Late Night DC: Washington Culture After Dark

By: Nina Fomufod

January 5, 2015

The nation’s capital is home to a staggering number of museums and galleries. By day, the esteemed institutions serve up everything from ancient artefacts to invaluable works of art. But after the sun sets, these venues host incredible events perfect for night owls in search of some late night DC culture. 


Concerts. Parties. Art. There’s plenty of excitement to be had after hours – check out the secret life of museums and galleries below: 


National Gallery of Art


Late Night DC | National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art hosts regular evening events ©  kompasstudio/Thinkstock


Every summer, the National Gallery of Art hosts “˜Jazz in the Garden.’ The beloved outdoor event showcases a variety of jazz styles from Afrofunk to Blues Fusion. Need to fill your belly? Kebabs, pulled-pork sandwiches and sangria by the pitcher are all available. Picnics are encouraged – attendees should arrive early to snag a great spot in the 6.1 acre sculpture garden. 


Music lovers, rejoice! From October 2014 through May 2015, the National Gallery of Art presents its Sunday evening concert series. Recent performances have included a string quartet and music of the Spanish Renaissance – one of the best late night DC experiences for music fans.


The details: Concerts start at 6.30pm on the second and fourth Sunday of each month, and are first-come, first-serve. Admission is free.


The Phillips Collection


Late Night DC | Phillips Collection

Attendees explore the many floors of the Phillips Collection © The Phillips Collection


Welcoming young professionals and retirees alike, “˜Phillips After Five’ features art, discussion, and live music – plus drinks. Culture fiends in the District flock to the Phillips Collection for an after-hours opportunity to view the gallery’s three floors of masterpieces, and delight in stimulating gallery talks.


The most recent event, “˜Dreams of Reality,’ was set against the captivating arias of the Washington National Opera’s young artist program. Enthusiastic guests made dream catchers and investigated the origins of Grey Goose vodka.


The details: First Thursday of every month from 5pm-8.30pm. Tickets are $10-$12 for adults, 18 and under enter free.


Hillyer Art Space

Late Night DC | Hillyer Art Space

The Hillyer Art Space is set to reopen in early 2015 © Joe Flood/Flickr


A haven for under represented artists, Hillyer Art Space opens its doors once a month to mixed media enthusiasts for “˜First Fridays.’ Neighbouring galleries also participate, but Hillyer is hailed as the place to start the Dupont gallery crawl. Food and drinks are provided. The gallery is currently closed for renovations, but will reopen in early 2015. 


The details: The event is held on the first Friday of every month, from 6pm-9pm. Suggested admission is $5.


National Building Museum


Late Night DC | National Building Museum

Located steps from the metro, the National Building Museum throws a festive outdoor bash in the summer © NCinDC/Flickr


Celebrating architecture, engineering and design, the National Building Museum is a must-see for those intrigued by the evolution of built spaces. From green houses to designing for disaster, the museum is an educational, family-friendly adventure by day. In the summer, the museum hosts the “˜Summer Block Party‘ – an informal bash featuring live music and award-winning barbeque from Hill Country


The details: The fiesta is held several times over the summer, and lasts from 5pm until 9pm. Admission is free. 


Freer and Sackler Galleries

Late Night DC | Freer and Sackler Galleries

The crowd gets down as the DJ spins at Asia After Dark © Freer and Sackler Galleries


Start with contemporary art installations. Add in specialty cocktails and food truck delights. Finish with the infectious sounds of a world-renowned DJ. Suddenly, you find yourself transported to Southeast Asia – all without ever leaving the District. This is “˜Asia after Dark.’


The most recent event, “˜Bollywood and Beyond,’ blended the rich history of ancient India, with the sights and sounds of modern culture. Guests were mesmerized by live, late night DC performances, while dance classes, a photo booth and the crown-making workshop kept the event interactive. 


The details: 8pm-midnight, guest must be 21+ with valid ID. 


Hirshhorn Museum


Late Night DC | Hirshorn Museum

The Hirshhorn ‘After Hours’ series is going from strength to strength © Son of Groucho


Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the newly renovated Hirshhorn Museum is home to the “˜After Hours’ series. Patrons can expect late-night gallery hours, thought-provoking curator talks, and live performances – a cash bar also doesn’t hurt. The latest event featured Zola Jesus, and included “˜Days of Endless Time,’ an exhibit of 14 installations that challenged the fast-paced reality of daily life and analysed the nature of time. 


The details: Events start at 8pm and end at midnight, tickets are $25. 


Smithsonian at 8


Late Night DC | Smithsonian

Enchanting lights transform the Smithsonian Castle at the Garden of Wonders Event © Robert Lyle Bolton/Flickr


Geared toward young professionals, the “˜Smithsonian at 8‘ series blends art, history, and science in this late night DC event. Music and specialty cocktails get the party started – special access to Smithsonian exhibits and experts keep it going. Held at the Smithsonian Castle, this summer’s “˜Garden of Wonders’ fete channelled Alice in Wonderland. Large-scale bird sculptures and lanterns transformed the grounds of the garden party, while a giant chess set, moonlight croquet and music by DJ Alkimist amplified the fun in the magical wonderland. 


The details: Guests must be 21+ to attend. Venues rotate, check website for latest event location.


Mingle at the Museum


Late Night DC | Freer and Sackler Galleries

Guest admire an art installation at Asia After Dark at Freer and Sackler Galleries © Freer and Sackler Galleries


Held sporadically, “˜Mingle at the Museum‘ is the destination for those eager to hob-nob with other like-minded knowledge junkies. At “˜DNA Mix in the Museum,’ a past event, guests soaked up information about the human genome from experts, made necklaces with their own DNA strand, and participated in the Chili Challenge – an experiment that dissected one’s sensitivity to heat.


The details: Hosted by the Smithsonian Associates, the events run from 6.45pm-9.30 pm. Venues rotate, check website for latest event location.


Virgin Atlantic operates daily direct flights from London Heathrow to Washington, DC, making it easy to experience late night DC for yourself.


Have you visited any of these museums or galleries after hours? What are your favourite late night DC cultural haunts? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.


Written by Nina Fomufod


Nina Fomufod

Nina Fomufod is passionate about spontaneous travel. She recently ate her way across Spain and Portugal. As a freelancer, she has investigated college food, invented recipes and survived a juice cleanse. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post, Grub Street and USA Today.

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