Looking for a weekend trip that won’t break the bank? The nation’s capital overflows with free attractions and entertainment.
You already knew that the Smithsonian museums were free, you say? Well, we’ll bet you didn’t know just how many museums the Smithsonian has in the greater D.C. area: a whopping 17 museums, gardens, and even a zoo—all free, all the time.
ART BEYOND THE SMITHSONIAN
Art lovers rejoice! Even beyond the Smithsonian facilities, the city has a plethora of museums and galleries. The National Gallery of Art (nga.gov) always has free admission, and it offers free docent-led tours and gallery talks.
The personal art collection of Robert and Mildred Woods Bliss can be seen free at Dumbarton Oaks Museum (doaks.org) in Georgetown. The museum is renowned for its specialized collections of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art.
The Kreeger Museum (kreegermuseum.org) showcases the personal art collection of Carmen and David Kreeger. The couple’s exquisite collection includes some outstanding works by Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró.
OTHER FREE MUSEUMS
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (ushmm.org) offers free admission, but the museum gets so many visitors during the March to August tourist season that timed tickets are required to see the permanent exhibition, The Holocaust.
The Museum of the Bible (museumofthebible.org) boasts highlights such as ancient biblical texts on papyrus, the world’s largest private collection of Torah scrolls, fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a Bible that was brought to the moon aboard Apollo 14.
MONUMENTS, MEMORIALS AND GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS
Most of the monuments and memorials in D.C. are free, with no tickets required. The biggies—Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, National World War II Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, FDR Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—are open 24 hours a day and typically staffed by park service rangers from 9:30am to 10pm Locals swear that the best time to visit is in the evening after the crowds have dispersed and when the memorials are lit up.
The Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site (fords.org) includes the theater where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, and a museum about Lincoln’s presidency and his assassination, as well as an exhibit about the aftermath of the assassination in a building across the street.
Free docent-led tours of the Library of Congress’s historic Jefferson Building are offered Mondays through Saturdays (loc.gov).
The U.S. Capitol can be toured free. You can try to get a same day pass at the Visitor Center, but it’s a better idea to make a reservation at visitthecapitol.gov.
While it’s free to tour the White House, getting in isn’t so easy. Self-guided tours are offered Tuesday through Saturday morning, and limited number of visitors are accepted. You’ll need to request a tour reservation from your congressional representative or senator at least 21 days in advance, but no earlier than three months in advance of your desired visit (whitehouse.gov/participate/tours-and-events).
You can catch a free performance nightly at 6PM at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage (kennedy-center.org). Shows run the gamut from improv comedy to storytelling to theater to dance to opera to classical music, hip hop, bluegrass, and more.
We could go on and on. Instead, we’ll point you to the district’s tourism website, washington.org, which offers a wealth of information about attractions and more.