Looking for Cheap Thing To Do in Washington D.C.? You have come to the right place. I have just returned from D.C. Check out these 15 options that will cost you little to nothing.
1. Smithsonian Museums
With the size and scale of the collections at these fabulous FREE ENTRY museums, you could spend days and days exploring their offerings. Eleven of the Smithsonian Museums are located on the National Mall. Among these museums, the most popular are the Air and Space, Natural History, American History, American Art, National Portrait Gallery, and African American Museum (Smithsonian Visitor Stats). Another notable Smithsonian museum nearby is the Postal Museum.
Explore the Smithsonian website for lots more information.
Food-related cost savings note regarding the museums: A number of museums do offer food carts, and sit down dining options. These tend to be quite expensive. A money saving option is to pack a sack lunch. You cannot eat it in the museums, but can find you a spot outside to chow down.
2. U.S. Capitol
A tour of the U.S. Capitol is a great way to see up close the legislative arm of the United States Government and see some fabulous monuments and art at the same time. Advanced reservations for FREE tours are highly recommended and can be scheduled in several ways.
For groups of 15 or less, you can schedule through the online reservation system up to 90 days in advance. Or contact your U.S Representative or Senator about a staff-led tour for constituents. We chose this option and absolutely loved our tour and meeting our Senator’s staff.
For groups larger than 15, check out the group reservation portion of the online reservation system.
Depending on the time of year and the business at hand on any given day, you may be able to visit the gallery of The House of Representatives or U.S. Senate. Contact in advance a member of your Congressional Delegation’s office for passes. Passes are not part of the general U.S. Capitol Tour.
Security note: The U.S Capitol does not allow you to bring food and drink or other liquids into facilities. Make sure you pay careful attention to the prohibited items list.
3. Library of Congress
The breathtakingly ornate Jefferson building of the Library of Congress definitely warrants a visit. Upon free entry, you can take a guide-led or self-directed tour. Along the way, you will see some amazing architecture, explore special exhibits, and catch a view of the famous Main Reading Room.
Time Saving Tip: If you come from the U.S. Capitol through the tunnel to visit the Library of Congress, you will not have to clear security again.
4. U.S. Supreme Court
Be sure to give yourself the free self-guided tour and check out the exhibits. Don’t miss the Courtroom Lecture. It is informative and you get to sit in the highest court in the land. The gravity of the decisions that are made here can truly be felt.
5. National Archives Museum
Interested in seeing America’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. all in one place? Plus get to view a 1297 Magna Carta, special exhibits, and a sampling of the public vaults?
Due to the popularity of the National Archives Museum during spring and summer months, it is recommended that you book your self-guided or docent led tour well in advance. A nominal fee is assessed for each person to do so.
6. White House
It is definitely worth applying to take part in a public tour of the White House. For U.S. Citizens, you must go through your Senator or Representative’s office to submit a request. Requests can be made up to six months in advance (the sooner the better, especially during spring and summer). As part of the process, you will have to provide certain personal information for security clearance check.
If you are turned down for a tour of the White House, you can still view the exterior of the White House from front and back at public viewing areas. Also, you can go to the White House Visitor Center to see a 14-minute film and see a variety of artifacts.
7. Arlington National Cemetery
Located just west of Washington D.C. in Arlington, Virginia, lies arguably the most famous U.S. Military Cemetery. The acres and acres of grave sites of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country offers a powerful reminder of the costs of freedom. Although entry to Arlington National Cemetery is free, I highly recommend purchasing tickets and taking the guided tour by tram. You can hop on and hop off a various stops, saving yourself a significant amount of walking.
Withing the cemetery, be sure not to miss the President John F. Kennedy grave site, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Changing of Guard ceremony.
8. United States Holocaust Museum
This museum does not hold back on giving a realistic picture of the scope, brutality, and depravity of the Holocaust. That being said, its exhibits are highly impactful for teens and adults. Because of the graphic nature of the exhibits, I do not recommend bringing younger children.
I recommend reserving tickets in advance online. No cost for tickets. Just nominal fee for reserving the tickets.
9. Bureau of Engraving And Printing
Offers a fascinating first-hand look at U.S. currency being printed. So mesmerizing to watch. Plus along the way enjoy exhibits tracing the history of currency and the jobs at the Bureau.
Tours are free and first come, first serve each day open. Best advice is to get there early.
10. Smithsonian National Zoo-Cheap Things To Do in Washington D.C.
A member of the Smithsonian family, this free to enter zoo houses 2,700 animals from more than 390 species. Probably, the biggest visitor favorites are the Giant Pandas.
Money Saving Tip: Don’t drive to the Zoo. Parking is limited and expensive.
11. Enjoying People Watching At The National Mall
Among the surprisingly interesting and free things to do in Washington D.C., people watching on the National Mall ranks pretty high. The National Mall is America’s most visited National Park. It stretches over two miles from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. Park benches can be found at spots along the Mall’s central pathway.
You never know what special events, rallies, visitors milling about, food trucks, entertainers, etc…, you will see
12. Sightseeing Via The DC Circulator
Free hop on, hop off buses that run along six routes including around the National Mall. Learn more and get updates on routes and next bus times through the DC Circulator website.
13. National Memorials and Monuments
Washington DC is home to a variety of impressive and moving to view memorials and monuments. These include the Jefferson Memorial, MLK, Jr. Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and more. All of these are located on or near the National Mall and offer free admission.
Worth the Money Tip: Because distances between memorials and monuments is often greater than appears, I highly recommended paying for a hop on, hop off guided bus tour. We took the DC at Dusk Night Bus Tour by USA Guided Tours™ and really enjoyed it. The sites are neat to see in the evening.
14. Explore Neighborhoods on Foot
Two areas in Washington DC area that are often recommended by locals and visitors alike are Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria. Check out lots of shops, restaurants, and distinctive historic sites. Endlessly entertaining site seeing is a definite two thumbs up among cheap things to do in Washington D.C.
15. Enjoy A Free Concert Or Festival
You do not have to look far in the DC area to find free concerts and festivals that you can enjoy. In fact, you may find yourself having to choose between equally great options occurring at the same time.
The list above shows what a great variety of free and cheap things to do in Washington D.C. are available. Get out there and take advantage!
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