Free Things to Do in Washington DC – 17 Must-Try Activities

Our Nation’s fair capital contains more than its fair share of marvels. From blooming Cherry Blossoms in spring to scores of monuments and memorials, there’s lots to do in DC. Thrifty travelers won’t even have to resort to coupon clipping as many of the District’s main draws are free.

Follow along to discover the 17 best things to do in Washington DC for free.

Pay your respects at the mighty Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, or take yourself on your own walking tour of the National Mall.

Spot curiosities and special treasures such as a giant whale and a Neanderthal skeleton at the Museum of Natural History. Or, get your fill of warm and fuzzy feelings when you pay a visit to the Giant Pandas at the National Zoo.

Whether you are in the mood for museums or would prefer to snap a selfie in front of the President’s home, there’s never enough time to tackle all of the incredible free things to do in DC.

Washington DC Hotels

Revved and ready to take on all of the free things to do in DC this weekend? No matter if you’re visiting the Capitol City for a quick getaway for scouting out DC for a week, you’ll need to secure some sublime lodgings. While we still don’t have a way to deliver you gratis accommodations, we can offer you the best rates online.

Enjoy stunning riverfront views, sleep just moments from the National Mall, or refresh with a dunk in your indoor pool. From 24-hour fitness centers to onsite restaurants, our Washington DC hotels offer something for every budget and traveler.

guest room at Club Quarters Hotel White House with carpeted floor, sofa with black uphostery and bed with white sheets and flat sceen tv on wall in Washington DC, USA
photo credit: Club Quarters Hotel White House, Washington DC via Facebook

Free Things to Do in Washington DC

Put down that wallet! Save those precious dollars for a Nationals Game or a smattering of Chesapeake Blue Crabs when you take advantage of the abundance of free DC attractions, sights, and activities.

Tour the DC’s many Monuments and Memorials

  • Washington Monument – our country’s most recognizable obelisk is well worth a visit. Built to honor George Washington, this 555-foot marble marvel affords visitors a bird’s eye view of the Nation’s Capital. Please note while there is no admission fee for the monument, timed tickets are required to ride the elevator to the observation deck and require a $1 service fee.
  • World War II Memorial – pay homage to the brave Americans who served during this bloody international conflict, when you make your way through the stone architecture, bronze sculptures, and bubbling fountain of the World War II Memorial.
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial – constructed to help heal our wounded country, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial serves as a reminder of the loyalty, sacrifice, and honor of the 58,318 Americans who gave their lives in service. Find a loved one’s name on the wall or snap a photo in front of the moving Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
  • Martin Luther King Jr Memorial – a towering testament to the legacy and story of Dr. King, this alabaster monument located in downtown DC pays tribute to his work for freedom, equality, and justice. As a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr King was an inspiration not only to Americans but oppressed citizens worldwide.
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial – called on to defend a country they never knew and people they never met, the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial is a true manifestation of heroism. Perfect in its solemn simplicity, visitors can meander through the Triangle Field of Service where a group of 19 stainless steel statues stand depicting a patrol in Korea. This symbolic representation shows the combined forces of the US Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy.
Close up of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, a massive incomplete statue of of Martin Luther King Jr made out of white stone on a cloudy day in Washington, DC, USA
photo credit: Raffaele Nicolussi via Facebook

National Arboretum

Dogwood, Azaleas, and ferns oh my! Take a break from monuments and American History, when you enter a world of verdant landscapes at the National Arboretum. Always free to enter, this Arboretum was established in 1927 and is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

Take your time traversing the grounds over 400 acres of flora, which are peppered with special gardens, pavilions, and perennial collections. Relish the lush blooms of historic roses in the Herb area or wander into the Friendship Garden to observe ornamental grasses and the Demeter sculpture.

Conclude your visit with a stop by the beloved Administration Building to seek a moment of solitude by the giant 150,000-gallon water pool, featuring aquatic plants and brightly-colored Japanese koi fish.

White House

Name an address more iconic than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue! Carve out ample time to pay a visit to the hallowed halls of the White House. Much more than the residence of the President and the First Family, this stately home is also known as the ‘People’s House.’

Related Post: Landmarks in Washington DC – 12 Must-See Places

The complex contains over 130 rooms, the most famous, of course, the Oval Office. Uncover the fascinating history of this epicenter of government and power when you book a free tour with your representative.

Front view of visitors walking in front of White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Visitors at 1600 PA Avenue, the most famous residence in the United States.

Smithsonian Museums

Natural history, priceless portraits of Darwin and Obama, and naked mole rats! As the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, the Smithsonian covers a wide breadth of subjects. This sprawling system contains 19 museums and the National Zoological Park, all of which are free to enter.

See both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution at the National Archives museum, or browse special exhibits that illuminate the celestial bodies of the night sky at the National Museum of Natural History. For a complete list of the Smithsonian institutions click here.

National Gallery of Art

A gift to our Nation that seeks to link us through our art and humanity, the National Gallery of Art serves as a mecca for visual art, education, and culture. The museum boasts an impressive collection of more than 150,000 pairings, prints, and photographs. Travel the globe as you are immersed in artifacts and works ranging from Renaissance Europe through first-century chalices.

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Guests of all artistic backgrounds will be in awe of works from Da Vinci, Edward Hopper, and Joan Miro. Admission to the gallery is always free, and visitors can even link up with complimentary one-hour guided museum tours.

Wide shot of adults and children looking at a painting of a man and lions at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC
photo credit: National Gallery of Art via Facebook

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Never forget! The Holocaust was a global genocide event that would forever change the political and cultural landscape of our world. Come to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to view a narrative history of this WWII tragedy. Through historical artifacts, video footage, and personal stories, the touching tributes of this blight will come to life.

