1. Wander around the National Mall
You might have to dodge some field trips and tourist groups, but it’s worth it to take a quick jaunt around the National Mall, where many of DC’s museums and monuments are located. There is very little shade in the National Mall, so be sure to go early in the morning or late at night to avoid the intense daytime heat.
2. Learn something at a Smithsonian Museum
The Smithsonian Institution has 17 museums that are all free to enter. Spend a day getting lost in these vast buildings and learning more about our world and its history than you’ve ever known before. To figure out which Smithsonian museum is a good starting point for you.
3. Take a tour of the National Archives
Where can you see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and many of the country’s historic documents…for free? None other than the National Archives. Featuring hundreds of years of historic documents, this is a timeless look into the story of the United States.
4. Sample local foods at a farmer’s market
There are many great things about farmers markets, but one of my favorites is the abundance of free samples. On a sunny weekend day, hit up Columbia Heights, Shaw, or Dupont Circle’s farmers markets for a lively place to walk around, sample local fares, and listen to live music.
5. Hang out with pandas at the National Zoo
Pandas are fluffy, cuddly, and pretty. And Washington, D.C.’s free zoo is one of the only places in the country where you can see them. Need I say more?
6.Take a walk in the Tidal Basin
DC’s Tidal Basin is one of the most special places in the city. Why? In addition to being covered in snowy-pink cherry blossoms in the springtime, it’s also next to the Jefferson Memorial. The Tidal Basin is hands down one of the prettiest areas of DC, and it’s perfect for a leisurely afternoon stroll.
7. Visit the Capitol or the White House
Did you know that you can visit the places where some of our country’s most important decisions take place? If you book in advance through your local representative’s office, you can secure a spot on a tour of one (or both!) of these historic buildings. Whatever your political leanings may be, it’s worth visiting to experience the places you’ve probably read about or seen on TV several times before.
8. Savor the smooth tunes at Jazz in the Garden
On Fridays in the summer, the National Gallery of Art has a free jazz performance in its Sculpture Garden. One of my friends here described this event as “so DC.” From 5-8 PM on Fridays, you can lay out a picnic blanket, bring your own snacks, and listen to a variety of live musicians. Gather some friends and you’ll get to experience one of DC’s most delicious summer hangouts.
9. Hug a tree (or a column) at the Arboretum
Want to see one of DC’s most unique installations? Head to the Arboretum to see an array of old columns from the Capitol building. Though they’re no longer part of the building itself, they make up a beautiful landmark within DC’s beautiful, wooded Arboretum. In addition to the column, the Arboretum is home to many species of trees and plants native to the area.
10. Go people-watching in Georgetown
One of my favorite free activities in any city is to go people-watching, and Georgetown is one of DC’s prime locations to do just that. Between kids on skateboards, cute dogs, people posing on expensive yachts, and the scents of baked goods wafting through the air, there are few things more entertaining than sitting on the steps of the Georgetown waterfront and watching the world go by.
11. Watch sunrise at the Lincoln Memorial
Want a quintessential DC view without the crowds? Get up early one morning and watch the sun rise over the Washington Monument from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Trust me, it’s worth the early wake-up call. There’s really nothing quite as special as seeing the city’s most beautiful stretch of land during the most peaceful hour of the day. Just make sure you choose a day that’s not overcast!