Washington is such a culture-packed destination and what makes Washington even more special is the fact that you can enjoy many cultural and historic sites within the city, completely free of cost. It is true what they say, the best things in life a free. However, amongst all the free attractions the capital has to offer, which attractions are considered the best free things to do in Washington?
The list of free things to do in Washington DC is actually quite long. There are over 101 things that you can do in the city, which costs you no money whatsoever.
With headliners such as the Smithsonian museums and the National Gallery of Art, do not underrate these attractions due to the fact that they are free. In fact, you should make it a point to add these places to your bucket list and for certain visit them on your next visit to Washington.
Hence, without further adieu, let’s dive in as we list out our selection of the 17 best free things to do in Washington D.C.
1. Witness the Historic National Arboretum
The home of the National Capitol Columns, the 445 acre National Arboretum is a great attraction, nestled in an oasis, amidst the busy city.
You have the chance to visit these giant historic columns which at one point supported the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol from the years 1828 to 1958.
Open daily from 8 am to 5 pm, the site has two entrances, one at 3501 New York Avenue, NE, and the other at 24th and R Streets, NE, off of Bladensburg Road.
2. Bask in the Glory of Nature at Rock Creek Park
If you are an outdoor enthusiast and love hiking and biking and all of the outdoors, then you should for certain go check out the rock creek park while in Washington.
The park is 4.4 square miles of wooded nature which is a great spot for a picnic. In fact, there are picnic areas in the park that are specially designated for picnics.
Further to picnics, you can enjoy a quick game of tennis at the tennis courts available at the park or even go horseback riding. It is in fact a great place to enjoy the outdoors and as you may expect from being included in this post, it is absolutely free.
3. Take a Tour of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The centre has nine theatres and stages which are dedicated to music, dance and theatre. Both international and child programmes are popular at the venue.
There is a free guided tour which takes place every 10 minutes. The feel from the inside of the premises is grandeur and there is a beautiful rooftop terrace from which you can get a panoramic view of the entire city.
The tours take place Monday to Friday between 10 am and 5 pm and on Saturday and Sunday between 10 am and 1 pm. However, you would want to call ahead of time to ensure that the tour is going ahead. To contact them, call them on +1 800-444-1324.
4. Visit Historic Georgetown
Georgetown is an area within the city that actually was around before the city itself. That is right, Georgetown actually was around before Washington D.C and was used as a transit point for farmers selling tobacco in the 1700s.
Georgetown is a perfect hub for art and culture, you would find many small museums with plenty to witness and see.
That is not all, Georgetown is a great place for shopping and dining. In fact, you would find some of the best shopping opportunities in Washington in Georgetown. You can simply spend hours walking through the well-preserved Georgian homes and architecture, admiring the beauty of Georgetown and its historic value. The nightlife is also buzzing.
5. Visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum
This is one of the best Holocaust museums in the world and has a whole selection of films, photos, artefacts and first-person stories from the Holocaust.
You would get a good view into what it was like during the holocaust and learn everything and more. The museum is free to visit and has rotating exhibits intended to educate visitors about the ongoing threat of genocide and violence.
If you are in the city, we strongly encourage you to visit the museum. It can be a very powerful and moving experience. You would be glad that you took the time out to be moved by such a key part of history. The museum is open daily from 10 am to 5:20 pm with extended hours in the spring and summer.
6. Visit the National Archives Museum
This is where the Declaration of Independence is housed, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and even one of the few remaining copies of the Magna Carta.
If you love history, a visit to this museum would be an absolute treat. The museum is filled with information and is has various interactive exhibits if you are travelling with children.
The museum is open daily from 10 am to 5:30 pm. Entry is free of cost and tours include the Rotunda for the Charter of Freedom, the Public Vaults and a special exhibit gallery.
7. Spend Some Time at the Tidal Basin
The Tidal Basin is a manmade pond that stretches two miles along the National Mall. It is a great place to spend some time and is popular amongst both locals and visitors.
