Written for Associated Content – July 2009
Summer means vacation time and with the economy being what it is people are choosing to stay closer or finding ways to cut their vacation expenses. If you are thinking about visiting Washington DC, there are many free things to do that may surprise you.
The obvious is visiting the monuments in the Nations Capitol. This is what a lot of people think of when they think of visiting DC. The Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial, The Reflecting Pool or if you come from a military family, The Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Wall, the WWII Memorial and Arlington Cemetery all comes to mind. I will never forget the first time I witnessed Arlington Cemetery from the steps of the Navy Annex at the Pentagon. Pictures and news footage can not get across the somber and sobering experience it is to actually see it up close and personal. Once you have visited these famous landmarks there is still a lot to do.
Did you know if you time your visit just right you can observe the Supreme Court in session? It’s true. The Supreme Court also offers exhibits and an educational film to introduce everyone to how the Supreme Court works. What better way to round out a visit to the capitol than touring the White House. Expect long lines on this though.
Since you are already at the Mall why not check out the Smithsonian Institute. Our first trip to Washington DC, a day trip from Philadelphia with a tank of gas and $20 for lunch where my husband could meet with the Navy Detailer for his transfer orders, we were surprised to learn that the Smithsonian was free. We spent several hours checking out the Air and Space Museum while waiting on the detailer. Upon moving to the area several years later we have since visited it, as well as the Natural History Museum and the American History Museum numerous times with our children. We have yet to check out the Sculpture Garden (found on the Mall), The National Museum of the American Indian or the American Art Museum.
If you don’t mind spending $11.00 for parking, the National Zoo is free. The $11.00 for all day parking is really worth it when you consider that an all day parking deck is about $20.00 or you are stuck running in and out of the zoo to place change in the parking meter, if you are lucky enough to find on street parking.
If you are a real history buff or have other reasons for wanting to visit, there is the United States Holocaust History Museum. It closed only on Christmas and Yom Kipper.
Saturday mornings The National Theater puts on a free show that the entire family can enjoy. Tickets are given out on a first come first service basis 30 minutes prior to show time and shows range from ballet to puppet shows.
You can take a tour of The Bureau of Printing and Engraving and see how money is made or you can visit the National Postal Museum and witness history through stamps.
The Anacostia River is home to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. This is the largest natural marsh in the Washington DC area. It’s a nice change from your normal Botanical Gardens visit at some place like The National Arboretum (also free).
Washington DC is also home to the Navy Museum where you can see various naval artifacts and enjoy about the history of the Navy.
The National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall offers a variety of exhibits as well as interactive displays that cover almost every corner of the world.
There are so many free things to do in Washington DC that it would take you all year to do all of them because many of the attractions are seasonal one time things, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival or the free holiday concerts put on by the US Army Band. A quick web search for “DC attractions” will produce hundreds of things to do, most of them free or very low cost and all of them family friendly. One thing about DC though, it’s always a trick to find parking and you will almost always have to walk to your destination, so wear comfortable footware!