35+ Free Things to do in Washington DC

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Best Free Things to do in Washington DC That’s Fun

Like many USA cities, Washington DC can be expensive. However, Washington DC also offers a crazy amount of free activities including most museums. So, if you are planning a trip to Washington DC, and looking for some free or extremely cheap ($1) things to do, keep reading!

If you plan on visiting Washington DC for 3 days, make sure to also check out my detailed Washinton DC Weekend Itinerary! (It will open up on a new page, so you won’t lose your spot!)

View of the reflection pond and the National Arboretum Capitol Columns.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

See The Lincoln Memorial – One of Best Free Things in Washington DC

One of the best free things to do in Washington DC is to see the Lincoln Memorial. Located on the Western side of “the National Mall,” The Lincoln Memorial is a statue dedicated to the 16th president of the United States.

The statue is located up the stairs on the memorial and is open 24hrs. The statute itself is 190 feet long, 120 feet wide, and 99 feet tall, making it really amazing to see in person.

While at the top of the monument, you will be greeted with lovely views of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial Reflection pool.

The memorial is easy to access by walking, driving, or taking public transport.

Address: 2 Lincoln Memorial Cir NW, Washington, DC 20037

Statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.

Tour The White House

If you go to Washington DC, seeing the White House is a must. Although the White House is smaller than I expected, I was shocked to find out you can tour the White House for FREE.

All you need to do is provide your US form of ID, and you will be able to access the tour for free. Please note that you need to submit your request at least 21 days prior and no more than 90 days out.

You can find more information on signing up for approval on the White House page here!

The white house is accessible by public transport and is the advised method as there is no parking available.

It is important to note that you should dress in line with the weather as a lot of the tour will be outside. Also, you should arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled tour time because if you arrive late, you will not be accepted.

Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington, DC 20500

Hours: Tours are generally run from 8 AM – 12:30 PM on Tuesday through Saturday. Closed on Federal Holidays.

The White house is a must see with a weekend in Washington DC.

Visit One of the Many Free Museums in Washington DC

For those looking for tons of free activities to do, look no further than one of the many free Smithsonian Museums. From American Art and Natural History to Sculpture Gardens and the Holocaust, there is a ton to see.

In fact, you could probably spend a whole week (or more) touring through them! Keep in mind some of the more popular museums will require you to get a free timed ticket online. So, if there is a museum you know you really want to visit, make sure to check it doesn’t require an online ticket reservation!

See rain in the forecast? Here are some of the best things to do on a Rainy Day in Washington DC!

Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

This gallery is an exhibition of America’s contemporary craft and is considered a national historic landmark. The Renwick Gallery is known as the nation’s first collection of American art and is the home to one of the largest collections of American art in the world.

They have wonderful and completely free exhibits that change often. Therefore, there is always something new to see if you’ve visited DC before. During our first visit to DC, they had a Burning Man exhibit on display.

The best mode of transport to use to get to the museum is the Metro stations: Farragut West (Orange line) and Farragut North (Red line), or by walking.

Hours: Daily from 10 AM – 5:30 PM

Address: 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW #1, Washington, DC 20006

National Museum of Natural History

This Washington Museum is considered to be the world’s most popular natural history museum! It covers everything; from exploring the knowledge that we have regarding the beginning of our planet, what the world looked like 1 billion years ago, and the science behind what life on Earth is like now.

The building itself is grand and is as large as 18 football fields, so there is plenty to explore!

Address: 10th St. and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, DC

Hours: Daily 10 AM – 5:30 PM except for Christmas Day.

Car at Smithsonian Museum

Smithsonian Gardens

The Smithsonian Gardens is referred to as ‘the museum without walls.’ These gardens are a beautiful and peaceful place to visit, especially during the summer or spring months!

The garden itself is created in a way that truly compliments the museum that it surrounds. They often have a handful of lovely exhibits you can visit as well.

The Gardens are spread throughout the National Mall, and most are open 24 hrs a day. The only garden that closes at dusk is the Haupt Garden. You can find a map of the Smithsonian Gardens here.

Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle)

One of the most visited Smithsonian buildings is the Institution Building. It serves as the visitor center, although most want to come to see the beautiful castle. The castle was built in 1855 and is actually an amazing experience to visit.

