Travel to Washington, D.C. is fairly easy for me since I live about an hour drive from the nation’s capital. For most on the east coast, travel to Washington, D.C. only requires a quick flight or scenic bus/train ride. The three airports located in and around the Washington, D.C. area make it accessible to people all over the world. Admittedly, the high price of enjoying activities that Washington, D.C. offers has limited my visits to this historic district. During my previous visits, I took advantage of the many ways to experience Washington, D.C. at no cost. A trip to Washington, D.C. does not have to be expensive, use this guide to help you enjoy Washington, D.C. for free.
The historic memorials and monuments located in the National Mall are the structures that are most photographed and automatically associated with Washington, D.C. Located minutes away from several Metro stations including L’Enfant Plaza, Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, and Federal Center NW – the National Mall is very easily accessible via public transportation. Use the map below to plan your tour of the National Mall.
Once you reach the National Mall, I recommend starting at the 7th street entrance of the National Mall and head towards the Washingon Monument.
Once you pass the Washington Monument, you will encounter the World War II Memorial.
A few steps west of the World War II Memorial, you will find the reflecting pool leading to the Lincoln Memorial.
After leaving the Lincoln Memorial, head east down Independence Avenue to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial stands tall facing the Tidal Basin, which should be the next stop on your free tour of Washington D.C.
The Tidal Basin reservoir lies between the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The best time to visit the Tidal Basin is during the spring when cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Although there tend to be more crowds during the cherry blossom season, it is well worth it.
After strolling around the calming waters of the Tidal Basin you can head back toward Independence Avenue and head east toward the Smithsonian Museums.
The Smithsonian Museums offer free admission year-round. It is difficult to fully immerse yourself in all of the museums have to offer in one day. I try to give myself at least half a day for each museum that I have had the opportunity to visit in the past. Make sure to start at the Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle).
The Smithsonian Castle houses the Smithsonian Institute’s official visitor center which serves as a great launching point for your tour of the Smithsonian Museums. The Smithsonian Castle offers collection highlights from each of the Smithsonian Museums and there are in-house experts available to answer your questions.
My favorite Smithsonian Museum, by far, is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Though admission is free, you do have to reserve tickets on line in advance or early morning the same day. Read my previous post on my visit to the inspiring National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The NMAAHC opened on September 24, 2016 and is the newest Smithsonian Museum. A tour through the museum should start at the lowest level where the exhibits evoke the feeling of transport across the Middle Passage from Africa to the America’s. As you ascend the levels of the museum, you travel through time immersed in the experience of African Americans in the USA. The top floor highlights African American culture through exhibits that focus on music, art, and food. This museum is so rich in information and content so it is difficult to see the whole museum in one day. I recommend trying to obtain timed passes for earlier in the morning to be able to see as much as possible.
Depending on your interest, there is likely a Smithsonian Museum for you to enjoy. Plan ahead so you know which you would like to visit to save time and energy once you arrive.
I hope you use this guide to plan an enriching trip to Washington, D.C. that not only exposes you to its rich history and culture but keeps money in your pocket.
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