I have visited Washington D.C. once or twice every year since my sister moved to the area back in 2011, and I’m surprised that it has only just occurred to me to write about it. I love a lot about D.C. – the bustle, the wide array of shopping and dining, the fact that there is always something to do or somewhere to go. One of my favorite things though – from a tourist’s perspective – is just how many interesting sites there are to see that don’t cost a thing. Several of my personal favorites are from the the Smithsonian, a research complex consisting of well over a dozen museums and galleries, research facilities and a zoo. Most of their institutions, in fact, are free. D.C. is also rich in beautiful memorial sites, which are best visited in warmer weather. Below I’ve listed some of my favorites (in no particular order):
- The National Air and Space Museum has always been one of my favorites that I’ve visited a number of times. While it might not compare to the NASA’s space center in Houston, the Air and Space Museum in D.C. is sure to please space and aviation buffs. Regular hours: daily, 10:00 am – 5:30 pm.
- The National Museum of Natural History. As I sit here writing about it, I can’t help but wonder why I’ve only ever been to this museum once, when there is so much to see here. This museum covers a wide range in the area of natural history: past and present ecosystems, ancient history, paleontology (my favorite section!), and geology. Regular hours: daily, 10:00-5:30 pm.
- The National Museum of American History is dedicated to “the scientific, cultural, social, technological, and political development of the United States” and some of its highlights include “the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem; Washington’s uniform; Jefferson’s lap desk; Dorothy’s ruby slippers.” My favorite exhibit, however, was that of The First Ladies and their gowns.
Regular hours: daily, 10:00 am – 5:30 pm.
- Art lovers: the Freer Gallery of Art boasts several collections of American, Near Eastern and Asian art. This gallery also hosts other exhibitions for months at a time – one exhibition going on right now that I’m hoping to catch is The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (until February 20, 2017). Regular hours: daily, 10:00 am – 5:30 pm.
- The National Portrait Gallery is another art gallery worth visiting. From historical figures to sports figures, the portrait collections here “bring you face to face with America.” My personal favorite is America’s Presidents, a permanent exhibition displaying portraits of every U.S. president from Washington to Obama (not sure when Trump’s portrait will be added. *facepalm*). Note: according to the website, Feb. 26 through March 23, 2017— America’s Presidents will be closed to the public. Regular hours: daily, 11:30 am – 7:00 pm.
- The Library of Congress is in my opinion one of the more underrated free places to see in D.C. Physically housed in multiple buildings, the only one that has free guided tours is the Thomas Jefferson Building (tour schedule available through the link), and is well worth the visit for the beautiful architecture alone.
- Weather permitting, there are a number of memorial sites to spend some time at. The Lincoln Memorial is at the top of my list- there’s a gorgeous view of the reflection pool all the way to the Washington Memorial (along with several of the aforementioned museums, this rectangle forms the National Mall). Just keep in mind that there are a lot of stairs involved if you want to climb all the way to the base of Lincoln’s chair.
- The Washington Memorial is another frequently visited site. While best seen during the day, if you’re ever in Washington for the 4th of July, try to come by at night for the fireworks show – and get there early!
- While the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is a pleasant visit any time, situated right along the Tidal Basin that offers paddle-boating, this area is especially picturesque in the spring during the National Cherry Blossom festival, or at least when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
- Georgetown: This one is sort of a random, but I still wanted to include it. Georgetown if one of my favorite neighborhoods in D.C., mostly because I love shopping. Even when I’m broke, it’s still an enjoyable place to be – always full of people, it’s fun just walking around and taking in the bustle. Get hungry along the way? There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and bakeries, including the famous Georgetown Cupcakes if you feel like a small but decadent splurge ($3.25/cupcake).
This is definitely a very short sampler of some of the many free things to do in the capitol. If you’ve ever been, what are some of your D.C. favorites?