Free Travel Fun In Washington DC - My Family Travels

America's capital city offers lots of free activities year-round, but when summer heats up and the hotel rates plummet, it's an especially desirable destination for this cheapskate columnist.

There is so much to do and see in Washington, DC: national treasures, historic monuments, world-famous museums, stunning gardens. And most of them can be experienced for free! Whatever your family’s plans and itinerary, bring comfortable walking shoes for everyone, a camera, and many curious minds. Everyone, of any age, is guaranteed to leave the city with stars in their eyes.

Here is my pick of the 50 best Washington experiences that will not cost you a dime.

25 Things to do in the First 4 Days

1. Enjoy daily performances at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage at 6pm
2. Be amazed by the 45-carat Hope Diamond displayed in the National History Museum

3. See the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner”: it’s on display in the National Museum of American History

4. See the original Declaration of Independence at the National Archives

5. Tour the Bureau of Engraving and Printing: yes, they do print dollars here

6. Take a tour of the world’s largest library, the Library of Congress

7. Visit Ford’s Theater, site of Lincoln’s assassination

8. Enjoy lunchtime concerts on Freedom Plaza

9. Bring out the kid in you and the kids at the National Zoo

10. Attend mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

11. Tour the US Capitol: an enduring monument to all the freedoms and ideals that Americans hold dear

12. Visit the National Air & Space Museum, lauded as the world’s most visited museum

13. Pay a visit to your congressperson on Capitol Hill

14. Stroll the National Mall: this big rectangle is an oasis in the middle of a bustling city

15. Have a picnic in the Constitution Park

16. Take the production tour at The Washington Post newspaper

17. See Van Gogh’s masterpieces at the National Gallery of Art

18. Visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine

19. Research your family genealogy at the National Archives

20. Enjoy the beauty of water plants and flowers at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

21. Be moved by the memorials: Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and Washington Monument are within a short walk of each other

22. Watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

23. Visit Arlington Cemetery, the resting place of war veterans

24. Visit the grave of John F. Kennedy, marked by the eternal flame and flanked with concrete walls bearing quotes from JFK speeches

25. Visit the Castle that houses the crypt of James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian

25 Things to do in the Next 5 Days

26. Marvel at the unique Bonsai collection at the National Arboretum

27. Window shop in historic Georgetown comprising quaint, narrow streets and lovely mansions

28. Browse the Eastern Market

29. Educate yourself for free at the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex

30. Be amazed at Japanese ceramics at the Sackler Gallery

31. Observe the spectacular architecture of Union Station

32. Explore the Insect Zoo at the National History Museum

33. Look at naval art and artifacts at the Navy Museum

34. Visit the US Botanic Garden; established in 1820, this is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America

35. Tour the Washington National Cathedral

36. Observe the Supreme Court in session (Oct-late April) and be reassured that democracy is alive and well in the country

37. Take a one-hour tour of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including some crime laboratories and history exhibits

38. Browse the city’s many excellent antique shops

39. Be moved at the US Holocaust Museum

40. Visit in spring (early April), when 6,000 Japanese cherry trees bloom

41. Explore the city’s neighborhoods on foot

42. Admire bald eagles on the National Wildlife Refuge (20 miles northeast of Washington)

43. Stop by the White House Visitor Center, before or after the tour, for a video presentation

44. Take a twilight walk to the top of the Capitol steps for a breathtaking view of the city

45. Watch chess matches in Dupont Circle

46. “Get Your Hands on Science” at the American History Museum

47. Explore the Asian art collection at the Freer Gallery of Art

48. Join in-line skaters or hikers through the Rock Creek Park

49. Enjoy the Military Band Concert Series

50. Watch spectacular holiday fireworks on the National Mall


For more information on what Washington DC has to offer, read our story Washington DC, A Capitol Idea.

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