Best Free Things to Do in Washington, D.c.

It’s the center of our nation’s government and a vessel of our nation’s history. Americans and foreign travelers alike come to the great city of Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, to see American patriotism at its best.

A visit to the National Mall or a glance through the White House’s gate is a must, yet the city of Washington, D.C. also offers up a series of other free educational activities made for the whole family and for children of all ages. The best news of all: a visit to our nation’s capital doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, many of the city’s most renowned activities are free.

Take a stroll past the county’s most coveted monuments, visit the embassy headquarters of famous world leaders, and cross the bridge over to sunny Georgetown to enjoy the afternoon.

 1. Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Ever dreamed of being a millionaire? See how the United States’ currency is printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Here, visitors will get the inside scoop about how money is made and then distributed around the country.

While tickets are not required for the visitors’center and gift shop, they are required for an in-depth scheduled tour. Tickets are given on a first-come, first-serve basis, and are sold at the Raoul Wallenberg Place (formerly 15th Street, SW). The tour entrance is at  14th Street, SW, near C Street.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Tours run every 15 minutes, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. Tours and the visitor center are closed on weekends, federal holidays, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

2. Embassy Row

Take your family on a trip around the world in only a matter of hours, no jet lag required. D.C. offers a number of free walking tours that explain major interest points along Embassy Row in the heart of DC.

 Embassy Row - Best Free Things to Do in Washington, D.c.
With the tour company D.C. by Foot, for example, you’ll pass by such landmarks as Dupont Circle, the Spanish Steps, the Woodrow Wilson House, and such famous embassies as the Embassy of India, Croatia, Greece, Luxembourg, Turkey, Romania, Korea, Netherlands, and Ireland just to name a few.

 3. Arlington National Cemetery

Pay your respects as a family to some of the nation’s bravest men and women, buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery is best visited on foot, either with an organized tour group or independently. In addition to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the John F. Kennedy gravesite, there is a long list of other notable individuals buried here, including past presidents and presidents’family, such as William Howard Taft and Helen Herron Taft, and Joseph P Kennedy Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

Arlington National Cemetery - Best Free Things to Do in Washington, D.c.

From October 1 to March 31, visitors to Arlington can witness the Changing of the Guard Ritual every hour on the hour at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here, visitors will watch the finest members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment honor the tomb site, which they guard 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, regardless of weather conditions.

The cemetery is open 365 days a year, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., April – September. and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October until March.

4. Screen on the Green

Summer is the perfect time of the year to make a trip to D.C. for many reasons. Among them, Washington is home to Screen on the Green, an outdoor movie series that takes place from June until August each year. All over the city, large projection screens are set up for hundreds of locals and visitors to enjoy. Just grab a blanket and some popcorn, and you’re sure to have a fun night for all.

Screen on the Green - Best Free Things to Do in Washington, D.c.

Movie locations in the D.C. downtown and metropolitan area include Capitol Riverfront, Chinatown Park, Columbia Heights, and Georgetown, to name a few. Such film classics as Pride and Prejudice, Ghostbusters, The Princess Bride, Ferries Bueller’s Day Off, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Top Gun are sure to make a splash. For young kids, Ratatouille, Moana, Zootopia, and Find Dory are sure to please. For this year’s movie lineup, click here

5. Georgetown

Just steps beyond downtown D.C., Georgetown offers a peaceful respite that combines the best of historic intrigue and sleek city living. Georgetown is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in the D.C. area. Its cobblestoned streets, chic restaurants, trendy shops, and colorful southern homes make it a must-stop.

Georgetown - Best Free Things to Do in Washington, D.c.

Retail shops are a range of upscale vendors such as Anthropologie, paired with small local shops, garden stores, fruit stands, and bakeries. Mansions dating back to the 18th and 19th century come to life with 21st-century revivals. Such historic sites as the past homes of JFK and Julia Child are located here.

