10 Things to do in Washington D.C. for Free

It’s spring break for us here and I have a whole week to keep Lil’ Man entertained while sneaking in some valuable learning experiences.  Luckily for me, I live just outside Washington D.C. where there are a plethora of museums and monuments to visit.  The best part is that many of the destinations in this area are free to visit!  So whether you are a local looking to keep your kid away from screens all week or a family visiting during spring break, rest assured that there is plenty for you to see and do here.

  1. Smithsonian Museums:  The Smithsonian has a total of 19 museums, so I have yet to visit them all.  But whether you are looking for art, history or science, there is something for everyone to enjoy.  My personal favorite is Air and Space while Lil’ Man enjoys the National Museum of Natural History.  If you are looking for the space shuttle then you will need to head over to the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA (admission is free, but there is a fee to park).  If you want to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture be sure to plan ahead and get your timed entry passes.
    • The Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History is free on Tuesdays.
  2. National Zoo:  With the beautiful weather this week, Lil’ Man and I will be heading to the zoo for sure!  If you can, try to take public transportation as parking fills up quickly during this time of year (there is also a $22 fee to park).  Be sure to stop by and see the panda exhibit.  If you need a quick caffeine fix or are looking for food outside of the zoo, there is a Starbucks as well as a couple of local restaurants across from the main entrance on Connecticut Ave.
  3. National Archives:  If you would like to see the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution up close then you will want to head over to the Archives.  Please note that the wait to enter can be quite long this time of year (lots of field trips).
  4. U.S. Capitol Building:  If you have a little one, this tour will be of little interest to him or her, but it is great for older children.  The tour itself actually wasn’t very long, but it goes into the history of the building as well as that of our legislative branch. Luckily for you, construction on the Rotunda is now complete. (I saw a lot of beautiful artwork obscured by scaffolding on my tour last April.)  Be sure to visit the website prior to visiting as there are a lot of prohibited items that you will be required to discard prior to entering the building (even water is not allowed). 

    The Capitol Building
  5. National Mall and Memorial Parks Unfortunately the Washington Monument is closed until 2019 for elevator repairs, but there is still plenty to see on the Mall from the various war memorials to monuments commemorating President Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.  If you have a loved one’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, you can find their name here or receive assistance at the park. Make sure you bring a piece of paper and a crayon to create a rubbing of the name.
  6. Tidal Basin:  If you are already heading down to see some of the memorials, then you will most likely find yourself at the Tidal Basin.  However, the highlight of the Tidal Basin right now are the cherry blossoms.

    Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  7. Library of Congress:  The LOC provides a variety of guided tours and features books from Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection as well as a Gutenberg Bible. They are also offering a family tour that is geared for those with young children through April 14th.
  8. The White House:  If you want to tour the White House, you need to plan well in advance.  You are required to submit a request to your representative at least 21 days prior to your desired tour date (see the website for details).  Don’t worry if you did not do this, you can still appreciate the exterior facade as well as the gardens from afar.  Also, if you will be in D.C. on April 22nd or the 23rd, the White House has announced that it is opening up the gardens for public tours on these dates.  You can also visit the White House Visitor Center at President’s Park.
  9. Arlington National Cemetery:  Now this one is located just outside of D.C. in Arlington, VA (just west of the Lincoln Memorial), but I  mention it here because I think it is a destination that everyone should see.  Please remember that this is a cemetery and speak with your children prior to your visit about proper behavior (I have witnessed the Marines guarding The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier reprimanding people for not showing proper respect).  Be sure to pay a visit to Arlington House as well as pay your respects to some of our past presidents. It is free to enter, but you will be required to pay for parking.  If you can, ride the metro to the Arlington Cemetery Station and walk over to the Visitor Center.
  10. The Pentagon:  Yes, you can tour the Pentagon!  I would recommend this tour for older children as there is quite a bit of walking required and my 4 year old loses his patience after being talked at for a bit.  Like the White House, you will need to reserve the tour in advance (see the website for details).  Make sure you have your ID with you and also note there are restricted items (e.g., large bags).  You will go through an airport-type security, but don’t worry, the guards here are much more pleasant than the TSA (one even played peek-a-boo with my son).  No pictures are allowed on the tour and you won’t be able to use your cell phone.  Also note that there is no parking for the public, so I recommend taking the metro to Pentagon Station.


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