Are you planning a family visit Washington, D.C. anytime soon? We live about an hour from DC and frequently take the time to ride the Metro in or drive in for some family-friendly activities that are free or low cost. It is great to be so close to DC so I wanted to share some of the best free or inexpensive activities to do while you’re visiting.
- Visit the Museums: It is smart to start at the Smithsonian Institution Building because you can pick up a map and information about the museums in the area. There are 19 museums that are among the most popular attractions in Washington DC. Museums include the American History Museum, Natural History Museum, and the National Air and Space Museum. Some museums are free to walk in at anytime and others (like the Holocaust Museum) you need timed tickets. I personally love the Natural History Museum and the National Air and Space Museum – however, visit as many as you can but don’t rush ;). If you would like to explore another museum, you can visit the Air and Space museum in Chantilly, VA – it does cost $10 to park but admission is free, it is an awesome experience. FYI- there are bag searches and metal detectors in many of the museums and locations.
- Tour the National Monuments & Memorials: These are some “must see” attractions while visiting the nation’s capital. You can visit the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and the World War II Memorial. These are not all located in the same place but they aren’t too bad to see on foot. However, you can also opt for a guided tour so you don’t have to fight city traffic and you can learn more facts too. There are options for tours like hop-on-off-trolley tours and bike tours. At night the memorials are beautiful so if you have some time check them out. A drive down the George Washington Memorial Parkway to 395 into the city is one of the prettiest sites at night. Many of them are open 24 hours a day and offer FANTASTIC views. You can also visit the Arlington National Cemetery which has memorials including the Coast Guard Memorial, the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, and more. Currently the Washington Monument is closed for tours (since the 2011 earthquake).
- Visit the Government Buildings: Your family can visit The White House, the Capitol and the Supreme Court but these visits need to be booked well in advance of your trip to DC. The Supreme Court is in session Monday through Wednesday from 10 a. m. until noon, October through April. You can watch a case being argued but seating is limited. Arrive at least an hour early to wait in line. You can get tickets for the Capitol and The White House through your Senator or Congressman.
- Visit the National Zoo: This attraction is part of the Smithsonian museums that I mentioned above but is not in the National Mall location. This is a free zoo and it is absolutely stunning with 163 acres of animals and attractions. Make sure you bring your walking shoes as there is a lot of walking around this zoo. If you do take the Metro in, the Zoo is a few blocks away.
- Visit the National Archives: Admission is free to this attraction and it includes The U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence. FYI- there are bag searches and metal detectors in many of the museums and locations.
- Visit the Library of Congress: Admission is free to this attraction and includes a first edition of L. Frank baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, an early Wonder Woman comic book, the 85,000+ pages of comedian Bob Hope’s joke file, and, oh yeah, a Gutenberg Bible of 1455 printed on vellum and one of the world’s only perfect remaining copies. Rotating exhibits on literature, history, and the arts are ongoing. FYI- there are bag searches and metal detectors in many of the museums and locations.
- Visit the National Gallery of Art: The National Gallery of Art opened in 1937 and continues to hold its own even with such famous neighbors as the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Its extensive collection of Italian Renaissance masterpieces and works by Impressionists and early 20th-century painters is worth a stop. Don’t miss Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’Benci (the only da Vinci painting in the U.S.), Johannes Vermeer’s A Lady Writing a Letter, and Paul Gaugin’s Self Portrait.
- Visit the Folger Shakespeare Library: This Library is home to a copy of a 1623 First Folio (the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays), an Elizabethan-style theater that regularly stages the Bard’s work (not to mention music and the work of, y’know, lesser-known playwrights), and the world’s finest collection of Shakespeare-related materials and other Renaissance-era books and manuscripts.
- Attend a Festival: In the spring, summer and fall months, there is usually some sort of a festival going on in DC. These can include Italian Culture Festival, National Police Week, etc. They are usually free to attend and you can truly see how diverse DC is.