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Leave Your Wallet At Home And Come To These Free D.C. Attractions



Believe it or not, there is a four letter F word that attracts millions of people to Washington, D.C. every year – FREE. Many must-see activities and places cost visitors absolutely nothing to see priceless works of art, historically significant artifacts and towering symbols of the nation's heritage.

 

All the monuments and memorials teachers taught in school are free to visit. Gaze up at the stoic face of the nation's 16th president at the Lincoln Memorial which is probably the most popular among tourists.

 

Try to schedule a trip during the Cherry Blossom Festival to see the nation's capital decked out in beautiful spring colors from March 20 until April 17 or celebrate the country's Independence during an amazing fireworks show on the 4th of July.

 

Tours of The White House, U.S. Capitol and U.S. Supreme Court are available. It just takes careful advanced planning. Be sure to request tickets from your member of Congress several months from your trip. You will be glad you did by getting to see sights that the general visiting public does not.

 

What you don't spend on seeing attractions, you can use to treat yourself to fine dining or exciting shopping options in the nation's capital.

 
 

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C & O Canal National Historic Park
Photo courtesy of iStock / BDphoto


Before the days of planes, trains and automobiles, goods made their way across the region via the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Stretching 185 miles and hugging the boarders to three states, this travel route dates back to the early 1800s. Declared a national monument in 1961 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the canal is now known as a national historical park. Bicyclists are a common site on the trails so if you are walking be sure to share the path. Another great activity here is taking a canal boat ride which is put on by the National Park Service.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Get a history lesson and some exercise as you walk through this historic park.

Gina's expert tip: Horseback riding, boating and kayaking are allowed on certain parts of the canal. Just double check before you go.

Read more about C & O Canal National Historic Park →


Independence Day on the National Mall


Francis Scott Key was not talking about fireworks when he composed the national anthem with lines like "And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air..." But the nation's capital knows how to put on a party to celebrate Independence Day. While the nearly 20 minute firework show is the main draw, thousands of people head to the National Mall to see the parade down Constitution Avenue Northwest from 7th to 17th street and take in several concerts throughout the day. Make sure to take plenty of water for the free event because Washington, D.C. gets rather hot in early July. METRO: Metro Center, Gallery Place-Chinatown, or Judiciary Square. (Note: the Smithsonian station is closed on July 4th.)

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: What better place to celebrate the annual holiday than in the nation's capital?

Gina's expert tip: Check to see what will be open. Certain monuments, memorials and areas are not open or close early.

Read more about Independence Day on the National Mall →


Supreme Court of the United States


Designed by architect Cass Gilbert and completed in 1935, the United States Supreme Court's building alone is worth the visit. Inspired by the Corinthian style, the structure features large columns, nine ornate statues outside, large bronze doors and two spiral staircases made of marble. Try to plan your trip for when the court is in session so you can see the top justices hearing cases. Be sure to check out several education programs available including courtroom lectures and a rotating selection of exhibitions. This is the highest court in the land so be sure to be respectful while inside. If not, you will be escorted out. METRO: Capitol South

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: A grandiose venue fit to bear witness to the most important legal cases in the country.

Gina's expert tip: Watch the court docket to see what cases will be heard while you are visiting.

Read more about Supreme Court of the United States →


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National Archives
Photo courtesy of National Archives


Remember in school when you learned about America's Founding documents – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? All of them can be found at the National Archives Museum. (John Hancock's signature really does stand out!) If that's not enough, visitors can also get a look at one of the four original 1297 Magna Carta documents. The William G. McGowan Theater shows a film history of the museum by day but showcases documentary films by night. Go to the website to see if a program will take place during your visit. METRO: National Archives/Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: You can't leave the nation's capital without seeing the documents that helped start it.

Gina's expert tip: In order to protect the documents, photography is not allowed so don't try and take a selfie with the Declaration of Independence.

Read more about National Archives →


National Cherry Blossom Festival
Photo courtesy of iStock / Melissa Kopka


In 1912, Toyoko Mayor Yukio Ozaki gifted Washington, D.C. with 3,000 cherry trees. To commemorate his generosity, the Cherry Blossom Festival was born. Tourists from all over the world come to the Tidal Basin to see the blooms which come out on average between late March to early April. The peak bloom date is the day that 70 percent of the blossoms are open. While the blooms may be the main attraction, the festival features a variety of creative and diverse activities that promote contemporary arts and culture, the enviroment and education. While most events are free and open to the public, some require paid admission. Metro: Smithsonian

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: People from around the world make their way to the nation's capital just for this event.