It is recommended that public transport is used to access the castle. There are also parking lots nearby that have a 3-hour max stay limit.

Address: 1000 Jefferson Drive, SW Washington, DC

Hours: Daily 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Visiting the Smithsonian American Art Museum lets you delve into America through an artistic lens. This museum has the largest and most vast collection of American art in the world. It is also in one of the oldest buildings located in DC.

The Metro is advised to access the museum as there is no immediate parking.

Address: G Street Northwest &, 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004

Hours: Daily 11:30 AM – 7 PM except for Christmas Day.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

The Hirshhorn Museum is a completely unique circular building that is accompanied by a beautiful sculpture garden! The museum is known for its unique and lovely contemporary art.

Additionally, the museum holds really interesting exhibitions throughout the year. Free timed-tickets will be needed to visit some of the special exhibits.

To get to the museum, it is advised that you use the Metro or walk. There are parking lots nearby that have a 3-hour max stay limit.

Address: Independence Ave. at 7th St., SW Washington, DC

Hours: Daily 10 AM – 5:30 PM except for Christmas Day.

National Museum of American History

This museum goes as far back as colonial times to the present-day history of America. It truly explores the evolution of America’s history with over 3 million historical objects.

The Metro is advised to access the museum as there is no immediate parking.

Address: 1300 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, DC

Hours: Daily 10 AM – 5:30 PM except for Christmas Day.

National Museum of the American Indian

Another really interesting free museum in Washington DC is the National Museum of the American Indian. They do an excellent job of sharing the influence of America on Native land with tons of artifacts. I highly recommend trying to check this one out, as it often gets overlooked.

To get to the museum, it is advised that you use the Metro. There are also parking lots nearby that have a 3-hour max stay limit. We were able to find street parking nearby.

Address: 4th Street and Independence Ave., SW Washington, DC

Hours: Daily 10 AM – 5:30 PM except for Christmas Day.

Native American Museum in Washington DC one one of the best free things to do

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African-American History and Culture is another extremely popular museum to visit. Because of this, you need to sign up for a free timed-entry pass.

Currently, it is the only national museum dedicated solely to the documentation of African American history, life, and culture, with over 40,000 artifacts.

Located by the National Mall, it is best to walk or take the metro.

Address: 1400 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560

Hours: Daily 10 AM – 5:30 PM except for Christmas Day.

Outside of the National Museum of African American History in Washington,DC on a rainy day..

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Museum in DC does an incredible job of covering the Holocaust under Nazi Germany. The Museum examines what shaped America’s response to the war in a really immersive way.

Inside the museum, you will have access to photos of life during the Holocaust, personal stories in the format of interviews, home movies, memoirs, diaries, and access to films with historical footage. This is another museum definitely worth a visit. Because of this museum’s popularity, you must get a free timed-entry ticket.

Sometimes the museum will host events, so it is always great to check the website before visiting to see which exhibitions they are running.

Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC 20024

Hours: Daily 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM except for Yom Kippur and Christmas Day.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC

National Postal Museum

Another truly historical building to explore is the National Postal Museum. This museum is home to arguably, the most valuable collection of stamps and other postal material.

When you visit, you can walk through a town post office that was open in the 1920s and of course, start your own stamp collection!
In fact, the National Postal Museum is considered one of the best museums in the US.

If you are driving, street parking is available but still hard to get.

Address: 2 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002

Hours: Daily 10 AM – 5:30 PM except for Christmas Day.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park

While I am personally not a fan of Zoos, this is one of the oldest zoos in the USA and was founded in 1889. It contains over 390 species of animals, including giant pandas, tigers, and sea lions. It is very popular among families as it is another free thing to do in Washington DC, and is family-friendly.

Address: 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

Hours: Open daily from 8 AM – 4 PM except for Christmas Day.

Stand by the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument is built to honor George Washington, the first president of the United States. It stands 555 ft and is built of Marble. It is easily one of the most recognizable landmarks in Washington, DC, and a popular place to take photos.

You can even climb the monument and get a stunning view of the nation‘s capital. However, timed tickets are required if you would like to take the elevator and cost a $1 fee. They hold a few tickets that can be obtained in person, however, if you want to take this free tour, they need to be obtained on the official website.

