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28 BEST Free and Cheap Things to do in Washington, DC

28 BEST Free and Cheap Things to do in Washington, DC

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If you’re planning a trip to Washington DC then you probably already know that it’s quite an expensive city! But the good news is that after our trips here, we’ve discovered a ton of free and cheap things to do. From exploring historic Georgetown to taking a walking tour and even seeing inside the U.S. Capitol without spending a dime!

We’ve been traveling the world full-time for the best part of a decade now and we’re always looking for affordable things to do when we visit new places – especially expensive cities.

We’ve visited Washington DC quite a few times and one of the things we love about it is that there are so many attractions that only cost a few dollars or nothing at all, and we’re going to cover them all here!

Free things to do in Washington DC

1. Go on a free walking tour

Bailey walks around Washington DC on a sightseeing tour
A great way to see the highlights!
Daniel stands out the front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC
Exploring the outside of the US Capitol!

Free walking tours are a staple for budget-conscious travelers like us, and we found some fantastic ones available in Washington DC. Free Tours by Foot offers a range of tours, although do be aware that not all of the tours on their site are free. 

One of the most popular free (or, rather, tip-based) tours is the tour of the National Mall where our guide took us to all of the most significant sites, like the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. This tour runs every day, and there’s also a late-night version to beat the heat during the summer in DC and see the monuments lit up in the evening.   

The Intro to DC is a great way to get to know the city better. It leaves at 1:30 pm so we would recommend it for your first afternoon here. During the spring, Free Tours by Foot also runs a Cherry Blossom tour of the Tidal Basin, so that you can see it at its most picturesque. We haven’t perfectly timed a visit with cherry blossom season yet, but hopefully next time!

Most tours have a booking fee of $4 USD, but the tours themselves are free, and then you’re invited to tip at the end. So I guess it’s not completely free, but no walking tour ever is! 

2. Outdoor movie

Union Market outdoor theater in Washington dc
Photo credit: Union Market

We love outdoor cinemas … and even more when they’re free! I think there’s something so nostalgic about watching a movie in the open air, and DC has some awesome outdoor cinemas during the summer months. 

The popular Union Market hosts an outdoor cinema on the first and third Friday of the month from April to July, as well as a few more screenings up until October. You do have to pay to take a car and do a drive-in, but if you walk like we did, then look out for the free seating area where you can watch the movie for no charge. Keep an eye on the schedule to find out what’s on. 

The Audi Field (home of the DC Defenders!) also offers an outdoor cinema on Thursday nights during the summer. They’re pretty frequent but it doesn’t happen every week, so be sure to check the stadium website ahead of time. They focus on family-friendly movies, so this is a great one to take the kids to! 

Meanwhile, catch an outdoor movie for free down at the Wharf DC all summer long. You can grab a seat on Transit Pier at 7 pm every Thursday between June and August, and enjoy the sunset cinema experience.

3. See the White House

The White house at Sunset in the USA
Didn’t see the president this time!
Bailey poses for a photo out the front of the White House in Washington DC
It’s so pretty at sunset!

Of course, we have to recommend the iconic DC activity of seeing the White House! It’s been the seat of the US President for over two centuries since it was completed in 1800.

While there are official White House guided tours, these are hard to come by and we haven’t been able to get one yet. These tours have to be booked months in advance, require going through an embassy if you’re not a US citizen (neither of us are!), and then cross your fingers that it doesn’t get canceled or rescheduled, which is likely. After all, there’s lots of important stuff going on inside this place!

If, like us, you think that all of that sounds like too much hassle, you can just check out the White House from the outside. I mean, gazing at one of the most famous and influential buildings in the world is a pretty cool experience. We walked around and went to both the north side and the south side for maximum views, and loved it!

Related Read: If you’re planning on visiting New York City while you’re in the US, tick off another of the country’s most famous buildings by heading up to the Empire State Building Observation Deck!

4. Tour the US Capitol Building

Paintings on the wall inside the United States Capitol in Washington DC
The U.S. Capitol is a beautiful building!
Display inside the United States Capitol in Washington DC
There is lots to see!

The U.S. Capitol is one of the most famous buildings in the entire country. It’s the seat of Congress, so this is where major political decisions are made, and I think it’s pretty cool that you can tour it for free.

