How to Enjoy Washington, DC for Free!

Capitol - Washington DC

We frequently visit Washington, D.C. for work, so we’ve gotten to know America’s capital well. The famed Smithsonian is actually 19 different museums and galleries, and along with the National Zoological Park, they comprise the largest collection of free museums in the world. Many of the most important historical US artifacts are clustered in free museums and galleries along the National Mall, between the US Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. Here’s advice on how to experience the best of Washington, DC for free!

Washington Capitol Tour

Free tours of the beautiful US Capitol building are available Monday through Saturday via the US Capitol Visitor’s Center. You can also organize a tour through your House representative or Senator’s office. It’s good PR for them and free for you, so if you know when you’re going, utilize this! Tours of the Capitol building are not available on Sundays, so plan accordingly!

The US Capital Building in Washington, D.C.

White House

You have to at least take a stroll by the White House. It’s beautiful anytime of year. You can also organize a free tour of the White House through your Congressman, and you need to request it a minimum of 3 weeks in advance. To be on the safe side, request your White House tour as early as 3 months in advance if you know your dates of travel.

The White House lawn covered in snow

National Archives

The National Archives house all Congressional laws and other important records and documents. The original US Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights are all housed here, in a beautiful room, right next to each other. If you visit during a weekday, you might have the room practically to yourself to closely examine the faded signatures of John Hancock and other “founding fathers.”

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

This is one of the best and most popular free museums in Washington, DC for both adults and children. The National Air and Space Museum features a massive collection of aircraft and space memorabilia. One of the biggest highlights here is the lunar module, which Neil Armstrong emerged from to be the first man to step foot on the moon!

Air and Space

National Museum of American History

The National Museum of American History is where you can view the original star spangled banner. This is the American flag that was raised at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, after a crucial victory over the invading British during the War of 1812, inspiring the famous anthem by Francis Scott Key. The museum offers a lot of insight into American life, both past and present.

Lincoln Memorial

Many historians consider Abraham Lincoln America’s greatest president because his administration kept the union together, while abolishing slavery. The Lincoln Memorial, impressive in itself, also offers a dramatic view of the Washington Monument across the National Mall. “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever” are the words inscribed above the famous statue of Lincoln.

Washington Monument

Go to the top of the Washington Monument for an amazing view of the city. Visitors can pre-book tickets for just $1.50 or take a chance by just showing up (not advised during peak tourism season). If you don’t climb it, you get wonderful views of the landmark from the US Capitol Building on one side of the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial on the other side.

Monument and flags

 

Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial is wonderful during a tour of Washington, DC for free. It generally draws far fewer crowds than the Lincoln Memorial which is usually packed with people. You can also get a great 360 degree view of America’s 3rd president and influential founding father, with stunning views of DC from its marble steps. While Jefferson was an outspoken critic of slavery, he owned many slaves and even fathered children with them.

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC is an inspiring place. While Thomas Jefferson wrote against slavery, he also owned many himself.

National Zoological Park

Not only is the National Zoo free, it’s also home to several pandas! Pandas are rare big ticket items and are expensive for zoos to purchase or rent. In addition to pandas, the National Zoo is home to other endangered animals including orangutang, gorillas and more. It’s a fantastic zoo and it’s wonderful to stroll through without any ticket windows or even security (for now).

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetary

The Arlington National Cemetery  rests just across the beautiful Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. While technically not in Washington, DC the cemetery can easily be reached via the DC metro’s blue line. This is the national cemetery for US armed forces. Among the highlights here are the tomb of President John F. Kennedy and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The cemetery also offers stunning panoramic views of Washington, DC.

National Museum of Natural History

One of the best museums while touring Washington, DC for free. Major highlights of the National Museum of Natural History include dinosaur fossils, mummies and one of the world’s best collections of precious gems. The famous Hope Diamond has lived here since Harry Winston donated it to the museum in 1958.

