Washington, D.C. is a great east coast city. Because it is the capitol of the United States, it has a very interesting political climate. But, what I like about it even more is the amount of things there are to do there. Even better, many things are free! It’s possible to do a lot of things in D.C. over the course of a long weekend (or an even longer break if you have the time). Because there is so much to see and do, some planning is required, especially because a lot of things like the museums close earlier than you would expect during the week. We have successfully navigated D.C. in a short amount of time (2.5 days) and want to share our picks for top free things in Washington, D.C. and how to do it!
National Portrait Gallery
This gallery happens to stay open later than many of the other galleries and museums. Located near China Town, this is a great spot to stroll through during an open evening.
Arlington National Cemetery
The cemetery had one of the earliest openings out of everything we planned to do. So, we headed out early and made this our first stop of one of our full days. The cemetery is a beautiful yet somber place. Our visit was well timed as all the cherry blossoms were starting to sprout, adding hints of pink throughout the grounds.
With good reason, the National Mall is such an iconic spot in D.C. There are so many great monuments here, and strolling around the area taking them all in is a great way to spend a good chunk of your day. If you need a bite to eat, be sure to catch one of the great food trucks too! The best philly cheesesteak I’ve ever had came from one!
If you’re interested in the Holocaust Museum, get in line for your ticket early! While admission is free, they only allow a limited number of people in at one time, so you must get in line to claim your ticket early. Anticipate a long wait. We arrived about 9:30am, were in line for over an hour and barely secured tickets for the 12:30 entrance time. Once you have your ticket, you can go check out other places in the area (such as the National Mall or a Smithsonian Museum) to maximize time. This is another very touching and somber place and, by design, it actually gave me a bit of anxiety. By the end, I needed to get out of there.
These museums have limited hours and because there are so many of them, it’s important to prioritize your interests if you have limited time to visit them. You can see everything from natural history, air and space, and so much more! Our top choice was the Museum of Natural History!
Although you could walk across the bridge that spans the Potomac River to see this monument in Rosalyn, Virginia, transportation will get you there faster on a time sensitive trip. We saw this by night as part of a monuments tour and it is absolutely beautiful.
Ford’s Theatre Tour
This is another spot where you want to get your ticket early due to limited entry slots. Here you can see where President Lincoln was assassinated.
Yes, you can set up tours of the White House, but that’s quite the process. We chose to just check it out from the perimeter. The funny thing about this is they have temporary fencing set up a distance away from the White House that stopped everyone. But all you had to do was walk to the left a little bit and the fencing was moved up about 50 yards, allowing everyone to get closer. For some reason, no one walked over there but us. Once we did, the entire crowd followed us to get a closer look. This is a lesson in taking a chance!
Our Bonus Item
Our trip happened to be around the same time as the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which meant there were a lot of other things going on. While not free, we were able to catch a game with my hubby’s favorite team (the Yankees) playing vs. the Nationals. Something like this is always a fun thing to do when we visit cities because we have absolutely zero sports teams in our entire state!
Other Information and Tips on Washington, D.C.
While admission in to all of these things is free and many are within walking distance from downtown, there are some associated transportation costs. But, the subway is really cheap and easy to navigate. Plus, you can take it from Reagan International Airport to most hotels too! Check out one of the many apps available to make using the metro system even easier!
We also chose to do a Monuments By Moonlight tour during one of our visits, but the $30.00 per person fee basically paid for gas and 3 hours of transportation as everything we saw (including stops at 11 different monuments) during the tour was admission free. There are also discount coupons available online for this tour.
If you’re looking for places to stay, the Fairfield Inn by Marriott in China Town is a budget friendly option with great subway access and great breakfast options to get your day going! It is also right across the street from Vapiano, which is another great Italian restaurant if you’re in the mood for something fresh and fast. If your accommodation budget is a little more open, check out The Mayflower or even the Omni Shoreham (although this one is a bit north of downtown)!
Again, there is a ton to do in Washington, D.C. and we know these picks barely scratch the surface of everything this city has to offer. But, these are the things we managed to squeeze in over the course of about 2.5 days. Remember to allow several hours per place. If we can do it, you can too!
Have you been to Washington, D.C.? If so, what are your favorite free things to do in the city? Tell us in the comments below!
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