Updated July 8, 2020.
One of the things I looked forward to most when moving to D.C. was all the FREE things to do! Free museums, free concerts, free shows, free tours… it was perfect for a broke, unemployed, college graduate! With so many free places to go and things to do, museums you actually have to pay for don’t tend to last. But there are a few things that even a broke single girl could justify doing in D.C. and the surrounding area. Opinions may differ, but here are my lists of things in D.C. and beyond that are worth the money!
In the District
1. The International Spy Museum ($25)
If you can only choose one museum to actually pay for, make it the International Spy Museum! It’s one of the best museums in D.C. because it’s interactive, interesting, and has something for the whole family, at all ages! I recommend spending 2-3 hours here to get the full experience. Espionage is endlessly interesting, and this museum shows you everything they possible can… without giving away too many intelligence secrets!
2. Reserving Free Tickets You Want for the Time You Want ($1-3)
Some of the most popular FREE sites in D.C. require timed tickets. You can stand in line hours in advance for day-of walk-up tickets, but sites like the Washington Monument run out quickly, so there’s no guarantee! You’ll get tickets at the time you want—or get tickets for that day at all! So it’s worth a small fee to reserve your tickets in advance for the Washington Monument ($1), Ford’s Theatre ($3), National Holocaust Memorial Museum ($1), and anything else on your “Absolutely Must Do” list, especially if you have a tight schedule or a limited time!
3. Tickets to a Show or Sporting Event (prices vary)
D.C. has beautiful, historic event venues, and if you’re interested in any of the shows while you’re in town, the ticket just might be worth splurging on! Some favorites include the Warner Theatre (come for The Nutcracker at Christmastime and see George Washington as the Nutcracker himself!), the Kennedy Center (catch their FREE show at 6:00pm every day of the year while you’re at it), Ford’s Theatre (come for A Christmas Carol at Christmastime!), National Theatre (my husband took me to see Les Miserables here early in our dating days!), and Shakespeare Theatre.
4. Washington Nationals Stadium Tour
This was one of the most fun tours I’ve ever taken in D.C. or anywhere! Jim was our guide, and he was a fountain of knowledge about the history of baseball in D.C. If there’s a baseball fan on your trip, even one with just a passing interest, definitely check out the available tours while you’re in town.
Read on: How to Tour Nationals Stadium
5. A Really Special Meal Experience (prices vary)
There are some truly unique and amazing food experiences to have in the District! From afternoon tea at historic hotels to multi-course menus to restaurants steeped in local history, a special meal can definitely be worth your while!
Read on: Legendary Eats in D.C.
1. Mount Vernon Estate, Mount Vernon, VA ($20)
This ticket is one of the best values in the D.C. area. Not only do you get to tour the house, you also gain access to the extensive grounds, you can talk to any of the costumed interpreters around the grounds, you can explore the two museums, and the Grist Mill down the road! It’s easy to spend an entire day here, so if you can, go ahead and plan on it!
Read next: Your Ultimate Guide to Visiting Mount Vernon
2. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, Alexandria, VA ($5)
This is one of my favorite museums in the actual world! It’s small, but so unique. It’s historically significant for plenty of reasons. Martha Washington picked up medications here! This is also where U.S. Colonel Robert E. Lee was when he was ordered to go to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, to put down the raid that was going on before the Civil War! Not to mention they have cool things on display like a petrified turkey leg hanging upstairs and old-timey medications like dragon’s blood!
3. Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum, Dulles, VA ($15)
Okay, so the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum is FREE, but it’s not Metro-accessible, and the parking is what costs $15.
4. Ghost Tour, Alexandria, VA ($15)
Alexandria Colonial Tours gives the best ghost tours (and history tours!) in the D.C. area! They have a couple of different tours you can take, so you can go more than once if you like! The tour lasts about an hour, and you’ll hear legends, ghost stories, and history of Alexandria, which is George Washington’s home town! I lived in Old Town for several years before I got married, and it’s still my favorite place in the world.
5. Gunston Hall, Lorton, VA ($10)
Never heard of Gunston Hall? It’s George Mason’s home. Never heard of George Mason? Well, he’s considered the “forgotten founding father.” He actually wrote the Virginia Bill of Rights, which is mighty similar to the later United States Bill of Rights! He was an interesting and somewhat tragic historical figure, so if you have a car and you’re already headed south of the District to Mount Vernon, go just a few miles more and explore Gunston Hall!
Want more D.C. tips, itineraries, and recommendations? Don’t miss my Washington, D.C. Page!
What would you add to the list? Comment below to share your favorites!
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