Are you visiting the U.S. on your next vacation? Visiting Washington, D.C. on a budget? Look no further. We have a list of ideas that can help make the most out of your time in the nation’s capital.
Before you go
Parking is very difficult around the city. Not only are spaces limited, but parking meters only last for two hours. You may be lucky and find a longer one, but it’s unlikely. Garages can be very expensive. If you do drive, download the Parking Panda app to find a space. https://nichefacts.com/parking/
You are better off taking the Metro into the city. It will be much cheaper and less stressful. Like many cities, you will need to buy a card (SmarTrip) for each passenger over five-years-old. Consider buying a one-day unlimited pass for less than $15. Uber is another good alternative.
Finding a hotel
Hotel prices can vary widely in the nation’s capital. It depends on where you want to spend the most time. If you are on a tight budget, look for a location within walking distance to a Metro station. Type in words like Smithsonian, Capitol Hill, or Woodley Park into the search bar of a site like Booking.com.
You will get a map and distance to major attractions. There are a variety of accommodations from apartments and guest houses to hotels. You will find the perfect place for you and your family.
1. Union Station
This train station was built in 1907 and is still busy with daily commuters and visitors. The building was restored in the 1980s, and now has a large food court with shops. Consider taking the Metro to the station, grab breakfast or lunch, then head over to the Capitol building. You could also get some sandwiches to-go and have lunch on The National Mall, which is a large green space in the center of the museums. A good place to eat would be between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial (which gives you two miles to find a space)!
2. The U.S. Capitol Building
The U.S. Capitol building is in the background of many newscasts or American movies. This is a great photo opportunity! Touring the Capitol is free, but you need reservations. To book a tour, click here. To see how some people live in D.C., visit the largest historic neighborhood called Capitol Hill. It’s located on the eastern side of the Capitol building. This charming area is full of shops and restaurants.
3. Smithsonian Institute
Admission to these museums is free. Don’t miss the National Gallery of Art. Besides works by Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, and Raphael, the museum also has prints, photographs, and sculptures. There is a sculpture garden outside, and even an ice rink during the winter months. Do you or your kids like pop culture? Visit the American History Museum to see props from famous American television shows.
Kids and adults both love The National Museum of Natural History, which has fossils, bones, gems, a butterfly pavilion, and an exhibit on human origins. Do you love aviation? Stop by the Air and Space Museum to see historic planes, space shuttles, and everything in between. This is only some of the free museums that line The Mall. To view them all, visit The Smithsonian Institute website. Keep in mind that these museums close at 5:30 pm.
4. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
The Smithson Institute garden is worth the visit, especially if you don’t want to see any more art. This open-air gallery is a nice quiet stop and has a lot of beautiful statues and flowers. After your rest, step inside the Hirshhorn to explore this museum of modern art.
5. Have a picnic on The National Mall
The Mall is also called America’s front yard. It is over two miles of grass from the Lincoln Memorial on the west, to the U.S. Capitol on the east. What a beautiful setting for a picnic lunch! You can see the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol Building, and the Lincoln Memorial from one spot.
Most nearby museums have cafes, but they can be expensive. You are better off finding a food truck or bringing a sandwich from Union Station. You can also look online to see if there is a cultural festival happening. They are usually set up under giant white tents. While you are there, take a picture of The Washington Monument. If you want to go inside, expect to wait in line and pay for tickets.
6. The Vietnam and Korean War Memorials
Even if you or your family are too young to remember the wars, it’s worth visiting these war memorials. The Vietnam Memorial is very moving. As you walk down the ramp, you can’t help but feel a hush and reverence for the soldiers who gave their lives in battle. You will see items left by other veterans and loved ones. Many visitors also rub the names of loved ones using paper and a pencil. If you visit the Korean War Memorial, you may feel as if the statues of the soldiers are watching you. If you have time, visit the World War I and II memorials as well. These sites are managed by the National Park Service.
7. The White House
Don’t forget to stop by the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a photo. If you want to visit the home of the President, you will have to contact your embassy beforehand. There are many things that you can’t bring inside – like backpacks. In fact, there are many prohibited items, so check here first, or you’ll be turned away. So if you go, travel light and bring all your documents.
8. The Tidal Basin
Many festivals and events are held at this can’t-miss Jefferson Memorial, which is a smaller replica of the Roman Pantheon. There is a bronze statue of President Jefferson as well as writings from his letters and speeches. You can also see a copy of The Declaration of Independence. In front of the memorial sits a large pond called The Tidal Basin. If you don’t mind spending a little money, you can rent a paddle boat. If you visit in the spring, expect large crowds there to view the famous cherry trees.
9. Lincoln Memorial
It doesn’t cost anything to visit the 19-foot Abe Lincoln statue overlooking the Reflecting Pool. This was the location of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. You may recognize the memorial from the movies Forrest Gump, Independence Day, Night at the Museum 2, X-Men: First Class, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, all filmed on location.
10. The Zoo
Do you love pandas, lions, and elephants? You can see them for free at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. You will have to get back on the Metro, but it’s worth the trip. There is even a children’s farm. The zoo closes at 7 pm, with the last admission at 6 pm. The neighborhood of Woodley Park, the home of the zoo, is a great place to stay. Visit Booking.com for availability.
With so many free things to do, a trip to Washington, D.C. doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money. You could use the money you saved on a dinner or shopping trip in Georgetown or The National Harbor.