In fact, free tours run every 10 minutes from 8:30 am until 3:20 pm every day except Sunday, starting at the Capitol Visitor Center. They’re led by professional tour guides and when we took the tour, we saw the Crypt, the Rotunda, and the National Statuary Hall.

You don’t technically need to make a reservation for a tour, but we say it’s a good idea, otherwise you might be turned away or end up waiting around. You’ll need to register for an account with the Visitor Center online, and then reserve a spot up to 90 days in advance. There’s not even a booking fee, so this is a completely free activity – yay!

5. Walk around Georgetown

Georgetown Old Stone House in Washington DC
Georgetown Old Stone House in Washington, DC
Selection of cupcakes from Baked and Wired in Georgetown Washington DC
The famous cupcakes from Baked and Wired!

Georgetown is the oldest neighborhood in Washington, DC. No, it’s not named after George Washington like we first thought, as he was just a teenager when this place was founded, but one of the theories is that it was named after King George. It is, however, incredibly quaint and charming, with tons of fantastic restaurants to check out. 

We loved 90 Second Pizza, and the baked goods at Baked and Wired. The muffins were the best ones we’ve ever eaten – so good! You can also treat yourself to some really fancy macaroons at Ladurée, or fresh lobster rolls at Mason’s Lobster (which we’ll talk more about later on). Of course, these places aren’t going to give you free food, but exploring Georgetown is absolutely free.

Bailey walks the cute streets in Georgetown Washington DC
It’s so cute and there’s so much history!

Georgetown Waterfront Park is really pretty, and it’s worth checking out the historic Martin’s Tavern, where JFK proposed to Jackie O. In fact, there’s an awesome historic walking tour that you can take, which isn’t free but does immerse you in the history of the area. I enjoy walking tours because you can find hidden gems and local spots, and learn about the area’s cultural significance. So if you love Georgetown as much as we did, you might appreciate diving deeper on a walking tour!

6. Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Smithsonian National Zoological Park lions
The lions!
Smithsonian National Zoological Park elephants
Elephants!

Zoos sometimes get a bad rap, but the Smithsonian National Zoological Park is definitely not your typical zoo. They do incredible conservation work through their pioneering research and the animals have tons of space. In fact, they live in enclosures that are as close to their natural habitats as possible. 

There are over 400 different species here, from cheetahs to Cuban crocodiles! We loved the Great Ape house, where you can find orangutans, gorillas, lemurs, and smaller monkeys. There’s even a petting zoo, which is perfect if you’re visiting with kids. 

The Smithsonian Zoo grounds are open from 8 am until 4 pm, although the exhibit buildings stay open until 6 pm during the summer. I recommend coming early in the morning if possible, as it gets busy and hot around midday, although they do have some spray stations around to help you cool down! 

Even though the zoo is free, it’s best to reserve your tickets online if you’re visiting between June and August, when the US schools are on summer break. I should warn you that parking here is pretty pricey at $30 USD per day, so we wanted to work around this. The best thing to do is to take the metro to Woodley Park and walk to the zoo from there, which takes around 10 minutes. 

7. See the Lincoln Memorial

Bailey poses for a photo at the Statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC
Most famous US president?
Statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC
It’s a beautiful statue!

The Lincoln Memorial is a true must-visit in Washington, DC, and it’s totally free to visit. It’s built like a Greek temple and is dedicated to Abraham Lincoln – who else? There’s a giant statue of him in the main chamber and a huge reflecting pool outside. This is also famously the site where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, and it has appeared in countless movies – most notably, Forrest Gump

It won’t cost you a penny to visit the Lincoln Memorial. It’s open 24 hours a day and there’s no ticketed entry or anything like that.

We actually booked this sightseeing tour to see many of DC’s best memorials at once, and it was a fantastic experience. We got to learn so much more about the history and architecture of these monuments from our guide, and it really helped us to get our bearings in the city! It isn’t free, but it’s still a good price to see a ton of DC in a day.

8. The Library of Congress

Front of the Library of Congress in Washington DC
Front of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC
Library of Congress in Washington DC
It’s so impressive!

Book lovers, don’t miss the chance to visit the Library of Congress while you’re in Washington, DC! This is the biggest library in the world, with over 70 million books, which is pretty mind-blowing! We also enjoyed checking out Thomas Jefferson’s personal library here, and best of all, it won’t cost you a penny. 

