Washington, D.C., is a must-visit city for travelers both domestic and international. The nation’s capital offers so much to see and do, including historic sites, art and culture, a thriving culinary scene, parks, gardens, and more.
What visitors may not know, however, is that many of the best parts of D.C. can be experienced without spending a dime, making it a great place to live and one of the best places to visit on a budget— and giving locals plenty of affordable things to do with their leisure time.
Things to Know About Washington, D.C.
Our nation’s capital is full of eclectic neighborhoods, each with its own vibe. Each part of town has something unique to offer, from the business- and politics-driven downtown scene to the quiet, suburban feel of the Upper Northwest.
Every change of season in D.C. brings new activities. Catch the famed cherry blossoms in the spring, attend an outdoor concert in the summer, tour fall foliage in autumn, and shop at holiday markets in the winter. Getting around D.C. is easy, with several affordable transit options such as the metro rail system, Lyft or Uber, bike shares, and walking.
10 Free Things to Do in D.C.
Those looking for free activities in Washington, D.C. are in luck, as there might not be another place this loaded with such things to do for people of various interests. Here are just a few of many:
1. Explore the Smithsonian Museums
D.C. has some of the best museums in the country, and the best part is that most of them are free. The Smithsonian’s collection of museums has something to suit everyone’s taste and interests. From the National Portrait Gallery to the contemporary Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to the National Museum of Natural History, one could spend several days or even a whole week touring these world-class cultural institutions.
2. Walk Around the National Mall
The National Mall is one of the top attractions for visitors to D.C., and for good reason. You can tour famous monuments such as the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans memorial. Rangers with the National Park Service offer a variety of free mall tours if you’d rather not explore on your own. These guided adventures – whether you’re walking, biking, or touring by nighttime – are an excellent way to get the most out of your National Mall visit. Check the online schedule for further details.
3. Take a Walking Tour
There are many free guided experiences, such as those offered by DC by Foot, that offer experiences such as strolls through Georgetown and Arlington National Cemetery. You’ll need to reserve your spot in advance, and although payment isn’t required, tipping your guide is highly recommended. If self-guided tours are more your thing, or if you can’t find a tour that suits your schedule, DC by Foot also offers free audio tours.
4. Admire the Washington National Cathedral
The Washington National Cathedral showcases stunning architecture that is described as an American interpretation of the 14th Century English Gothic style. The house of worship, which is the world’s sixth-largest cathedral, has hosted many official ceremonies for past presidents and welcomes over 400,000 visitors each year. The surrounding grounds also provide a welcome respite, with beautiful flower gardens, an oak and hickory forest, stone footpaths, and manicured lawns.
5. Visit the National Gallery of Art
This expansive museum is not part of the Smithsonian Institution, but it is also free to the public and welcomes all people “to explore and experience art, creativity and our shared humanity.” The permanent collection includes more than 150,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, and decorative arts that span the entire history of Western art. It’s the kind of museum where you could visit several days in a row and still not see everything, but you’ll still be able to experience plenty in one afternoon.
6. Enjoy Nature at Rock Creek Park
There’s no shortage of things to do in Rock Creek Park, with hiking trails, bike paths, forests, a tennis center, a golf course, and horse stables. The park, which was founded in 1890 as a recreational area and peaceful respite from the bustle of urban life, has continued to fulfill its mission for more than a century. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it.
7. See a Shakespearean Play
The Shakespeare Theater Company offers free shows to Washingtonians and visitors alike every summer. It’s a beloved yearly tradition that started in 1991 and continues to attract diverse audiences. Past seasons have featured some of Shakespeare’s most well-known works — including Hamlet, Measure for Measure and King Lear — all performed by Shakespeare Theater Company actors and guest artists such as Shia LaBeouf and Harry Hamlin. Tickets are typically distributed through an online lottery system, so visit the Shakespeare Theater Company’s website for more information.
8. Tour the White House
You can indeed tour the White House for free, but you’ll need to plan ahead. U.S. citizens can request tours through their members of Congress, and it’s advised to submit a request at least 21 days in advance. Tours are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, are self-guided, and include parts of the East Wing such as the State Dining Room, the China Room, and the Library. Guards are staffed in each room to answer questions about the history and architecture of each space.
9. Stroll Through a Market
D.C. has many year-round markets with food, art, home goods, wine, and more. Eastern Market has been a community hub in the Capitol Hill neighborhood since 1873, offering fresh produce, gourmet food, and flowers from local farmers and producers. Further uptown you’ll find Union Market, an indoor collection of food vendors and shops with a beautiful rooftop bar for relaxing and enjoying views of the city.
10. Watch a Movie Outdoors
Those visiting D.C. in the summertime may be able to catch an outdoor film screening. Screen on the Green takes place on the National Mall between 7th and 12th Streets and typically shows classic movies such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and E.T. For a full list of upcoming screenings, check out DC Outdoor Films.
This list illustrates how long someone could stay busy in Washington, D.C. without spending much money, and it’s one reason the city is such a great place to visit. Those whose activities include hunting for a new home will find that adventure more pleasant with the help of experts on the area.
Find the Right Home in Washington, D.C.
Anyone considering buying property or renting in the D.C. area can count on the team at Nomadic Real Estate for expert guidance and assistance. We work with landlords to find quality tenants and with individuals to find the right homes, plus offer a range of real estate services and work with investors, property managers, homeowners, and tenants.
Contact Nomadic Real Estate today to discuss your residential real estate leasing, property management, and sales needs.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a place to rent, check out our DC rentals.