23 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Washington, D.C.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is held in late March and early April. The spectacular cherry trees at the center of the celebration were a gift to the United States in 1912 from Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people now attend the annual festivities, which typically includes fireworks, a parade, and a kite festival.
More than 2.5 million visitors have passed through the doors of the Smithsonian Institution's newest museum since it opened in September 2016. This is the hottest ticket in town -- and it's free. There are no advance passes remaining for timed entry through June; there are a limited number of same-day online and walk-up passes made available.
The National Mall is home to many of the city's most iconic monuments, and it doesn't cost a dime to visit. From the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, visitors can soak up highlights of the nation's history within a two-mile span.
Learn more about the nation's political system at the center of the action. Free hourlong tours of the Capitol give visitors access to the crypt, the National Statuary Hall, and the Capitol Rotunda, with its unique art. This is a popular attraction, though, so it's best to reserve a spot ahead of time.
Home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame, the cemetery across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, has enormous historical resonance. The gravesites of 300,000 American soldiers are a reminder of the sacrifices made throughout the nation's history.
A free White House tour takes some planning. Contact your congressional representative for tickets at least three weeks before your trip. Reservations can be made up to three months ahead, so book early.
The most hands-on of the Smithsonian museums, the Air and Space Museum is a must-see for adults and kids. Admission is free to the enormous collection of historical planes and rockets, and all kinds of educational activities and events.
Visitors can wander the gallery on their own, taking in such pieces as Leonardo da Vinci's "Ginevra de' Benci," or take a free tour with one of the gallery's many docents. Guides can assist young families with games and highlights aimed at children 4 and older.
Millions of dollars are printed right before your eyes at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. A short film explains U.S. currency and a free gallery tour (tickets required) explores the production process. The tour and visitor center is preparing for renovations in late 2018, though travelers are expected to be welcomed throughout.
The National Portrait Gallery holds paintings of all the U.S. presidents, as well as famous poets, activists, athletes, and a long list of others who have influenced American history. At no cost, visitors can explore at their own pace.
Anyone who is interested in American history should take the opportunity to see the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. They are all under one roof at the National Archives, and access is free.
The home of the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass is in Anacostia, a historic neighborhood in southeast D.C. Access to this National Historic Site and a guided tour cost $1.50 for each reserved ticket and $5 for an entire school group.
In addition to the vast book collection, some of the most interesting pieces of American culture are at the Library of Congress, which has no entry fee. The library's exhibitions include Bob Hope's 85,000-page joke file and the 1908 sheet music for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
The Arboretum, established in 1927, is free to the public. The gardens are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and were designed for scientific research and education -- but the grounds are lovely, and it maintains a full calendar of public events.
Saturday mornings at the National Theatre are dedicated to kids ages 4 to 10, with performances at 9:30 and 11 a.m. Free tickets can be reserved online a week ahead. Or get there early for the limited number of walk-up tickets distributed 30 minutes before each show.
This museum hosts permanent and special exhibits about the horrific events of the Holocaust. There is no entry fee, but timed tickets are required March 1 to Aug. 31. If advance tickets aren't available, visitors can try for same-day tickets online or in person.
The beautified Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park in Columbia Heights has hosted a drum circle every Sunday (weather permitting) for four decades, inspiring dance and -- more recently -- a thriving scene of circus artists who juggle, do tightrope walking and demonstrate impressive hula-hooping and human-pyramid skills. While not everyone is happy to see this event become a tourist attraction, it's still a peaceful way to picnic and enjoy a community.
There's a surprising amount of things to do and see at the National Cathedral, which overlooks the city from a perch near the U.S. Naval Observatory. While there's plenty of more traditional aesthetics to appreciate -- from the overall gothic architecture to the 10,000-piece rose window -- it's also fun to go hunting among the hundreds of unique gargoyles, which include a "yuppie gargoyle" carved in 1975-76 that holds a briefcase and a 1986 gargoyle of Darth Vader (find it on the "dark side").
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