We all know that vacation planning is often contingent upon what fits in your budget, however large or small that budget may be. Fortunately for you savvy travelers out there, Washington, D.C. is a city that’s perfect for saving money.
There are so many free thing to do in D.C. that we can hardly list them all here: from kid-friendly fare to educational and political, there’s something for everyone in our nation’s capital. Our local experts put together a list of some of the best free things to do in Washington DC, all great suggestions that can help round out your vacation itinerary.
A Way to Save on Ticketed Washington DC Attractions
We know that this blog post is about listing the FREE things to do in Washington DC, but, are you looking to visit a few of the ticketed attractions during your vacation? Consider using a Washington DC Explorer Pass - which includes free admission to dozens of the area's most popular attractions - all for one low price. See all available Washington DC attractions, passes & prices – Learn more. A Washington DC Explorer Pass can save you up to 40% off combined admission vs paying at the gate.
The Lincoln MemorialWashington D.C. is home to numerous memorials that people should stop and visit; however, the Lincoln Memorial is constantly rated as one of the top monuments to visit by people coming to vacation in Washington D.C. The memorial sits at the end of a beautiful reflecting pool where people can gaze into the water before reaching the monument. The statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting on an enormous chair with a beautiful backdrop is something that everyone should be sure to check out during their stay.
The White HouseFor obvious reasons, the White House is on this list. Even people who are only passing through are sure to stop and see the White House. The residence of the Presidency is one of the most famous stops on Earth and has become a symbol for freedom for people all over the world. For those who desire, the White House does offer tours for people who want one and those who are lucky may get to see one of the country’s champion sports teams visiting the White House as well. Tip: plan ahead if you want to tour the White House - it's free, but you do have reserve tickets in advance (which requires submitting a request for tickets through a Member of Congress).
The Washington MonumentThe Washington Monument is one of the tallest buildings in the city. The spike-shaped structure can be seen from almost any point along the national mall and sits in the backdrop of many pictures of the White House. Those who are brave can climb the myriad of steps up to the top while others can take the elevator. Of course, some of the most iconic photos of the city can be snapped from the top of this famous structure. Tip: the Washington Monument is closed through spring 2019 for renovations.
The National World War II MemorialThe largest war in the history of mankind is commemorated by a beautiful memorial along the national mall. The National World War II Memorial was dedicated back in 2004 and serves in memory of the over 400,000 American soldiers who gave their lives in defense of not only our freedom but the freedom of every country on Earth. The monument is in the shape of a circle and is a stop for many people on a daily basis. There are 56 towers that have been erected to commemorate the brave men and women who served during World War II.
The United States CapitolWhile the people who serve in the capital continue to remain a source of controversy, the building itself is one of the country’s most iconic structures. Visitors are always able to stop and take a look inside and watch the country’s elected officials, govern, debate, and propose legislation in action. Regardless of how people feel about Congress, the building is one of the most beautiful structures in the world.
The Vietnam Veterans MemorialThe Vietnam War will forever remain one of the country’s most controversial wars due to the time period it was fought in and the controversy surrounding the draft. Locals refer to this memorial simply as “The Wall” and is an enormous, black, granite wall inscribed with the names of the soldiers who gave their lives in service of the country. Because of its nature, it is one of the most emotionally charged memorials the city has to offer.
The Smithsonian Museum of Air and SpaceFor those who wish to get inside or steer clear of the government, there are numerous Smithsonian museums that people can visit. Best of all, they are all free. The Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space is one of the most popular attractions in the entire city because it offers a glimpse into some of the technology of the past, present, and future. It attracts close to 10 million visitors every year and gives visitors some insight into a variety of aerospace history, including the American space program. Without a doubt, this is a can’t miss stop.
The Smithsonian Museum of Natural HistoryMany people refer to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as the museum of everything. This is arguably the largest museum on the national mall because it has over 125 million exhibits and artifacts on display. The museum is the museum of life itself and is broken up by the time period during which the exhibits were alive and the habitat in which they thrived. Some of the exhibits do rotate so people should visit more than once to see what the museum has to offer.
The National ArchivesThe National Archives typically fall high on everyone’s list of stops when they visit Washington D.C. because of the sheer volume of information that is contained inside. There are manuscripts on almost everything and, unfortunately, there is usually a line to get in; however, this is how people know it’s popular.
The Tidal BasinEven in Washington D.C., there is something for nature lovers to enjoy. The Tidal Basin is a pond that spans over two miles and used to connect to the Potomac River. Now, the Tidal Basin serves as a beautiful view that is most popular during the spring season. Those who love the Cherry Blossoms will want to stop and visit the Tidal Basin when they start to bloom. There may not be a more beautiful sight in the city. Washington D.C. is the nation’s capital and features a wide variety of monuments and memorials that people should take the time to visit; however, it is almost impossible to do all of these things during a short vacation. People should take the time to plan their vacation and select what they want to see. If there is more on the list, return another time!
Art Galleries to ExploreWhile there are certainly a number of private art galleries that aren’t open to the public free of charge, all of the big ones offer free admission. The renowned National Gallery of Art – split into East and West wings, each featuring a distinct era of art – is probably the most well-known, but the National Portrait Gallery is also free. There are also a few art museums down on the mall, including the smaller but unique Freer and Sackler Galleries. The Smithsonian Museum of American Art is actually located in Chinatown (Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro on Red/Green/Yellow), and there’s the Phillips Gallery with modern art in Dupont Circle (Dupont Circle Metro on Red).
The National ZooThe National Zoo is one of the city’s greatest treasures. While small compared to some other zoos, it’s also among the nation’s best in terms of conservation and research. The National Zoo is home to approximately 1,800 critters from 300 different species, including the loveable Giant Pandas, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and little Bao Bao. The Zoo is also easy to get to via public transit, located between two Metro stops (Woodley Park and Cleveland Park on Red). They provide free admission and fun events year round, and guided tours for a modest price.
Let's Recap on How to Visit Washington DC for Cheap
So there are some fun ideas for free things to do in in Washington DC. Remember, if you want to add some attractions to your itinerary that normally cost money, consider purchasing a Go Washington DC Card. With the Go Washington DC Card you get free admission to dozens of attractions all for the one low price of the pass. You can save up to 55% off combined admission costs vs paying at the gate. Enjoy!