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20+ Budget Friendly Date Ideas in Washington, DC
Make a heart sing without breaking the bank with these date-approved DC activities
The nation’s capital is quite the place to have a date night or romantic getaway. From its renowned dining scene to its majestic monuments, memorials and museums to its world-class hotels, Washington, DC has everything that a couple could want in an excursion, including a wealth of experiences that won't put a dent in the wallet. We’ve laid out some of our favorites below.
One of the most romantic spots in DC, the Tidal Basin offers a serene setting unlike any other in the city. Across the water, you can view the beautiful Jefferson Memorial in all its glory, then take a stroll into the famous domed structure. The entire scene is even more romantic once the sun goes down (and don't forget to surprise bae with a gift from iconsDC that captures the magic of the moment). Make sure to share your favorite images of the area on social media using #MyDCcool!
Situated in the heart of the Penn Quarter neighborhood, Acadiana serves up delectable takes on Cajun and Creole specialties that suggest the French Quarter. Its signature dish: New Orleans-style barbeque shrimp, served in a down-home style with head-on shrimp, garlic butter, black pepper and Worcestershire sauce. You’ll also have no problem finding a delicious cocktail to go with your affordable meal.
Two of the world’s most incredible stones live at the National Museum of Natural History, located on the National Mall and admission-free. The Hope Diamond, which has historical roots dating back to the late 1600s, is on display at the museum’s National Gem and Mineral collection. The Carmen Lúcia Ruby, one of the largest ruby gemstones on record, can also be seen in the collection. The jaw-dropping stone was donated by philanthropist Peter Buck in honor of his wife.
DC by Foot offers pay-what-you-like walking tours of DC’s most fascinating sites, including the National Mall, Georgetown, the U Street corridor, Capitol Hill and many more. Although the tours are technically free, donations are highly recommended. If you’re looking for a date with a dash of thrills, try a tour from DC Ghost Tours and cuddle up with your sweetie. And for more walking tour options in the District, make sure to check out DC Design Tours, Washington Walks, Fiat Luxe Tours or woo your boo by leading your own tour with American City Walking Guide.
This José Andrés property achieved Bib Gourmand status in DC’s first Michelin Guide, an award given to restaurants serving high quality cuisine at affordable prices. China Chilcano is located in Penn Quarter, serving up a delightful rendition on Peruvian food, with accompanying flavors from China and Japan. Relish in the combination and Andrés’ mash-up skills, and you’ll leave without completely emptying your wallet.
The National Portrait Gallery stands as one of many must-visit museums in the District. The permanent exhibition American Origins provides an in-depth view of American history across 17 galleries, while the America’s Presidents exhibit serves as the only complete collection of presidential portraits in the country (outside of the White House).
Dig deeper into American lore when you and your special someone make your way to the Library of Congress, another of DC’s many historical landmarks. The nation’s largest library holds 28 million catalogued books and 58 million manuscripts. You’ll also be wowed by the stunning Gilded Age architecture. Free, guided tours are offered Monday through Saturday.
Another Bib Gourmand selection, The Red Hen features a woodfire-powered kitchen, bucolic decor and a menu filled with Italian favorites in the ever-emerging Shaw neighborhood. You and your sweetheart can fill the appetites with delicious mezze rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu or grilled swordfish along with a perfectly paired bottle of wine.
If there’s a history buff on your DC date team, start the day off by visiting the U.S. Capitol. Book a guided tour in advance online or check out the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center for a same-day pass. These tours are available from Monday through Saturday, 8:50 a.m. – 3:20 p.m. Make sure to swing by the Exhibition Hall, which reveals the story of the U.S. Congress and the Capitol.
For your staying-in-DC pleasure, check into the romantic and historic Morrison-Clark Inn, which is situated in a 19th century Victorian mansion and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The full-service hotel is complete with Southern touches, including a courtyard, private balconies and a tranquil veranda. And don't forget to surprise your sweet with some sweets from Buttercream Bakeshop, located just around the corner.
