When you arrive in our nation’s capital, you might be afraid of how much everything will cost, especially when you find that most parking garages will run you $20-30 per day. So, that’s like a big chunk of your daily budget, right? Bummer. Well, believe it or not, if you plan it right, you can do a lot of cheap and free things on your visit.
Lunch at the Farmers’ Market
Throughout the city there are farmers’ markets open on specific days. We parked in the Ronald Reagan Building – which is super secure and also has room to actually turn to get in and out of a parking space – and right out front was a farmers’ market that opened at 11am. We decided that we would grab a quick snack and were not disappointed with our choices. I got a veggie empanada and Eric got lamb sausage. Bother were delicious and more affordable than sitting down somewhere for food.
Eat From a Food Cart
D.C. is chock full of food carts. There seems to be one on every other corner. From hot dogs to egg rolls to curry, you’ll find something to satisfy your hunger pangs. Take your selections to one of the many parks to devour it or, if it’s easily portable, snack on it while walking to the next monument.
If you’re visiting D.C., you probably want to see the famous landmarks. Almost all of them are free, like the Lincoln Memorial. Some require a ticket to get in, which are free, but they only release a certain amount per day. This is how the Washington Monument works. They suggest you get there before opening to line up in order to have a chance to get tickets. We were unaware of this, but were lucky enough to snag a pair from the lady at the hop-on hop-off bus stop, since she had two left that someone else couldn’t use.
So Many Museums
Somehow, there are way more things to do than you will ever have time for. We were there for three days and maybe got to two-thirds of our list of things we wanted to do. Things will take longer to get to, longer to look at and make it seem like you have accomplished nothing. Don’t plan a ton before you go. Instead, make a list of those things you really want to do and worry about the rest later. In those three days, we hit up as many museums as possible:
The Museum of Natural History is just that. See tons of taxidermied animals from all over the world, as well as live insects, fish and more. When we were there, they had a butterfly exhibit, which we paid $6 each for.
The National Air and Space Museum is large and has several floors full of NASA space probes, ships and even a moon rock. On the other side of the building is the history of flight where you can see how commercial airlines have changed over the years.
If you’re interested in the history of the Holocaust, the Holocaust Museum is free when it’s not high season. Fair warning, there is a lot of reading and can get a little tedious. It seems much more political than anything else and I didn’t “enjoy” it as much as other WWII exhibits I’ve been to. If you plan on visiting, make sure to eat before you go, because you can spend three or more hours in here if you look at everything.
We also spent time at the International Spy Museum, the Newseum and Madame Tussaud’s, which we did have to pay for, but we had a city card that got us a good deal on them, so we didn’t pay full price.
Parks and Gardens
D.C. has a lot of green spaces for being such a modern city. Put together a picnic lunch and enjoy them. We spent a considerable amount of time walking along the National Mall and we also paid a visit to the U.S. Botanic Garden, which is free and packed full of amazing plants from all over the world. It is broken up into sections like desert plants, medicinal plants and tropical plants. Outside is a fish pond, fountain and a butterfly garden. (We didn’t see any actual butterflies.)
There is so much to do that if you take multiple trips to the city, you’ll always see something new. With all the freebies, those trips can be totally budget-friendly.