As with most capital cities around the world, a trip to Washington DC can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it. You will still need to pay for your hotel, travel and food but once you are there, there is no need to pay for any activities if you do not want to. According to Washington.org there are more top attractions available for free in Washington than any other city. Some of the best things to do in DC that will not cost you a cent are listed below.
1. Visit The National Mall
There is so much to do at the National Mall that you could easily spend the whole day there. It is home to many of the museums and monuments that are mentioned further down this list. The Reflecting Pool is a great place to think about all the history you have experienced throughout the rest of the Mall. This is one of the most popular tourist spots in the whole of the city and should definitely be on your list of sights that you want to take in on your visit.
2. Tour The Public Rooms Of The White House
Not many people realize that the public room of the White House can be toured for free. You have to be booked onto the tour and so it is nothing something that can be organized on the spur of the moment. In order to get a place on the tour you will need to speak to your congressional representative in plenty of time before your trip. This review on Trip Advisor has some good advice about how to get the most out of the tours.
3. Explore One Or More Of The Smithsonian Museums
The Smithsonian Institution is the home of seventeen museums and all of them are free to visit. One of the most popular of these museums is the National Air & Space Museum. Depending how long you want to spend in each museum and if you want to visit on more than one day, you may be able to take in several of these museums. A lot of them are located in the National Mall and this makes it easier to travel between them.
4. Take In A Guided Walking Tour
Guided walking tours can be a great way to explore the city and learn facts that you may not otherwise have known about. There are many different tours on offer and so there is something for everyone to explore the areas that they are interested in. The tours will often last for a few hours but the pace remains steady so you will have plenty of time to take everything in and ask any questions that you may have.
5. Visit The Largest Library In The World
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world and entry is completely free. The library has a number of different buildings but the one to check out is definitely the Thomas Jefferson. The architecture of the building is amazing and it is home to millions of books, papers and maps. There are free guided tours of the Jefferson building that take place every day and more details about these tours can be found on the official library website.
6. Explore The Capitol Building
There is an exhibition hall in the visitor center where you can learn all about the history of the Capitol building. There are tours that take in more of the building but you will need to be booked onto one of these tours which you can do a few days in advance. The tour will start with a short video that details the history of the Capitol building. You will then be taken on a guided tour of some of the most iconic rooms in the building such as the Rotunda and the Crypt.
7. Visit The National Arboretum
There are 446 acres of the National Arboretum for you to explore and admission is free of charge. It is a really peaceful place where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. As you walk around the gardens, there is plenty of information about the plants that are grown and the work that goes into their conservation. The Arboretum is also home to the National Capitol Columns which are almost two hundred years old and were once part of the Capitol building. The way that the shadows fall on the columns make for some really interesting photo opportunities.
8. Read Important Documents From American History
There are over three billion documents in the National Archives but one of the highlights has to be the original Declaration of Independence. Along with the Bill Of Rights and the US Constitution, these can be found in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. There is a permanent exhibition that demonstrates the way Americans have fought to stand up for their rights over the years. The National Archives is a great place for the whole family to visit and there is advice for visiting with children on the website.
9. Discover Art At The National Gallery
The National Gallery of Art is home to the only Da Vinci painting in the whole of the Americas. There are many invaluable works of art that can be viewed at the gallery and they are all contained within a beautiful marble temple. The museum is considered one of the most important galleries in the world, but it is still relatively new having being established in 1937 with a single piece of art that was donated by Andrew Mellon.
10. Take A Stroll Through Georgetown
Georgetown was established as a town over one hundred years before Washington and there is so much history to explore here. Many original buildings from the Georgian era have been preserved and in some areas it can really feel as if you have stepped back in time. There is also a thriving nightlife scene in Georgetown with plenty of bars and restaurants and so it is definitely worth spending the whole day here. If you are looking for somewhere a bit different to eat than chain restaurants then Infatuation has put together a comprehensive list.
