20 Fabulously Free Things to Do in D.C.
Let freedom ring! Did you know that amid the trappings of office, pomp and ceremony, and glitz and glamor of Washington, D.C., you’ll find more high-quality freebies than anywhere else on earth? Who’s ready to binge on cherry blossoms, food, art, dinosaurs, astronauts—and a 45-carat diamond? Here’s how!
WALKING TOUR OF THE NATIONAL MALL
Get an expert's-eye-view of the monuments and memorials
Where: Tours meet at southwest corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue and end at the Lincoln Memorial
Okay, this isn't exactly free. DC by Foot operates a two-hour walking tour of the National Mall that invites you to "pay what you like" when the tour is over. In money-mad Washington, that's close enough to a freebie for us! Our one suggestion is: Don't be a jerk.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEMORIAL
This memorial to the civil rights movement's leader in this once-segregated city is a must
Where: 1964 Independence Avenue
This four-acre memorial site between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial is the first on the central axis of the Mall that doesn't commemorate a war or a president. It features a 28-foot-high granite sculpture by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin, along with a crescent wall engraved with King quotations chosen by historians and writers.
VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL
This memorial transforms a painful era in U.S. history into a beautiful touchstone
Where: 5 Henry Bacon Drive
This deceptively simple wall, designed by American sculptor Maya Lin, lists the names of more than 58,000 American men and women who died in the Vietnam War. The enormity of the loss and the presence of visitors searching for a loved one among the names, which are listed chronologically, make this understated memorial unique and unforgettable.
The author of the Declaration of Independence stands watch over the capital's ups and downs
Where: 900 Ohio Drive
Whether you think of Thomas Jefferson as the third president, the author of the Declaration of Independence, the hypocrite who opposed slavery but was himself a slaveholder, or the guy who implores Lisa to tell the truth in a memorial episode of The Simpsons, there's no denying that his memorial is beautifully designed and enjoys a particularly pleasant piece of real estate.
NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM
From the Wright Brothers to the moon landing and beyond, this is a favorite with kids from 1 to 100
Where: Independence Avenue at 6th Street
Home to vintage flying machines like Charles Lindburgh's 1927 Spirit of St. Louis plane and the 1969 Apollo 11 command module, the National Air and Space Museum is one of the most kid-friendly branches of the Smithsonian. Its lineup features a 20-minute planetarium show starring Sesame Street characters, and air-travel-themed story times, where little ones can keep their hands busy building model planes and rocket ships. And don't forget to stock up on the astronaut ice cream at the gift shop!
While most zoos come with a beastly price tag, this one's free—and open to visitors in the early morning!
Where: 3001 Connecticut Avenue
There's more to the always-free National Zoo than giant pandas (though, c'mon, what's not to love about wild animals that look like stuffed toys?). Looking for an early-morning destination to hit when the museums are shuttered? The 163-acre grounds of the zoo generally open by 6 a.m.-ish—four hours before its exhibits officially come to life. Stick around and you'll be rewarded with the sight of six resident orangutans making their way—hand over hand—across an almost 500-foot-long stretch of cables connecting two areas.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
Long before our ancestors walked this land, there were dinosaurs—and their fossils are just one of the attractions here
Where: 10th Street and Constitution Avenue
The nation's natural history museum will get its first-ever T-rex on Tuesday April 15! It will be in august company, joining other fossils, animal exhibits, geologic formations, and much more. And while the phrase "natural history" may not immediately bring to mind French royalty, you can ogle the 45-carat Hope Diamond, which once belonged to Louis XIV, here.