Gina's expert tip: Come in the early morning or evening hours to avoid large crowds.

Read more about National Cherry Blossom Festival →


National Zoological Park
Photo courtesy of iStock / steinphoto


Lions, monkey and elephants. Oh my! Located in Northwest Washington, D.C., The National Zoological Park features a variety of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The stars of the show are the pandas especially Bei Bei, who was born late last year. Fans will line the fences at their exhibit with large telephoto lenses to capture every panda movement. The best part is visitors get to see all of these unique animals from around the world for free. Make sure you wear good walking shoes because the 163-acre park has hills. Also, don't stand under the ropes when the orangutans are on the move. You will thank me later. METRO: Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan or Cleveland Park.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Have you ever seen another free zoo with this caliber of animals? Not likely.

Gina's expert tip: While the buildings don't open until 10 a.m., you can still go early to see animals kept outdoors like the pandas and lion.

Read more about National Zoological Park →


United States Capitol
Photo courtesy of U.S. Capitol


Want to see where bills are endlessly debated and sometimes pass to become laws? Come watch the House and/or Senate in session at the U.S. Capitol and get a tour of the stunning building too. While you may tour parts of the structure during business hours, you need gallery passes to see the floor where elected officials are so be sure to contact your representative's office far in advance. Special tours are offered throughout the week at set times which require passes obtained at the Visitor Center to attend. Check out the detailed art work by Constantino Brumidi on the first floor of the Senate wing or learn about the Capitol and Congress during the Civil War. METRO: Capitol South

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: No matter what your political beliefs are, this is a venue worth seeing.

Gina's expert tip: Free listening devices are available for those who want to hear tours in different languages. You just have to leave a photo ID at the information desk.

Read more about United States Capitol →


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National Mall


To serve as a symbol of unity, strength and wisdom, the 16th President Abraham Lincoln is honored with this memorial featuring a statue seated below the inscription, "In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever." Completed 57 years after his assassination, the Greek Doric temple was also the site for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom rally in 1963. While the site is impressive during the day, the view will take your breathe away at night. METRO: Smithsonian

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: In a district full of memorials, this is the one to visit if you have limited touring time.

Gina's expert tip: Look on the outside of the memorial to see the names of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death.

Read more about Lincoln Memorial →


The Smithsonian Institution
Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Art


The Hope Diamond? Check. Paintings by Claude Money and Pablo Picasso? Check. Dorothy's ruby slippers from 'The Wizard of Oz'? Check. Flags carried to the moon and back? Check. A massive collection of historical items from across the globe can be found in Washington, D.C. thanks to the Smithsonian Institution. Made up of 19 separate museums, it is the world's largest museum complex. Nearly all the museums and exhibits are free. The Air & Space, American History, and Natural History are the favorites among tourists so expect large crowds. Others such as the American Art, American Indian and National Portrait Gallery should not be missed. Metro: Smithsonian or L'Enfant Plaza (for the museums and galleries on or near the National Mall).

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: An enviable collection of priceless artifacts all found in museums within walking distance.

Gina's expert tip: Try and go to the popular Smithsonian museums early and hit the other must-see buildings during mid- to late-day.

Read more about The Smithsonian Institution →


White House / White House Visitor Center


Given its name by President Teddy Roosevelt, The White House boasts 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and six levels in the residence. The 55,000-square-foot home has served as a safe harbor for U.S. Presidents since 1800 and welcomed leaders and dignitaries from around the world. Decisions on World Wars, crises and ground breaking policies have all taken place behind these walls. While it is famously missing its cornerstone, the historic site also features a tennis court, jogging track, swimming pool, movie theater, billiard room and bowling alley. White is a tough color to keep clean and it takes 570 gallons of paint to cover the outside walls. METRO: Federal Triangle or Metro Center

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: No trip to the nation's capital is complete without a visit to this famous house.

Gina's expert tip: Tickets are in short supply so book as far in advance as possible.

Read more about White House / White House Visitor Center →


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Meet Gina Gallucci White

Gina Gallucci White is an award winning freelance writer with articles appearing in such regional publications as Frederick Magazine, The Daily Record, Montgomery Magazine and The Gazette. She...  More About Gina

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