Free Things to do in Washington DC

Being a college student, I struggle when it comes to money. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t travel because you’re on a budget. It just takes some extra creativity and enthusiasm. Here are some fun and *FREE* places to see and things to do that I’ve discovered in and around Washington D.C.

Visit the Smithsonian museums

I love the Smithsonian museums. I can spend hours in a single museum, just absorbing all of the information and taking photos. The best part? Entry to all Smithsonian museums is absolutely free! You do, however, have to pay for food and souvenirs, if you wish to purchase things from the museums.

Here are some of my favorite Smithsonian museums to visit:

  • National Museum of Natural History
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • National Archives
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • National Sculptor Garden

There are tons of other Smithsonian museum in the D.C. area, so search for your favorite one and go!


Walk around the National Mall

There are so many monuments to see on the National Mall — it’s overwhelming. Here are my must-sees while you’re there: Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Albert Einstein Memorial, and White House. The walk definitely lasts a few miles but luckily it’s all on paved paths and it’s flat. My favorite thing to do is to just take my camera and walk along the trails snapping photos. (I have some amazing photos from the Cherry Blossom Festival on the National Mall that I published here on my blog!)

Tours of the White House and U.S. Capitol building require a little more thought into your itinerary. Tours must be scheduled around three months in advance.

Read at the Library of Congress

So, technically visitors aren’t allowed to read the books. However, visitors can see Jefferson’s Library and view the main Reading Room. The Library of Congress has amazing architecture throughout the building and tours available to the public. Where there aren’t books, there are exhibits such as the National Baseball and WWII exhibits that were at the Library during the 4th of July.

Have a picnic at the National Arboretum

Now, the National Arboretum isn’t necessarily in downtown D.C., but it’s a short Uber or metro ride away and it’s well worth it. The arboretum has several gardens that feature specific species or themes, such as the Azalea Garden, Herb Garden, and Japanese Bonsai Garden. There are vast expanses of grass and it smells amazing (unusual considering that it is located in the city). It’s a great place to bring your camera and have some alone time with nature, but it’s also a great place for families to bring their rowdy children and let them run around outside. I recommend bringing a homemade meal and having a picnic amongst the trees!


Visit Arlington Cemetery

If you’re feeling sentimental, a trip to Arlington Cemetery will fulfill any hole in your chest. There are rows upon rows of decorated American soldiers and important peoples. It’s a very sobering place and a great reminder of how fleeting life can be. Visiting the Pentagon is more challenging. It requires larger tour groups, tours must be scheduled in advance, visitors must provide identification, and no photos/videos/any type of recordings are allowed. If you can’t schedule a tour, then merely seeing the building itself is pretty amazing because that is the heart of the United States military.

Dine at Chinatown

Chinatown is an easy metro ride from downtown D.C. Located in Chinatown are Chinese shops that feature Chinese architecture, furniture, trinkets, clothing, souvenirs, furniture, and so many things. Walking around Chinatown is completely free and the Chinese wares are available for purchase. But what do most people come to Chinatown for more than anything else? THE FOOD! Chinatown has some delicious and authentic Chinese food that is definitely worth spending a few hours in the afternoon or evening. Of course, having a meal in Chinatown isn’t free, but the meals tend to be family-size so it’s easy to split with a friend or have for lunch and dinner.

Arch at Chinatown, Washington D.C.


Thank you for reading! Are you traveling on a budget? How do you find cheap ways to travel? Let me know in the comments below and like this post if you want more like it!




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