Last Updated: 1/5/2019 | January 5th, 2019
Washington D.C. is a place I’ve been to lots of times throughout the years. I love the city: there are people from all over the world, there’s a ton of things to see an do, extraordinary bars, natural attractions, diversity, and world-class restaurants. Yet there’s one really big downside to the city: cost.
Washington D.C. is not a low-cost city.
With all those free-spending politicians, lobbyists, and diplomats floating around the city driving up prices, costs here are pretty high. Meals, hotels, transportation, parking—they all add up to a lot of money.
Luckily, there are lots of terrific complimentary things to do in the city for the budget traveler. thanks to all the national monuments, parks, and festivals in the city, you can find a lot of complimentary things to do in Washington D.C.
Here’s a list of the best complimentary things to do in the city this year:
Visit the supreme Court
The supreme Court is the highest court of the land. Its decisions are final. Court sessions are actually open to the public on a first come, first served basis and there are complimentary 30-minute lectures in the main hall that describe how the court functions. There are no guided excursions of the buildings, but you can take advantage of the educational lectures, a visitor film, and special exhibitions. (Definitely try to attend one of the lectures as it’s a very insightful way to learn about how the court works.)
1 first St NE, supremecourt.gov/visiting. open Monday-Friday from 9am-4:30pm. To sit in on a lecture, check the court’s calendar. Lectures take place several times throughout the day. just show up and stand in line.
Tour the Capitol Building
This building is where the U.S. Congress meets to….well, they are meant to do something but lately, it feels like they don’t really do anything but complain! The Capitol uses complimentary excursions throughout the day. Tickets are available at 8:30 am on a first come, first served basis. get there early as the tickets are normally gone very quickly. You can also book your excursion in development through your local senator or member of Congress. Tickets to sit in the galley and enjoy Congress in session are also available for free, on a first come, first served basis.
East Capitol St NE & first St SE, visitthecapitol.gov. open Monday-Friday from 8:30am-4:30pm. excursions take place Mon-Fri (8:40am-3:20pm). development reservation is recommended but not required.
Visit the Smithsonian Museums
The Smithsonian institution is a group of museums and research centers that are administered by the us government. founded in 1846, all Smithsonian museums are complimentary to enter (and they even offer complimentary Wi-Fi!). If you feel like indulging, two of the museums in Washington have enormous IMAX motion picture theatres (that play regular movies). The museums and centers include:
Air and space Museum
African American Museum
American history Museum
African Art Museum
American Art Museum
American Indian Museum
Anacostia community Museum
Archives of American Art
Arts and industries Building
Freer Gallery of Art
Natural history Museum
S. Dillon Ripley Center
+1 202-633-1000, si.edu. Each museum has their own operating hours so be sure to check with that musuem.
See the Monuments
The national mall isn’t actually a “mall.” It’s a spacious landscaped, tree-lined park filled with various walking paths and monuments. You could spend days trying to see them all as you walk around and explore. Here’s a list of the attractions and monuments on the national Mall:
Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality national Monument – This building was home to the national Women’s party for nearly 90 years and was designated a national monument in 2016 by president Barack Obama. The building highlights the history and achievements of the suffrage movement, and is named after the former party president Alva Belmont, as well as the founder, Alice Paul.
Constitution gardens – 50 acres of landscaped gardens honor the framers of the Constitution and supply a stunning place to sit and relax, especially during the summer when everything is in full bloom. Tree-lined paths meander around a tranquil lake and through the gardens, where you will see oak, maple, elm, and more.
Ford’s Theatre national historic site – On April 14, 1865, president Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre during a theatrical performance. His killer was John Wilkes Booth, a popular young actor and supremacist. Lincoln was carried across Tenth street to the Petersen boarding house where he died the next morning. The Theatre commemorates Lincoln’s legacy with a museum and special exhibits detailing his presidency and the aftermath of his death. and it’s still a working theater!
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial – This is a stunning memorial which takes you through Roosevelt’s four terms in office using quotes carved in stone and stunning bronze artwork. It’s one of my favorite memorials in the city and features a stunning Japanese garden as well as calming waterfalls.
Korean war veterans Memorial – the most popular memorial on the Mall, the wall of Remembrance has 19 statues honoring the millions who fought during the Korean War. The statues stand in Juniper bushes and are separated by strips indicated to resemble Korea’s rice paddies. There’s a calm, reflective pool at the end surrounding a freedom Is Not complimentary wall and Alcove. It’s hauntingly stunning and sad all at once.
The Lincoln Memorial – This is home to the famous, gigantic statue of Abraham Lincoln. It’s one of the best…so good, I have an entire section about it below!
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial – A gigantic carving of Dr. King honors his legacy and quest for freedom, equality, and justice. This is one of the newer monuments, having opened in just 2011, and is the first to honor a man of color. Quotations from his popular “I have a Dream” speech are etched into the stone, and there is also an Inscription wall with 14 quotes from his speeches and writings.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial – This memorial to Thomas Jefferson is located inside a circular colonnade, opposite a lot of the main memorials and features a terrific view of the entire mall and the Tidal Basin. It was created by John Russell Pope in 1925, and resembles the Pantheon of Rome (Jefferson was apparently a big fan of Neoclassical architecture). It’s an remarkable place to be when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
Vietnam veterans Memorial – This memorial actually consists of three parts: the three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, and the Vietnam veterans Memorial wall (The wall That Heals). The wall is a striking chronological list of the names of a lot more than 58,000 Americans who served and gave their lives in Vietnam.
Washington Monument – Standing at 555-feet tall, this marble obelisk at the center of the park was built to honor George Washington. It’s closed for repair services at the moment but you can take pleasure in checking out it as well as the green space around it, which is typically filled with festivals, people, and vendors.
