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!
THE WHITE HOUSE
You might call it the world's most coveted address—here's how to nab a free tour!
Where:1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
It's not impossible to do a tour of the White House, but it does take some planning. And a lot of patience. Once you know when you are going to be in D.C., contact the office of your Member of Congress to request tickets. Requests can't be made more than six months in advance, but no less than 21 days before your trip. It can take five months to book one of the self-guided tours, though. Worth it to get access to the country's most important residence.
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
See pics of every American president—who apparently have never been publicity shy
Where: 8th Street and F Street
The stately Old Patent Office Building is a lovely showcase for portraits of every president, plus celebrated athletes, artists, and many more notable Americans.
We cannot tell a lie: The view from up here is unbeatable, but the monument is closed until May 14
Where: The National Mall
This immense obelisk was damaged by the earthquake of 2011 and is slated to reopen to visitors on May 14. If normal hours and admission procedures are resumed, you can obtain free tickets on a first-come first-served basis starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Washington Monument Lodge at 15th Street adjacent to the monument. (Advance tickets are available for a nominal service charge.)
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Shh! There's more than just books in this spectacular collection!
Where: 101 Independence Avenue
Just a taste of what the Library of Congress has to offer includes: a first edition of L. Frank baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, an early Wonder Woman comic book, the 85,000+ pages of comedian Bob Hope's joke file, and, oh yeah, a Gutenberg Bible of 1455 printed on vellum and one of the world's only perfect remaining copies. Rotating exhibits on literature, history, and the arts are ongoing.
FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY
Whoa. Betcha thought the world's greatest collection of Shakespeare manuscripts was across the pond...
Where: 201 East Capitol Street
Words, words, words, as Hamlet cryptically muttered, are the stuff of this place, which is home to a copy of a 1623 First Folio (the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays), an Elizabethan-style theater that regularly stages the Bard's work (not to mention music and the work of, y'know, lesser-known playwrights), and the world's finest collection of Shakespeare-related materials and other Renaissance-era books and manuscripts.
You, the people, should see "We the People" in person!
Where: 700 Pennsylvania Avenue
Sure, the name may sound ho-hum, but you may have heard of some of the manuscripts on display in the rotunda of the National Archives: The U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
A stirring reminder of the heroic sacrifices that have been made—and continue to be made—to defend our freedom
Where: Arlington, Va.
Unfortunately, most visitors make a rather disrespectful dash across the Potomac for quick photo ops on this hallowed ground, where more than 300,000 American heroes are buried. Instead, set aside part of a day for a 2.5-hour name-your-own-price walking tour that includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the grave of John F. Kennedy, and the Robert E. Lee Memorial (dcbyfoot.com).
WHERE TO STAY
While so many D.C. attractions come without a price tag, hotel rooms aren't one of them. On the contrary, lodgings in this town can be expensive. But these reasonable residences in the hip, lively Dupont Circle neighborhood will serve you well on your stay:
The Normandy offers European style and comfort near the great food and nightlife scene around Dupont Circle (2118 Wyoming Avenue, thenormandydc.com)
Tabard Inn, named for the inn in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, has welcomed visitors for nearly a century and offers a Cherry Blossom Festival Special (1739 N Street, tabardinn.com)
Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast is comfortable and reliable in the heart of a vibrant neighborhood a short walk from the Mall (1708 16th Street, dcakwaaba.com).