The best way to visit the Library is by reserving free entry passes online. Tickets are timed, so don’t be late! While it’s possible to do this the day before during the off-season, we were here in the summer, so it’s best to be organized and book tickets at least a few days in advance. They do keep some same-day entry spaces, but we didn’t want to risk missing our chance.

The Library of Congress is open every day except Monday, from 10 am until 5 pm. It also stays open until 8 pm on Thursday night.

For our true history buffs, we think you’d enjoy this guided tour of the Library of Congress and the Capitol. We tried this tour last time and learned so much more about the massive collection of books, along with the library’s stunning architecture and fascinating history. Touring the Capitol is a bonus, and getting the expert’s commentary helped it come to life for us. Best of all, this is a small group tour so you can ask questions along the way!

9. Visit the Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC
So cool!
Bailey out the front of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC
Outside the Jefferson Memorial!

I think that the Jefferson Memorial is DC’s most scenic memorial. Perched on the edge of the Tidal Basin, I recommend walking the Tidal Basin Loop Trail to enjoy beautiful views of it before going inside. 

Inside, we saw the huge bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence and later became the third President of the United States. It’s open 24/7, so it’s possible to admire it during the day or see it lit up at night. It’s close to the Washington Monument and the Martin Luther King Memorial, so I’d plan to tick these landmarks off together, especially if you don’t have long in the city.

10. See the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives

Bailey at the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives security entrance
The Declaration of Independence!
The front of the National Archives in Washington DC
Outside of the National Archives

It’s possible to see the REAL Declaration of Independence in the National Archives, which is kind of crazy to me! It’s not a copy, it’s the bona fide document. To visit, head to the museum’s rotunda for the Charters of Freedom exhibition. The Bill of Rights and the Constitution are here, too, so I say, see all three!

It is free to visit the National Archives Museum, although it’s best to make a reservation between March and September because it gets very busy. We’ve heard of people waiting for over an hour if they didn’t book in advance, so we think it’s worth the $1 USD booking fee to reserve your tickets. And if you’re here during winter, even better – just stroll right in. 

The museum is open from 10 am until 5:30 pm daily, with the last entry at 5 pm. You’ll need about 1.5 hours to check out all of the galleries, so try to get here by 4:30 pm at the latest.

Related Read: Philadelphia is only a 2.5-hour drive from DC, and you can dive deeper into America’s past with one of the many history tours in Philly.

11. Go hiking

Bears-Den-Trail-in-Virginia
Bear’s Den Trail in Virginia

We love hiking, and it’s also a fantastic free activity to enjoy in Washington, DC. It does get pretty hot during the summer though, so we’d recommend heading out early and bringing a big bottle of water with you. 

We drove an hour out of the city to hike the Bear’s Den Trail, and were rewarded with beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Bear’s Den Lookout! The trail is actually a smaller section of the Appalachian Trail, and it took us about 45 minutes out and back. It’s pretty easy, with 87 meters (285 feet) of elevation gain over 2.9 kilometers (1.8 miles). 

We drove out to Bear’s Den, but if you’d rather stay in the city, then Theodore Roosevelt Island Trail is fantastic. It starts by taking you over the bridge across the Potomac River to loop around the scenic island park. At 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) long with just 59 feet (18 meters) of elevation gain, the walk should only take you around 35 minutes, and there’s parking nearby.

12. Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and watch the Changing of the Guard

Changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC
Changing of the guard
Graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC
Graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC

In addition to numerous war memorials, Washington, DC is home to Arlington National Cemetery, a military graveyard where an estimated 400,000 personnel have been laid to rest, alongside several presidents. 

The cemetery is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was created in the early 1920s to represent all of those who died during the war and were never identified. Sentinels watch over the tomb, and these guys are the best of the best – literally. They’re selected from one of the country’s most elite infantry regiments, and even then, competition is fierce.

The Sentinels watch over the tomb 24 hours a day, but of course, they’ve got to change shifts. Every 30 minutes during the summer, and every hour during the winter, you can watch the Changing of the Guard for free. We found this ritual super interesting to watch because it’s always carried out to perfection – no one is ever a step out of place.

It’s free to visit Arlington Cemetery and watch the Changing of the Guard, although for a guided walk through the cemetery, you can book this tour for $55 USD. It includes visits to the most important gravesites and a guide to teach you about the famous figures who have been laid to rest here. We think it’s a great way to go more in-depth and learn about how important this specific landmark is.

