31 Free Things To Do In Washington DC

March 19, 2015

Washington DC, amidst its glitz, pomp and the trappings of its office, is a budget-friendly destination with tons of awesome freebies. As a matter of fact, there is no place on earth that has more marvelous free delights and pleasures than the “Nation’s Capital”. From its glorious Smithsonian museums to its eye-catching treasured memorials, there are literally hundreds of fabulous free things to do in Washington DC.  Trust me, this huge American city is all about FREEdom!

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1. Catch sight of cherry blossoms in spring  

You don’t have to travel all the way to Japan to catch sight of beautiful cherry blossoms.  Just visit Washington DC in spring, and you’ll get a chance to see over 1,500 blooming cherry blossom trees lining the city’s Tidal Basin.

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2. Visit the Smithsonian museums

Whether you are an art lover or a history junkie, the Smithsonian Institution has an eclectic collection of galleries and museums to appease your taste.

Smithsonian galleries and museums to visit in Washington DC

  • Renwick Gallery
  • Postal Museum
  • Portrait Gallery
  • Natural History Museum
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  • Freer Gallery of Art
  • Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
  • Anacostia Community Museum
  • American Indian Museum
  • National Museum of American History
  • American Art Museum
  • Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • African Art Museum
  • African American History and Culture Museum
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    3. Explore the National Zoo

    Traveling with a bunch of kids? One of the best free things to do in Washington DC, with your family, is to swing by the National Zoo. Here, you get to see more than 300 species of animals, including sea lions, monkeys, tigers, giraffes, lions, giant octopus, bears, New Zealand kiwi and giant pandas.

    4. Free events and festivals

    From the prismatic National Independence Day Parade and Smithsonian Folklife Festival to the National Cherry Blossom Festival, there are plenty of free events and festivals going on in the Nation’s Capital throughout the year. Check here to know more about the monthly events in Washington DC.

    5. Free tour of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the Department State

    A free educational guided tour of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the Department State will give you a deep insight of the 18th century paintings, American furniture and the other artworks housed in its rooms.

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    6. Admire the monuments and sights of the National Mall

    The National Mall is a must-visit monumental space for people who are looking for free things to do in Washington DC. Located right at the heart of Washington DC, the National Mall is home to a number of national treasures and beloved monuments.

    Monuments and memorials to see in the National Mall

  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Jefferson Memorial
  • FDR memorial
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  • DC War Memorial
  • Washington Monument

  • 7. Take pictures of the famous reflecting pool in the Mall

    The reflecting pool is an absolute DC icon that has been featured in many blockbuster flicks like Forrest Gump. Steeped in history, this big and gorgeous rectangular pool was also the setting of the legendary “I Have a Dream” speech from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    8. A guided tour around the Pentagon

    A free tour to the Pentagon lets you delve into a slew of intriguing points of interest, such as the Pentagon Center Courtyard, 9/11 Memorial Quilts, 9/11 Memorial and Chapel, Soldiers and Signers of the Constitution Corridor, Faces of the Fallen Memorial,  Hall of Heroes and more.

    9. A stopover to one of the world’s most coveted residences

    Of all the free things to do in Washington DC, this next one is something you definitely don’t want to miss.  As you pay a visit to the White House, you’ll have a free guided tour that gives you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see or even meet the president of the United States!

    10. A tour around the Capitol

    The United States Capitol is not just a place where the Congress and Senate congregate, but it also a treasure trove of national gems. From the pageantry of its art collection and dome to the house and senate chambers, this majestic historic building is teeming with fabulous and iconic sights. Plus, the building is drenched in history, making a living history museum in Washington.

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    11. Visit the Library of Congress

    One of the most gorgeous buildings in the city, the Library of Congress is an underrated gem that offers a host of freebies to its visitors, such as interactive exhibits, poetry readings, concerts and lectures.

    12. Watch the congress in action

    While a free tour around the US Capitol or White House is nice, it is the congressional hearing that will truly give you an authentic Washington DC experience. For the most part, congressional hearings are open to the public for free, and are held in the congressional office buildings nearby. Alternatively, you can ask your representative or senator for gratis galley passes, to see the lawmakers on the Senate or House floors in action.

    13. Pay homage to the bravest and most remarkable people in the history of the US

    A visit to the Arlington National Cemetery is something you must do in Washington DC. After all, it is the grave site to some of the most notable people in the history of the United States, including Robert Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, JFK and William Howard Taft. What’s more, it has a plethora of beautiful memorials and monuments like USS Main Memorial, Spanish-American War Memorial, Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial and Coast Guard Memorial.

    14. Watch the changing of the guard at the Arlington National Cemetery

    When visiting the Arlington National Cemetery, make sure to watch the special and elaborate ritual called the changing of the guard in the Tomb of the Unknowns.

