Free Things to Do in Washington D.C.: A Budget-Friendly Guide

washington d.c.

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Washington, DC is a city with endless possibilities for exploration and adventure. With so many museums, monuments, and other attractions, it can be easy to overlook the many free things to do in the city. Fortunately, there are plenty of budget-friendly options that allow you to experience the best of DC without breaking the bank.

Free Things to Do in Washington D.C.: A Budget-Friendly Guide

One of the best things about Washington, DC is that many of its most iconic attractions are completely free to visit. From the National Mall and its many monuments and memorials to the Smithsonian museums, there is no shortage of things to see and do without spending a dime. Whether you’re a history buff, an art lover, or just looking to explore the city, there are plenty of free activities that are sure to delight.

So let’s take a closer look at some of the best free things to do in Washington, D.C. Whether you’re a local looking for something new to do or a visitor on a tight budget, we’ve got you covered with a variety of options to suit every interest. So grab your walking shoes and get ready to explore the city without spending a dime!

white concrete gazebo near body of water

Exploring the National Mall

If you’re looking for free things to do in our Nationa’s Capitol, the National Mall is a must-visit destination. This two-mile stretch of parkland is home to some of the country’s most iconic landmarks and monuments. Here are a few sub-sections to help you plan your visit:

Visit the Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country and a must-visit spot on the National Mall. This iconic monument honors the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and features a larger-than-life statue of the President himself. The memorial is open 24 hours a day and is free to visit. Be sure to take some time to read the inscriptions on the walls and reflect on Lincoln’s legacy.

Discover the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument is another must-see attraction on the National Mall. This towering obelisk stands at 555 feet tall and honors the first President of the United States, George Washington. Visitors can take a free tour to the top of the monument for panoramic views of the city, but be sure to reserve your tickets in advance. The monument is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.

Stroll Around the Reflecting Pool

The Reflecting Pool is a beautiful and serene spot on the National Mall that’s perfect for a leisurely stroll. This long, rectangular pool stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument and is flanked by walking paths and lush greenery. Be sure to take in the views of the monuments and memorials as you stroll around the pool. If you’re visiting in the summer, be prepared for hot temperatures and plenty of crowds.

Overall, the National Mall is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting Washington DC. With its iconic landmarks and monuments, beautiful parkland, and rich history, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

washington DC

Visit The White House

Anyone can walk outside the gates to photograph the White House or get their picture taken in front of the building on the sidewalk. However, you can also take free tours of the White House if desired.

If wanting to tour the US Capitol building, you’ll need to plan in advance and reserve tickets since it is in high demand. You may need to book several years in advance. Make sure you check out the rose garden if it is in season.

Field of Flowers North Farm
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Museums and Galleries

Washington DC is home to some of the world’s most famous museums and galleries, and the best part is that many of them are free to visit! Here are a few must-see museums and galleries that you won’t want to miss:

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

If you’re a fan of aviation and space exploration, you’ll love the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This museum boasts an impressive collection of artifacts, including the original Wright Brothers’ airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, and even a moon rock! You can also check out interactive exhibits and simulators that allow you to experience what it’s like to fly a plane or land on the moon.

National Gallery of Art

Art lovers won’t want to miss the National Gallery of Art. This museum is home to an extensive collection of American and European art, including works by famous artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet. The museum also hosts special exhibitions throughout the year, so be sure to check their website to see what’s on display during your visit.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a powerful and emotional experience that everyone should visit at least once. The museum’s exhibits and collections tell the story of the Holocaust, from the rise of Nazi power to the liberation of concentration camps. You’ll learn about the lives of those who were affected by the Holocaust, and how the world responded to this tragedy.

These are just a few of the many museums and galleries that Washington DC has to offer. Whether you’re interested in history, art, or science, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant city. And the best part? Many of these museums and galleries are completely free to visit, so you can experience all that Washington DC has to offer without breaking the bank.


Visit the Chinatown Friendship Arch

Located on 7th and H Streets NW, this is a fun attraction that is quick and easy to visit, but well worth your time. A great photo opportunity and landmark in itself, the arch is visited by millions of people each year.

Free Events

Washington, DC is a city that offers plenty of free events throughout the year. Here are some of the most popular events that you can attend without spending a dime.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a springtime celebration that takes place in late March or early April. This festival commemorates the gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Japan to the United States in 1912. During the festival, you can enjoy a variety of free events, including the Blossom Kite Festival, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, and the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival.

Fourth of July Celebrations

The Fourth of July is a major holiday in the United States, and Washington, DC is one of the best places to celebrate it. The National Mall hosts a free concert featuring top musical performers followed by a spectacular fireworks display. You can also watch the Independence Day Parade, which features marching bands, floats, and balloons.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an annual event that takes place on the National Mall in late June and early July. This festival showcases the cultural heritage of different regions and countries around the world. You can enjoy live music, dance performances, storytelling, and traditional crafts. Admission to the festival is free, but you may need to purchase food and drinks.

In addition to these events, there are many other free festivals, concerts, and exhibits that you can enjoy throughout the year in Washington, DC. Check out or Eventbrite for the latest information on free events in the city.

