Free Things to Do and See in Washington DC

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Travel Features >> Free Things to Do and See in Washington DC

Free Things to Do and See in Washington DC

August 03, 2011

Washington DC is one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world and has so many museums and monuments which will keep you busy for days. In fact Washington is the one city where you can do so many varied things without spending a dime. From museum hopping along the National Mall and believe us, there are SO many museums here, to viewing the National memorials, to visiting the President’s residence, touring Capitol Hill, strolling in beautifully manicured parks to people watching at Dupont’s Circle. The list is long. If you have the time, Washington has the sights! And all for free.

Smithsonian Museums
The Smithsonian comprises of 19 museums, 9 research centers and the National Zoo. The museums and galleries are a repository of the rich heritage of the country. It would take you days to explore all the museums that are part of the Smithsonian, so here we list the top two only:

Smithsonian Natural History Museum
From a giant sized dinosaur to miniscule marine life, from Polar bears and kangaroos to beautiful butterflies and tiny insects, the Natural History Museum is an interesting study in the origin and evolution of man and beast. Each section tells a fascinating story which will keep you as well as your kids enthralled. A perfect way to spend an afternoon!
Location: 10th St. and Constitution Ave. NW
Metro stop: Smithsonian Station or Federal Triangle Station
Admission: Free

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
A one-of-a-kind, the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum dedicated to aviation and space. On display are 30,000aviation and more than 9,000 space related objects. The most viewed are the Apollo 11 module, the gleaming red Vega that is synonymous with Amelia Earhart and the aircraft ‘Spirit of St Louis that Charles Lindbergh flew.

Location: 7th and Independence Ave. SW, Washington DC
Metro stop: L’Enfant Plaza
Timings: Open all days except 25 December from 10:00am to 5:30pm
Admission: Free

National Zoo
Give your kids a treat. Take them to the National Zoo where you can spend a couple of hours hanging out with the animals. From giant pandas to giraffes, lions to sea lions, playful monkeys to sloth bears, the Zoo houses some 2000 animals. Be there early, wear walking shoes as there is lot of walking to be done and don’t feed the animals. Don’t miss the Giant Panda and elephant trails: they are the latest additions to the Zoo.

Location: 3001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC
Metro stops: Woodley Park/ Zoo /Adams Morgan and Cleveland Park.
Timings: April to October open from 10:00am to 6:00pm ; November to March from 10:00am to 4:30pm everyday
Admission: Free

National Mall
Stroll down the National Mall which runs all the way from the US Capitol building to the towering Washington Monument. No, there are no shops here – just an expanse of green in a rectangular shape, the National Mall is fringed by museums and interesting buildings on either side. A busy place any time of the day, with joggers out for their exercise, families picnicking and weary tourists taking a break from their sightseeing expeditions. The Mall is also where festivals and open air concerts are some times held as well as public events.

Location: Between Constitution and Independence Avenues
Metro stop: L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Triangle, Smithsonian.
Parking is difficult in this area, so suggest use public transportation.

The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial is dedicated (yes, you guessed it!) to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. Inside the building sits a majestic larger than life marble statue of Abe Lincoln with the words of his Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address inscribed on the walls around. The statue of Lincoln is sculpted in gleaming marble and is a 19 feet high structure. A very popular sight, the Lincoln Memorial draws in thousands of Americans and tourists alike.

Location: 23rd St. NW, Washington, DC at the West End of the National Mall
Metro stop: Smithsonian
Timings: Open 24 hours every day except Christmas Day, 25 December.
Admission: Free

The Washington Monument
Standing tall at 555 feet and some, the Washington Monument is built in the shape of a towering column and is a tribute to the first President of the USA, George Washington. The structure is the tallest stone obelisk in the world with construction starting in 1848 and taking 30 years to complete because of various reasons including lack of funds. The glistening marble of the Monument takes on different hues and colours in the course of the day, from a bright white in the midday sun to a pale pink at dusk. Take the elevator up to the viewing deck to get sweeping views of the city below.

Location: 15th St and Constitution Ave at the West End of the National Mall
Metro stop: Smithsonian
Timings: April to September from 8:00am to 11:45pm and the rest of the year from 9:00am to 4:45pm.
Admission: Free

The White House
Fancy visiting the President’s house? You might not get to meet the President himself, but you will be able to see the China Room, Vermeil Room, the Library and the grand State Dining Room amongst others. The White House has been the residence of all the Presidents of the United States starting with John Adams who was the first occupant in 1800. So make that trip to the White House to see how Presidents live. And if you are lucky you may at least get a glimpse of the President when he is rushing in or out of a meeting!

Location: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC
Metro stop: Federal Triangle
Timings & Tickets: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am. You can only buy your tickets on the day of your tour. Go to the Visitor’s center on E Street between 14th and 15th. Opens at 7:30 am and there is limited supply of tickets available on a first come first served basis so be there early. You can also apply through your congressional member but be sure to request well in advance , at least a month before the scheduled visit.
Admission: Free

Library of Congress
The world’s biggest library, the Library of Congress is a repository for approximately 110 million items that include books, manuscripts, old newspaper volumes, micro films and even sheet music. The Library of Congress is housed in three building: Thomas Jefferson building, John Adams building and the James Madison memorial building, all located on and around Independence Ave and within walking distance of each other. So all interested in literary pursuits should have a satisfying time among the tomes at the Library of Congress.

Location: 101 Independence Ave, SW
Metro stop: Capitol South
Timings: Open Monday-Friday 8:30am to 9:30pm (up to 6:00pm on Saturday). Closed Sunday and all national holidays.
Admission: Free

Explore Georgetown
The historic neighborhood of Georgetown is a vibrant area filled with tree-lined avenues that house old Georgian homes on either side. In Georgetown the old meets the new and with such charm. Cobbled streets, red brick stone houses, tree lined avenues that have had many past presidents including the Kennedys live here.

M Street is where all the fun happens. It is where all the hip and upscale shops are. Cafes and restaurants abound and the crowd is mostly young and preppie considering it is also home to the Georgetown University. The nightlife rocks and in the summer months the Waterfront restaurants spill onto the pavement. Come to Georgetown if only just to take in the ambience of the neighborhood. It is truly different from anything else you might have seen.

Location: M Street and Wisconsin Ave in Washington DC. There is no metro here – the closest one being at Foggy Bottom. At the station hop into a cab to get to M Street. Another option is to get on the DC Circulator that runs between Union Station and Georgetown. If you are driving in, be aware that parking is not easy in Georgetown!

National Arboretum
The National Arboretum in DC is a naturalist’s delight and certainly warrants a visit! It is 446 acres of the most verdant greenery you have ever seen and a profusion of flowers that that burst into bloom in spring. If you happen to be there in the fall, then you will witness the changing colours from all shades of russet, flaming orange, brown and red. The gardens are are a riot of colour all year round with winter jasmines in January to daffodils and magnolias in March. Summer sees the flowering of azaleas and water lilies and the fall brings forth fall foliage and chrysanthemums amongst others. Visit the Japanese gardens or stroll through the leafy Boxwood collection, tarry a while at the Holly and Magnolia Collection if you are there in spring. Whatever you do, do make it a point to spend some time at the Arboretum , the green and very pretty area in DC!

Location: There are two ways to enter: 3501 New York Avenue, NE, and the second entrance is at 24th & R Streets, NE, off Bladensburg Road. Once there, take a tram tour or bicycle around the nine miles of road inside the Arboretum.
Metro stop: Stadium Armory Station
Timings: From 8:00 am to 5:00 pm it is open every day of the year except Christmas Day
Admission: Free

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