13. Wander the Wharf DC

Bailey poses for a photo at The Wharf DC in Washington DC
Such a nice spot!
Bailey at The Wharf DC in Washington DC
Great for taking a casual walk

Washington’s sparkling, modern Wharf is definitely a bit of a contrast to the rest of the historic city, so make sure to get out here and explore. This waterfront area is home to high-rise buildings, fun bars and restaurants, and beautiful views over the harbor. 

On our visits here, we’ve found there’s always something going on down at the Wharf DC! From the Rock the Rink ice skating festival during winter or the floating Rock the Dock concerts in the summer. As we mentioned earlier, there are also outdoor movie screenings every Thursday during the summer. As you can imagine, it’s one of the best summertime spots in DC!

The Wharf DC is also home to a ton of fun bars to check out. We love Cantina Bambina, which is famous (locally, at least) for its fantastic summertime happy hours, or you can enjoy a drink with a view all year round at Whiskey Charlie, on the top floor of the Hilton Hotel. It’s best to book in advance, though, because this is one of DC’s most in-demand bars.

Food-wise, you can’t go wrong at ilili, a chic Lebanese restaurant, or Del Mar, which serves up some of the best seafood in DC. And if you’re visiting with kids, make sure to head over to Recreation Pier to play giant versions of chess, jenga, and Connect 4.

14. See the cherry blossoms

Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC
Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC

Time your visit to DC just right and you might get to see the cherry blossoms in the spring! I think the city looks so beautiful when the cherry trees are flowering, and there’s even an annual festival to mark the occasion. 

People usually associate cherry blossom season with Japan, and they’re right to do so! The cherry trees in Washington were actually a gift from the mayor of Tokyo back in 1912. 

Cherry blossoms appear in March and April, but it’s even better if you can catch “peak bloom”. This is when 70% of the flowers are open. Peak bloom usually lasts for about ten days, from late March to early April but of course, exact dates change from year to year. We haven’t been able to time our visits perfectly with peak bloom yet, but I really hope we can catch it sometime! It’s best to keep an eye on the dates through the National Park Service webpage that they call “Bloom Watch” – love it!

The best place to see the cherry blossom is at the Tidal Basin, across the water from the Jefferson Memorial. In fact, you’ve probably seen countless pictures of this spot on Instagram! The majority of blossoms are around here, but there are clusters of cherry blossom trees near the Lincoln and Washington Memorials and in the National Arboretum. 

15. Visit one or three of the Smithsonian museums

Dinosaur at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC
Dinosaur at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC
An elephant statue at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC
An elephant statue at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC

There are 17 Smithsonian museums, and they’re all free to enter, so take advantage! To be completely honest, I’m not a huge museum lover but the National Museum of Natural History was so cool, and they’ve got everything from fossils and mummies to precious gems.

The American Art Museum also impressed us with its creative exhibitions and artwork depicting some of the most significant periods of US history. Other top choices include the Air and Space Museum, the American Indian Museum, and the African Art Museum

You don’t need to reserve passes for any of the museums in advance, except for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This museum is really popular so you’ll need to book free tickets via their website, which you can do up to 30 days in advance.

16. Check out the National Art Gallery

The gardens sculptures at the National Art Museum in Washington DC
Very unique!
National Art Gallery in Washington DC
National Art Gallery in Washington, DC

The National Gallery of Art is not only free to visit, but they also offer free guided tours. You can take a free self-guided audio tour at any time, or check the schedule to find out which guided tours are available on the day of your visit. There’s no need to book unless you’re in a group of 15+ people.

The gallery displays over 3,000 pieces of art at a time, dating from the 1600s to the present day. It’s also worth finding out which special installations are on display when you’re in town, and don’t miss the sculpture garden, which was our favorite part. It’s nice to take a walk through, although if it’s raining you can also gaze at the garden from inside the Pavilion Cafe.

The National Art Gallery is open from 10 am until 5 pm every day and there’s no need to make a reservation.

17. Climb the Albert Einstein statue

Albert Einstein statue in Washington DC
Albert Einstein statue in Washington DC

If you feel as though your brain cells could use a boost, be sure to go and climb on the Albert Einstein statue on the grounds of the National Academy of Science. This is the only statue in DC that visitors are allowed to climb on!

Touching the statue’s nose is said to be good luck and could make some of Einstein’s intelligence rub off on you … I haven’t drastically improved at math since visiting, but your luck might be better!

