interactive elements and educational programming.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
National Postal Museum, 2 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002

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‘Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now’ - Free exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC

‘Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now’ – Through March 10, 2019
Sharpen your understanding of an understudied art form, from its historical significance to its modern-day application, at this new exhibit from the National Portrait Gallery. Cut paper profiles, known as silhouettes, rose to prominence as a form of portraiture in the 19th century. The exhibition will focus on fascinating pieces from that era, as well as contemporary interpretations of the form from Kara Walker, Kristi Malakoff and Kumi Yamashita, among others.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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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, 2019
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, 2019
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 2019
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, 2019
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, 2019
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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Baseball Americana exhibit at the Library of Congress - Free baseball exhibit in Washington, DC

‘Baseball Americana’ – Ongoing
The Library of Congress is tipping its cap to baseball with an expansive new exhibit that puts the its incredible resources to use, chronicling the game from its earliest days – see: baseball's "Magna Carta" featuring the official rules of the game, as written in 1856 by the game's founder Daniel “Doc” Adams – to its modern day status as a worldwide sport. Highlights include photos from previous times Washington, DC has hosted the All-Star Game, a Babe Ruth baseball card, the 1908 sheet music to Take Me Out to the Ballgame and Dorothy “Dot” Ferguson's Rockford Peach uniform from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (closed Sundays)
Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20540

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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’ – Opens Aug. 4
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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Alexander Hamilton Portrait at the National Gallery of Art - Hamilton-inspired things to do in Washington, DC

‘Picturing Alexander Hamilton’ – Aug. 5
The National Gallery of Art is in the mood to celebrate Hamilton and its namesake this August. This Sunday lecture entitled “Picturing Alexander Hamilton” will be held in the East Building Auditorium, inviting visitors on a voyage through art that features Hamilton, his family and other essential persons from his life.
2 p.m.
National Gallery of Art, 6th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

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Crowd at The Bullpen in Capitol Riverfront for Truckeroo - Summer events and festivals in Washington, DC

Truckeroo – Aug. 10
Truckeroo brings local food trucks to The Bullpen near Yards Park in the bustling Capitol Riverfront neighborhood to dole out everything from barbeque to crepes to premium, hand-scooped ice cream. About two dozen wheeled food sellers show up, and there are picnic tables and shade to keep things cool. There will also be games, cold beverages and live music to create the full-on summer experience.
4 - 11 p.m.
The Bullpen, 1299 Half Street SE, Washington, DC 20003

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@ericabakerphoto - Family at the National Gallery of Art East Building on the National Mall - Free museum in Washington, DC

‘Forty Years of Exhibitions: A Baker’s Dozen Memorable Shows’ – Aug. 12
The National Gallery of Art has put on a litany of memorable exhibits across the last four decades in its East Building. This Sunday lecture will showcase more than a dozen of them, exhibiting highlights from each, including unforgettable photography, paintings and other images. Senior lecturer Eric Denker will lead the review.
2 p.m.
National Gallery of Art, 6th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

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Comcast Xfinity Outdoor Film Festival at the Strathmore - Family Friendly Summer Festival Near Washington, DC

Comcast Xfinity Outdoor Film Festival – Aug. 23-26
This four-day celebration of movies benefits the National Institutes of Health Children’s Charities. The scenic Strathmore Campus is a fantastic place to enjoy an evening outdoors, so bring along the crew to catch either Coco, Black Panther, The Lion King or Wonder Woman (or all four, since attending is free). You’ll also be able to enjoy food from Ridgewell’s and ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s! Screenings begin at dusk.
Gates open at 7:30 p.m.
Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, MD 20852

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Leonard Bernstein portrait on display at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery - Free museum exhibit in Washington, DC

‘Celebrate: Leonard Bernstein’s 100th Birthday’ – Aug. 23 – Sept. 23
Leonard Bernstein was one of the most important creatives of the 20th century. The composer, conductor, writer and lecturer will be recognized by the National Portrait Gallery on what would have been his 100th birthday. The gallery will display a portrait of Bernstein in its “Celebrate” space, located in the first-floor north gallery. Visitors will be able to view the portrait through Sept. 23.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001

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17th Street Festival in Dupont Circle - Summer Neighborhood Festival in Washington, DC

17th Street Festival – Aug. 25
17th Street has so much to see and do, it needs its own day-long festival for you to take in all its wonder. Live music will be present throughout the proceedings, providing a soundtrack as you browse through roughly 100 vendors, including 60 artists displaying fine art, crafts and jewelry. There’s even a kid’s zone, where the little ones can enjoy a moon bounce, a ball crawl, face painting and games.
12 - 7 p.m. |  Donations come with exclusive discounts
17th Street NW from P Street to R Street NW (1500 and 1600 blocks), Washington, DC

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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!’