Many activities and attractions in Washington D.C., including museums, live entertainment, tours and historic sites – cost nothing to visit. Here’s a sample of just some of the ways you can enjoy America’s national capital without spending a dime.
See the Smithsonian Museums
These world-famous cultural institutions are a must-see for every visitor to Washington D.C., and as they’re paid for by U.S tax dollars, admission is always free. Among the 17 museums operated by the Smithsonian Institution are the National Air and Space Museum; the National Museum of American History; and the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Pace yourself, as these information-packed galleries will take at least a few hours to a full day each to fully explore.
Drop by the White House
Currently, it’s very difficult for foreign visitors to take a tour of the White House, but you can still stop by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and eye off the famous presidential home from across the road. The closest thing to visiting is the White House Visitor Centre, which has interactive exhibits showcasing the history of the building and its famous first families, and where you can pick up an official souvenir for your own oval office, like a paperweight embossed with the Presidential Seal.
Stroll along the National Mall
In America, a mall is usually a mega-shopping centre, but D.C.’s National Mall is a green outdoor park stretching for around three kilometres from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol Building. You can stand next to Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial, gaze up at the magnificent Washington Monument, or take a guided tour of The Capitol Building, the meeting place of U.S Congress, all for free. Along the National Mall you’ll also find the National Gallery of Art, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial (along with many of the Smithsonian Museums), which are all without charge.
Go for the record
If you are particularly interested in U.S. politics and history, the National Archives museum houses the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights and more than three billion records. Interesting (or alarming) to note that this number will most likely grow exponentially over the next few years, as tweets are also considered presidential records.
Wander around Georgetown
Once a transit hub for 18th century farmers selling tobacco, Georgetown is graced with Federal and Georgian-style homes that have been lovingly preserved. Especially noteworthy is the Old Stone House, built in 1765 and the oldest home in D.C. A walk through this pre- Revolutionary neighbourhood takes you through 250 years of history through its architecture and the stories of the people who once and still live there.
Enjoy a show at The Kennedy Centre
The legendary John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts hosts free performances every day on its Millennium Stage. Depending on the date, you could be treated to opera, comedy shows, theatre, or poetry readings, and you don’t need a ticket. There are also free guided tours of the centre and an interactive exhibit on JFK’s presidency and life.
Follow the money (for free)
Want to see millions of dollars being printed? The Bureau of Engraving and Printing runs free tours where you can learn all about U.S. paper currency and see it being made. Naturally, it’s a very popular attraction, so although the tour is free, you need to obtain a ticket which will give you your specific tour time. The number of daily tickets are limited, so line up early, and it’s not open on weekends. Sorry, no free samples.
The D.C. Circulator bus travels along six different routes and is designed for easy hop-on, hop-off at points of interest throughout the city’s neighbourhoods and the National Mall. It runs every 10 minutes, and at just US$1 per ride (around AU$1.32), it’s almost free.