Updated July 8, 2020.
Washington, D.C., is known for its history, monuments, and, of course, politics. But when I moved here right out of college, I was delighted to find that so many things to do here are totally FREE! Here’s my list of the top free things to do in my adopted hometown!
So many of D.C.’s museums are free every day of the year! Check out A Guide to DC’s Smithsonian Museums, but don’t forget about D.C.’s other free museums, too, including the U.S. Botanic Gardens, National Galleries of Art, and small museums at the Washington Monument (closed until spring 2019), Lincoln Memorial, and Jefferson Memorial.
More here: Your Ultimate Guide to D.C.’s Smithsonian Museums
9. Summer Movies
There are several free movie locations around D.C. in the summers. There are free outdoor movies (weather permitting) on the National Mall, Rosslyn, Crystal City, Southwest Waterfront, Adams Morgan, and more! Check out D.C. Outdoor Films for scheduling.
8. White House Tours
These are hard to come by, but if you’re lucky enough to score a White House tour through your Congressperson’s office, it’s free! You can only take pictures at Christmas time, but tours are offered year-round. Subscribe to the blog or check back soon for a guide to touring the White House! If you don’t get a tour of the White House itself, you can still visit the White House Visitor Center to see presidential artifacts and learn about the White House’s history.
Keep reading: How to Tour the White House
and D.C. Tours to Request in Advance
7. Silent Drill Team at the Marine Corps Memorial
This is another summertime activity, but it is the most impressive performances I have ever seen. It happens on Tuesday evenings, but check their website for their latest schedule. Dozens of marines come to the Marine Corps Memorial and perform their drills silently–with no cues whatsoever–using their rifles and even with fixed bayonets. It’s an unbelievable sight. The Marine Corps band comes out to perform as well!
6. Free Shows at the Kennedy Center
At 6:00pm 365 days per year, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts puts on a free show at their Millennium Stage! It’s hit or miss, but always entertaining! You could see the U.S. Navy Jazz Band one day, then a school group from China performing traditional songs the next! Check out their schedule and see what’s happening while you’re in town. Need a ride? There is a FREE shuttle from the Foggy Bottom Metro to the door at the Kennedy Center every 15 minutes!
More here: How to Tour the Kennedy Center for FREE
5. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing
This is where they make the money! Tickets for this tour are timed, but they are free of charge. This is a really fun tour for all ages, but especially if you have kids with you. Find all the details at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Website.
More here: How to Tour the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
4. Arlington Cemetery
A visit to Arlington Cemetery is completely free of charge. Be sure to check out Arlington House while you’re there, as well as the Changing of the Guard. Bring your walking shoes–there is a lot of ground to cover, but the views on the hills are beautiful.
Keep reading: The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Arlington National Cemetery
3. National Park Talks and Tours
The National Park Service is a dramatically underutilized resource, especially in D.C.! Not only do they give daily ranger-led talks at the monuments, they have tons of events that are all free of charge. A friend recently told me about a running tour on the National Mall, and I can’t wait to try it out soon! Check out their schedule of events here: NPS Event Calendar.
2. Captiol Hill
Yes, you can tour the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress, but there’s more. You can go on the House and Senate Floors if you go with a Congressional staffer (and a Capitol Dome Tour if you can swing a visit with a Member of Congress). You can also sit in for 5 minutes at a time at a Supreme Court case when they are in session. And the Library of Congress also has public events like concert and lectures that you can attend, too! Oh, and don’t forget to pick up your Library of Congress Library Card at the Madison Building across the street!
1. The Monuments
This remains my favorite thing to do in D.C. I love walking the monuments, and you can find my ultimate guide here! Walking is always free, and don’t worry, there are bathrooms and food vendors along the way if you get hungry on this beautiful walk. The monuments are always available, too!
I hope you love your trip to D.C., no matter what your budget! Want more info to help you plan your trip? Check out my dedicated Washington, D.C. Page!
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