Are you one of the millions of Americans changing their vacation plans due to increasing costs? Well, a road trip to Washington, D.C., might be the new trip you’re looking for. With a wide range of accommodation options, a great mass transportation system even from the suburbs, and mostly free attractions, take a look at what the country’s capital city offers.
If you are looking for free things to do in Washington DC for adults, couples, or kids, there are many budget-friendly activities to pick from.
1. The Capitol Building
If you want to see the Capitol building, head over to First St SW. It is the perfect spot to take a stroll, snap photos outside of the building or go inside the visitor center to see where Congress meets. It is open to the public and completely free.
However, visitors have to go through a security screening beforehand through their website. As a heads up, you cannot get a tour right now, but check their website for the latest information and see if things change down the road.
2. U.S. Botanical Garden
Located at 100 Maryland Ave SW, the Botanical Garden is a fun place to visit. Like the Capitol and many other places near the National Mall, it is also free and open to the public. Though you want to check the website for the most up-to-date hours of operation, it is currently open from 10 am to 5 pm. You do not need a ticket or a green thumb to enter. Just show up with a positive attitude. Also, take a peek at the outdoor garden, open from 7 am to 5 pm.
3. Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Statue
Cruise along the west side of the Capitol, right near the reflecting pool, to find the stunning bronze Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Statue that honors the former president and Civil War Commander. Grants sit on top of a horse facing toward The Lincoln Memorial. Snap a photo or two with the Capitol in the backdrop.
4. American Indian Museum
Located on 4th St and Independence Ave, SW, this beautifully designed museum has a relaxing waterfall on the side of the building and many artifacts housed inside. Get a more robust version of how Native Americans impacted American culture in the ongoing “Americans” exhibit.
Find out how it affected history and modern-day life. Also, explore other exhibits explaining their role in the armed forces, treaties with the U.S., information about different tribes, and more.
5. The Eisenhower Memorial
Right near The American Indian Museum stands the Eisenhower Memorial. It’s one of the latest additions to the National Mall and is open around the clock for viewing. Consider listening to a free audio guide to learn more about the 34th president and his accomplishments on the nps.gov website.
6. Air and Space Museum
The Air and Space Museum has been touted as “one of the most popular museums in the world.” Located at 655 Jefferson Drive SW, it is the perfect spot for spacecraft geeks and aircraft enthusiasts to view exhibitions and collections. Though it is temporarily closed until Fall 2022, it appeals to kids and adults alike.
Check out exhibits about The Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart, test-drive capsules that simulate rides and flights, or try out a virtual reality space adventure. It will set your standards for such museums astronomically high.
If you’re around the Dulles Airport Area, check out their Virginia Museum location, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
7. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Halfway between the Capital and The Washington Monument is the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. You will find both ongoing and temporary exhibits of some of the most significant collections of twentieth-century artwork.
They also house art by present-day artists. Find an abundance of paintings, sculptures, digital media, and more. Be sure to check their upcoming events, including performances, installations, storytime, etc. Also, take a peek at the garden outside. See a tree donated by Yoko Ono and other sculptures and exciting works of art.
8. The Futures Exhibit
Put a time-sensitive stamp on your itinerary for this exhibit. Housed inside the Arts and Industries building, the “Futures” exhibit is temporarily located at 900 Jefferson Drive, SW. This is where a glimpse of tomorrow awaits you.
The Smithsonian website explains how it includes “art installations, interactives, working experiments, inventions, speculative designs, and ‘artifacts of the future,’ and historical objects and discoveries from 23 of the Smithsonian’s museums, major initiatives, and research centers.”
Check out the rover that runs using artificial intelligence and is meant to change agriculture. See what the future could taste like, too, with alternative cell-cultured proteins and other plant-based ones, such as mushrooms that masquerade as bacon. Or, check out how to potentially take off and land vertically like The Jetsons cartoon in a self-driving, hybrid electric air taxi. If you geek out over this type of thing, make it a priority to go soon since it is only there until July 2022.
9. The Washington Monument
If you’re looking for an adventurous thing to do in Washington, DC, consider rising to the top of The Washington Monument. It is regarded as one of the biggest attractions on the National Mall, honoring the first president of the United States, George Washington. The obelisk tower stands over 500 feet high and is known as the “centerpiece of the National Mall.”
Technically, the ticket is free to ride up to the top by elevator, but visitors have to pay a dollar per ticket to reserve a spot. There are detailed instructions on the website to secure tickets. But, of course, like many people, you can always visit from the ground level, take photos, scratch it off your bucket list and call it a day.
10. Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History is a place for people who love science to go and study animals, plants, or other creatures in their natural habitats. It provides researchers with samples from all over the world to use when doing important work such as discovering new diseases. If that doesn’t sell you on it, it’s the free museum with dinosaurs and mummies.
11. Museum of American History
The Museum of American History is a great place to learn about the history of America, and luckily, there is no ticket required for entry. Each exhibit provides a fascinating look at different aspects of American history.
Currently on view are exhibits about American Democracy, George Washington Sculpture, Greensboro Lunch Counter, Many Voices One Nation, Religion in Early America, Tracing American Journeys, Unity Square, and Within These Walls. Don’t miss Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from the Wizard of Oz and a great big pic of Glenda the Good Witch too!
12. National Museum of African American History and Culture
The National Museum of African American Museum is the largest African American museum in the country. Catch a glimpse of Chuck Berry’s car, Bo Diddley’s guitar, and other items from jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. You will also find exhibits of sports heroes, celebs, historical figures, and more.
Unlike most other Smithsonian museums, you will need to plan ahead. First, get a timed ticket in advance online. This is a popular museum, and time slots go fast. However, you could get same-day access if you sign up as soon as allowed on the website.
13. The Lincoln Memorial
This iconic landmark is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Washington, DC. And it is easy to see why. It is home to some of the most important pieces of history in our country.
Jessica Galán, Social Studies, and TESOL teacher, explains, “Lincoln represents possibility—a man of humble beginnings who became a symbol of freedom. Lincoln challenged the deep-seated beliefs sadly ingrained amongst slave-holding business owners. He also held on to the hope of preserving a union during a brutal civil war.”
14. Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial
The memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr., a towering leader in the Civil Rights Movement and one of America’s most influential citizens is commemorated not too far from the Washington Monument.
Take photos, walk along the water and catch a view of the Jefferson Memorial across the way. While it’s fascinating to see during the day and the other iconic landmarks, it’s one of the best things to do at night in Washington DC, per my rideshare driver!
15. Cherry Blossoms
There are pockets of cherry blossoms scattered through DC. I caught some in front of The Museum of American History and a few at the Nationals Stadium, but most people head to the Tidal Basin to hit the cherry blossom jackpot and see these beautiful trees blooming in the spring.
This area is sandwiched between the Washington Monument and The Jefferson Memorial. According to NPS.gov, The Tidal Basin was built to harness “the power of the tides in the Potomac River to flush silt and sediment from the Washington Channel.” It is a short walk off the National Mall near the Washington Monument.
16. War Memorials
Situated at the end of The National Mall, the area surrounding The Lincoln Memorial is also home to several memorials honoring those who served in wars such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. If you have it in you to see them all, you can knock out a bunch of bucket list ideas in one fell swoop since they are all in close proximity to each other.