Sitting in the statue’s lap and snapping a photo is also a fun thing to do, and the sculptor behind this piece also created the bust of JFK at the Kennedy Center. The spot where Einstein sits is embedded with metal studs that represent the positions of astronomical objects on the day that the monument was dedicated, and the paper he’s holding is inscribed with his most important equations.

18. Visit the war memorials

World War II Memorial in Washington DC
The World War II Memorial
Statue of soldiers at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC
Statue of soldiers at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Washington, DC, is famous for its war memorials, and visiting them not only helps you to get to know the city but also get a clearer picture of US history. They’re close together, so we found it pretty easy to see them all in a couple of hours.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial 

Over 5 million people visit the Vietnam War Memorial every year. The most famous part of the memorial is the huge wall inscribed with the names of US soldiers who were lost to the conflict, and there’s also a large statue of three servicemen and a statue to commemorate the contributions of women to the war. The memorial is open 24/7. 

World War II Memorial 

The WWII Memorial consists of 56 pillars arranged around a fountain pool, which represent the US states and territories that sent military personnel to serve in the war. It’s located between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and is also open 24/7. 

Korean War Veterans Memorial 

Located in West Potomac Park, the Korean War Veterans Memorial was unveiled in 1995 by the presidents of the USA and South Korea at the time. There’s a memorial wall and statues of servicemen. You might see groups of veterans visiting as part of the Honor Flight Network’s program, which brings veterans to DC to honor them for their service.

19. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Statue at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington DC
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Bailey walks the grounds at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
I highly recommend this stop

The Martin Luther King Memorial is one of DC’s most famous memorials and the one that really stood out to me. It honors the legendary civil rights leader’s struggle for equality, justice, and freedom. The entire memorial covers four acres, and there’s a granite statue of Martin Luther King and a wall of his quotes to read. 

The design of the memorial was inspired by Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. His likeness seems to be emerging from two boulders, which represent the mountain of despair and stone of hope metaphors that he mentioned in the speech. 

The memorial is open 24 hours a day, and it’s located in West Potomac Park, close to the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, which are also both free to visit. 

Cheap Things to do in Washington DC

20. Go for craft cocktails

Enjoying a cocktail in Washington DC
We love a good Old Fashioned
A cocktail at Round Robin in Washington DC
Enjoying a cocktail at Round Robin!

Okay, so cocktails in general aren’t that cheap, but grabbing one or two can be an affordable activity in Washington, DC. What we love about the bar scene here is all the historic bars, so we can soak in the city’s history while enjoying a delicious drink! 

Our top choice is Round Robin, which has been dubbed the “Oval Office of Bars” because politicians and presidents have been known to frequent this spot. Just imagine how many major political decisions have been influenced by conservations over drinks here! The bar is inside the Willard Washington Hotel, and I highly recommend the Mint Julep cocktail, which is their signature drink. Cocktails here cost between $21 and $32 USD, plus tip, so grab one and savor it as you let this bar take you back in time. 

We love dining at the Old Ebbitt Grill, but there’s an excellent bar here, too. It’s said to be the oldest saloon in Washington, and cocktails here are pretty reasonable for DC at $16-$21 USD.

Shelly’s Backroom Tavern has refreshing cocktails and it’s a classic American tavern, with a cigar lounge and lots of sports games playing. Cocktails here will set you back between $15-$22 USD, and I recommend the decadent Godiva Chocolate Martini, which is basically an alcoholic dessert!

21. Eat a famous Mason’s lobster roll

Bailey with a lobster roll at Mason’s Lobster Roll in Georgetown DC
Mason’s Lobster Roll!
A close up of a Mason’s Lobster Roll in Georgetown, Washington DC
So delicious!

Mason’s does lobster rolls right, with delicious Maine lobster and classic or Connecticut-style rolls. If you’ve never had a lobster roll before, I think this is the perfect introduction to this New England classic. 

I think you’d struggle to find a better lobster roll anywhere in the country. Mason’s buys the lobster directly from Maine and these rolls have been a massive success that there are now four locations in DC. A roll costs $22 USD, and trying one (or two!) is a must for us whenever we’re in the city!

