Washington, DC is my favorite American city. In college I used to head down to the nation’s capital about every month or so for conferences and visiting friends, but it’s been a few years since I was last down there. A visit was long overdue! I was excited to visit the city again for the National Cherry Blossom Festival in April. The cherry blossoms are absolutely a tourist trap, but seeing the trees bloom in all their sweet-smelling glory over the Potomac Basin is breathtaking and something I have wanted to see for a very long time.
Washington, DC is an expensive city to live in and hotels are quite expensive too. However, Washington, DC is full of amazing memorials and museums that are totally free to visit! So splurge a little in our nation’s capital on a nice hotel and fantastic dinner and save money by visiting all the awesome free places below!
5 Free Things to Do in Washington, DC
Smithsonian Museums and Zoo
Washington, DC is home to 19 Smithsonian museums and the National zoo. Most of the museums are completely free to visit (including the zoo!) and many offer free film viewings, workshops, craft demonstrations, special tours, and more. Most museums are open daily from 10am to 5:30pm. My favorite museum is the National Air and Space Museum as I’m a huge fan of airplanes and space shuttles. I go every time I’m in DC. During this recent trip I also checked out the National Museum of American History, which had a great exhibit on America in war, the National Gallery of Art (the building is a crazy labyrinth so ask for a map), and the National Museum of the American Indian, which is a beautiful building.
National Mall and Memorial Parks
The National Mall is the heart of Washington, DC. Most of the big Smithsonian Museums and monuments are located around the National Mall. Start at the steps of the of the US Capitol and walk down the National Mall towards the Washington Monument. From the Washington Monument you can either swing left and walk towards the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memoria, and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial all located around the Tidal Basin or continue straight towards the WWII Memorial. Past the WWII Memorial is the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pond, and the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Of course, you can’t miss the White House located nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue. There are many other memorials and monuments scattered throughout the city so keep an eye out as they appear out of nowhere.
National Building Museum
The National Building Museum was a new stop for me on this trip. It is located between 5th Street NW and 4th Street NW at F Street NW. Get off at the Judiciary Square Metro stop and it will be right there. Entrance inside the enormous and beautiful building is completely free, but there is a small fee to see the exhibits. Tours of the building are also free and occur daily at 11:30am, 12:30pm, and 1:30pm. The building is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is a 624 acre United States military cemetery located in Arlington, Virginia. The cemetery is easy to get to with its own stop on the blue line. The cemetery is open daily from 8am to 7pm. Make sure you sit and quietly watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that occurs every half hour from April 1st to September 30th between 8am and 7pm (winter hours are shorter). Walk through Arlington House and enjoy the former estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Soldiers from the American Civil War through today are buried in the cemetery as well as a few famous politicians like President John F. Kennedy and his brothers Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy. JFK’s wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is buried near her husband’s grave which is marked by the “eternal flame.”
DC by Foot Tours
Once again I will proclaim my love for Free Tours by Foot. DC by Foot is a local walking tour company that offers a wide range of free tours conducted by local knowledgable guides. While I was in DC I did the Embassy Row with Dupont Circle tour as I’ve never explored the Embassy and Dupont area of DC before on my previous visits. It was a great tour and I loved learning about the various embassies and the little stories of the neighborhood. DC by Foot also offers walking tours of the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery and every tour guide’s favorite, the Lincoln Assassination, among many others. The tours are completely free, but please tip your awesome guides!
There are numerous other free activities and sites in Washington, DC. I’ve spent a lot of time in DC over the years and have yet to experience and explore everything the amazing city has to offer. I have a feeling someday I will be calling the area my home, but in the meantime I plan on taking some weekend trips down to continue to discover new areas of the city and visit friends!