A Guide to Fun, Free Places to go in the Nations Capital
Washington, D.C. is a well-known tourist destination, but visiting its many nooks and crannies doesn’t have to break the bank.
There are plenty of affordable places to get excited about in the nation’s capital. They also happen to be some of the most popular.
Maybe you’re visiting from out of town. Perhaps you’re simply looking for an affordable excursion after many weeks or years of being in the area. Either way, this quick guide will help you find some of the most iconic — and free attractions available.
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For the architecture enthusiast…
Located just outside of Washington, D.C., the Glenstone Museum offers landscaping that includes and is inspired by architecture and Post-World War II art. It encompasses more than 100 acres of paths, trails, streams, nature, and indoor and outdoor displays, and an expansion is now open as of October 4th.
Take in the beautiful scenery that surrounds the museum, such as the rolling green grass and serene water. This is the perfect place to go for reflection and a little alone time away from the city.
For the flower fiend…
Open every day except December 25th, the National Arboretum provides incredible beauty no matter the season. Visit the grounds to see plenty of nature, trees, and paths, all of which appear differently based on the time of day and season. Visit during various times of year to watch the seasons change artfully.
One standout feature of the Arboretum is the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. These beautiful Japanese and Chinese trees tend to have a relaxing effect on the person viewing them.
Another must-see is the National Capitol Columns on display year-round. They were once part of the East Portico Capitol building. But after the dome was built much larger than the designer initially intended, they were unable to support the weight.
As a result, they eventually landed at the Arboretum, where they now make their home.
For the history buff…
Boasting free entrance to monuments, museums, and memorials, and under the care of the National Park Service, the National Mall is home to art, cultural, history, and religious museums — including the free-to-enter Smithsonian Institution — and more.
Two standouts among the museums are the Holocaust Museum and the newest addition to the Smithsonian Institute, the African American Museum. Some classics are the Air and Space Museum, the National Art Gallery, and the American History Museum.
The National Mall also includes some of the most significant locations in American history. For example, the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool are images often associated with peaceful protest. This is where American citizens marched on Washington and where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
There are also several memorial monuments honoring those who served in various wars, such as Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. It’s a must-see when in the D.C. area.
4. The National Zoo
For animal lovers…
Close to the Woodley Park neighborhood, open 364 days a year, the National Zoo is always free and includes plenty of animals, plants, shows, and family-friendly exhibits. There are plenty of zoo-related events to take in, too, like animal feedings, scripted shows, after-hours celebrations, and holiday-related displays that change with the seasons.
One fascinating exhibit is “Our Voices in Saving Species,” which is a part of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. This division works to save wildlife from extinction.
Kids will love the bilingual Smokey Bear exhibit. And adults will enjoy a walk down memory lane as they visit the famous bear that taught them everything they know about wildfire prevention.
For the adventurous explorer…
If you’re into being outdoors, the 1,754-acre Rock Creek Park in northern D.C. includes 4.4 square miles of biking and hiking trails. It was the third national park designated by the federal government and provides a “peaceful refuge” from the bustle of downtown.
Hiking and biking are not the only things you can do at this park. Enjoy horseback riding at the Rock Creek Horse Center. Or learn about the plants surrounding you at the Nature Center.
If you’re a history buff, tour Fort Stevens like Abraham Lincoln once did during the Civil War. And if you’re a sucker for astronomy, visit the Rock Creek Park Planetarium to sit amongst the stars.
For the modern art enthusiast...
The National Gallery of Art is home to an outdoor sculpture garden filled with works from both well-known and up-and-coming artists. It is “designed to offer year-round enjoyment to the public in one of the preemptive locations on the National Mall.”
The Garden isn’t just home to some magnificent sculptures, though. It also hosts Jazz in the Garden, every Friday from 5 to 8:30 p.m. So immerse yourself in the art and enjoy the atmosphere.
For nature lovers…
You probably already know that Theodore Roosevelt is the main reason we have national parks today.
As a champion of nature, it only seems right that this former president is isolated. Visiting Teddy means plenty of refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city.
With beautiful views of the Potomac River, Theodore Roosevelt Island can be reached by walking over a footbridge from the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
It contains nearly two miles of trails, so bring your walking shoes and maybe a camera, because you’re going to want to remember it. A 17-foot statue of the former American president and conservationist takes up one side of the island. You’ll probably be able to see it almost as soon as you step off the bridge.
For a fun, educational adventure…
Guided tours may cost money, but the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center is free. It offers patrons more information about Congress, the Capitol’s history, and plenty of other government-related information.
You don’t need a reservation to take a guided tour, but you should probably get one anyway. The Capitol is one of the most popular tourist destinations, after all.
Same-day tour passes are available at the Information Desk but might be limited, so plan ahead.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in D.C. That’s what makes it one of the best cities in the world.
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