Visiting Washington, D.C. on a Budget
Are you 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. There is so much to see and do for little or no money. Follow these tips and you’ll save!
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.
If you stay outside the city, use the Metro to get downtown. It will be 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.
Do you want to get some exercise during your visit? Rent a bike from Capital Bikeshare. One of the best-kept transportation secrets is that the circulator bus is free! Get on or off as many times as you wish.
If you would prefer a guided hop-on-hop off tour, try a sightseeing bus.
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. You can take the Metro to the station, buy breakfast or lunch, then eat on the grass outside the Capitol building. You could also get some sandwiches and have lunch at the National Mall, which is a large green space in the center of the museums. 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. The 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. These are only some of the free museums that line the Mall. To view them all, visit the Smithsonian Institute website. Keep in mind that most 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 memorials. The Vietnam Memorial is very moving. Visitors get quiet as they move down the ramp and look at the names of soldiers who died in battle. You will see items left by other veterans and family members. Many visitors also use paper and pencil to rub the names of people they knew. 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 prohibited items like backpacks, so check here first, or you’ll be turned away. If you go, travel light and bring all your documents.
8. The Tidal Basin
Many festivals and events take place at the 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. The large pond in front of the memorial is called the Tidal Basin. You can rent a paddleboat for a small fee. 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. Woodley Park, the home of the zoo, is a great place to stay.
Watch our YouTube video on taking the Metro as well as our trips to D.C. 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.