If you are travelling during the spring, you are in for an absolute treat. The cherry blossom trees bloom during the spring of each year. You can witness the beauty of these pink flowers as they cover the trees which are planted around the Tidal Basin.
It is a relaxing spot to unwind and you can rent a paddleboat and spend an afternoon paddling on the pond. Though renting a paddleboat isn’t free, you are more than welcomed to enjoy the visit to the spot free of cost.
8. The National Gallery of Art
There is a huge collection of artwork at the National Gallery of Art from exhibits by Henri Matisse to Leonardo da Vinci.
Coupled with both art from centuries prior, there is also some great modern art on display in the East Building. The West Building houses more of the older artwork.
There is also a sculpture garden which you should for certain have a glance at and in the summer, there is free Jaxx in the garden every Friday starting at 11 am. The National Art Gallery is open from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and on Sundays between 11 am and 6 pm. There are free daily tours of the exhibits that you can partake in.
9. Witness the Lincoln Memorial
From the Lincoln Memorial, you get an amazing view of the reflection pool and the capitol building.
The sitting statue of Lincoln as the centrepiece of the Memorial, the words of his two most famous speeches, the second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address is inscribed on the walls around the memorial.
The Lincoln Memorial is open 24/7 and is especially breathtaking at night. You can check ahead on their website if you can opt-in for the free Ranger Walk tour.
10. Tour the Library of Congress
This is the largest library in the world and is found in Washington D.C. There are more than 16 million books and over 120 million other historical and media items.
The library was established in 1800 and today there are over 3,000 staff members who help run the place. Home to the US copyright office, the library is the main research centre of the US congress.
The library is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8:30 am to 9:30 pm and Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 9:30 am to 4 pm. The library is closed on Sundays.
11. Enjoy a Free Walking Tour of the City
One of the best ways to explore the city is on foot. You get to explore everything the city has to offer and it doesn’t cost you anything.
In fact, there are some free walking tours that you can partake in which covers the city’s main sights, where you get to learn about the history of the city. Further to this, you would have an expert at hand to answer all your questions.
12. Visit the White House
Considered one of the most iconic buildings in the world, the White Hosue was built in 1792.
Though you can always visit the White House and have a look at its grandeur from the outside, if you are looking to book a tour, you would have to do so well in advance.
The tour of the inside can be a fun and educational experience for anyone, regardless of your age. For more information on tours, visit the official White House website. Click here.
13. The National Zoo
The National Zoo in Washington is one of the most popular zoos in the world and has over 1,800 animals spread across a 160-acre land.
You would find reptiles, elephants, pandas and lemurs to site a few. The animal environments are built to mimic their natural habitat. The National Zoo is one of the most sustainable zoos in the world and is one of the first in the world to create a scientific research programme.
If you are travelling with children, this free attraction would be a great stop in your visit to Washington. There are various shows and demonstrations and feeding times spread across the day.
The zoo is open daily from 8 am to 7 pm. For more information on shows and feeding times, visit their official website. Click here.
14. Check out the Monuments at The National Mall
The National Mall is a spacious, landscaped, tree-filled park with various walking paths and monuments. You could easily see yourself spending more than a day exploring everything at the National Mall.
There are various attractions and monument at the National Mall, all of which are free.
- World War II Memorial – A memorial dedicated to the 16 million people who served in the American armed forces during WWII. You would catch scenes from the war and there is a beautiful fountain in the middle of the memorial.
- Washington Monument – Standing at 555-feet tall, the Washington Monument has historic significance and is a sight to witness. The marble obelisk at the centre of the park was built to honour George Washington. If you travel to the viewing deck at the top of the monument, you can get a bird’s eye view of the city.
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial – The memorial is dedicated to those who fought in the Vietnam War and has a separate Women’s Memorial and a Veterans Memorial Wall. The Wall is a powerful chronological list of names of over 58,000 American who served and gave their lives during the Vietnam War.
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial – Located inside the circular colonnade, opposite the main memorials, the Thoman Jefferson memorial offers a spectacular view of the entire mall and the Tidal Basin. The memorial was designed to resemble the Pantheon of Rome. In spring, the blooming cherry blossoms make for a beautiful sight.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial – His quest for freedom, equality and justice has been honoured in the form of a giant carving of Dr King. This is one of the new monuments which opened in 2011. Quotations from his famous speech, ‘I have a dream’ is etched into the stone.
