Free Things To Do In Washington DC
1. National Gallery of Art
Enjoy free entry at Washington’s renowned National Gallery. Occupying a sprawling site, the gallery is home to an illustrious collection of Western art from across the ages. The stunning pink marble West Building houses a wealth of masterpieces from the 11th to the 19th century. Works by Da Vinci, Monet, Rembrandt and El Greco are amongst the collection. Contemporary exhibits and installations are housed in the distinctive East Building, where you will also find the museum’s temporary exhibitions. Outside is the expansive Sculpture Garden, six acres of landscaped grounds and ornamental fountains. Here you can relax in the sun, surrounded by large scale modern sculptures by artists including Miro, Chagall, Lichtenstein and Bourgeois. On Fridays in summertime, visitors can enjoy free jazz performances in the gardens. The museum has a number of onsite cafes, and several shops including a bookstore and a children’s shop.
2. The White House
It would be folly to visit Washington without checking out the official abode of the POTUS, possibly the most famous home on the planet. You’ll need to organise your trip at least three weeks in advance. Overseas visitors should contact their embassy in Washington to arrange a self-guided tour, whilst US citizens can make arrangements via their member of Congress. Once past security (overseas visitors, make sure you bring your passport!) you’ll be able to explore the public rooms in the East Wing, and get a look at the White House rose garden.
3. The National Mall
You can easily spend a day exploring the National Mall. The most visited national park in the US is a huge expanse of tree lined walkways, lakes, gardens, and striking monuments commemorating key events and people in US history. Notable attractions at this extensive site include the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the distinctive towering Washington Monument, and the Constitution Garden, a 50 acre, beautifully landscaped oasis. The Franklin Roosevelt Memorial is another tranquil spot, set within delightful manicured Japanese gardens. It would be hard to miss the impressive and imposing Lincoln Memorial, which sits surrounded by 36 marble hewn Doric columns. Sited opposite is the spectacular and serene Reflective Pool, flanked on both sides by a promenade of elm trees.
4. The Tidal Basin
A two mile long inlet fed by the Potomac River, the tidal basin sits adjacent to the National Mall and has a fantastic view of several of the renowned monuments. This scenic destination draws a crowd all year round. Enjoy a picnic by the water on warm days, or simply come for a stroll and admire the vista. Boat rental is available during summer, whilst in springtime the surrounding cherry trees in blossom create a delightful display.
5. Free walking tours
DC by Foot is one of several companies offering free guided walking tours around the city. Engage with informative and friendly guides as they show you round some of Washington’s major attractions, including Arlington Cemetery, the National Mall, and Capitol Hill. Night time tours are also available. The walking excursions are entirely free of charge (though you might want to tip), and a great way to learn more about the city and its heritage.
6. US Capitol Building
The home of the US Congress offers free tours for visitors throughout the day. The guided tour takes in the breathtakingly beautiful rotunda and its array of paintings, friezes and statues, along with the National Statutory Hall and the crypt. There is a café and two gift shops on site. Tickets are issued daily from 8.30 am and visitor numbers are limited, so get there early to guarantee entry. Alternatively, you can book online and reserve an admission slot up to three months in advance.
7. National Arboretum
Discover a 450 acre horticultural sanctuary in the heart of the city. This free to explore, leafy oasis nurtures a stunning collection of plant life. Displays include a manicured bonsai garden, plus an azalea plantation which is magnificent in bloom, whilst the conifer collection includes species from the Arctic. Located in one of the meadows you can find the National Capitol Columns. These 22 Corinthian columns originate from 1826, when they supported the east portico of the US Capitol building. Permanently relocated to the Arboretum in the 1980s, they provide a stunning focal point and contrast dramatically with the surrounding greenery.
8. City Center DC
A lively shopping and entertainment area which occupies several blocks in downtown Washington. Indulge in a little retail therapy or simply feast your eyes on a cornucopia of designer fashion boutiques. The highlight is Palmer Alley, a stunning central promenade which is beautifully adorned with lights and decorations, the displays changing throughout the year. There are numerous coffee shops and restaurants in the complex, which hosts a number of free events all year round, including evening concerts and al fresco exercise classes.
9. The National Zoo
Visitors enjoy free admission to Washington’s National Zoo, a member of the Smithsonian Institute, which is situated in Rock Creek Park. Giant pandas, lions, tigers, crocodiles, pythons and orangutans are just some of the 400 different types of resident. Younger visitors will love the Kid’s Farm, where they can get up close to miniature donkeys, alpacas and chickens. The zoo has a visitor centre, gift shop and café on site. A great day out for animal lovers of all ages.
Take a day trip to the historic neighbourhood of Georgetown, founded in 1751 and the oldest district in Washington DC. Explore picturesque cobblestone streets lined with graceful Georgian houses, and discover an abundance of boutiques, art galleries, bars and restaurants. The Potomac River and the charming C&O Canal are lined with miles of trails for hiking and cycling. On summer evenings grab a picnic and head to lively Waterfront Park for a free movie screening.
11. Rock Creek Park
If you fancy a break from the city, make hast to Rock Creek Park, which has been an outdoor haven for Washington citizens since 1890. Here you can blow away the cobwebs amidst acres of hiking and cycle trails, picnic areas, tennis courts, and a riding stable. There are lots of kid friendly activities including free shows at the park’s planetarium, plus ranger talks, and crafts. Keep your eyes peeled for the resident deer, racoons and beavers.
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