Trendy restaurants, cafes, and pastry shops are hidden behind every corner. There’s the TV-famous Georgetown Cupcakes, as well as Malmaison, and even Crumbs & Whiskers, DC’s first cat cafe.

Georgetown is easily accessible by foot, taxi, or city bus.

6. National Air and Space Museum

 The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institute cannot be missed. For kids of all ages, it’s the perfect up-close look at the nation’s most impressive space and aircraft models. Kids will learn about the history of aircraft and space discovery in the United States over the past century.

National Air and Space Museum

Some of the most impressive exhibits such as the Early Flight gallery, Commerical Aviation site, Cold War Aviation, Business Aviation, Aerobatic Flight, and Apollo to the Moon exhibitions show visitors just how drastic the developments in aviation have been over the years. Besides seeing some of the first images of space, kids will also get to climb into and explore some of the country’s best-known spacecrafts.

The museum is spread across two locations: the first, along with the National Mall downtown, and the second, in Chantilly, VA. Both include free admission, and are open all days of the year besides Christmas Day.

7. Rock Creek Park

 Need a respite from all of the concrete? Rock Creek Park, located in Northwest D.C., stretches 1,754 acres. The park offers educational and volunteer opportunities to kids of all ages to get involved with nature and wildlife all around them.

Kids can go for a hike on over 32 miles of wooded trails, join a ranger program, check out the night sky at the Rock Creek Park Planetarium, and even keep their eyes out for coyotes at the park.

Rock Creek Park

in addition, kids will have a chance to volunteer with regular programs throughout the year including Mother’s Day Planting, International Migratory Bird Day, National Public Lands Day, and Rock Creek Park Day to name a few.

8. Gravelly Point and Hanes Point

If you happen to fly to D.C., you’re likely to touch down at Reagan International Airport. Each year, nearly 300,000 planes pass through this major airport. It’s a sight to see: hundreds of planes landing and taking off each day.

Gravelly Point and Hanes Point

What better place to witness the action than at Gravelly Point and Hanes Point parks? Bordered by the Potomac River, these parks are not only a great place to bike ride and set up a mid-day picnic, but they’re also set at the perfect vantage point to watch the planes at Reagan.

This is sure to be a family favorite, especially for young children who can’t get enough of all-things planes.

9. National Museum of American History

 Get in touch with some of the nation’s finest moments in history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Visitors will see the Star-Spangled Banner set out before them in its original state, take a look at Dorothy’s ruby red slippers, and visit the bar stool where African-American men in the South staged a sit-in to protest racial discrimination as part of the Civil Rights Movement.

National Museum of American History

Kids will also have the chance to dig into special programs the museum hosts, such as the  Draper Spark!Lab for children 6-12 to fuel their inventive creativity, historic theater presentations, and the ever-popular America on the Move, where families can ride a real Chicago L-train from the 1950s.

The museum is free, and requires no ticket of entry. The museum is open every day of the year except Christmas, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Visitors should check schedule specifications for special or visiting exhibitions and children’s programs.

10. National Museum of African American History and Culture

 Learn about the history and contributions of African-Americans in United States history at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Exhibitions range from the sacrifices of African American military during the Spanish-American Wars and World War I and World War II to musical greats such as Dizzy Gillespie and James Brown, to unparalleled athletes in boxing, football, baseball, and basketball. Though the museum is a leap back in time, the National Museum also holds several workshops throughout the year for students to get involved and think about the major contributions of African-Americans today too.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Special events such as  Culinary Legacy: A Conversation between Jessica Harris, Ph.D. and Chef Leah Chase, Cinema + Conversation: Putney Swope, and Represent: African Americans and the Advertising Industry are held throughout the year.

There are many options for purchasing admission tickets. Same-day purchases can be made online beginning at 6:30 a.m. Weekday walk-up passes are available on a first-come, first-serve basis starting at 1 p.m. Tickets can also be purchased online.

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