Explore Washington D.C.

Free Things to Do in D.C.

With so many free museums and sites, Washington, D.C., more than any other city in the world, makes it easy for visitors to stick to a budget. And it’s not just the many Smithsonian collections (the most popular listed below) that help frugal travelers save. Historic sites, natural wonders and an entertainment heavy hitter provide hours of fun at no cost. So leave the cash at home and enjoy a few of these completely free things to do and see in D.C.

Air and Space Museum

Under renovation; check website for open exhibits. World’s largest collection of aircraft and space vehicles (Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Bell X-1, 1903 Wright Flyer).

Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center

National Air and Space Museum’s massive hangar-like facility near Dulles International Airport displays 160-plus aircraft. The Enola Gay (first to drop an atomic bomb) and an F-4 Phantom. Ongoing exhibitions like “Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye!” IMAX theater, flight simulations. IMAX tickets: $7.50-$15.

American History Museum

With five million visitors annually, this museum is one of the Smithsonian’s most popular. As a repository for the country’s cultural, scientific and technological heritage, it holds a collection of more than three million fascinating artifacts, including Thomas Jefferson’s desk, Kermit the Frog, Julia Child's kitchen, a piec

Natural History Museum

Exhibits tracking the natural world since prehistoric time (anthropology to zoology). In the Rotunda, taxidermic African elephant Henry in a replica Angolan habitat. Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals (Hope Diamond), Ocean Hall, Hall of Human Origins. Butterfly Pavilion ($6.50-$7.50; Tu free with timed tickets).

National Zoological Park

Founded in 1889, a 163-acre zoo with more than 2,000 animals like giant pandas Tian Tian and Mei Xiang plus female cub Bei Bei. Elephant Trails exhibit with a wooded exercise trek. Asia Trail with giant sloths and clouded leopards. American Trail with North American species (sea otters and seals).

National Gallery of Art/West Building

One of the world’s finest collections of American and European paintings and sculpture dating from the 13th century, including “Ginevra de’ Benci,” this hemisphere’s only da Vinci painting. M-Sa 10 am-5 pm, Su 11 am-6 pm. Free. Gift shop, cafés, sculpture garden.

National Gallery of Art/East Building

I.M. Pei-designed museum holds modern and contemporary American and European paintings, sculptures, prints by Matisse, Stella, Warhol and Picasso. Renovated with more space, skylight tower galleries highlighting works by Alexander Calder, Mark Rothko.

Jefferson Memorial

At the Tidal Basin, John Russell Pope’s neoclassical marble monument for the third U.S. president and main author of the Declaration of Independence. Accessible 24 hours. Rangers on duty to answer questions daily from 9:30 am-10 pm. Bookstore. Parking (south side).

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

This 7.5-acre landscaped park of waterfalls and tableaux pays homage to the 32nd president. Bronze sculptures (some by George Segal) and bas-reliefs depict Roosevelt, wife Eleanor and dog Fala plus scenes from the Depression through WWII. Accessible 24 hours.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial

On the National Mall, memorial commemorating the life and work of the civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner. A nearly 30-foot-high statue of King emerging from a granite block, the Stone of Hope, and inscription walls bearing his eloquent words. Accessible 24 hours.

National Mall

Planner Pierre L'Enfant's grand landscape from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, with Smithsonians, renovated Washington Monument, and tributes to World War II, Vietnam veterans, Korean War veterans and Martin Luther King Jr. Free.

U.S. Botanic Garden

Just west of the Capitol, North America’s oldest botanic garden. Art Deco-era conservatory, jungle area, orchid house. Rotating exhibitions plus events. During the holidays, "Seasons Greenings"  display with miniature replicas of landmarks made out of plants. Daily 10 am-5 pm. Free.

U.S. National Arboretum

A 446-acre site with specialty gardens, the former U.S. Capitol columns, Arbor House Gift Shop and the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum (F-M 10 am-4 pm). Visitor Center F-M 8 am-4:30 pm. Grounds F-M 8 am-5 pm. Free. Visit by car recommended.

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

On the north edge of Anacostia Park, a 12-acre wetland with short hiking trails for seeing wildlife, Victoria water lilies, lotus, wildflowers and birds (great blue herons, egrets). Daily 8 am-4 pm. Bookstore 8 am-3:30 pm. Free.

