One of the cities we’ll visit during this year’s road trip in the US, is Washington DC. I’ve been here once before, but only for a brief moment, so I don’t pretend to know a lot about the city and everything there is to do and see there. Which is why I thought it would be a great idea to investigate this a bit further, and I’ve come up with a list of 31 Free Things To Do in Washington DC!
31 Free Things To Do in Washington DC
1. Visit the Library of Congress
2. Take a free walking tour via DC by foot (pay what you want)
3. Take a tour of the U.S. Capitol (it’s free, but you have to make a reservation!)
4. Tour through the White House (you have to be in time for this one, since we’re Dutch, we can no longer do this, but US citizens should be able to get one – here’s how you can do this)
5. All of the Smithsonian museums are free! You can find an overview here, including a zoo!
6. Walk around Georgetown, a really lovely historic neighborhood
7. Do you love jazz? From May through August you are welcome at the Jazz in the Garden concerts that are held at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. You can find this year’s calendar here.
8. In the winter, you can skate on the ice-skating rink at this same location. This is usually open (would depend on the weather a bit) from November to mid March.
9. Enjoy the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This one is free and it is organised at annually at the end of June and beginning of July. You can find the updated schedule here.
10. Visit the drum circle at Meridian Hill Park. On Sundays in the summer, people gather here with their instruments and play some drums. This is also a great place for a picnic, even if you’re not playing an instrument.
11. Visit the Washington National Cathedral. This cathedral opened in 1912 and it is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Washington D.C. It offers free tours on Sundays. You are always welcome for worship.
12. Visit Rock Creek Park. You may not expect a park in Washington D.C., but Rock Creek Park is really worth the visit. This park first opened its doors in 1890 and you can visit it for free.
13. Watch a Shakespeare-play. Please note that these are only available for a limited period of time, usually in the second half of August. You can find the latest updates here. It is recommended to RSVP via Facebook if you want to visit one of the events.
14. While it may not be very ‘fun’, it is certainly important and impressive: pay a visit to the Arlington National Cemetery.
15. This is one that will be on my list: the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal-trail. This is a trail of 184.5 miles, which will be too long to walk during our holiday, but if you visit Washington, you’ll be able to walk the part that goes through Georgetown. There is a special Georgetown Civil War Walking Tour that you can take.
16. If you’re interested in history, a visit to the National Archives Museum is a must. Admission is free and there are always all kinds of exhibits to check out. And of course, you wouldn’t want to miss the original Declaration of Independence, U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights!
17. Can’t get enough of Law and Order? Experience it in real by visiting the Supreme Court. Open on weekdays, and there are multiple exhibitions and courtroom lectures that you can attend or visit.
18. While it is free to visit, you might not leave with all your money in your wallet if you visit the Eastern Market. This is Washington D.C.’s original and premier food and arts market. It is located at 225 7th Street SE, Washington, DC 20003, and it is openen on all days, but Monday.
19. Take a selfie with the larger than life Abe Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. And if you have the chance: it is most impressive if you visit it just after dark. By then, it is not really crowded anymore and the memorial is lit, which creates a beautiful image.
20. Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans Memorials, which are among the most moving war memorials. You might also know it as ‘The Wall’. Impressive and certainly recommended.
21. We’re from Holland, and we love water, so the Tidal Basin is a must-see. This is a 2-mile-long pond that used to be part of the Potomac River. You can find memorials for Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. roosevelt and Martin Luther King jr. here. There are also paddle boats for rent, which can be nice as well.
22. Get moving! How about staying fit while you’re on holiday? You can visit the Watergate Steps, near the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and join fellow fitgirls and fitboys running up and down and doing some exercises.
23. Admire Outdoor art. If you love art, but are not really the museum type of person, you can also visit the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. Here, you can find works from people like Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, and Alexander Calder.
24. A little outside of DC and not always entirely free, but cheap: spend $5-10 (depending on whether you have a vehicle or go by bike/foot) to visit the Great Falls Park. There are some Fee Free Days (scroll down!) though, and it is part of the National Park Service, so you can visit it if you have an America The Beautiful (or other kind of) pass.
25. Visit the National Air and Space Museum. This is part of the Smithsonian museums that I mentioned earlier, but worth the separate mention. This really showcases the history of aviation and gives you an idea of how far we’ve come in just a century or so. Very impressive!
26. Visit the Butterfly Pavilion in the National Museum of Natural History. You can visit it for free on Tuesdays. It is first come, first served and the handing-out starts at 10 am. Be in time!
27. If you want to know how to really make money, visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Tickets are required from March through August. These are free, but you have to come early: the ticket booth opens up at 8 and all tickets are usually gone within an hour or so. The tickets are valid for the same day.
28. As a former student of American Studies, I cannot wait to visit the National Museum of American History. Especially not when it advertises with ‘Immerse yourself int he red, white, and blue at one of the city’s most impressive museums’ 😀 Not sure yet how to convince the BF, but that’ll be something for later! Though I think he would love to see the kind of original Star-Spangled Banner Flag.
29. Visit the Washington Monument! And even better: go to the top! Unfortunately, this won’t be possible until spring 2019 due to repairs and renovation, but you can visit it anyway. It’s impressive enough, even if you don’t get to go in it.
30. Hang out with Einstein at the Einstein Memorial. And note the great quotations engraved on the bench on which he sits! And don’t forget to share all your pictures made here with the hashtag #PhotoswithAlbert 🙂
31. Catch a free outdoor movie. During the summer, there are multiple options, so I’m sure there will be something for you. You can check out the different screening spots here.
Plan your visit
I thought I’d make a list that would be a bit longer than the usual 5 or 10 things to do. 31 seemed to be kind of a challenge but… it was no challenge at all! It appears that Washington DC is actually a rather budget-friendly city to visit, which is awesome. I’m even starting to wonder if we shouldn’t stay a bit longer here…
In any case: since there are so many things to do in Washington D.C., I would recommend that you plan your visit to the city and make sure you don’t miss anything. If you have any other recommendations, please do not hesitate to share! I’ll share more of my pics when we get back 🙂
And if you’re looking for a cheap way to stay in Washington D.C., please check out this article on options to stay with locals. We will be using this for the second time (we did it in Cuba), and are certain that it will be once again a awesome experience.