As the leaves change color this fall, it’s time to explore some of DC’s best free attractions, events and things to do.
Autumn in Washington, DC is full of free things to do, from festivals and scenic foliage to celebrating Halloween and observing Veterans Day. The city features plenty of experiences perfect for the season. Discover all of the ways you can have a memorable autumn adventure in the District without putting a dent in your wallet.
Visit the U.S. National Arboretum
Tucked away in Northeast DC, just two miles from the U.S. Capitol, the National Arboretum is an oasis in the city, no matter the time of year. But the stark contrast of the sandstone Corinthian Columns that once supported the U.S. Capitol and the vibrant leaves on surrounding trees make fall one of the most beautiful times to visit the living tree and plant museum. Make sure to check out the Arboretum's safety protocols before going.
Gaze at masterpieces at the National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art, including its East and West Buildings, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Journey through decades of art across the museum's two incredible buildings. The Sculpture Garden is also open, ideal for an afternoon stroll during the fall season.
Take a stroll through the National Mall
The National Mall is particularly scenic during the fall season. Seeing the Washington Monument rise majestically to the sky, surrounded by the stately U.S. Capitol Building at one end and the dignified Lincoln Memorial at the other, it’s hard not to think of America’s history. Explore the swath of land nicknamed “America’s front yard” and you’ll find inspiration and some of the most beautiful architecture in the world.
Take to the George Washington Memorial Parkway for spectacular overlooks
Winding from DC into Virginia, the George Washington Memorial Parkway is designed for recreational driving, with numerous scenic overlooks lining the way. Each one is clearly marked, so you and yours can pull over to take in jaw-dropping fall scenery, from foliage along the Potomac River to DC’s incredible skyline. Other free activities on the parkway include biking or running along the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail or setting up a socially distanced picnic complete with a crisp autumn breeze.
Pay tribute at numerous sites on Veterans Day (Nov. 11)
Many of DC’s monuments and memorials honor servicemen and women. Pay a visit to the majestic National World War II Memorial, which honors the 16 million men and women who served overseas. There's also the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which features the well-known Memorial Wall, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Visit Smithsonian museums
Smithsonian museums make for fantastic fall excursions. Your options in DC include the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery, the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of American History. Visit Smithsonian's website for even more detailed info.
Climb The Exorcist Stairs
A draw for fitness buffs and movie nerds alike, the 75 super-steep stone stairs at the corner of 36th and Prospect Streets in historic Georgetown gained their big moment of fame as the spot where Father Karras tumbled to his demise in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. The staircase even snagged a historical designation in 2015.
Look skyward at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Round up the family for a safe museum experience this fall. The National Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is open daily with safety guidelines in place. The expansive museum consists of two hangars—the Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar—which house dozens of aircraft and spacecraft. Some of the most notable include the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery.
Celebrate artistic expression in DC's neighborhoods with Art All Night
An all-night arts festival? Sign us up. Yes, DC has that with Art All Night, which will spread out over multiple neighborhoods on Sept. 23 and 24. Art experiences don’t get much more lavish or expansive than this: Everything from painting to performing arts to music to sculpture will be showcased in both public and private spaces, indoors and outdoors as the event returns to an in-person format this year.
Experience Victura Park at The REACH
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' grand expansion, The REACH, hosts this outdoor pop-up wine garden and cafe from Thursday through Sunday every week. The Hilton Brothers and Chef Erik Bruner-Yang have collaborated on this winery-inspired setting, which offers charcuterie boards and light snacks, as well as beer, wine, adult seltzers and other beverages. Check out the full menu.
Marvel at fall foliage at a local park
Spend time at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial
A recent addition to DC's incredible lineup of monuments and memorials, the Frank Gehry-designed site was erected in honor of the nation’s 34th president and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. Located in a new four-acre park adjacent to the National Mall, the memorial takes you through the life of Eisenhower via three bronze sculptures and bas relief images and inscription panels that offer lines from some of his most famous addresses. The site also features a stainless steel woven tapestry that depicts Pointe du Hoc cliffs on the Normandy coastline in peacetime.