Things to Do in Washington DC in May (2021)

This list of our favorite things to do in May in Washington DC, updated for 2021 , including free, nighttime, and family-friendly things to do. 

 

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Disclosure: While our recommendations are always unbiased, we may receive a small share of sales through some of the links below at no cost to you. See the full text.

TOP 10 EVENTS AND THINGS TO DO IN MAY

For more ideas on popular things to do in DC, check out our other posts:

Be sure to check our post on things to do in DC year-round.

Some of the items listed in this post are included for free with the purchase of a tourist discount pass


1. Go to a Ballgame! 

What better to do in America’s capital than watch America’s pastime?

The Washington Nationals have 8 games at Nationals Park in May, hosting the Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and LA Dodgers.

 

Washington Nationals Baseball Game

If baseball isn’t your thing, then you can catch some MLS Soccer featuring DC United at the Audi Stadium. They have 3 home games in May against the Chicago Fire, Orlando City SC, and the Philadelphia Union.

DC’s hockey team, the Washington Capitals, also have some home games running at Capital One Arena with limited capacity. The Caps are hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Boston Bruins in May.

Find discounted tickets on Stubhub! 


2. Go to the Zoo

This is especially great if you have kids, but adults love the National Zoo too! Located in Woodley Park, the zoo is a part of the prestigious Smithsonian Institute.

It’s especially well-known for its pandas, but has many amazing animals to discover in beautifully designed habitats. As it’s part of the Smithsonian, entry is free.

The zoo reopens on May 21, 2021.

Please note that you will need to book free timed passes, this booking opens on May 7th.


3. Celebrate Mother’s Day

The capital is a great place to celebrate Mother’s Day.

DC’s restaurants are still running outdoors, so you can find a special brunch spot. Another great option is to take her on a cruise of the Potomac.

If simple and sweet is more her style, pack a picnic and bring it to the National Mall to eat surrounded by memorials.


4. Visit the Museums

Washington DC is renowned for its incredible museums, and they are finally reopening this May.

 

 

  • May 5th: The Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum, located outside of DC proper in Virginia.
  • May 14th: the National Museum of African American History & Culture, National Portrait Gallery, and Renwick Art Gallery (a hidden gem!) are opening. The West Gallery of the National Gallery of Art also reopens.
  • May 17th: US Holocaust Memorial Museum reopens
  • May 21st: National Zoo, the National Museum of American History, and the National Museum of the American Indian open again.

Sadly the Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum located on the National Mall are not yet reopening.

Free timed passes are required for all the above museums.

 

5. Take a Sightseeing Tour

Our Arlington Cemetery tour runs a few mornings each week giving you a chance to learn about our military history but also experience the beautiful landscape of this hallowed ground. 

Read about these tours and see when they are offered on our Tour Calendar page. 
 
 

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And we offer more evening tours to take advantage of the later sunsets, but some guests also enjoy evening bus tours.

Read all about the various bus tours in Washington DC to see which ones offer a night option.

With warmer weather, you may want to look into the Potomac River cruises – this is a great time of year to take the cruise to Mount Vernon and see the springtime plants and baby farm animals!


6. Look into a Tourist Discount Pass 

Even though there are so many free things to do in Washington DC, some of the highlights do have admission costs.

But you can save time and money on these with a tourist discount pass.

 

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Depending on which pass you choose and how you use it, you could save up to 50% off general admission prices for some of the following activities:

  • National Geographic Museum
  • International Spy Museum
  • Hop on Hop off Bus Tour
  • Bike and Roll DC Tour
  • Sites by Segway Tour
  • The Capital Wheel
  • Sightseeing Cruise
  • Madame Tussauds
  • National Cathedral
  • Mount Vernon
  • And more!

 If you’re interested in any of these attractions or you want to know more about how these services work, please read our post covering Washington DC discount passes.


7. Experience Rolling to Remember (formerly known as Rolling Thunder)

The famous event pays tribute to our veterans, and aims to raise awareness for the issues facing veterans in America today.

On Sunday May 30th thousands of motorcycles will ride around the National Mall to pay their respects.

Though there might not be any formal ceremonies this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is always a moving and unforgettable event to watch.


8. Celebrate Memorial Day

There are few places in the country that celebrate Memorial Day better than DC.

There are many ways to honor our fallen on Memorial Day weekend in Washington DC – whether on your own paying respects at the veterans’ memorials or as part of a scheduled event.

Some of the largest events are also free:

  • National Memorial Day Concert – May 30, 2021
  • National Memorial Day Parade – May 31, 2021 – details coming

We also run additional Arlington National Cemetery walking tours and our National Mall tour, which visits WWII, Vietnam and Korean Veterans Memorials.

Check out our guide to Memorial Day in DC for more information.


9. Attend DC Funk Parade

The first week of May 2021, join in on the fun with a virtual and a socially distance annual DC Funk Parade.

 

 

Celebrating the cultural vibrancy of the U Street neighborhood, the DC Funk Parade offers a day filled with an arts & crafts fair, parade, and evening music festival.

