Things to Do

7 DC-Area Museums You Can Visit If the Government Shuts Down

The Smithsonian and National Gallery may close. But these non-federally operated Washington museums can save your leisure plans.

Photograph by Flickr user Steve Gardner.

In the event that government shuts down, federally funded museums could be closed as early as Monday, though they would remain open through the weekend. If your relatives were planning a visit to the District next week in hopes of stopping by the Smithsonian museums or the National Gallery, they should consider visiting one of Washington’s many museums and galleries that will remain open.

Herewith, some of the DC area’s most popular non-federally operated museums to visit in case Congress and the White House can’t settle their differences. 


“1968: Civil Rights at 50” highlights the role the First Amendment played during some of the most intense moments of the Civil Rights Movement 50 years ago. 1968 was a year marked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and nationwide protests against the Vietnam War and economic inequality. The exhibit displays material from the press that covered these events. Admission is $20 to $25. Tickets purchased online are 15 percent off.

National Museum of Women in the Arts

“Free Community Day: Women’s March on Washington” was a big hit during the 2017 Women’s March, and thankfully, it’s happening again this Saturday. The museum offers free admission from 10 AM to 5 PM and free hot beverages after the march, which is organized by March Forward Virginia. Exhibits include “Magnetic Fields,” a display of black women artists’ abstract art from the 1960s to today; and “Hung Liu in Print,” a collection of Liu’s complex prints and collages that tell poetic stories of Chinese culture and identity. Regular admission is $8 to $10.

International Spy Museum

“Double Agent Date” is a discount package available through February 28 in celebration of Valentine’s Day. For $42, the museum offers two tickets and a $25 voucher to the museum store. For those interested in covert romantic operations, the package also includes a “sexpionage” scavenger hunt. The mission? Well, that’s obviously a secret. Regular admission is $23 to $30.

National Building Museum

“Around the World in 80 Paper Models” is a display of international skyscrapers, villages, castles and farm buildings all made of paper. The exhibit was curated from the David Kemnitzer collection of 4,500 paper models and represents US states, along with countries from all over the world. $7 to $10; Free building tours. For those looking for something to do with kids this weekend, the museum is hosting a free, newspaper-fort-making party on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. In the event of a shutdown, the museum will be offering free admission to federal employees with ID.

Alexandria Black History Museum

“Before the Spirits are Swept Away” features 20 paintings by the late Sherry Z. Sanabria, a DC-native whose work portrayed the stories of slavery and African-American heritage. These paintings were part of Sanabria’s “Sites of Conscience” series, in which she sought to preserve black history through images of prisons, mental hospitals, and other places of suffering throughout Virginia. Suggested admission is $2. Closed on Sundays and Mondays.

The Phillips Collection

“To Future Women” is an interactive art piece by Georgia Saxelby that invites visitors to write a letter to be read by women 20 years from now. The letters will be archived by the museum and displayed on January 21, 2037. Saxelby will launch and discuss the project at 4 PM on Sunday, January 21 at The Phillips Collection. Admission is $10 to $12.

National Geographic Museum

“Tomb of Christ” is your virtual ticket to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, believed by many to be the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. Visitors get a 3-D tour of the recently restored site and a sneak preview of the project that will be featured in National Geographic magazine and channel this fall. Tickets are timed for every 12 minutes. Admission is $15.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Smithsonian museums and National Gallery would be closed this weekend in the event of a government shutdown. However, these museums would remain open Saturday and Sunday, with a potential closure on Monday.

Assistant Editor

Elliot joined Washingtonian in January 2018. An alum of Villanova University, he grew up in the Philadelphia area before earning a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post,, and, among others. He lives in Bloomingdale.