Kennedy Center

A living memorial to President John F. Kennedy offering performances in the Opera House, Concert Hall, Eisenhower and Terrace theaters plus the Family Theater and Theater Lab. Millennium Stage hosting free shows daily at 6 pm. Tours weekdays. Gift shops and roof terrace with sweeping city views.

Great Falls Park

Only 15 miles from D.C.'s urban bustle, an 800-acre national park where the Potomac River plunges some 76 feet through narrow Mather Gorge. Ranger-led talks and nature walks. Fifteen miles of trails, picnic areas and remnants of the 18th-century Patowmack Canal. Open daily. $7 per individual, $15 per car.

Rock Creek Park

One of the country's earliest, urban national parks, a 2,000-acre wooded oasis following its namesake waterway through the heart of the city. Shady paved trails drawing bikers, jogger, skaters. On weekends and holidays, portions of Beach Drive close to motorized vehicles.

C&O Canal

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, a 19th-century commercial waterway, now serves as a national historical park. The towpath is popular with joggers and bikers, especially the local section linking Georgetown with the Potomac River’s Great Falls.

DAR Museum

HQ of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. More than 30 rooms in period and regional styles, important genealogy library. M-F 8:30 am-4 pm, Sa 9 am-5 pm. Free. Tours M-F 10 am-2:30 pm, Sa 9 am-4:30 pm.

National Archives

See the “Charters of Freedom”—the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Theater with free films. New David M. Rubenstein Gallery and Visitor Orientation Plaza. Daily 10 am-5:30 pm. (Last admission at 5 pm.) Gift shop. Free.  

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Printing center for U.S. currency, offering exhibitions (glass case containing $1 million in cash) and views of the printing presses in action. Free. Guided tours M-F, 9 am-10:45 am, 12:30-2 pm (every 15 minutes). Group tours only 11 am-12:15 pm. Entry on first-come, first-served basis at 14th St. visitor entrance.

Old Stone House

Georgetown house, alleged to be the oldest (1765) extant in city. Guides answer questions about the structure and furnishings from the colonial era. Daily noon-5 pm. Garden open dawn to dusk. Temporarily closed through December 2018 for fire suppression system installation and structural rehabilitation.

Library of Congress

World’s largest library holding more than 168 million items and counting, among them more than 39 million books, plus the Gutenberg Bible and a re-creation of Thomas Jefferson’s 6,487-volume founding collection.

Arlington National Cemetery

Interred here, thousands of veterans and government personnel. Daily burials of veterans and war casualties. Daily 8 am-7 pm. $3.25-$15, uniformed military free. See website for group tour details/rates.

The White House

Presidential residence from the time of John Adams. Photo ops from north and south gates. Self-guided public tour requests must be submitted through a member of Congress at least 21 days ahead. Tours Tu-Th 7:30 am-11:30 am, F-Sa 7:30 am-1:30 pm. The visitor center at 1450 Pennsylvania Ave.

U.S. Capitol Visitor Center

The entryway to the U.S. Capitol with exhibits, artifacts, replicas of Capitol Hill, an 11-foot-tall model of the Capitol dome and interactive kiosks. No passes required to enter the center. Guided one-hour Capitol tours (M-Sa 8:40 am-3:20 pm) begin with a 13-minute film.

Supreme Court

The nation’s highest tribunal. Justices convene October through June in public sessions. Lines form to hear whole argument (seating starts at 9:30 am) or three-minute portion (seating starts at 10 am). Lines re-form after lunch. M-F 9 am-4:30 pm. Free. When court isn’t sitting, lectures on the half-hour from 9:30 am-3:30 pm.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the largest Roman Catholic basilica in North America and one of 10 largest churches in the world blending Byzantine and Romanesque architecture. Largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art in the world. Undercroft of more than 70 chapels and oratories. Tours: free audio or guided M-Sa.

Congressional Cemetery

Since 1807, bucolic graveyard sheltering the remains of John Philip Sousa, J. Edgar Hoover and Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. Today, popular spot for dogwalkers. Map available online or at cemetery gates. See website for available walking tours. Grounds open dawn-dusk.

Ford's Theatre

Historic venue where Lincoln was assassinated. On-site museum opens one hour before curtain (and for daytime visits). Active theater for works exploring the American experience.