Our Favorite Free Things to See & Do in Washington, DC
A good travel buddy can be hard to find. Are you going to stay out really late, get completely shwasted and sleep in, or would you rather get up early to take full advantage of your time to explore a different place? If you’re not on the same page, traveling can be kind of a nightmare.
Luckily, we discovered that we love traveling together. We’re both pretty laid back about our travel adventures. We usually plan some highlights that we definitely don’t want to miss, but mostly just wait until we’re there and see where the trip takes us. While this has sometimes led to us feeling like we missed out (mostly on great food, mind you), and even led to a last-minute realization that we were heading to a different time zone, it’s really worked for us.
Despite our lack of planning, we’ve never run out of things to do during our travels, although some places are more activity-heavy than others. One of those places is Washington, D.C., and, as an added bonus, D.C. happens to be chock full of free activities!
Prepare to Walk… A LOT
We were the ultimate tourists in DC. Armed with a map that my dad gave us (yes, a real paper map), were more than happy to explore, see the sights and take one too many pictures of the Washington Monument. Don’t worry, we didn’t go so far as to take pictures of squirrels, which a lot of the foreign tourists were all about.
The great thing about staying and sightseeing near the National Mall is that everything is within walking distance, which means spending little to no money on transportation. We spent about half a day walking around the National Mall just looking at the notable memorials and monuments. Much to our disappointment, the reflecting pool did not actually have water in it. Are those pictures a lie, or did we just get unlucky that weekend? Please advise.
We happened to plan our trip during the Cherry Blossom Festival. Not being super fond of giant crowds, we didn’t participate in the festival at all, but we did see plenty of cherry blossoms around the area. If you make your way around the National Mall and your dogs aren’t barking too badly, definitely take a trip around the Tidal Basin.
Regardless of how you feel about the sitting president, you have to see the White House. And you should also go to the Capitol, just to see what you can see.
Can’t Miss Memorials & Monuments
You (figuratively and literally) can’t miss the Washington Monument.
The WWII Memorial was the first thing we came upon after the Washington Monument. It’s pretty stunning, and definitely worth a walk around.
Seeing the Lincoln Memorial is something else. It’s not as larger-than-life as it looks on TV, but it was still pretty cool. Keep an eye out for the MLK “I have a dream” speech marker, and imagine what it felt like standing up there in front of all those people. We’ll stick to Twitter to get our message to the masses…
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is powerful. We were both struck by the groups of people who came through with flowers and letters.
Our Top 3 Smithsonian Museums
Or, the museums we actually made it to…
We had a great time checking out all the things at the National Air & Space Museum. Even picked up a couple astronaut ice cream sandwiches for our train trip home. If you’ve never tried astronaut ice cream, it’s definitely an experience you need to have at least once in your life. No space travel required.
Do yourself a favor and tour the U.S. Botanic Gardens. We LOVED that place. Seriously, who knew there was a tropical garden oasis right inside a fairly normal looking building?! All the plants were a welcome change from the museum norm of reading plaque after plaque.
We rounded out our museum day with a trip to the Natural History Museum. Although we were so sick of reading, we hung in there long enough to see the Hope Diamond, of course. Let’s be honest, it’s worth a stop for the Hope Diamond alone.
You can find a longer list of free museums here.
Admittedly, we did pay for one museum. The International Spy Museum was worth every penny. Spy stuff is so neat, you guys!
One of the best parts of D.C. is that we weren’t able to see or do everything in one long weekend. Next time, we’re definitely heading to the National Museum of American History and the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden.
Head to our Facebook page to see more pictures from our long weekend in D.C.