22. Eat your way through Union Market

Bailey eats a doughnut at Union Market in Washington DC
Yummy!
Union Market in Washington DC
Union Market in Washington, DC

The Union Market is one of our favorite places in the city because there’s so much yummy food here. Buffalo & Bergen has awesome loaded sandwiches, like the Rude Socialist. It’s stuffed with bacon and maple-pecan cream cheese, and it only costs $8.50 USD! You can also try classics, like shrimp and grits, or chicken and beef sausage gumbo at Puddin’ for around $15 USD. 

We also recommend heading over to La Cosecha, which is a Latin food market just over the road. This is an awesome place to eat your way through South American cuisine. Make sure to stop for arepas and tequeños for $10 USD and under at Arepa Zone. Meanwhile, Cafe Unido sells the most expensive type of coffee in the world, Panamanian Geisha coffee, but you can still grab a cup for under $5 USD.

The food hall and La Cosecha are open from 8 am until 9 pm. We recommend arriving hungry and eating as much as you can because there are just so many delicious and affordable eats waiting for you here.

Related Read: If you’re visiting New York City on your American adventure, then make sure to check out the famous Chelsea Market!

23. Go on a sightseeing river cruise

Baileu poses for a photo on a Capital River Cruise in Washington DC
So much fun!
On a Capitol River Cruise in Washington Dc that leaves from Georgetown
A great way to see the sights!

Taking a sightseeing cruise is such an affordable way to see Washington, DC, with beautiful views from the Potomac River. It’s also a nice and relaxing way to take in the sights during the summer when it’s hot outside and we liked giving our feet a break from all the walking we’d been doing.

Capitol River Cruises runs a popular 45-minute sightseeing cruise for just $25 USD per person. On the boat ride, you’ll get to see famous landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and the Watergate Building. You can also do a moonlight cruise to see the sights lit up by night for $30 USD. 

The cruises run from mid-March until late November, and the daytime cruises run hourly during the afternoon, so it should be easy to fit into your itinerary. If you’re here during the spring, I’d also recommend a cherry blossom cruise to see the city at its most beautiful.

24. Go to a high tea at Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens high tea
Photo credit: Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens
Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens High Tea 1
What a display!

Feel like a VIP on a budget with high tea at the Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens. For $40 USD, you’ll get dainty finger food, delicious scones, and all the tea you can drink. It feels super fancy thanks to the elegant setting, and you can add a glass of champagne for an extra $12 USD if you want to go all out.

Given the competitive price point, this high tea is popular, so you need to make a reservation at least 3 days in advance, and you’ll need a group of 4 people or more. There are 13 acres of beautiful gardens here, so we took a stroll around after to walk off all of the sugary treats!

25. International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum in Washington DC
Photo credit: International Spy Museum

Have you ever secretly dreamed about being a spy? I definitely have! You can live out those fantasies when you’re in DC with a visit to the International Spy Museum.

This museum has two whole floors with interactive exhibits to test out gadgets, crack codes, and go undercover! My favorite part was the exhibit featuring the stories from real spies throughout history that I had never heard of before.

So if you’re interested in espionage, or just want to find out how realistic James Bond is, make sure that you don’t miss this! It’s a great place to visit with children but honestly, I think adults enjoy it just as much. 

The museum is open daily, and you can buy tickets online ahead of time for a 30% discount. Tickets cost around $32 USD if you buy them on the day or the day before, but you can book them up to 45 days in advance. 

26. Get one of DC’s best ice creams

Pitango Gelato ice cream in Washington DC
Photo credit: Pitango Gelato
Pitango Gelato ice cream
Photo credit: Pitango Gelato

Ice cream is big business in Washington, DC, since the city gets so hot during the summer. But honestly, the ice cream here is so good that we’d still recommend grabbing one during the winter months. 

It was very hot the last time that we were in DC, so of course we ate as much ice cream as we could! One of our favorite places was Pitango Gelato. They’ve got the creamiest gelato in town and really refreshing sorbets. The passion fruit one is just the ticket on a hot day.

We also love Dolcezza Gelato & Coffee. Not only is their gelato insanely good, they have awesome seasonal flavors, like strawberry, peach, and Sicilian blood orange. Yum! They’re all over DC, so pop in whenever you see one to check the specials.

If you’re seeking a sugar rush, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams will definitely deliver on that front. They’ve got lots of decadent options, like gooey butter cake and brambleberry crisp, so it’s no surprise that DC locals flock to this place. The closest location to downtown is the one on 14th Street. It’s about a 20-minute walk, so at least you’ll get to work off some of that sugar!