The tickets are on a “first come, first served” basis, and you can get up to 6 tickets at a time. They are available 30 days in advance and are kind of hard to get. For example, if you want to go on November 10th, you need to book your ticket around October 8th.  A park ranger will guide you through the process, and there is no time limit on your stay.

Address: 2 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20024

The Washington Monument, a must on any weekend itinerary in Washington DC

Visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

As you make your way through the National Mall, stopping by The Martin Luther King Junior Memorial is a must. The 30-foot statue is situated adjacent to the Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial offering beautiful views across the Potomac River.

Martin Luther King Jr. is known as one of the most notable leaders of the civil rights movement during the 1960s. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is a really great opportunity to educate yourself on the civil rights act and learn about the history that goes alongside it!

National Park Service Rangers are on site to answer questions from 9:30 AM to 10 PM daily, however, the monument is open to see whenever you’d like.

Address: 1964 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20003

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on a rainy day. Woman in pink raincoat and clear unbrella.

Look for Cherry Blossoms Around the Tidal Basin

If you are visiting Washington DC in the Spring, visiting the cherry blossoms is easily one of the best free things to do! The Tidal Basin is a man-made reservoir that is lined by hundreds of Cherry Blossom Trees.

If you take a walk around the perimeter of the Tidal Basin, you will be in awe of the gorgeous flowers that are blooming, and the scenic views provide the perfect photo opportunity!

Visit the Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Similar to the Lincoln Memorial, The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is grand with a domed building, columns, and the Thomas Jefferson Statue. Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence and a visionary for the founding of a nation.

The memorial itself is 165 feet in diameter and 102 feet wide. The Jefferson statue is 19 feet high and is a really momentous visit!

Make sure to make a stop here while walking the National Mall.

Hours: Open 24/7

Address: 16 E Basin Dr. SW, Washington, DC 20024

Thomas Jefferson Memorial and statue is free to visit in Washington dc

Pay Tribute at the Arlington National Cemetery

The Arlington National Cemetry is the place to pay your tributes to the sacrifices of the lives of the American service members and their families. Here you will find people supporting the remembrance of past and present military and the circumstances that they faced.

Hours: Daily from 8 AM to 5 PM – Update: Construction may conflict with these hours.

Address: 1 Memorial Ave, Arlington, VA 22211

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

This presidential memorial opened in 1997 and honors Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States. Franklin D Roosevelt was known as one of America’s great leaders. He led America through the struggle of the Great Depression and World War II.

His memorial is unique, with a waterfall feature and several other statues. You can walk to it from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Address: 1850 W Basin Dr. SW, Washington 20024

Hours: Open 24/7

Franklin D. Roosevelt Statue and his dog at the the FDR memorial.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

From 1950 to 1953, the United States joined forces with South Korea. The Korean War Veterans Memorial was built to commemorate the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services.

You will find 19 Steel Statues, the Mural Wall, The United Nations Wall, The Pool of Remembrance, and the Wall of Remembrance. This memorial is located right by the Lincoln Memorial.

Address: 10 Daniel French Dr, SW Washington, DC 20002

Hours: 24/ 7

Korean War Memorial on a rainy day. 6 statues of soldiers in view.

World War II Memorial

The World War II Memorial in Washington is a statue made up of stone and bronze sculpture bas-relief panels that recognize the way Americans served the country throughout World War II.

It represents the service, sacrifice, unity, and victory that the country experienced and how freedom was restored in America! It is a place where people go to pay respect to the 16 million members of the forces that fought during the war.

Address: 1750 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024

Hours: 24/7

Hang Out at The National Arboretum (Hidden Gem)

This location is a true hidden gem in Washington DC, and is completely free to visit. and is an establishment built in 1927 by the act of Congress. The National Arboretum is a peaceful place to visit, with a vast number of gardens to explore (it is 451 acres in size!)

One of the most unique features of The National Arboretum is the National Capitol Columns. It looks like something out of Greece with 22 Corinthian columns. It was originally a part of the Capitol building in 1828.

This is truly a relaxed place to wind down after a busy day of sightseeing!

Address: 3501, 3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 2000

Hours: Daily 8 AM to 5 PM except for Christmas Day.

National Arboretum Columns with woman standing in front of reflection pool

United States Capitol

The United States capital is representative of the American people and their government.

