When you think of budget travel destinations, it’s likely that very few large American cities spring to mind. And, while many American cities might break the bank, there’s one that doesn’t: Washington DC.
With the high cost of lodging throughout the city, it may surprise some that the nation’s capital can be done on a limited budget. However, the myriad of free attractions makes any visit to the city relatively affordable.
In fact, there are so many free things to do in Washington DC that you could easily spend several weeks in the city without spending a dime on sightseeing costs.
In order to help you plan your trip, here are five of my favorite free things to do in Washington DC.
The Smithsonian Museums
Rivaling the British Museum in London or the Louvre in Paris, the museums of the Smithsonian Institution are some of the best museums in the world. Better still, all of the seventeen Smithsonian Museums located in the nation’s capital are complete free.
Whether you want to see some of the world’s greatest pieces of art, some of history’s most influential aircrafts, or dinosaur fossils, the Smithsonian has something for you.
Of all the museums, my two favorite are the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum. If you only have time for a few, both will delight the entire family.
If you have the time though, you could easily spend several weeks just exploring all the amazing and free museums in Washington DC.
Scattered throughout downtown Washington DC are a variety of monuments dedicated to famous Americans or those who died during a war. In my opinion, the best ones to see are the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the monuments dedicated to the Vietnam War ad World War II.
Also worth seeing is the Washington Monument. While the observation deck is closed until Spring 2014, the view of the monument from the outside is still quite beautiful.
Get in Touch with Nature
While this may sound odd, DC actually has several great places to get away from the city and commune with nature. The most popular is Rock Creek Park. Located along a narrow strip of land in Northwest Washington, Rock Creek Park has over 32 miles of hiking trails and will give you a chance to unwind from all granduer of the city.
Also worth exploring is Theodore Roosevelt Island. A fitting tribute to the president who founded the National Park System, Theodore Roosevelt Island is a wooded strip of land in the middle of the Potomac River. While it is located in Washington, DC, it is only accessible via a footbridge from the other side of the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia.
The United State Capitol
One of America’s most recognizable buildings, the US Capitol is a must-see for any visitor to Washington DC. And what better way to see this beautiful building than by taking a tour. Run every Monday-Saturday, the hour long tours allow you to see some of the building’s best architecture and statues.
While tours are free, reservations are recommended.
The National Zoo
Of all the free things to do in Washington DC, my favorite is the National Zoo. Though it’s technically part of the Smithsonian Museums, it’s too awesome not to mention seperately. Located in a beautifully manicured park near Georgetown, the National Zoo features over 2,000 different animals from over 400 different species.
During my travels, I’ve been to many zoos, both paid and free, and have never seen a better quality zoo than the National Zoo in DC.
Have you been to the US capital city? What are your favorite free things to do in Washington DC? Let me know in the comments section below.
Jim Cheney is the creator of Tripologist.com. Having traveled extensively in North America, Europe, and Asia, Jim enjoys sharing his love of travel and some of his favorite places to visit around the world. He lives in Pennsylvania, USA, with his wife and two kids.