World war II Memorial – A stunning memorial dedicated to the 16 million people who served in the American armed forces during WWII, including the 400,000 who gave their lives. There’s a lot going on here, including two walls when you first enter the memorial (from the east) depicting scenes from the war in bronze relief. There’s also a really sophisticated fountain in the middle, and 56 granite columns symbolizing the nation’s unity.
+1 202-426-6841, nps.gov/nama. The national mall is open 24 hours and admission is free. check ahead on the web site to see if there is a Ranger walk (free tour) happening during your visit.
Visit the national Zoo
The zoo opened in 1889 and is home to over 1,800 animals spread over 160 acres of land. Lemurs, terrific apes, elephants, reptiles, and pandas — and lots of a lot more animals — all call the zoo home. The zoo was one of the first in the world to create a scientific research program. It’s a terrific stop if you’re traveling with kids (or if you’re just young at heart!). As part of the Smithsonian, the zoo is also complimentary to visit.
3001 Connecticut Ave NW, +1 202-633-4888, nationalzoo.si.edu. open daily from 8am-7pm.
Visit the White House
This is one of the most famous buildings in the world. It was built in 1792, though a lot of of it was burned down by the British during the war of 1812 (before that, it wasn’t actually white!). While setting up a excursion can be tedious (you need to book it weeks in advance), it’s a fun and educational experience.
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/tours-events. Self-guided excursions are available Tuesday-Thursday from 7:30am-11:30am and from 7:30am-1:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays. To request a tour, American citizens need to contact their member of Congress, while foreign visitors need to contact their embassy in Washington. You can submit a request for a excursion up to three months in advance, but no less than 21 days in advance. If you’re an American citizen 18 years of age or older, you need to present a government-issued photo ID. foreign nationals need to present their passport.
Take a complimentary walking tour
One of the best ways to take in the city is on a complimentary walking tour. You’ll get to see the city’s main sights, learn about the city’s history, and have an expert on hand to pepper with any questions you have. two complimentary walking excursion companies in D.C. that I like are complimentary excursions by Foot and Strawberry Tours. You can’t go wrong with either.
Explore the library of Congress
The is the largest library in the world. Thereare over 16 million books here and over 120 million other historical and media items. well established in 1800, over 3,000 staff help keep this place running! It’s the main research center of the U.S. Congress and is home to the U.S. Copyright Office. It’s the best place for bookworms in the world!
101 independence Ave SE, +1 202-707-5000, loc.gov. The library is open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 8:30am-9:30pm and Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday from 9:30am-4pm. The library is closed on Sundays. complimentary excursions of the Thomas Jefferson building Public take place hourly Mon-Fri (10:30am-3:30pm), and hourly on Saturdays (10:30am-2:30pm). All you have to do is show up. check the web site for any special excursions happening during your check out (sometimes the library will open the music Division’s Whittall pavilion for public viewing).
See the Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial should have its own spot on this list as it’s so beautiful, and it has an remarkable view of the reflection pool and the Capitol building. sincere Abe’s two a lot of popular speeches — the second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address — are inscribed on the walls around the memorial.
2 Lincoln Memorial Circle NW, nps.gov/linc/index.htm. open 24/7. check ahead on the web site to see if there is a Ranger walk (free tour) happening during your visit.
Peruse the national Gallery of Art
There’s an exceptionally large collection of artwork, from Henri Matisse to Claude Monet to Leonardo da Vinci. The east building is home to the gallery’s a lot more modern art, while the West building houses older artwork. You’ll typically see art students throughout the building trying to paint. some of them are really, really good! Don’t forget to check out the sculpture garden while you’re there. In the summers, there is complimentary Jazz in the garden every Friday starting at 11 am.
3rd street and 9th street on Constitution Avenue NW, +1 202-737-4215, nga.gov/visit.html. The national Gallery is open Mon-Sat (10am-5pm), and sun (11am-6pm). There are a number of complimentary docent-led excursions of varying themes occurring daily, as well as Gallery Talks hosted by museum curators and conservators. dates and times change frequently. check the web site to find out what’s happening during your visit.
Hang out by the Tidal Basin
The Tidal basin is a manmade pond stretching two miles long the mall. It also serves as a popular hangout spot for locals and visitors and is the best place to come see the cherry blossom trees each spring. In the spring and summer months, you can rent a paddle boat (around $18 per hour) and spend the afternoon kicking back on the pond.
Visit the national Archives Museum
The national Archives museum houses the declaration of Independence, the bill of Rights, and the Constitution, plus one of the few remaining copies of the Magna Carta left in the world. It’s a terrific place for history buffs and it’s filled with really informative panels. If you’re traveling with children, there are plenty of interactive exhibits inside too.
701 Constitution Avenue NW, museum.archives.gov. open daily 10am-5:30pm. Self-guided timed entry reservations are used every 15 minutes from 10:30am-4:00pm. There is also a docent-led guided excursion Mon-Fri at 9:45am. The excursion includes the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, the public Vaults, and a special exhibit gallery. It’s encouraged to reserve online in advance, but you’ll have to pay a $1.50 reservation fee.
Visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum
This is one of the best Holocaust museums in the world and features a large permanent exhibit that takes up three whole levels and tells the story of the Holocaust through films, photos, artifacts, and first-person stories. There are also rotating exhibits indicated to educate visitors about the ongoing danger of genocide and violence around the world. It’s so powerful and moving. I strongly urge you to check out while you’re in the city!
National Mall, just south of independence Avenue, SW, between 14th street and Raoul Wallenberg place (15th Street). +1 202-488-0406, ushmm.org. open daily 10am-5:20pm, with extended hours in the spring and summer. because of high traffic, you wil