If you’re short on cash but have plenty of time and wouldn’t mind ogling magnificent works of art and digging into the long forgotten past of America, well, here are just some of the things you can do to explore Washington DC for free (and almost free) in the city.
Lincoln Memorial – America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln or ‘Abe’ is the man behind the abolition of slavery in America. You probably knew that already. Standing 19 feet high and weighing 175 tons the statue captures Abe in contemplation while overlooking the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument. The memorial is visited by millions annually and has seen many large gatherings including Martin Luther King Jr’s famous speech “I Have A Dream” in 1963. Located on the West end of the National Mall, start your exploration here and meet the man who made America finally live up to its name ‘land of the free’. Open 24 hours a day.
Vietnam War Veterans Memorial – On the left hand side of the Lincoln Memorial, is the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial, only a few steps away. Honoring the men and women who served in the Vietnam War, the wall lists the names of more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives in service to their country. Open 24 hours a day.
Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool – From the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial, walk down the Reflecting Pool, the largest in Washington DC. Approximately ,029 feet (618 m) long (over a third of a mile) and 167 feet (51 m) wide, it is lined with trees on both sides and is a great place to relax and unwind. The area is also perfect for jogging. Open 24 hours a day.
World War II Memorial – Opened in 2004, the memorial honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of America and the more than 400,000 who perished. It also honors those who supported the war efforts locally. Open 24 hours a day.
Museums galore – Sometimes visiting museums can get pretty overwhelming especially if choices abound and they’re so spread out. Not in Washington DC. Big thanks to The Smithsonian Institution, most museums in the capital are concentrated in the National Mall (not a shopping mall). Guided tours are available so make sure to ask at the information desk. Here is the list of museums:
Smithsonian Castle, open from 8:30 am – :30 pm
African Art Museum, open from 10 am – :30 pm
Air and Space Museum, open from 10 am – :30 pm
Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center, open from 10 am – :30 pm
American Art Museum, open from 11:30 am – 7 p m
American History Museum, open from 10 am – :30 pm
American Indian Museum, open from 10 am – :30 pm
Anacostia Community Museum, open from 10 am – pm
Freer Gallery of Art, open from 10 am – :30 pm
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, open from 10 am – :30 pm
National Zoo, April–October open from 10 am – 6 pm; November–March open from 10 am – :30 pm
Natural History Museum, open from 10 am – :30 pm
Portrait Gallery, open from 11:30 am – 7 pm
Postal Museum, open from 10 am – :30 pm
Renwick Gallery (currently closed for renovation but look out for re-opening date)
Ripley Center International Gallery, open from 10 am – :30 pm
Sackler Gallery, open from 10 am – :30 pm
United States Botanic Gardens – Has three sections – The Conservatory (open from 10am to pm daily, including weekends and holidays), The National Garden (open from 10 am to 7 pm daily, including weekends and holidays) and Bartholdi Park (open from dawn to dusk daily, including weekends and holidays)
United States Capitol – Open for visits from 8:30 am to :30 pm Monday – Saturday except public holidays. Walking tours are available from 8:50 am to :20 pm but must be booked in advance. Click here for more details. Food and drinks are not allowed (not even a plastic bottle of water) but there is a nice cafeteria in the basement with a good selection (range from USD 7 – USD 10). Foreigners can easily access the House and Senate Galleries by requesting for a pass at the counters once inside. US citizens must channel the request through their respective Members of Congress. Photography is allowed except at the Galleries.
White House – Although self-guided tours of the White House are available from 7:30am – 11:30am, tour requests must be done through one’s Members of Congress (if US citizen) or one’s embassy in Washington DC if a foreigner. I satisfied myself with a ‘tour’ of the White House from outside like almost everybody. The White House is also walking distance from the US Capitol and/or the Washington Monument.
The Washington Monument – Admission is free but you have to join a (long) queue at the The Washington Monument Lodge along 15th Street. Free ticket is for the same day and timed. Otherwise book online for a meager fee of USD1.50. Book as soon as you can as availability is limited. You can go up to the observation deck 500 feet above the ground and enjoy the sweeping view.
These attractions are all walking distance from each other. The National Archives requires a bit of walking but is also worth a peek. It is located at Constitution Ave. NW (between 7th and 9th St.). Here you will see the original Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, The Constitution and the Magna Carta. Admission is also free, open from 10am – :30 pm. If you still have time visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, open every day except Yom Kippur (October ) and Christmas Day (December 25), from 10 am – :20 pm (timings vary). Between March and August, timed passes are compulsory and this can be booked here for only USD1.
Bike rentals are available for only USD 7 for the whole day. A deposit of 100 USD will be charged on your credit card. There are numerous docking stations throughout DC and Arlington.
I explored for at least three days and it wasn’t enough. To really enjoy Washington DC for free, allot at least 7 days to make the most of your stay. Enjoy.
Photo above: World War II Memorial