20 Free Things to Do in Washington, D.C.
There’s nothing like celebrating Independence Day in our nation’s capital. So if you plan to visit Washington, D.C., for the long holiday weekend, here are several ways to get the quintessential Fourth of July experience – all for free. Plus, we’ve rounded up several of our favorite things to do at no cost in our hometown (Kiplinger is based in D.C.) throughout the year.
SEE ALSO: Fabulous Travel Freebies
Free July Fourth activities
Start your day at the National Independence Day Parade. Beginning at 11:45 a.m. on July 4, this annual parade of floats, military units, giant balloons and bands from around the country travels down Constitution Avenue.
Immerse yourself in other cultures at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This annual two-week festival on the National Mall features exhibits, performances and demonstrations that explore different cultures.
Catch ”A Capitol Fourth” concert on the lawn. The free 90-minute musical extravaganza on the U.S. Capitol’s west lawn features the National Symphony Orchestra and several well-known performers, including Frankie Valli and Patti Labelle. The concert begins at 8 p.m.; gates open at 3 p.m. (and it gets crowded fast).
Be wowed by fireworks on the Mall. The free display doesn’t disappoint. Fireworks are launched from the Reflecting Pool area of the National Mall at 9:10 p.m. and can be viewed from many points in D.C. and Virginia (the National Park Service offers several suggestions).
Free things to do year-round in D.C.
Explore the Smithsonian museums. The Smithsonian Institution’s museums, galleries and zoo offer something for everyone, from art and history to science and animals (some living, some not). Check out the list of museums in the D.C. area.
Climb the Washington Monument. Actually, you don’t have to climb. An elevator takes you to the top floor 500 feet above ground, where you enjoy great views of the nation’s capital. You’ll need to line up early to get free, same-day tickets (or pay a small fee to reserve them in advance).
Catch a performance at The Kennedy Center. You can see a free live performance any night of the week at 6 p.m. at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.
See Congress in action. A tour of the U.S. Capitol is nice, but you can get a "real" Washington experience by instead attending congressional hearings, which are usually open to the public and held in nearby congressional office buildings. Alternatively, ask your senator or representative for free gallery passes, so you can see lawmakers in action on the House or Senate floors. Check the schedule of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Listen to oral arguments at the Supreme Court. Not only can you tour the Supreme Court, but also you can listen to attorneys argue their cases before the justices. Visit the Supreme Court’s Web site for more information about when and where to line up.
Witness the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery. You can watch this elaborate ritual every half-hour April through September and every hour October through March. Then you can explore the grounds of the cemetery, visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and pay your respects to those who died serving their country.
Watch the cherry blossoms bloom. If you want to visit D.C. in the spring, time your trip to coincide with the National Cherry Blossom Festival so you can see the buds open on 3,800 cherry trees and enjoy free events.
Stop and smell the roses at the National Arboretum. Stroll along the 9.5 miles of winding roadways through this 446-acre arboretum that’s open to the public Fridays through Mondays. Unlike many places in D.C., there’s plenty of free parking. You can check the arboretum’s site before you go to see what’s blooming.
Hone your green thumb at the U.S. Botanic Garden. You’ll find rare and endangered plants, a tropical rainforest, hundreds or orchids and much more at this free conservatory and garden.
Take in a show with your kids. The National Theatre has free performances for children Saturdays at 9:30 and 11 a.m. Tickets are distributed 30 minutes before showtime.
Be awed by the Washington National Cathedral. You can tour this Gothic-style cathedral where state funerals and memorial services have been held for presidents for free on Sundays.
Listen to a concert at the National Gallery of Art. Enjoy jazz in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden every Friday from 5 p.m. to 8:30 in the summer. Or if you prefer classical music, catch one of the concerts in the museum’s annual series.
Watch movies on the Mall. There’s something cool about watching a movie outdoors. It’s even more special when you watch a film under the stars on the National Mall. The annual Screen on the Green lets you enjoy free films every Monday at sunset in July and August. Or catch any of the other free outdoor screenings around D.C. during the spring, summer and fall.
Be inspired by the Corcoran’s collection. The Corcoran Gallery of Art opens its doors to the public for free on Saturdays in the summer to view its permanent collection, special exhibits, demonstrations and performances.
Get a close-up view of planes taking off. If you can handle the noise, head to Gravelly Point Park to watch airplanes take off and land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Enjoy arts and crafts at Eastern Market. Spend a leisurely Saturday or Sunday strolling through this food and arts market in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s free to look, but you’ll have to pay to sample some of the tasty fare or take home artwork as a memento of your trip.