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100 Free & Almost Free Things to Do: Best of Town

Smithsonian Castle

We gathered up some of the most amazing free things to do in the city.

One surprising and pleasant discovery you’ll make when visiting Washington, DC - many events, museums and attractions are free. Here are a free activities that await on your trip to the nation’s capital.

1 Take a nighttime stroll around the monuments and memorials
Take a nighttime stroll around the monuments and memorials Serge Melki

Touring the National Mall during the day is delightful, but for a truly magical experience, visit at dusk. That’s when the lights come on, bathing Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, as well as the Washington Monument, in an otherworldly glow.

2 Tour the Smithsonian Museums
Tour the Smithsonian Museums National Air and Space Museum

These are America’s museums, so there is no charge to visit them (tax dollars at work for good!). All Smithsonian Museums have interactive components and unparalleled collections of artifacts. The hard part is choosing which ones to visit.

3 Take a selfie inside the White House
Take a selfie inside the White House Pete Souza

Although there is absolutely no charge to see the public rooms of the U.S. President’s home, it does take effort and time. Contact your congressional representative at least six weeks in advance. Submit your request on their website or read our White House FAQ.

4 Experience a guided tour through the District
Experience a guided tour through the District

Go for a stroll with DC by Foot's knowledgeable tour guides. They offer different options, such as walking tours of the National Mall, Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Arlington Cemetery and themed tours like Secrets & Scandals and DC’s Ghost Tours. You’ll learn a lot, so tip your guide what you feel the tour is worth.

5 Tour the Capitol Building
Tour the Capitol Building

Descend below the grounds for a guided walk through the breathtaking U.S. Capitol Rotunda. In addition to the tour, you’re invited to watch an orientation film and explore Emancipation Hall showcasing treasured artifacts from America’s earliest days as a nation.

6 Take the tunnel from the Capitol to the Library of Congress
Take the tunnel from the Capitol to the Library of Congress Matthew and Heather via Flickr

Or you can enter above ground into the magnificent Library of Congress. The free tour explains the history, decor and unique exhibits that make this library’s collection of books, papers and recordings, the largest in the world. Don’t miss the Gutenberg Bible and Thomas Jefferson’s Library exhibits.

7 Take a walk through Georgetown
Take a walk through Georgetown Sam Kittner/Georgetown BID

Originally, a key transit point for farmers selling tobacco in the 1700s, the city of Georgetown actually pre-dates Washington, DC by nearly 100 years. Georgetown’s mostly Federal and Georgian-style homes have been artfully preserved, and there are more than four hundred shopping, dining and nightlife options there.

8 Wander on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O)
Wander on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O) @itsabeautifullifeallmine

Planned by President George Washington, this waterway was built to move tobacco and coal from Maryland into the District of Columbia. Construction began in 1828, and canal boats, pulled by mules, traveled through a series of lock systems. Learn more about the history of this 184.5 mile-long waterway operated by the National Park at the Visitor Center on 1057 Thomas Jefferson Street NW in Georgetown.

9 Enjoy a free show at the Kennedy Center
Enjoy a free show at the Kennedy Center Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

On a mission to make the arts accessible to all, shows on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage are absolutely free. Experience a variety of genres – everything from opera, dance, children’s choirs, comedy shows, poetry readings, to a classical quartet at these daily 6 p.m. performances. No reservations or tickets are required.

10 Explore DC's premier cultural arts center
Explore DC's premier cultural arts center Tom Finzel

Take a free tour of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Guided tours depart every ten minutes, and docents discuss its artwork, 50-foot Austrian chandelier, interactive exhibit on the life of President Kennedy and the panoramic view of the city from its marvelous Rooftop Terrace. Tours are available in 17 languages.

11 Visit the oldest home in DC
Visit the oldest home in DC Hu Totya via Wikimedia Commons

Located on M Street NW in Georgetown, the Old Stone House was built in 1765, and stands on its original foundation. It originally functioned as Suter’s Inn and Tavern, as well as a clock shop and car dealership. Today, it’s cared for by the National Park Service and is open daily from 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.

12 Take a self-guided tour of Historic Congressional Cemetery.
Take a self-guided tour of Historic Congressional Cemetery. Historic Congressional Cemetery

Founded in 1807, the picturesque Historic Congressional Cemetery became the go-to choice for interment of members of Congress and their families. The 37-acre still-active cemetery is the final resting place for many American luminaries, like composer John Philip Sousa and FBI leader J. Edgar Hoover.

13 Get up close with classics at the National Gallery of Art
Get up close with classics at the National Gallery of Art

Three acres of skylights illuminate the masterworks at the National Gallery of Art. On par with the world’s most important art museums, the National Gallery was established with a gift from Andrew Mellon in 1937. In this marble temple are invaluable works of art from every era, including the only Leonardo Da Vinci painting in the Americas, Ginerva de’ Benci. Check out the free concerts on Sunday evenings.

14 Take in the largest Catholic Church in America
Take in the largest Catholic Church in America Josh (NCinDC)

Visit the stunning Indiana limestone-covered Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Built in 1846, the Romanesque interior and Byzantine exterior of the church was inspired by cathedrals in the Old World. On the free tour, docents describe major works of religious art, the history of the church’s partner, the Catholic University and allows a peek at the Crypt on the lower level.

15 Contemplate the impact of art on society
Contemplate the impact of art on society

The ideal place to do this is at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Directly adjacent to the National Gallery of Art, the six-acre outdoor gallery and landscaped gardens contain soaring works of sculptural art with a reflecting pool and fountain where visitors may rest and cool off during a busy day of sightseeing. In the winter, the fountain is transformed into an ice rink.

16 See the wonders (and future) of American Art
See the wonders (and future) of American Art Renwick Gallery

The Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, has received unprecedented acclaim for its collection of stunning installations. The renovation and cleverly curated collection have transformed the decorous museum across from the White House into a temple of cutting-edge imagery.

17 Check out “Live! Concert Series on the Plaza”

This free concert series takes place at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center, the expansive edifice located steps from the National Mall. During the summer, grab your to-go lunch at the building’s food court and then relax on the outdoor patio while enjoying free lunchtime performances by a variety of multicultural musicians.

18 Bookworms will love this literary institution
Bookworms will love this literary institution Politics and Prose

Attend an author’s reading and book signing at Politics and Prose Bookstore. This literary institution is Washington, DC’s favorite place for discourse, to peruse political tomes and hobnob with locals. The calendar is packed with a variety of voices from all walks of life. Grab some coffee and prepare to be inspired.

19 Visit the White House Visitor Center
Visit the White House Visitor Center National Park Service

 If you haven’t arranged enough lead time to gain entrance into the presidential home, you can still learn about America’s house at the White House Visitor Center. Start with the 14-minute film and then explore interactive exhibits like Who ordered that?. The White House Historical Association’s gift shop has interesting books, souvenirs and Christmas tree ornaments.

20 Witness the legacy of Lincoln at Ford's Theatre
Witness the legacy of Lincoln at Ford's Theatre Gary Erskine

President Abraham Lincoln’s unparalleled legacy remains alive and thriving at Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site. National Park Rangers provide free tours of the theater and the underground museum that explores events leading up to his assassination. Across the street, enter the Petersen House, where President Lincoln died, then investigate Lincoln’s contribution in the Center for Education & Leadership.

Check out more of our 100 Free & Almost Free Things to Do in Washington, DC.