Calling all techies! Clear space on your home screen—you’ll want easy access to these free, D.C.-centric mobile apps, which delve into the area’s history, match you with your presidential pair, introduce you to the artists behind your favorite pieces and bring bones to life.
Don't forget your phone charger. With so many download-worthy apps available, you'll definitely need it.
Apps for Touring the Town
Start your trip by reflecting on those who first lived on the land. Visitors who download the “Guide to Indigenous DC” app follow a historical walking tour of 17 sites, chosen in part by George Washington University’s AT&T Center for Indigenous Politics and Policy.
The educational experience emphasizes the many ways Native Americans contribute to the capital, while also touching on policy creation. Users learn about important sites, such as the Liberty and Freedom Lummi Totem Poles, created and gifted by the Lummi Nation as a dedication following 9/11.
History buffs interested in exploring more of the past may want to check out the “NPS National Mall” app. With more than 70 sites, users have plenty of options to create a tour—meander past the Washington Monument and over to the District of Columbia War Memorial, then send a digital postcard, all with a tap of a finger. The National Park Service’s app also offers pre-planned tours and identifies monuments with augmented reality labels.
See the city from above with the The White House Historical Association’s "WHExperience" “Fly Like Ike” feature. Users hop aboard a (virtual version) of the first presidential helicopter, and take flight, soaring over the landmarks they’ve explored on foot. "Pilots" learn interesting facts and have the chance to land on the South Lawn of the White House. Souvenir junkies can commemorate the experience with the 2019 Official White House Ornament, a replica of the whirlybird.
Don’t exit the app just yet. It also offers a neighborhood walking tour and a virtual tour of the White House, plus a presidential lookalike program. The latter lets you snap a selfie and see which president or first lady matches your mug. Based on the White House Collection’s presidential portraits, the fun feature is a unique way to learn about U.S. leaders.
Apps for Touring Museums & Galleries
“NGAkids Art Zone;” National Gallery of Art
The “NGAkids Art Zone” app is sure to get kids (and kids at heart) excited for a visit to the National Gallery of Art. Mini-creatives will love the virtual art museum, interactive learning activities and on-screen sketchbook—and parents will love not having to clean up post-painting. Portrait, landscape, still life and five other topics are covered in kid-friendly fashion. Works featured in the app can also be found in the real-life museum.
Artechouse specializes in digital art, and it’s current exhibit, Refik Anadol’s “Infinite Space” (through Sept. 2, 2019), fits the bill. After immersing yourself in the artist’s computerized installations, head to the bar for exhibit-themed cocktails and mocktails that change appeareance thanks to its augmented reality app, which adds stunning effects to your beverage.
“Reforestation;” Renwick Gallery
Augmented reality pops up again at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. Here, the feature enhances works by sculptor Ginny Ruffner in “Reforestation of the Imagination” (through Jan. 5, 2020). The exhibition was created with animator Grant Kirkpatrick and uses the “Reforestation” app to sprout “mythical flora” from tree trunks made of glass, creating a whimsical world seen through your phone’s camera lens.
“Hirshhorn Eye;” Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Continue your art-filled journey at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. When a work catches your eye, simply pull up the “Hirshhorn Eye” app on your phone and scan it. An artist video appears, offering more information about the piece.
If you’re running out of space on your phone (thanks for taking our suggestions!), head over to the “Hirshhorn Eye” mobile website to scan, no download necessary.
“Skin & Bones;” National Museum of Natural History
Part of the Smithsonian's array of apps, “Skin & Bones,” fills phone screens with specimens at the National Museum of Natural History’s Bone Hall. Augmented reality, 3-D effects, games, video and audio bring to life the bones encased in glass.
“NMAAHC Mobile Stories;” National Museum of African American History & Culture
The National Museum of African American History & Culture’s “NMAAHC Mobile Stories” app allows users to read and react to stories relating to the Smithsonian site’s inaugural exhibitions. The app helps users plan their visit with floor-by-floor maps and a search function, ensuring they don’t miss anything at this massive, highly acclaimed museum.
“Freer Thinking;" Freer Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Another museum-based app, “Freer Thinking” allows users to choose an audio adventure at Smithsonian’s connected Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Those who prefer a structured experience can pick out a themed tour and let the museums show them the way. Others can strike out on their own and let the app alert them to one of 60 highlights, spread throughout the sites.
“Freer Thinking” is just one of Freer and Sackler galleries' apps. Those who are interested in a deeper dive can find more at the sites’ app page.