Photos: Free and Cheap Things to Do in Washington, DC

We've rounded up the best free and ultra-cheap things you can do in Washington, D.C.

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There are so many free and cheap things to do around the District.
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The cherry blossoms won't be back until spring, but the Tidal Basin is a beautiful walk any time of year. Do a loop around the water and you'll see the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
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You can bike, run or stroll through the lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, where you'll spot marsh birds, lily pads and some gorgeous flowers. It's a National Park and free to visit.
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Summer and fall are outdoor movie season in D.C. Here's a roundup of the summer movies.
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Swing on the pier, attend an event stroll along the water or browse D.C.'s fish market at the waterfront development in Southwest.
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More than 400,000 former service men and women are laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Any day of the year, the public is welcome to visit the site. President John F. Kennedy's grave is there, marked by an Eternal Flame. You can also visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and witness the ceremonial changing of the guards at least every hour.
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In the middle of the Potomac River, you’ll find a park that feels miles away from a city. Head to the middle and you’ll find one of D.C.’s less obvious monuments, the Teddy Roosevelt memorial.
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A number of senators, representatives and even the legendary first FBI director J. Edgar Hoover were buried in the cemetery.
When it gets chilly outside, the U.S. Botanic Garden stays balmy and green. Explore a tropical rainforest, a reconstructed Jurassic landscape, rare and endangered species, orchids and more.
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Housed in a gorgeous building, the National Museum of Women in the Arts highlights the works of female artists. Usually, an adult ticket costs $10 (free if you’re under 18). On the first Sunday of each month, the museum hosts a community day and admission is free.
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The Freer|Sackler galleries display Asian art and artifacts. As with all Smithsonian museums, it's free to visit. The museum also hosts film screenings featuring classic and new movies.
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D.C.’s Union Market features a handful of places to eat, drink and shop. The hub includes more than 40 vendors and hosts events throughout the week. The market is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. It's closed on Mondays.
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From the Potomac River to 14th Street, you'll find monuments to America's greatest leaders and largest wars. The Washington Monument, which is closed for construction but still viewable from the outside, marks the eastern edge. Walk west and you'll find the epic World War II memorial, where you can snap a picture with the pillar representing your state. The D.C. War Memorial, somber Vietnam Veterans Memorial, haunting Korean War Veterans Memorial and some smaller monuments are found on either side of the Reflecting Pool. The imposing Lincoln Memorial towers over the western edge. You'll find other monuments circling the Tidal Basin, just south of the Reflecting Pool.
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Hang out and marvel at the towering columns at the National Building Museum's Great Hall. If you have children, the open grounds provide plenty of room for playtime.
Situated near Dupont Circle, but a few blocks away from the rush of Connecticut Avenue, the curved Spanish Steps make for a perfect post-brunch walk.
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Celebrate and learn about the contributions of African Americans through artifacts, interactive exhibits and events at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
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D.C. can seriously accommodate beer lovers. You can find free tours at 3 Stars Brewing Company, DC Brau, Right Proper Brewing Company and Atlas Brew Works. (Looking for fun stuff outside of the city? See our guides for Northern Virginia here and for Maryland here)
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Retrace the steps of Nicholas Cage -- but don’t steal the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Bill of Rights or any of the other historical documents. The museum is open daily and is free.
This not-so-secret corner of Rock Creek Park is where hundreds of pounds of stones that used to make up America's Capitol Building have been dumped. You can still see some intricate designs. It's near the Rock Creek Park Horse Center — hunt for the Capitol Ruins on Google Maps for an exact location. (Looking for fun stuff outside of the city? See our guides for Northern Virginia here and for Maryland here)
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Rangers offer free guided tours daily of the home of one of history’s most tireless activists. Frederick Douglass lived the last 17 years of his life at Cedar Hill, a now-historic D.C. home.
This haunting and unique statue offers a place to honor the thousands of of men who lost their lives when the Titanic sank.
This lesser-known memorial outside the National Academy of Sciences honors Einstein and his greatest contributions to physics. Look down and you'll see the skies: the floor is doubles as a star map!
Eastern Market (225 7th Street SE) is a farmer's market, bazaar and upscale food court all rolled into one. Inside, a number of restaurants sell crab cakes, groceries, freshly cut meats and more. Vendors outside sell unique soaps, clothing, decor and art. You'll find the market open Tuesdays through Sundays. On Sundays, a bustling flea market sets up on 7th Street SE. Across C street, Capitol Hill Books (657 C St. SE) is packed to the gills with literary treasures (and hilariously tongue-in-cheek signage).
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D.C. boasts a robust distillery scene, which one booze-maker said is because it’s the only city in America where you can make and serve alcohol in the same establishment. If you’re in Northeast, Jos. A Magnus & Co., Republic Restoratives and New Columbia Distillers offer free tours, usually on Saturdays. Check with the distillery before heading over.
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Stroll (or bike, if you’re comfortable in traffic) down Massachusetts Avenue from Woodley Park through Dupont Circle, and you’ll pass embassies from every continent. Try to guess the flags as you pass. Each May, they open their doors to the public for free.
Museums suited to every interest line the National Mall — and all of the Smithsonians are free to visit. The Smithsonian Castle serves as the visitor's center. The Air and Space Museum showcases spacecraft from the Wright era to the space age. For art, check out the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Gallery of Art and the Freer Sackler gallery. History buffs will love the American History Museum, Natural History Museum, National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
You’ve heard the tale: In 1804, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton entered into a duel that ended in Hamilton’s death. Now, you can see the firearms for yourself among letters and portraits detailing the remarkable life of the former Secretary of the Treasury.
The Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (400 Michigan Ave. NE) may be D.C.'s most underrated tourist spot. Right off the Brookland station on the Red Line sits one of the 10 largest churches in the world, according to the Basilica's website. If you visit, tour the outside and the lower crypt. But do not miss the upper church, where the ceilings are covered in intricate murals.
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No trip to D.C. is complete without a half-smoke, and the original is housed at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Adorned with a mural celebrating African-Americans legends including The Obamas, Dave Chappelle, Dick Gregory, Mayor Muriel Bowser, News4's own Jim Vance, Chuck Brown's daughter, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Cora Masters Barry. Chili dogs start at $4.40; the Original Chili Half-Smoke is $5.95.
From the Capitol's old Corinthian columns to photography classes to an azalea collection, the arboretum has more to see than just trees — and yes, it's free.
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D.C.'s Chinatown is small and always bustling. At the intersection of 7th and G streets Northwest, the Friendship Archway and decorated 6-way crossing make great photo opportunities. Stop and listen to the buskers playing music or singing throughout the neighborhood. If you're hunting for Asian flavors, Chinatown Express offers a $6.95 lunch special where you watch the chefs make food. Wok and Roll, China Boy, Penny Whisky and Reren Lamen & Bar are neighborhood favorites. If you like ramen, Daikaya is well-loved among locals and Bantam King serves up tasty bowls alongside fried chicken.
Watch millions of dollars make their way through the printing press at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Free, 40-minute tours are offered year round, but you’ll need a ticket from March 5 to Aug. 21.
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This church-turned-brilliantly colored art space hosts several free events a month (with cash bars, of course) and gallery viewings on Saturdays and Sundays. It was formerly called the Blind Whino.
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The Highlights Tour allows you to explore the details of the Cathedral's dramatic art and architecture with a guided tour tailored for first-time visitors. Reservations not required for individuals or families, and the tour is free with admission into the church. You can also look on from the outside, where you can see some very unique architectural flair.
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At the Anderson House, a free museum that focuses on all things related to the American Revolution, you'll find antique tapestries, sculptures, portraits and more.
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AFI Silver Theater has plenty of unique choices. The center has two stadium theaters and numerous events. If you’re looking for a movie that hasn’t been in theaters for a while, or a screening of a classic flick, this could be the place where you find it. Ticket prices vary.
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D.C.’s free zoo is one of the world’s best.
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With two locations open and another coming soon, one of D.C.'s favorite independent bookstore offers more than paperbacks and hardcovers. Many of the stores’ guest speaker events are free, but you can also stop by to pick up a new release or grab coffee and a snack at The Den coffeehouse and wine bar (Connecticut Avenue location only).
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You can scope out the architecture or, if you get there early, watch the judges hear a case. The Supreme Court does not offer guided walking tours, but you can visit public portions of the building.
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The Embassy of Canada Art Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free to the public. Murals, paintings and more with Canadian ties are on display. The gallery rotates its exhibits, so you’ll be able to visit twice and see different works.
Whether you’re looking for breakfast, dinner or somewhere to see a show, H Street has plenty of options. You can head to Dangerously Delicious Pies for a delectable slice, Bullfrog Bagels for a New York-style bagel or Granville Moore’s for mussels and other pub-type food. There are performances to see at the Atlas Performing Arts Center and live shows at the Rock and Roll Hotel. On Sept. 15, 2018, the streets will be full for the H Street festival, the biggest neighborhood celebration in D.C.
If you have a plane-lover in your group, head to Gravelly Point for a picnic and skywatching.
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Contact your representative for a tour inside the Capitol, a massive complex connected by underground tunnels. The Supreme Court is nearby, and the neighborhood has colorful homes and the Folger Shakespeare Library, which says it features the world's largest Shakespeare collection, gardens, art and more. Admission is free, but shows are not.
D.C.'s natural oasis boasts hiking trails, picnic areas and more to explore. Space-lovers should make sure to check out the planetarium, which hosts programs on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
Stroll near the waterfront, sip coffee in some of D.C.'s favorite caffeine stops, window shop or just soak in the quaint architecture. Hoof it through the hilly Book Hill Park (1500-1600 blocks of Wisconsin Avenue NW) for incredible views.
D.C. is among the fittest cities in America, possibly because of the bounty of free workout classes. You can find lists of free workouts on Fitverse or The November Project.
There are dozens of talks daily on art, international politics, the environment, history and any other topic you can think of in the city. Most of them are hosted by museums, think tanks and nonprofits for free. curates a large list, and you can also check in with major organizations that cater to your interests, including the CATO Institute, Heritage Foundation, Brookings Institute and the Smithsonian.
Capital Bikeshare Rentals start at $2 for an hour of rides, and new dockless bikeshare companies start at $1 per ride. Wear a helmet and cruise one of the city’s many bike lanes, or head over to Rock Creek Park for a dose of nature.
Music lovers can go for the free daily performances, but anyone can enjoy the roof deck overlooking the Potomac River.
Free, one-hour walking tours are offered regularly Monday through Friday. With a valid, official ID card, you can sign up for a library card which allows you to access special reading rooms.
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Hit up two museums in one building at the National Portrait Gallery — home to the presidential portrait hall —and Smithsonian American Art Museum, which hosts treasures ranging from gorgeous landscape paintings to mesmerizing folk art.
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