Chances are, if you’ve visited D.C. before, you’ve already done all the stuff you see on postcards. Yes?
One of the great things about the city is that there is always too much to possibly do in any amount of time you have, and much of it is free! You’ve got so many options. Today, I thought I’d share ten free (or pretty darn close to free) things you can do on a visit to D.C. that you may not have read about in the guidebooks.
10 Free Things to Do in D.C.
1. National Parks Service Passport – Did you know that every U.S. national park, monument or historic site maintained by the NPS has its own stamp? They’re like the pokemons of the natural world, and you can get ’em all if you want! This is a great activity for kids, and can be good motivation for them to look forward to different parts of the visit. Plus it is the cheapest souvenir in the world if you bring along your own little notebook to collect stamps. Or you can purchase a NPS passport online or in most monument gift shops for less than $10. The stamps are color coded by region, and as you can imagine, you are within walking distance of a ton of them when you’re visiting D.C. There’s also a helpful free NPS Passport app that helps you find the location of the stamps (called cancellation stations).
2. Kennedy Center Millennium Concerts – Every single day there is a free concert of some sort at the Kennedy Center! No tickets are required and the performances vary in style from day to day, so you’re bound to find something of interest. It’s a great way to get some art and culture in on a shoestring. Check out the full schedule here.
3. Jazz in the Garden – Every Friday evening (late May – early September) there is a free Jazz concert in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art. You can bring your own picnic dinner in, or purchase food and pitchers of sangria at the event. Many people bring picnic blankets and carve out a spot on the grass. Concerts run from 5:30-8 pm. I recommend getting there a little early to get a spot in the shade!
4. Library of Congress Library Cards – You can have your very own Library of Congress library card! Library cards are available to all who are 16 and older from anywhere in the world with valid ID. Registration is in the Madison Building right across Independence Avenue from the Library of Congress. They’re open 8:30 am – 4:30 pm Monday through Saturday. And you can keep it in your wallet forever. It’s great to pull out at parties if all else fails.
5. Library of Congress Concerts – This may come as a surprise, but the LOC puts on amazing concerts throughout the year. And the line up includes some incredible performers. Once we got to see Randy Newman perform, for free! They regularly have string quartets, music from all around the world, and films as well. Events are all free, but they are ticketed so you’ll need to reserve in advance. There are usually a limited number of rush tickets, as well, if you go early to score one of those. See the full line up here.
6. Newseum – I have to mention this one because it’s just too good not to. In case you are unfamiliar with the Newseum, it’s a museum dedicated to the 1st amendment and is a journalistic journey through the history of the United States. It’s highly interactive, well planned, visually interesting, and ex-pen-sive!!! (Well, if you’re me and you’re used to going to Smithsonian endowed museums it is…at $22.95 + tax). Solution? If you have a Bank of America debit or credit card you get free admission to the Newseum the first full weekend of every month! So, if you happen to be visiting one of those weekends, consider it! Bonus tip: the Bank of America “Museums on Us” program have other great museums all over the country. So check out their website to see what’s near you. AND, if none of the above applies to you, one neat thing about the Newseum that anyone can take advantage of is the front pages from around the world that line their sidewalk every day. Walk by to see what newspaper is representing your state or country each day.
7. Topical Tours – You many not realize this, but in order to legally work as a tour guide in D.C. you have to be licensed and you have to know your stuff. There are human encyclopedias of fun facts walking around all day long freely sharing information with anyone interested to listen. If you know ahead of time which museums, federal buildings, or monuments you will be visiting, check their websites ahead of time to see a schedule of tour times and topics. The National Parks offer nighttime monument walks as well as many other seasonally themed tours. I also recommend the free tours at the National Museum of the American Indian, the Library of Congress, The Capital Building, and the National Postal Museum too, to name a few. It’s worth planning ahead for!
8. Boundary Stone Scavenger Hunt – This idea is probably best suited for those who’ve already visited D.C. before and are looking for something new. The original District of Columbia was 100 miles square (10 miles on each side of a diamond plot of marshy land. The survey team placed 40 stone markers in 1791 and 1792, demarcating this district of federal land and most of them remain today. Read more about them here and see if you can find any near you!
9. Embassy Walk – In a previous post, I mentioned the Passport DC weekends were unique opportunities to step inside many of the world’s embassies in the U.S. capital. But, if you’re not in town one of those weekends, you can still enjoy the beautiful architecture and see where nations of the world have outposts in D.C. Especially if you are staying in the Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, or Georgetown, this can be make for a purposeful evening walk after many of the other attractions have closed for the day. Check out this site for maps and locations.
10. State Street Photo Ops – And while we’re on the subject of scavenger hunts and purposeful walks, before you leave town, if you are from the States, it is fun to find the street named after yours! There are 51 streets in the district named after each of the fifty states and one for Puerto Rico. Can you find yours?
And the crazy thing is that’s not even ALL the fun, free stuff you can do in D.C. off the beaten path. But, I hope at least you’ve found something new to check out next time you’re in town!