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Hop off your Big Bus Tour at Stop 21 to visit the National Archives and see some awe-inspiring historical documents.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
It’s one of the oldest botanic gardens in the US. And it’s incredibly easy to get to, right next to the US Capitol building. So if you’re visiting the seat of democracy, make sure you stop 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.
5) Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is a majestic and iconic building, with plenty to fascinate any visitor. And it’s all 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. But get here early – admission is on a first-come, first-served basis.
6) The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
Ah, the C&O. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal runs alongside the Potomac River, stretching from Georgetown in DC all the way to Maryland, over 185 miles. 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!
7) Folger Shakespeare Library
If you’re a fan of the Bard then you’ve got to come and visit the Folger. The library houses the largest collection of Shakespeariana 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
The HQ of the Department of Defense, the Pentagon, covers a vast 6.5 million square feet. There are free tours available, highlighting various missions of the American defense, and taking you through miles of the building. You’ll need to book at least 14 days in advance. Tours can fill up quickly, so make sure to 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 one that suits you.
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.