11. Take A Ride On The DC Circulator
The DC Circulator is a free bus that takes in a number of the most popular spots in the city. It travels along specific routes and you are able to get on and off the bus as you wish. Buses run every ten minutes so if you have a lot of sightseeing that you want to get done in one day, you won’t have to spend a lot of time waiting around for the buses. All buses are fitted with air conditioning for the comfort of passengers.
12. Find Out How Money Is Made
The Bureau of Engraving & Printing is probably the only place that you will ever get to see a million dollars in person and entrance that includes a guided tour is free. Tickets are needed for the tour and these are allocated on a first-come first-served basis. The demand for tickets is greater in the summer months and so it is always a good idea to get there early. The visitor center is closed at weekends and so weekdays are the best time to visit.
13. Visit The FDR and Lincoln Memorials
The FDR Memorial was established to honor the memory of the 32nd President of the United States. There are four outdoor rooms in the memorial, one for each term of his presidency. He was president during a difficult time in the history of the United States including the Great Depression and scenes from this are depicted on the walls of the rooms. There are also bronze statues of President Roosevelt, the First Lady Eleanor and the First Pet Fala.
14. Watch The Planes At Gravelly Point
Gravelly Point is located just a short distance out of DC in Arlington County. It is the perfect place for a picnic and can be found at the end of the runway of the Ronald Reagan International Airport. If you have children with you, there is plenty of space for them to run around and have fun. There is even a pond where you can feed the ducks. If you want to see what the experience of seeing the planes land is like before your trip then there are several videos on You Tube that you can watch.
15. Explore Millions Of Items At The National History Museum
There are literally millions of items that are on display at the National History Museum. It is one of the most popular of the Smithsonian museums and gets thousands of visitors every year. One of the most popular exhibitions at the museum is Henry The Elephant who can be found in the Rotunda. Henry is an African Bush Elephant who stands fourteen feet tall and has been at the museum for sixty years. Other things to discover include Egyptian mummies, bones of dinosaurs and the Hope Diamond.
16. Spot Famous Faces At The National Portrait Gallery
There will definitely be faces that you recognize at the National Portrait Gallery. The gallery has portraits of all sorts of people from historical figures to sporting stars of the present era. Exhibitions with different themes are held on a regular basis and most of these are also free to attend. As well as portraits, there are also artifacts and documents that are also related to the famous faces that are on display.
17. Enjoy A Free Concert On The West Lawn
In the summer concerts are held on the West Lawn which can be attended for free. They are performed by different branches of the US Military and this is a tradition that dates back 130 years. You can often just turn up to these concerts on the evenings that they are taking place. The rehearsals for these concerts are also held on the lawn and these can also be attended by members of the public free of charge. The Architect of the Capitol site is the best place to check for full details of all upcoming concerts.
18. Take A Trip To The Zoo
Another part of the Smithsonian Institute is the National Zoo which means that this is also free. There are animals from all areas of the world at the zoo that are cared for and protected here. The Asia Trail is one of the highlights at the zoo and this is home to giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. There are eighteen zones in total to explore and each of these zones are very distinct from the others. The zoo is situated over 163 acres and so you will need to be prepared to do a lot of walking.
19. Look At The Stars At Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park is the only park in the United States with a planetarium. There are special programs that are held on different days of the week and it is always worth checking to see what is happening on the day you are thinking of visiting. The website is the best place to do this. The images of the sky are projected onto the domed roof of the planetarium for visitors to see and the rangers will give a commentary that will tell you exactly what you are seeing.
20. Visit The National Museum Of American History
The National Museum Of American History is open every day of the year apart from Christmas Day so you can visit no matter what season it is. It is full of artifacts from all eras of American history and these are all presented over the 75,000 acre site. Highlights include the flag that flew over Fort McHenry which inspired Francis Scott Key to write Star Spangled Banner, and the hat that Abraham Lincoln was wearing on the night of his assassination. Many of the displays are hands on which gives you a chance to really get involved in the exhibitions.