- Korean War Veterans Memorial – This is considered the most popular memorial on the Mall. There is the Wall of Remembrance which has 19 statutes commemorating the millions who fought during the Korean War. There is a reflective pool that is hauntingly beautiful and sad in one sense.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial – The memorial is a beautiful reminder of Roosevelt’s four terms in office. Quotes are carved into the stone and beautiful bronze artwork. There is also a beautiful Japanese Garden with calming waterfalls.
- Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site – The theatre commemorates Lincoln’s legacy with a museum and special exhibits. It is a great look into his presidency and the aftermath of his death. What more, it is actually a working theatre.
- Constitution Gardens – Built in commemoration of the framers of the constitution, the place provides a beautiful spot to sit and relax, especially during the summer when everything is in full bloom. There is a tranquil lake and the tree-lined paths meander through the garden.
- Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument – The building which was home to the National Women’s Party for over 90 years, was declared a national monument in 2016 by President Barack Obama. The monument highlights the history and achievements of the suffrage movement and is named after the former party president.
15. Spend Days at the Smithsonian Museums
The Smithsonian Institution is a collection of museums and research centres that are administered by the US government.
The museums are free to enter and even offer free Wi-Fi. You can even indulge in movies with two of the museums in Washington housing massive IMAX movie theatres that play movies on a regular basis.
You simply would not be able to cover all the museums and centres in one day, so don’t even try. Take your pick and tick off each museum one by one. Here is a list of all the museum and centres at the Smithsonian.
- Air and Space Museum
- African American Museum
- American History Museum
- African Art Museum
- American Art Museum
- American Indian Museum
- Anacostia Community Museum
- Archives of American Art
- Arts and Industries Building
- Freer Gallery of Art
- National Zoo
- Natural History Museum
- Portrait Gallery
- Postal Museum
- Renwick Gallery
- S. Dillon Ripley Center
- Sackler Gallery
- Smithsonian Castle
- Smithsonian Gardens
The operating hours for each museum is different, hence be sure to check in advance. You can find all the information on the Smithsonian website. Click here.
16. Tour of the Capitol Building
The place where the US Congress meets. The Capital offers free tours throughout the day.
The tickets for the free tours are available on a first-come-first-served basis, starting at 8:30 am. If you are looking to get tickets, you should look to get there well ahead of time as the tickets go out like hotcakes.
If you would prefer, you can also book your tour ahead of time through your local senator or member of Congress. You even have the chance to watch Congress in session. Tickets to watch Congress in session is also free and can be acquired on a first-come-first-served basis.
The Capitol is open from Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and the tours take place Monday to Friday between 8:40 am and 3:20 pm. Though advance reservation is recommended, it is not a necessity.
17. Visit the Supreme Court
The highest court of the land, the decisions of the supreme court are final. The court sessions are open to the public on a first-come-first-served basis.
There are free 30-minute lectures in the main hall where they explain the structure of courts and how courts function. If you a budding lawyer or someone who is looking to study law, this would be a great experience for you.
Though there are no tours of the building, you can take part in educational lectures and watch a visitor film and take part in special exhibitions. The lectures are an insightful way to learn how the courts work, hence try to attend at least one lecture.
Free Things to Do In Washington D.C.
As you may have noted, there are quite a few things that you can do in the capital city that are completely free of cost. In fact, you could spend a whole vacation visiting all the sites on this list.
There is so much to experience in the city and the free attractions are only a part of everything the city has to offer. Combine these free attraction with some amazing wine and food and you are sure to have an amazing time exploring the capital city.
We hope you found our list of the free things to do in Washington useful. We recommend that you add everything on this list to your bucket list and tick them off one by one. All of them are worth visiting, which is why they have made this list of the best.
Hence if you are planning a visit to Washington D.C, remember this list and take your picks based on how much time you have on your visit.