    15. Spend an afternoon with your kids at the Turtle Park 

    Another great destination in Washington DC for those who are traveling with their children is the Friendship Park, or also referred as Turtle Park. In this lush park, adults can get away from the city buzz, by spending a few hours relaxing and admiring its scenery.  Kids, meanwhile, can spend the entire afternoon playing around its sandbox, which is equipped with toys as well as stationary and kid-friendly ceramic turtles.

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    16. Smell the fragrant flowers of National Arboretum

    The National Arboretum, one of the biggest arboretums in the US, is a scenic 446-acre natural environment that will bombard your senses with its bonsai collections, herb gardens, landscaped gardens and beautiful classical columns.  Indeed, it is one of the most amazing things to do in Washington DC.

    17. A quaint park in the midst of a big modern city

    Rock Creek Park is a lovely urban park that lets you enjoy a bevy of outdoor activities, such as biking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and rollerblading. Likewise, it is a great place to take a picnic as well as listen to a free concert. To top it all off, the park has an array of special programs for your kids, including junior ranger programs, crafts, exploratory hikes, animals and planetarium shows.

    18. A stroll around the US Botanic Garden

    In the US Botanic Garden, you get to spot endangered and rare plants as well as hundreds of colorful orchids.

    19. Free walking tours

    DC by foot is a tip-based tour company that offers fast-paced and engaging walking tours for free in Washington DC. With their free walking tour, you’ll be able to lay eyes on some of the most iconic landmarks and sights in the Nation’s Capital.  As an added bonus, the tour guide will share a few cool stories, such as George Washington and his love for dogs, why French women adore Thomas Jefferson, the indestructibility of the presidential car, and a whole lot more.

    20. A leisurely stroll around Old Town, Alexandria

    Experience a blissful leisurely walk around Alexandria’s historic town, and take pictures of its fascinating colonial churches and houses.

    21. A self-guided tour in a neighborhood in DC

    One the best free things to do in Washington DC is to learn more about the history of the city’s neighborhoods by following a walking trail from Cultural Tourism DC.

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    22. Pay a visit to the National Gallery of Art

    The National Gallery of Art, a celebrated tourist attraction in Washington DC, is a world-class museum that showcases a broad collection of art masterpieces, including decorative arts, sculptures, photographs, prints, drawings and paintings from the 1200s to the present. As far as I’m concerned, visiting this gallery is one of the best free things to do in Washington DC.

    23. Free tour in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

    Everybody loves to watch real cash being made and printed. And in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, you get a free tour that allows you to see how the US paper money is printed, stacked, trimmed and examined for any defects.

    24. Take a free tour at the National Building Museum

    Praised for its architectural grandeur, the National Building Museum celebrates the methods and history of urban planning, construction, engineering, design and architecture though a variety of free hands-on activities and exhibits. By the way, free tours are available daily at 11:30 am as well as 12:30 and 1:30 pm.

    25. History overload at the National Archives

    Are you a history buff? Then, make it a point to drop by the National Archives, and see the Constitution and Bill of Rights and the original Declaration of Independence in person. In addition to the historical patriotic documents, the place has a cutting-edge theater as well as a top-notch exhibit gallery that displays document-based exhibits on timely and newsworthy topics.

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    26. Be awestruck by the Washington National Cathedral

    Tour the Washington National Cathedral, and be awed by its incredible Gothic architectural design.

    27. A close up look of airplanes landing and taking off

    Make your way to Gravelly Point Park, and watch the planes land and take off at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. While it is not as fancy as the other free things do in Washington DC, it’s nevertheless a unique and relaxing sightseeing experience.

    28. Watch free performances at Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage

    You can watch free performances every six in the evening at Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Just come to the venue early, to get a good spot.

    29. Coffee Hour

    Do you love coffee and poems? Every Sunday, Georgetown’s Grace Church celebrates the Coffee Hour, an event in which you get to listen to poets and enjoy complimentary coffee.

    30. Sightseeing at Union Station

    For those who are overly fond of sightseeing, one of the coolest free things to do in Washington DC is to wander around the Union Station, and take in its dazzling sights.

    31. Get a spectacular view of the city, one of the coolest free things to do in Washington DC

    Get a breathtaking view of the city by climbing to the observation level of the 96-meter-tall Old Post Office Tower. To me, it is one of the free things to do in Washington DC that will leave you in utter amazement.

    You don’t need to spend a fortune to experience a memorable trip in Washington DC. With our list of the free things to do in Washington DC, you can still enjoy all the excitement, thrills, charm and beauty that the Nation’s Capital holds even if you are on a tight budget.

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    Ashley Thompson
    A fun size lass born in rock and roll who dreams to become a rock star, or a world traveler, or both.
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