Think the nation's capital might be exclusively expensive? Think again. There are plenty of ways you can enjoy Washington DC on a budget. From beautiful parks to fascinating museums, you could keep the whole family entertained for days and still not pay a cent.
We've picked out the top 10 must-see free attractions to visit while you're here:
1. Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek is 125 years old and was the third national park to be created in the US. It still draws lots of visitors every year, both locals and tourists alike. If you'd like to get out there and get active, there are over 32 miles of hiking trails. Cycling is big here too – simply hire a bike and get exploring the woods. The planetarium has plenty of free programs about the night sky, and you’ll also find the Old Stone House here, with an exhibit on DC’s earliest residents. Oh, and don’t forget the National Zoo – it’s home to over 2,000 animals, and free to every visitor.
2. The National Archives
Hop off your Big Bus Tour to visit the National Archives and see some awe-inspiring historical documents. You’ll find all sorts of important paperwork, like the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Even a copy of the Magna Carta is here. You can explore all the public collections of the National Archives and Records Administration but do remember there’s no photography allowed.
3. The Smithsonian Institution
Don't miss the Smithsonian - it's the world’s largest museum complex, made up of 19 world-class museums. And it’s all completely free. Make the Smithsonian Castle your first stop, where you can pick up a museum map of the whole complex. You can plan your route through everything from the Natural History Museum to the Air and Space Museum, or the American Indian Museum to the National Zoo. The gardens of the Smithsonian Castle are worth a visit in themselves – a perfect spot to sit and relax.
4. The United States Botanic Garden
This is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the US, making it a must-visit for anyone in DC. Located right next to the US Capitol building, it’s incredibly easy to get to. Kill two birds with one stone by visiting the seat of democracy then stopping off to smell the flowers. There are all sorts of species that are native to the US, including desert plants and Hawaiian plants in the Conservatory. How many will you spot?
5. Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is a majestic and iconic building, with plenty to fascinate any visitor. Best of all, it’s one of the places to go in Washington DC that is completely free. Watch a film about the Court, take in a lecture or wander through exhibitions… you could even catch a Supreme Court hearing if you’re here between October and April. We recommend getting here early – admission is on a first-come, first-served basis and this tourist spot is generally busy.
6. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
Wondering what to do in Washington DC when you’ve seen it all? We suggest going for a stroll at The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Running alongside the Potomac River, the canal covers over 185 miles stretching from Georgetown in DC all the way to Maryland. The canal path is perfect for walking, running or cycling. As you explore the natural landscape it’s easy to forget you’re right at the heart of one of the world’s most vibrant capital cities in the world.
7. Folger Shakespeare Library
If you’re a fan of the Bard then you’ve got to visit the Folger. The library houses the largest collection of Shakespearian artefacts in one place, including plenty of First Folios – one of which is always on display. You can get a free tour of the art deco building and if you’re here on a Saturday you’ll be able to see the Folger Reading Room, which is normally open to researchers only.
8. The Pentagon
Fancy yourself the next Olivia Pope? Then get a feel for international strategy at the HQ of the Department of Defense, the Pentagon. There are free tours available highlighting various missions of the American defence, bound to keep you entertained as you’re escorted around the 6.5 million square foot building. We recommend booking at least 14 days in advance. Tours can fill up quickly, so make sure you plan your visit as early as possible.
9. Tours by Foot
DC by Foot offers tours around the city, with no fixed cost. Just pay whatever you think your tour guide deserves. You can choose from tours of the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, historic Georgetown, Capitol Hill and many other areas. Tours vary in length and pace, so choose the one that suits you. If you prefer being driven around the city then hop on one of our bus tours instead, you’ll see all the sights and landmarks without breaking a sweat which we think is worth spending a few bucks for.
10. Eastern Market
This is a shopper’s paradise. Located on Capitol Hill, Eastern Market is over 140 years old. Entry is free, and it’s a great place to come window-shopping. You’ll find everything from fresh food to arts, crafts and antiques. The Market is open every day except Monday so stock up on local produce over the weekend.
Exploring Washington DC on a budget is easier than you think thanks to our guide of free top attractions, activities and sights. Once you’re done taking it all in be sure to check out the Best Restaurants in Washington DC…