4 Fun Things to do in Washington, D.C. During a Government Shutdown

4 Fun Things to do in Washington, D.C. During a Government Shutdown

Things to do in Washington, D.C. during a Government Shutdown

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What do you do when you have a trip planned to Washington, D.C. and the government shuts down? You don’t panic, that’s what you do. There’s still plenty to see – it’s a city, after all, not a small town!

Yes, the Smithsonian museums along the Mall will be closed, and there’s no denying that that’s a huge bummer. These are some of the most well renowned museums in D.C. – the Museum of Natural History, Museum of American History, Museum of Air and Space, among others, but there’s still many other museums to visit, along with the open-air memorials, galleries, historic homes, and more. There are beautiful, historical neighborhoods to enjoy, good food to eat, fun day trips to take, the list goes on.

Of course, a government shutdown does not mean the same things will be closed each and every time. It all depends on how the buildings are funded. What may be open during one shutdown may not be open during the next. For example, during our visit to D.C. in January, the Holocaust Memorial Museum was open, however as rumors have it, it was nearing the end of its budget, and it may not be open for the next shutdown. That’s what I hear, but I am no expert.

Things to do in Washington D.C. during a government shutdown

I do know, though, that on any given visit when the government is shutdown, there will be some museums open and some closed. Generally speaking, the museums on the Mall will be closed, and the museums off the Mall will be open. It’s best to check right before your trip. I found this website to be very helpful.

When we visited D.C. during the government shutdown, while some important buildings were closed, we were still able to see a fair amount. Here are 4 fun things to do in D.C. when the government is shutdown.

4 Fun Things to Do in Washington, D.C. During a Government Shutdown

Visit the Off the Mall Museums

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was one of the things to do in Washington D.C. when the government was shutdown

For our visit we chose to see the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I have been to this museum before and each time it is more moving and emotional than the next. I can’t begin to say enough about this museum – it’s very well done, educational, enlightening, and of course, horrific. I believe ages 8+ are encouraged to go, but no earlier. It’s a tough lesson in history to show and teach our kids, but an important one.


My girls, I have to say, were riveted, with eyes wide-open. They are ages 9 and 11, which was a great age to take them. The exhibitions are phenomenal, as well as the videos and films, which I highly recommend. They were really curious to hear the stories of the survivors, from the sad and tragic stories to the ones about love, where now-married couples found each other. Overall, though parts of the museum were beyond disturbing for innocent children to understand, in the end it was an educational and eye-opening experience.

Other popular off the Mall museums to go to are:

The Newseum

The National Geographic Museum

The National Building Museum

The Phillips Collection

Among many more…you can view a full list here.

Visit the Open Air Memorials and Monuments

Visiting the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. when the government was shutdown

Though most of the memorials are along the Mall, many of them are outdoor so you can still see them. They just might not be fully operating as far as souvenir shops, restrooms, and tours go. Basically, they’re not staffed. But you can still look at them!

Some of them include the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the National World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

Spend time in some of the neighborhoods

Contrary to popular belief, there are many great neighborhoods that have nothing to do with politics! Personally, we love wandering around Georgetown. Cobblestoned streets and historical homes coupled with a modern vibe full of excellent dining and shopping make this area the perfect hood to walk around. Georgetown is as charming as they come. But there are so many other great neighborhoods to explore, some artsy, some upscale, some trendy. You can see a full list here.

Take a day trip to Mount Vernon

A visit to Mount Vernon during the Washington D.C. Government Shutdown

Mount Vernon is the home of first president George Washington in Fairfax County, VA, just a little over a half hour outside of D.C. Many people say this is one of their favorite things to do in the D.C. area. Walking around the mansion and grounds of his former estate is fascinating. There are guided tours through the mansion where you can learn all about the life of George Washington and his wife Martha, and his role as leader in both the military and later in the country as president.

Walking around George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon during the government shutdown

Just as interesting is walking around the grounds of the estate, set above the Potomac river. It’s beautiful. We went during winter, which was not the best time to visit as far as the outdoors are concerned, but you can imagine how stunning it would be in the warmer months. Also on view are tombs of both George and Martha. My girls genuinely enjoyed our visit to Mount Vernon, and you can read more about it in my dedicated blog post here.

Note: A fun thing to do in conjunction with Mount Vernon is to visit the ever so charming town of Alexandria, VA, close by. This waterfront town with perfect cobblestoned streets and darling architecture makes it a feast for the eyes. The food is good too – lots of fun restaurants. Take a tour of Mount Vernon and then hit Alexandria for lunch and walk around. The perfect day trip!

Day trip to Alexandria, VA during the Washington D.C. government shutdown


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