Admission is free and open to everyone.

If you’re interested in the history of the neighborhood while you’re there, take our self-guided U Street History and Food Tour!


10. Shop Like a Local at Eastern Market

May is a beautiful month to take advantage of a favorite local spot – Eastern Market. The market was included in original plans for the city, and the beautiful building dates back to 1871.

The market has the usual fruits, vegetables, and delicious foods, but also has artisans from around the world, making this a great spot for a unique souvenir.

The full market is open on Saturdays and Sundays. 


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THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT

May is a lovely month weather-wise so spending some time outside after the sun goes down is a treat!

Some of our top ten items are great for evenings like watching a baseball game or enjoying the DC Funk Parade.

Here are a few more night time activities for the month of May. For more nighttime activities, visit our Things to do at Night in DC post.

 

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Take a Nighttime tour!

Our evening Memorials and Moonlight tour let you explore the National Mall after the sun sets. With the memorials lit at night, there is an extra level of beauty and at some of the veteran’s memorials, an added sense of reverence.

You’ll also often get the memorials to yourself as crowds are less.

We also have a few adults-only tours if you’re looking for some salacious historical tidbits and a night away from the school groups.

Reserve a spot now!


Go on a Dinner Cruise

Discover another side of the capital as you drift along the Potomac after dark and see all of the landmarks lighting up the night sky.

During a dinner cruise, you’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy an elegant 3-course meal and dance to live music performed on board the boat.

Whether you’re looking for a good idea for a date night or you just want to see DC from the water after the sun goes down, this is an excellent opportunity you won’t want to miss.

Purchase Dinner Cruise tickets or learn more.


Experience the Supernatural Side of DC

Even our nation’s capital has its fair share of spooky stories that you might not know about. 

If you’ve ever wondered whether or not Washington DC is haunted (by something other than old guys who sign bills into law), there are ghost tours that cover the haunted history of this area.

Visit locations such as the Treasury Annex, Lafayette Square, the Dolley Madison House and more as your guide provides details about some of the creepier things that have happened in DC!

For more details, please read our post on Washington DC Ghost tours.

 


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THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN MAY

Washington, DC is super family-friendly! There are also so many activity options available, there is sure to be something to fit everyone’s tastes.

A few activities we’ve listed above like taking a Potomac River cruise or attending Passport DC are fun for people of all ages.

Here are a few more kid-friendly things to do in May. For more read about Visiting Washington DC with Kids.

 

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Head to the Zoo! 

A part of the Smithsonian Institution (meaning admission is free!), the National Zoo offers families a variety of animals and fun when they visit.

Don’t miss the zoo’s largest draw–the giant pandas that are currently on loan from China. Other animal highlights include gorillas, elephants, lions, and zebras.

The zoo grounds are open from 8 am – 7 pm in the month of May.

Free timed Tickets are required for 2021 entrance!


Cool off at the Georgetown Waterfront Park 

Escape the DC humidity along the banks of the Potomac River at Georgetown’s Waterfront Park.

Children will enjoy splashing around on the accessible fountain splash pad and lounging on the riverfront steps leading up to the water.

Also, catch some shade under one of the many lush trees or relax under the industrial pergola.

Our Historic Georgetown walking tour starts here and our family-friendly Ghosts of Georgetown begins not too far away.

Read about other family-friendly activities from our post on  Visiting Washington DC with Kids.

 


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FREE THINGS TO DO IN MAY

The city of DC is (fortunately) overloaded with free things to do! A lot of the items we’ve listed like Georgetown’s Waterfront Park and National Zoo are 100% free to enter!

Here are a few more ideas for free activities in May but for our comprehensive list, visiting our post on free things to do in DC.

 

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Head to the U.S. National Arboretum! 

A visit to the U.S. National Arboretum is great for any beautiful spring day, as the flowers are in bloom and the grounds are lush.

May can also bring the peak azalea bloom so keep your eyes peeled for those.

A highlight of the Arboretum is the Bonsai collection and May 09, 2021, is National Bonsai Day!

The Arboretum is open daily from 8 am – 5 pm (17:00); admission is free.


Experience Rolling Thunder

As part of DC’s Memorial Day activities, the annual Rolling to Remember takes place on May 30, 2021

The First Amendment Demonstration run begins at 12 pm at the Pentagon and the bikers will circle the National Mall for the next few hours. 

With the mission to educate, facilitate, and never forget service members of the Vietnam War, the main event (the run) takes place on Sunday, May 30th.

Thousands of motorcycle riders will make their way from the Pentagon through the district and back to the Lincoln Memorial. It is truly an amazing event to witness.


Take a Tour

We offer tours multiple times a day in May so there will always be something for your dates. 

Many of our tours are pay-what-you-want, so you get to choose how much they are worth at the end, even free. They are tours for every budget!

Find out more about our DC Tour schedule on our Tour Calendar page.

If we don’t offer a guided tour that fits your interest and schedule, check out our many self-guided tours and audio tours.

 


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About the author

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 3 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the host of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All

With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 25 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 3) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.