To attend the Capitol, you must visit the website to book a tour reservation and select a date and time that is available. The tours are led by professionals and are among one of the many free things to do in Washington DC. There is a useful, on-demand service shuttle service, but the Capitol can also be reached by bike, subway, or car.

Address: 210 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20006

Hours: For visitors, the center is open from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Tours must be booked in advance and are available from 9 AM to 3 PM.

Washington DC Capitol Fall

Hang Out at the Dupont Circle

Enjoy sitting by the fountain, people-watching, or grabbing a bite to eat at one of the many places surrounding the square! DuPont Circle has a whole variety of things to offer including giving yourself a self-walking tour through Embassy Row, picnic spots, and indie bookstores.

If you are looking for another nice area to explore in DC that is free, add Dupont Circle to your list. We also love staying in Dupont Circle.

Address: 1500 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington 20036

Dupont Circle Water fountain in Washington DC.

Walk down the Stairs They Filmed the Exorcist (they are in Georgetown)

If you’re a fan of the movie “The Exorcist,” then you are in luck! Washington DC is home to the stairs where they filmed the iconic, frightening scene.

This is now considered a historic landmark in Georgetown, and it’s known to chill the bones of those passing by!

Address: Near 3600 Prospect St NW, Washington, DC 20007 (Between Prospect St & Canal Road)

Take photos in Georgetown

Speaking of Georgetown, you should totally check out the more photogenic side of it. From pretty architecture and tree-lined streets to flowers blooming everywhere, Georgetown is a really nice area in Washington DC.

One of the most Instagrammble places in Georgetown is at Call Your Mother Bagel Shop.

Georgetown in Washington DC is perfect for a weekend trip. Hot pink building with turquoise roof. Woman in blue dress.

Check Out the Washington National Cathedral

The Washington National Cathedral is a delightful building to stop by. While this is an active place for worship, the cathedral welcomes tourists.

The cathedral hosts activities and religious ceremonies, however, you can always picnic on the further lawns, which are quite popular.

Address: 3101 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016

Side of the Washington DC Cathedral.

Visit the Supreme Court

Did you ever want to see a real live court session at the highest court in the USA? Well, you’re in luck because not only can you see the live action, but it is another one of the free things you can do in Washington DC!

Update: Currently closed to the public – but will reopen. Check their official site for court dates.

Address: 1 First St NE, Washington, DC 20543

Explore The Library of Congress

If you’re hoping to educate yourself on the history of America, you should take a trip to the Library of Congress, where you will have access to maps, books, lectures, and more!

The library itself is an outstanding building that runs exhibitions throughout the year and provides full days of learning.

To visit the library, you must choose a free-timed ticket using their official website.

Address: 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540, United States

Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 10 AM – 5 PM and Thursday until 8:30 PM.

Got Lost in the National Archives

The National Archives are home to over 13 billion pages of textual records! If that is not enough, they also have 10 million charts, maps, architectural and engineering drawings, digital images, film strips, and graphics.

This is only scraping the surface as it is just so much to list! In fact, only 2 – 5 percent of documents are included each year that are considered the most valuable.

This free Washington DC gem is a great place to educate and immerse yourself in the experiences that America faced. This is also where you will find the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

In order to visit, you do need to get a timed ticket online. It does have a $1 fee for the transaction. Get your ticket here.

Address: 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408, United States

Hours: Open Daily 10 AM – 5:30 PM except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Tour the Pentagon

If you want a truly unique free experience in Washington DC, consider touring the Pentagon. The Pentagon is the headquarters building of the United States Department of Defense, so as you can imagine, it is a little harder to tour than the others.

To tour the Pentagon, you must book tickets online as there is limited availability. So, if this is something you want to do, make sure to look in advance. Additionally, it is only assessable to U.S citizens in groups of 5 or fewer.

To request a tour of the Pentagon, click here.

Address: 1400 Defense Pentagon, Washington, DC 20301

Hours: Tours are on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 AM and 1 PM

Stroll Through Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park is a scenic, calm park to visit and is described as the ‘Oasis of the city.’

This park offers you the opportunity to get away from the busy streets of DC and surround yourself with peaceful nature. Bike riding, exercising, and picnicking are very popular here.

If you are visiting DC during the fall, you will definitely want to check out a park because DC is one of the best places to see fall colors in the USA!