National Museum of Natural History

National Museum of the Native American

The National Museum of the Native American highlights the continents original inhabitants. You’ll not only learn about the history of various tribes, but you’ll also learn about important modern day contributions of Native Americans. They also have the best cafeteria of all the Smithsonian museums featuring tasty Native American foods like traditional fried bread, corn totopos and contemporary items with a native twist, like buffalo burgers.

Final Tips on Experiencing Washington, DC for Free

Often there are lines on weekends in the warmer months to see the most famous artifacts, so arrive early for what you’re most interested in. There’s so much more to consider, so be sure to look over the full collection of Smithsonian museums and galleries. You should also consider a Supreme Court tour and the amazing Library of Congress, that includes the private book collection of Thomas Jefferson.

Asides from so many wonderful free attractions, you can get excellent hotel deals in DC on most weekends because the majority of DC travel is business related. So DC hotel prices, at great centrally located hotels, often drop by 300% on weekends compared to weekday rates!

Want to save on airfare and hotels for a trip to Washington, D.C.? Email alex@wanderlustmarriage.com and take advantage of great rates that will save you money on flights, hotels and allow you to get the most from your trip!

 

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18 thoughts on “How to Enjoy Washington, DC for Free!

  1. Great tips – thanks! I love exploring all the free options in a city, especially when it’s a capital like DC. It’s refreshing to be able to see somewhere considered ‘expensive’ on more of a budget. Good advice about visiting on a weekend, too – and totally the opposite of what I’d have thought! 🙂

    1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed the article, Katie! Yeah, like many American cities, DC hotels can be expensive. But because DC has a large volume of hotels to accommodate business travel (and there’s more lobbyists than ever these days) there are usually plenty of empty rooms on weekends. While DC museums can be busy on summer weekends, many tourists quickly visit while on a road trip and stay elsewhere. So DC is one of the best value weekend destinations in the country. DC’s official tourism site even markets itself as the “capital of free” https://washington.org/100-free-almost-free-things-do-summer-dc

    1. Indeed, it’s pretty special to see the original Constitution and Declaration of Independence. And for free, can’t beat it!

    1. Thanks, travelling chingrita. Definitely go back as an adult. Plan a weekend getaway and get loads of additional bang for your buck with the reduced hotel prices!

    1. Thanks, Carolina. Indeed, we’ve had amazing weekend value in DC when we’ve combined leisure with business. One hotel we recommend is the Washington Court Hotel. Some of their rooms have views of the Capitol Building and their rates are sometimes 1/3 the price of what they charge during the week!

    1. Indeed, Nikki. DC really is an inspiring place. The founders of the nation brought back Greek revival architecture in full force here, and I often think DC is like a modern day version of what ancient Athens looked like during it’s golden age, during the time of Pericles nearly 2,500 years ago. Happy Travels!

  2. I was in Washington D.C. earlier this year and I loved the fact that everything was free! Even the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum. I would love to go back and see their cherry blossom festival 🙂

    1. Hey deafinitelywanderlust. We would love to visit DC for the cherry blossom festival too! We’ve visited DC in all four seasons the past couple years, and once we even traveled by Amtrak from Boston (we usually fly). Unfortunately, none of our bleisure trips to DC have coincided with the cherry blossoms yet. No doubt a spectacular time to visit!

  3. I can’t believe all of these things are free (or almost free)! Tickets to D.C. are cheap from my city, but I worried that all that sightseeing would add up upon arrival. Pretty impressive that you can climb the Washington Monument for so little, especially when compared with the prices I’ve seen in Paris and Rome. Seems like D.C. would make a good surprise trip, since there isn’t AS much to pay upon arrival.

    1. Glad the article has piqued your interest in a visit to DC! If you can find a cheap plane ticket to visit DC over a weekend, it’s tremendous value given you can spend virtually nothing on so many world class sites. And yeah, it’s something you could sometimes find last minute deals for too. Happy travels!

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