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.

Cherry blossoms amongst a sea of white headstones honoring those who have fallen


Tomb of the Unknowns and the Changing of the Guards


The eternal flame that burns at John F. Kennedy’s grave


National Mall

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!

Holocaust Museum

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.

The smell of leather from the shoes left behind by thousands filled the air
Incinerators and train cars to the Final Solution


Smithsonian Museums

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!

So many great things to see – including the famous Hope Diamond!


Iwo Jima

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.

Across the street from Ford’s Theatre, the house where Lincoln died

White House

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!

Preparing for an event on the lawn, complete with snipers.


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!

This post is shared on Feet Do Travel’s #FollowMeFriday travel community where bloggers share advice, stories, and pictures!


If you like this post, please feel free to pin for later and share it on social media, and please be sure to subscribe to my blog to follow the rest of our adventures!


You might also enjoy:


    1. Isn’t it funny how you can live near some place and still have not seen everything there? The Portrait Gallery was pretty cool and I liked that they were open later. They have a good variety of things to see too! Thanks for commenting!

  1. Brilliant stuff ! I’ve been waiting for this as we are visiting Washington later this year. Certainly seems like there’s tons to see and do, I will start planning soon using all your excellent tips and suggestions really helpful thanks !

  2. Great list with free things to visit. I don’t think I will get the chance to visit Washington this year but I will definitely keep this for future reference. Thank you for your suggestions.

  3. Beautiful pictures. The military pictures are very poignant. Nice to know there are many free things to do/see. Great way to enhance one’s trip w/o spending extra dollars. Thanks!

  4. We’ve only seen the mall, cemetery, and eaten in D.C., and we will add the rest of your suggestions to our list. Love the cherry blossoms 🙂 We want to do a White House tour one day too, have you done one yet?

  5. I loved Washington D.C. and it is definitely a special place – I have some great memories of exploring it with amazing people. I loved Arlington Cemetery – that was definitely one of the highlights. You are right about the Smithsonian museums – there are so many and you need at least a few days to explore everything. I went to the National Museum of American History as I knew very little about the country I was travelling in. Great that you got to see the baseball too!

  6. I can’t believe that all these things are for free! The photo of the cherry blossoms amongst the white headstones is very moving, as is the eternal flame by JFK’s grave. I will definitely visit Washington and have pinned this for the future (especially as there are so many free things to do, love that). Thanks for sharing #feetdotravel

  7. This post gave me some great memories from when my family packed in a 15 passenger van (there were 8 of us on the trip) and drove to Washington D.C. for a field trip. We saw many of these places (free is a huge bonus when you have a big family) and really enjoyed strolling around the nation’s capitol. I’d recommend any of these things to other people as well! 🙂 Thanks for sharing such a great list!

  8. One of our absolute favorite destinations! And it doesn’t hurt that there is so much to do for FREE! We have managed to do almost all of your Top Ten, and one of the real highlights was touring the monuments at night, as you mentioned at Iwo Jima. Excellent suggestions – makes us want to go back again! And again, and again… 🙂

  9. Always enjoy visiting. Grew up close to DC so we went a lot. So much to see and glad some of it is still free.

  10. I love Washington DC – I took a trip from NYC and tried to fit in as much as possible into a day!! Obviously saw only the main highlights but would love to return and spend a LOT longer there! Will pin for the next time! #feetdotravel

  11. So many free activities. Thank you for compiling them together. How long a trip to Washington DC do you recommend? #feetdotravel

  12. There’s clearly heaps to do in DC, and so great a lot of it is free. DC is one of the few places in the USA I’ve actually been to (as a kid) but I don’t recall much. I know we spent a lot of time at the Smithsonians which I’m told we loved, so maybe it’s time to go back and visit.

  13. I flew in to Washington for a weekend, from Sweden, thats a long flight. We got a 10 hour delay of course so we missed half of a day. So we flew in for my brother-in-laws wedding, went to that and had a lunch the day after. Its all a blur of jet-lag 😀

    1. Oh no! I can’t imagine having a 10 hour delay when you are only going away for a short while! So glad you made it at least and could join in on the festivities! Maybe your next trip will be more worthwhile!!

Comment on this post!