Address: 3545 Williamsburg Ln NW, Washington, DC 20008

Hours: Daily Sunrise to Sunset

Relax at the Georgetown Waterfront

When it nears the end of the day, you must take a final trip to Georgetown Waterfront as it is the perfect free place in DC to catch an epic sunset!

The 10-acre park hosts events, especially in the summer including sunset fitness and sunset cinema. If you’re visiting during the winter, you will also have access to Washington’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink!

Address: 3303 Water St NW, Washington, DC 20007

Enjoy the National Gallery of Art

If you’re looking for somewhere to go in the evening or at night, you may want to consider the National Gallery of Art.

The gallery hosts an evening event where you can explore the gallery after hours, enjoy activities, and dance the night away!

The event itself is free however, you do need to register for tickets online.

Address: 6th St and Constitution Ave NW (The 4th Street, 7th Street, and Madison Avenue entrances are currently exit-only.)

Hours: 6 PM – 9 PM during events.

Take Photos and Window Shop at City Center DC

The City Center in Washington is full of street shops, luxury shops, and cafes. It is always decorated nicely – especially during the holidays, therefore exciting photo opportunities!

The center is vibrant and is home to some of Washington’s best restaurants that serve seasonal dishes! Be sure to stop by at lunchtime and do some window shopping too!

The center is easy to access and has over 1500 parking spaces if you were planning on driving.

Address: 825 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20268

Walk Around The Wharf

The Wharf is the waterfront of Washington DC that just opened in 2017. It is a mile-long walk along the Potomac Riverfront. Here you will find businesses, restaurants, and retailers which are all accompanied by majestic views and high-spirited culture! You can also catch a lovely sunset, stroll around the piers, and more!

Address: 760 Maine Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024


Getting Around Washington DC

There is a multitude of ways to travel around Washington DC.

The best way, as you may have sensed, is to use public transportation and walk. Other popular ways people like to see Washington DC is by renting a bike or even taking a scooter tour.

Uber is also widely available if you don’t feel like jumping on public transportation or it just decided to pour. It always rains when we are in DC, so I get it!

A cool way to get around Washington DC is by taking a tour like a Hop on Hop off Bus. This will give you a lot of history and information while helping you get around.

And finally, you can drive, although parking is limited, and garages are expensive. It can feel more comfortable, however. Because we live on the East Coast, we have always driven. So, if you want to drive, you can find rentals at Discover Cars.

Dupont Train Station in Washington DC.

Where to Stay in Washington DC

Now that you have learned all the best free things to do around Washington DC, I bet you are looking for somewhere to stay! If you are going to DC on a budget, the hotel will, unfortunately, take a chunk of it since generally speaking, hotels are slightly more – but hey, it is a city.

The Omni Shoreham Hotel: Located in Woodley Park Neighborhood, this is known as a historic hotel in DC. Their property sits on 11 acres in Rock Creek, so it feels more like a resort. They have a heated pool, Health Spa, and fire pits. They also rent out bikes for free. P.S. I was hosted at this property, but as always, my opinions are my own.

Dupont Circle Hotel: Located in the heart of Dupont Circle, this boutique hotel offers modern rooms. They even have heated bathroom floors.

It is within walking distance of the National Mall and metro stations. There are along also lots of restaurants nearby. This hotel has a fun city vibe. We stayed here during our 1 year anniversary and really enjoyed our stay.

Lyle DC: Located just 5 minutes walking distance from Dupont Circle and the Dupont Circle Metro Station, the Lyle DC is a little more budget-friendly than the above but still in a good area and has a lovely layout. Many rooms even offer a fully equipped kitchenette.

Omni Shoreham Hotel Gardens. Pink flowers, a fountain in the center and lots of greenery.
Omni Shoreham

Free Things to do in Washington DC Wrap-up

This concludes some of the best Free things to do in Washington DC! I hope that you feel inspired and ready to travel all around DC. Soak up the history, enjoy the scenic walks, and most importantly, have fun!

Other travel guides to check out: Free Things to do in NYC | 4 Days in NYC | Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip Guide | Best Views in Shenandoah National Park | Weekend in Philadelphia

Have any questions about these free things to do in Washington, DC, or feel like I missed/forgot something? Please let me know in the comments below!

Did you find these Free Things to do in Washington DC Helpful? I’d appreciate it if you could share it below!

FREE Things to do in Washington DC

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Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good.

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