The newest addition to DC’s incredible lineup of Smithsonian museums opened its doors on the National Mall this past fall. You’ll want to secure timed passes before your trip, but once inside, you can marvel at visually stunning exhibits that cover the African American experience, from culture to music to slavery to the Civil Rights movement.
No trip to the nation’s capital is complete without at least one half-smoke consumed per person. Ben’s Chili Bowl, a late-night grub destination since the Eisenhower era, features the most famous half smoke in town (and it only costs $5.95). The original U Street location is situated in one of the more vibrant and historic locations in town, so neighborhood exploration after fueling up is a must.
If you’re dating on a budget and want to enjoy a show, head to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, which hosts free performances every evening at 6 p.m. Acts are wide-ranging; one night, you can catch the National Symphony Orchestra; the other, a poetry slam. The Kennedy Center also offers deep discounts to patrons ages 18-30 and members of the armed services through its MyTix program.
Journey through time at the Old Stone House in Georgetown. When you step inside free of charge, you can learn the intriguing history of this structure from on-site Park Rangers. 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 with your date.
Another José Andrés attraction, Jaleo first opened back in 1993, helping to enliven DC’s downtown along the way. The sleek and stylish eatery serves up some of the finest tapas in the District, as well as Spanish small dishes and paellas, each one a perfect fit for date night. Drinks pair well with the plates, as you can choose from Spanish wines, Sherries, sangria and cocktails.
One of the most visited museums in the country resides on the scenic National Mall. Bring your boo on a journey through space and aviation history at the National Air and Space Museum, which includes awe-inspiring artifacts such as the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, along with the recently renovated Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.
Historic Capitol Hill would not be as historic without Eastern Market, which has attracted shoppers since opening in 1873. Fresh, locally sourced food and drink and arts and crafts are strewn throughout the must-visit community hub. The market is free to enter and peruse, and on weekends, you can listen to live music and grab the famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes from Market Lunch. (Heads up: Eastern Market is closed on Mondays).
Hold hands (or bike side-by-side) as you trek down the C&O Canal, which runs alongside the Potomac River from gorgeous Georgetown all the way to Cumberland, Md. You’ll be provided with views of DC’s scenic waterway and one of its most historic neighborhoods. Visit the trail on a sunny afternoon, and we’re sure you’ll come away with some #MyDCcool-worthy shots of you and your date.
The wonders of Turkish cuisine are highlighted at Ottoman Taverna, located in Mount Vernon Triangle. The menu pays homage to founder Hakan Ilhan’s native country, serving up enough deliciousness to warrant a visit from Michelle Obama and friends, as well as Bib Gourmand certification from the Michelin Guide. The Taverna’s wood charcoal grill makes for incredible kebab, while the separately prepared flatbread is ideal accompaniment for a table of two.
The site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April of 1865 is now a world-class museum dedicated to our 16th president, as well as a working theatre that stages acclaimed shows throughout the year. Dedicate a day to Ford’s Theatre by learning of Lincoln’s fascinating life, then catching a production inside the illustrious playhouse. Through Feb. 19, the theatre hosts a stirring adaptation of the classic, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
U Street is awash with great bars and restaurants, and one of the newest to join the ranks is District Distilling Co. Check out the homegrown still and learn how it produces award-winning spirits on a $10 tour – running weekdays starting at 4 p.m. and weekends from noon to 8 p.m. Cap off your tour with a tasting for a few more bucks.
The National Museum of the American Indian is hosting a free movie event on Feb. 25. The flick, a documentary entitled Poi E: The Story of Our Song, focuses on a crowd-pleasing pop song with Māori roots – the indigenous people of New Zealand. The museum's award-winning Mitsitam Cafe will have extended hours that night and will be dishing out buffalo burgers, chili, salmon and tacos, as well as vegetarian options and beer and wine..
Looking for more District date suggestions? Check out our luxe date ideas.