The museum is home to numerous permanent and traveling exhibitions, all of which document some aspect of the Holocaust or genocide. Feel moved to tears by Daniel’s Story, or witness the individual images of blue skies above every known Nazi concentration camp and killing center across Europe.

Put yourself in the shoes of the American soldiers who first came across the horrors of the concentration camps in 1945, or watch an immersive 38-minute film detailing the Nazi’s rise to power. While the Holocaust Museum is always free, you will need to reserve your tickets ahead of time.

The Library of Congress

Calling all bibliophiles! A visit to the library might not sound that thrilling, but the Library of Congress is not like your run-of-the-mill book lender. The world’s largest library is filled to the brim with millions of books, films, videos, and even comics. This edifice seeks to both preserve and provide access to free knowledge and content.

View the spectacularly ornate reading rooms, or find your way to the Gutenberg Bible. From the world’s largest collection of cartographic materials to Presidential Papers from George Washington and Calvin Coolidge, there’s not much you can find here. Reserve a timed entry pass and get ready to hit the books.

renaissance style architecture...col
photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel via Unsplash

The National Zoo

Originally founded as a way to combat the American Bison’s near extinction, today the National Zoo is an oasis of conservation, sustainability, and animal care that educates nearly 2 million visitors each year. Animal lovers from all over find common ground here, as they soak in more than 2,100 animals from 400 diverse species.

In addition to the Zoo’s famous cuddly Giant Black and White panda cubs, guests can get up close to Asian Elephants, Wallabies, Cheetahs, and more. Don’t forget to take a peek at the Zoo’s event schedule to stay abreast of daily animal demos which include sea lion feedings and Flamingo keeper chats.

Hike Rock Creek Park

Shift gears from museums to majestic trees, when you hit the trails at Rock Creek Park. Gorge yourself on fresh air and physical movement when you swing by this vibrant urban park. For over 130 years Rock Creek Park has offered lush refuge to the residents of DC.

Related Post: Washington DC on a Budget: How to Make the Most of Your Trip

Topping out at over 1,700 acres this plentiful green space is run by the National Park System and contains Civil War fortifications, working mills, colonial houses, and thousands of years of DC history. Bring along some hiking boots and explore over 30 miles of trails. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for native wildlife, as you may even spot furry inhabitants such as foxes, coyotes, and shrews.

Boulder Bridge surrounded by trees at Rock Creek Park during fall in Washington DC, USA
photo credit: Robert A. Powell Photography via Facebook

Free Things to Do in DC at Night

See the Lincoln Memorial at Night

Immortalized in marble, our 16th President is forever enshrined in this timeless tribute. Built to honor our slain president shortly after his assassination in 1865, the Lincoln Memorial is a celebration of this titan of our National Heritage. A true American hero, Lincoln was a poor frontiers boy who would go on to unite our nation.

Related Post: Walking Tours Washington DC – 10 Best Options for Your Visit

While the Lincoln Memorial is stunning to visit any time of day, nothing compares to a romantic evening stroll around the statue. Moreover, with the lights aglow a nightly visit makes for an epic photo op.

view of lincoln memorial with reflection pool during sunny autumn fall day in Washington, D.C., USAKennedy Center Shows

Need to inject your nightly DC plans with a little razzle-dazzle? Give your ears a tantalizing treat, when you partake in any of the free concerts or music events at the Kennedy Center. No matter if you are yearning for some orchestral arrangements, chamber music, or country, the center caters to it all.

Thanks to a robust schedule of free events you’ll never be too far from a fantastic date night. Dial it up with a Millenium Stage performance by local multi-instrumentalist Langston Hughes II, or opt for a free movement-based dance class on a Saturday morning.

Stroll around Georgetown Waterfront Park

A sunset stroll around Georgetown Waterfront Park is an enchanting (and free) way to wind down your Capital City trip. Stretching along the banks of the Potomac River from 31st Street NW to the Key Bridge, this tranquil park follows the path of the Potomac River and spoils visitors with charming rain gardens and sweeping views of the Key Bridge and Theodore Roosevelt Island.

After your languid meander through the park, beeline it to Georgetown and spring for a nightcap or tasty gelato in DC’s original neighborhood.

Aerial view of DC at sunset with a cloudy sky in Washington, DC, USAThe beating heart of America serves as a beacon of eternal creativity, knowledge, and power. Washington DC may borrow design inspiration from Paris. However, the marvels, monuments, and museums of the Federal City are all her own.

From Boise to Bosnia, tourists flock here to uncover everything from concentration camp history to massive dinosaur skeletons. Thankfully all of this learning won’t make a dent in your vacation fund. Most of DC’s top attractions are free.

Pass hours by the reflecting pool or searching for a loved one’s name at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Or, awaken your creative spirit by observing the seemingly irreverent brushstrokes of Monet’s Japanese Footbridge.

From Alexander Calder sculptures to after-hours escapes by the Potomac, the eternal magic of the District is impossible to deny.

Tell us, What are Your Favorite Free Things to Do in DC Today?

Did we miss any of the top fun free things to do in DC?

Leave a comment below!


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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...


2 comments about “Free Things to Do in Washington DC – 17 Must-Try Activities”

Charles Phillips

August 10, 2023 at 6:33 pm

Where can an out of Townes get parking to do a hop on hop off day trip ?


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Teresa

August 11, 2023 at 8:07 am

Hello Charles! SpotHero is a great resource to find parking in Washington DC or any major city.

Pro Tip: Parking is free on Sunday at metered street spots in DC. If your travel plans allow for it, that would be the most budget-friendly option.


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