Did you know that you can plan an entire trip to America's capital without having to spend any money on many of the popular attractions within the district? Even if you're visiting the district with young children, there are always several free exhibitions, walking tours, galleries, and landmarks that will let you keep more of your money in your pocket, yet help you have a meaningful and amazing visit. If you're planning a trip to Washington, DC in the near future, here are some ideas for you to consider that are free and fun!
All of the Smithsonian Museums Are Free
Smithsonian Natural History Museum Photo by pcouture/Flickr
Considered the national museum for the United States, all 19 of the Smithsonian museums are completely free. The Smithsonian also offers a guide online that helps to point you toward the interactive exhibits that are in the various museums with the Institute's complex. From natural history to art museums to the ever-popular Air & Space Museum, you could literally spend an entire trip to Washington, DC exploring the world's largest museum. Foreign language speakers are also available if needed and disability access is emphasized. You'll find that with everything the Smithsonian Institute offers, there are plenty of free and exciting things to do just in this one location!
The National Zoo Is Free Too!
Tian Tian at the National Zoo Photo by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar
Part of the Smithsonian Institute complex, the National Zoo is considered to be one of the world's best zoos. It is the home to over 2,000 different animals of over 400 difference species and is one of the few locations in the United States where you can actually view pandas. Over a quarter of the animal population at the National Zoo is considered to be endangered, while gorillas, Sumatran tigers, and the Asian elephants are also highlight attractions. There is a parking fee for the zoo that is currently a maximum of $22, but the park entry is free and is right on the metro line.
Catch a Free Show at the Kennedy Center
Kennedy Center Photo by Bossi/Flickr
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is considered to be one of the greatest stages in the United States. Just the invitation to perform there is a great honor that is bestowed upon just a few talented performers! What many people don't realize is that the Kennedy Center offers a free daily show at 6pm on their Millennium Stage. No tickets are required to attend this free event and you can find a full schedule of planned events online at the Kennedy Center's website. After a long day of exploring the Smithsonian Museums or the National Zoo, attending a show is a great way to relax!
White House Tours Are Always a Fun Option
White House Photo by Serge Melki/Flickr
If you're at least three weeks out from your trip to Washington, DC, then a free White House tour should definitely be on your list of things to do while visiting the district. You can schedule your tour for up to 6 months in advance, though there is always the possibility that your tour may be canceled at the last minute. Tours are also often canceled because of budgetary issues, sequestration, and other political or financial issues. Any request to tour the White House must be made through the Member of Congress that represents your home district. Make sure to bring a valid piece of identification, follow the security protocols offered on the White House website, and realize that the Secret Service has the ability to prohibit specific personal items from the tour.
Explore America Through the Halls of Congress
US Capitol Building Photo by eGuide Travel/Flickr
You can trace America's history in just one free walking tour of the Capitol Building. Congress has debated politics within its walls for over 200 years and the more things change, the more you'll find that they stay the same! One of the highlights of the tour of Congress is being able to explore how the Capitol Building was used during the Civil War. Don't forget about all of the amazing artwork that has been part of the history of the United States! You must register for a pass to be able to take one of the tours, so if you know when you're visiting Washington, DC, make sure to take some time to register your family with the Capitol Visitor's Center for a tour that corresponds with your schedule.
How Much Fun Would It Be To Explore a Living Museum?
US Botanic Garden Photo by Bob Stovall/Flickr
The U.S. Botanical Gardens calls itself a living museum and you'll see why upon your first glimpse of it. Ask for a Family Field Journal before starting your free tour so everyone can learn about the various plants that call these Gardens their home. Kids aged 9 and above can also ask for a Junior Botanist backpack that is filled with additional educational opportunities. The highlight of any tour of the Gardens has to be the famous corpse flower. One of the largest flowers in the world, it is not an annual or a perennial in its blooming cycle. It can bloom once every few years or it can be decades before it decides to bloom again! Add to that the incredible aroma of death that you get when you're near the flower when it blooms and you'll understand why it got its name.
Take a Day To Explore the National Arboretum
Capitol Columns at National Arboretum Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid
Sometimes open all week, but often only open during the weekends, the National Arboretum is a collection of unique gardens that can have your family exploring outside for free. From incredible Asian gardens to a Bonsai Museum to the National Capital Columns that were added less than a decade ago, there is color and beauty everywhere in the many amazing gardens and lawns. Pack a picnic lunch, slather on some suntan lotion on a sunny day, and go enjoy a beautiful Summer's day in Washington, DC with a little extra fresh air.
You Could Witness History... For Free!
Supreme Court in Bloom Photo by Tim Sackton/Flickr
The Supreme Court is in session from October to April and you can be seated to observe rulings for free on a first come, first serve basis. You can also take a free tour of the building, though there is an extensive security process that must be undertaken in order to be successfully admitted. Wait times during the Summer months can sometimes exceed 2 hours, so if you are planning on taking a tour of the building or listening to a lecture in a courtroom when the SCOTUS is out of session, make sure you arrive early. A cafeteria and a gift shop are available on site. Just make sure you don't take your camera into a courtroom or you could find all your efforts to get into the building were moot!
See One of the Most Beautiful Buildings In the Country For Free
Library of Congress Photo by Matito/Flickr
The Library of Congress has access to literally every registered work and even minutes from Congress inside it. That in itself is enough to get some people to visit the library, but you can also take a 1 hour tour of the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress for free too. One of the most beautiful buildings in the country, volunteers will tell you stories about the construction of the building as you gaze up at the many sterling white columns. No tickets or reservations are required to take a tour, but space is limited to 10 people per tour group. You may wish to call the Information Desk at the Jefferson Building to ask about any given day's availability before heading out to the Library if you are planning on a tour.
Monuments? Washington, DC Has Monuments?
National Mall Photo by YoTuT/Flickr
One of the best walking tours perhaps in the entire world, the many monuments of Washington, DC are congregated right along the Potomac River that George Washington famously crossed. Many of these monuments are open late into the night and are stunning at night in their exterior lighting. From the famous Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument to FDR Island, you can easily spend a day walking through the many monuments that commemorate some of the greatest people and moments in American history. Don't forget to visit the World War II Memorial, which was partially funded by public donations. Just make sure to wear some comfortable walking shoes as you do this and bring a stroller for the little ones!
Are You Ready To Experience Washington, DC For Free?
Washington, DC can provide you a very memorable vacation without costing you much at all. With affordable bed and breakfast options in historical neighborhoods that start at less than $100 per night to the opportunity to explore the many national museums, parks, and monuments this district has to offer, the eclectic nature of Washington, DC makes it a charming and beautiful destination for your next trip. Why settle for a vacation that could cost you hundreds of dollars just for the tickets to get into a park? Many of the best sights in DC are free! Are you ready to explore everything that this city has to offer you for free?