27. Watch the Nationals play

The Nationals are Washington, DC’s baseball team, and during the summer, it’s a lot of fun to watch them play on their home turf. Watching a baseball game is a must while you’re in the USA. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the sport, we found that the atmosphere is always electric! 

You’ll also get to see the Presidents Race during a Nationals game, which is when presidential mascots race each other during the 4th inning. It’s a silly tradition that’s so much fun to watch. 

Better still, tickets are available for as little as $13 USD on Stubhub, which is where we grabbed ours. This is a super cheap way to enjoy a classic American experience and to take it to the next level, you can go and pre-game in the Capitol River Waterfront, which is where Nationals Park stadium is located. We like Walter’s Sports Bar, which has reasonably priced drinks and a $5 USD happy hour from 4-7 pm on weekdays.

28. DC Monuments night tour

Sunset at the National Mall in Washington D.C. with a view of th
The Lincoln Memorial all lit up!
The United States Capitol lit up at night in Washington Dc, USA
The US Capitol is even more beautiful at night!

One thing we did struggle with a bit in DC was how hot and humid it was, so beat the heat by booking this guided night tour of the city’s top monuments. This tour is on an air-conditioned minibus and stops at the most important sites, which look even more spectacular when they’re lit up by floodlights at night. 

Some of the spots you’ll see are ones we’ve highlighted on this list – including the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the Martin Luther King, Lincoln, and Jefferson Memorials. The latter is especially amazing at night because you can see it reflected in the water of the Tidal Basin. 

At all the sites, we had a chance to get off the bus and walk around for a bit. The guides were great at giving us some interesting facts and letting us grab a few photos. It was about 15 minutes at each stop, which felt like the perfect amount of time.

The tour costs $64 USD for the standard minibus, or you can upgrade to one with a panoramic glass top for $94 USD. If there’s room in your budget, we thought it was worth the extra money to have an amazing view while we were inside the bus too. But, the regular tour will still allow you to tick off all of DC’s most significant monuments and memorials for a good price! 

Where to Stay in Washington, DC

the pool at Pendry hotel in Washington DC
The pool at the Pendry is so nice! Photo Credit: Pendry Washington DC

Now that you’ve learned all about Washington, DC, you’ll probably need a place to stay! Whether you’re visiting Washinton, DC for three days or only one, this city has loads of options. To help you narrow it down, we’ve highlighted our top choices. We’ve included everything from budget hostels to luxurious hotels, so you’re bound to find something you like!

Pendry Washington DC – $$$

For the ultimate luxury and convenience, opt for the Pendry Washington DC. This 5-star hotel has free bikes, an outdoor pool, a hot tub, a fitness center, a rooftop bar, and a large terrace overlooking the wharf. Plus, it’s just a 5-minute walk to the docking port if you choose to do a river cruise (you might even see your boat from your window!). The rooms are spacious, modern, and super comfortable.

There’s a wide range of room options, ranging from $450 USD to over $1,000 USD, depending on what you choose. However, you’ll find the best deals when you book your stay in advance.

Hotel Madera – $$

Hotel Madera is a great mid-range accommodation in the heart of DC. You can have a taste of American comfort food and cocktails at their on-site restaurant – or grab a complimentary glass of wine at the bar. It’s located close to many bars and restaurants and is just a 5-minute walk to Dupont Circle. Rooms are quite large and well-equipped, and some come with balconies to view the city.

Prices start at $225 USD which is a great value for what you get! Snag this deal by booking online here.

Duo Nomad – $

Duo Nomad is our top choice for budget accommodations in DC. It’s a clean place with complimentary breakfast, a garden, a terrace, and a shared lounge to meet other travelers or relax after a day of sightseeing. It’s located just off Capital Hill and a 10-minute drive to the wharf.

Prices start at around $60 USD for a bed in a shared dorm. If you’re on a budget, reserve a bed at Duo Nomad on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.com.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie outside the United States Capitol in Washington DC, USA
Thanks for reading!

As you can see, there are a ton of cheap and free activities to keep you busy in Washington, DC! There are so many famous monuments and political sites to check out and lots of great food to eat. Even in a city as expensive as this one, we were able to save a few bucks here and there, which is always nice when traveling!

We hope you found this article helpful! If you’re traveling elsewhere in America, make sure to check out more of our US travel guides, but here are a few of our most popular: