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100 Free & Almost Free Things to Do: Fall in DC

Couple at the Tidal Basin - Fall in Washington, DC

As the leaves turn, it’s time to explore some of DC’s best attractions

DC’s appeal only grows as fall foliage starts to appear. Some of the city’s most gorgeous (and free-to-visit) locales become even more scenic as summer departs. We have laid out 10 can’t-miss spots in the District that will make you sing fall’s praises without requiring you to pay a cent.

1 National Zoo
National Zoo

Celebrate fall’s crisp temperatures by spending the day watching animals at the National Zoo. Big cats, giant pandas, red pandas, Asian elephants, apes, exotic can explore a range of species in one afternoon. Admission to the zoo is free, but for an additional cost, you can enjoy special fall events there, including Autumn Conservation Festival, Boo at the Zoo and Night of the Living Zoo.

2 Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park

Become one with nature this fall with a visit to Rock Creek Park. Let the kiddos release some pent-up energy at one of the many playgrounds found throughout the park, followed up by a refuel with lunch at one of 30 picnic locations. For an additional fee, you can enjoy a horseback ride, or rent a bicycle and feel the crisp breeze take over as you coast down one of the paved bike paths. Another option: spend an afternoon playing 18 holes at the public golf course.

3 National Mall
National Mall

See the National Mall in all of its fall beauty with DC by Foot, a walking tour company that hosts free, kid-friendly tours (gratuity recommended). You’ll enjoy taking in the sights while learning monument-themed fun facts and trivia. As you marvel at all of the memorials, be sure to share your favorite photos using #MyDCcool!

4 National Museum of African American History and Culture
National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors in Sept. 2016. Secure your free timed passes for the National Mall’s newest museum, and you will be able to view the African American experience through exhibits on culture, music, slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.

5 C&O Canal
C&O Canal nothing-but-photography via Flickr

Fall is the perfect time to lace up your hiking boots and trek down the C&O Canal, which traces the Potomac River from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md. The serene trek should include plenty of fall foliage once October rolls around, and on quiet days, you can hear the soothing sounds of nature amidst the surrounding beauty of historic Georgetown and the River.

6 U.S. National Arboretum
U.S. National Arboretum Nicolas Raymond

Take in the harvest hues on one of the many trails at the U.S. National Arboretum, a 446-acre oasis that provides scenic recluse from DC’s streets for free. While there, make sure to experience the majestic pillars from the original U.S. Capitol, commonly known as the “Capitol Columns.” The Arboretum also features magnificently manicured gardens and rare plants. Guided tours of all of this wonderment are available by appointment.

7 The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts @amandaeisner

When the fall evenings become too cool for late-night outdoor fun, take in a free performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Showtime is 6 p.m. nightly and includes everything from performances by the National Symphony Orchestra to poetry slams.

8 Eastern Market
Eastern Market Zach Stern

Enjoy live music, local farm-fresh produce, handmade arts, jewelry, crafts and more than 100 merchants on weekend mornings at Eastern Market. While taking in the beautiful fall surroundings at no cost, warm up with locally made, toasty beverages and baked goods, which will not put a huge dent in the wallet.

9 Old Stone House

Old Stone House - Georgetown - Washington, DC

Journey through time at the Old Stone House in Georgetown, the oldest unchanged building in the District. When you step inside free of charge, you can learn the intriguing history of this structure from on-site Park Rangers, a story that dates all the way back to 1791. The kitchen, parlor and bedrooms are all outfitted as they would have been in the 18th century. If the weather cooperates, take a stroll through the gorgeous garden in the backyard.

10 National Gallery of Art

A photo posted by National Gallery of Art (@ngadc) on

As days get shorter, entertainment becomes more important. Get swept away by live music with the National Gallery of Art’s free concerts throughout the fall. Performances usually take place in the West Garden Court, but may also occur in the East Building Auditorium. Speaking of the East Building, make sure to explore newly renovated galleries, a rooftop sculpture garden and rotating exhibitions.

Looking for more free (and almost free) things to do in DC? Check them out.