Field of Flowers North Farm
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Walk Across the Arlington Memorial Bridge

This bridge spans the Potomac River and is a great way to get from one side of Washington D.C. to the other without dealing with traffic. It’s also a lovely walk or bike ride, especially at sunset when you can see all of the monuments lit up in their glory.

Pay Your Respects at the Arlington National Cemetery

This world-famous cemetery is home to thousands of servicemen and women who have given their lives in defense of the United States. A moving monument from a bygone era, you can easily spend an afternoon here walking around this beautiful site. Free Things To do In Washington D.C

Visit The Library Of Congress

One of the most breathtaking pieces of architecture in the city, this is a great stop for anyone who wants to see where laws are made by studying our nation’s history.

Visit the National Archives

See the Declaration of Independence up close in the National Archives. There are several original engrossed copies of the Bill of Rights still in existence. One of these is on permanent public display here too! Other well-known historical documents are located there and lead to great conversations with your children about our nation’s history, as well as how legislation is passed for many bills, and amendments that are shown in the archives.

I love how creative the National Archives is – just look at this lesson for kids on George Washington

Washington National Cathedral

This Episcopal cathedral is a sight to behold. It was built in the early 1900s and is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world. Construction started on September 29, 1907, and was briefly paused for WW1. It was planned to be the Westminster Abbey of the West.

Several presidential funerals and memorial services have been held here, including the state funeral for President Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

Visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

This is truly a historical monument that will leave you humbled at the sacrifice of so many young men and women who went to war. Vietnam Veterans often are found here sharing information, looking for names of friends or family members.

It is a great teaching tool for your kids to learn about war, military involvement in other countries, and the ultimate sacrifice those individuals made not just for our freedom, but to better another country.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

This memorial is dedicated to the memory of those who served in the Korean War. It’s a beautiful and solemn tribute that any veteran or family member should visit when in Washington D.C.

Heck – while you are in that area, check out all the tributes to our men and women in service.

check out the giant pandas at the National Zoo

Spend a Day at the Zoo Free

If you have never been to the National Zoo, it’s a great place to relax and enjoy your day with family or friends. If you want to take advantage of being in DC, then plan on visiting this wonderful zoo that hosts thousands of animals. We love to look at the giant pandas!

Visit The National Museum Of American History

Famous for housing the original American flag as well as memorials from wars, advances in technology, and even a few movies and celebrities that have impacted our country, this is a favorite free thing to do in Washington D.C. when you visit.

Learn about the most beloved pieces of our history while finding out unique facts about cinema, arts, and the founding fathers.

badger honor flight logo

One last thing I want to mention

There are several “honor flights” for our aging population of veterans. In Wisconsin, we call it the Badger Honor Flight. As these are all scheduled in advance, various political leaders attempt to be at the World War II Memorial or Korean Memorial to greet and thank these brave men and women. I know that Bob Dole was there when my Father-in-law took his trip a few years ago. If you time your visit just right, you might get lucky!

If you are looking for historic sites to help you connect with our nation’s history, then Washington D.C. is the place to be.

Places To Stay Nearby

Frequently Asked Questions About Free Things to do in Washington D.C.

What are some free museums to visit in Washington DC?

Washington DC is home to many world-renowned museums that offer free admission year-round. The Smithsonian Institution operates 19 museums and galleries, including the National Museum of American History, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of Natural History. The National Gallery of Art is also free and offers a vast collection of American and European art.

What are some free outdoor activities to do in Washington DC?

Washington DC has many free outdoor activities, including visiting the National Mall, which is home to many monuments and memorials, including the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

You can also explore the Tidal Basin, where you can see the famous cherry blossom trees in the spring. The United States Botanic Garden and the National Arboretum are also free and offer beautiful gardens to explore.

What are some free things to do in Washington DC for families with kids?

Washington DC has many free activities that families with kids can enjoy. The Smithsonian National Zoo is free and offers a chance to see animals from around the world. The National Museum of Natural History has exhibits on dinosaurs, animals, and gems and minerals that are sure to fascinate kids. The National Air and Space Museum has interactive exhibits that allow kids to explore space and aviation.

What are some free things to do in Washington D.C. for couples?

Washington DC has many free activities that couples can enjoy, including visiting the National Mall at night to see the monuments lit up. You can also take a stroll through the Tidal Basin and enjoy the scenery. The Kennedy Center offers free performances on its Millennium Stage, and you can take a free tour of the US Capitol Building.

What are some free things to do in Washington D.C. for military personnel?

Washington DC has many free activities for military personnel, including visiting the National Museum of the United States Navy, which is free and offers exhibits on naval history. The USO Lounge at Reagan National Airport offers free snacks and drinks to military personnel.

The National World War II Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial are also free and offer a chance to pay respects to fallen soldiers.

What are some free things to do in Washington D.C. that are off the beaten path?

Washington DC has many free activities that are off the beaten path, including visiting the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, which has beautiful gardens and a replica of the Holy Sepulchre.

The National Postal Museum offers exhibits on the history of the postal service, and the National Building Museum has exhibits on architecture and design. You can also take a free tour of the Library of Congress to see its beautiful architecture and learn about its history.


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