Are you planing a trip to the nation’s capital? Be sure to check out these family-friendly free things to do in Washington, D.C.
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Tour the U.S. Capitol with an Intern
Every year, hundreds of college interns descend upon the nation’s capital to further their educational goals and contribute to our government. One intern duty across almost all offices will be guiding constituent tours. If you know the dates you will be on the Hill, give your congressman’s office a call and ask if it’s possible for a tour. Be sure to give a couple of different dates to have the best chance of getting a tour. Many offices are more than happy to accommodate you and you’re likely to get a private tour. We toured the Capitol with an intern last year. Not only was she extremely knowledgeable, but she was able to point out things that the large official tours didn’t have time to cover.
Visit the National Zoo
Nestled in the Woodley Park neighborhood of D.C., the National Zoo is free to enter and open every day of the year. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to appreciate this zoo. Here you’ll be able to see a Giant panda, lion, American alligator, Asian elephant, Red panda, and cheetah, just to name a few. Our favorite time to visit is during Christmastime. That is when the park becomes transformed into a winter wonderland of Zoo Lights.
Lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery
Every December, Wreaths Across America lays wreaths on veteran’s graves at Arlington National Cemetery. They also coordinate with over 2,000 cemeteries around the country in order to lay a wreath on every veteran’s grave site. If you’re not able to lay a wreath in person, you are welcome to sponsor a wreath. If you plan to attend the wreath laying at Arlington, you will want to come early and take public transportation. Parking fills up fast! If you’re not in D.C., you can also support their mission by laying a wreath at a cemetery near you.
Visit a Smithsonian Museum
With 22 museums and galleries around the D.C. area, you could spend days exploring all that the Smithsonian facilities have to offer. The D.C. area museums include:
- National Museum of African American History and Culture
- National Museum of African Art
- National Air and Space Museum
- National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
- Smithsonian American Art Museum
- National Museum of American History
- National Museum of the American Indian
- Anacostia Community Museum
- Archives of American Art Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery
- Arts and Industries Building
- Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
- Freer Gallery of Art
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- National Zoo
- National Museum of Natural History
- National Portrait Gallery
- National Postal Museum
- Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
- S. Dillon Ripley Center
- Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
- Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle)
- Smithsonian Gardens
Stroll the Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossoms season
Every Spring, D.C. turns pink with the blooming of the cherry blossoms. The peak blooming may vary each year, but it’s typically around April 4th. The National Park Service even gives an official peak bloom prediction. One of the best spots to take in the cherry blossoms is at the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. We highly recommend you arrive early in the day, as it becomes very packed. And remember – never pick a cherry blossom. It’s actually against the law!
Browse the Library of Congress
With millions of books and publications, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. It is the main research point for Congress and houses the U.S. Copyright Office. Here you can browse as a tourist or you can roll your sleeves up and dive into some research.
Each day, the library receives 15,000 new items to process into it’s collection. The oldest written material dates back to 2040 B.C. and the smallest book is approximately the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
Enjoy the fall concert series at the National Gallery of Art
Every fall, the National Gallery of Art hosts a series of free concerts. The concert series began in 1942 during World War II. American banker, Chester Dale, generously donated so that the gallery could host orchestra concerts every Sunday evening. These concerts served as morale boosts for men serving in the armed forces.
These days, the gallery hosts a mix of genres. Concerts are free to attend and entry is on a first- come, first-served basis. You will need to be in your seat 30 minutes prior to the performance to enjoy a night of beautiful music.
Ride the new elevator in the Washington Monument
In the fall of 2019, the new elevator opened in the Washington Monument. This new elevator will allow hundreds of visitors to reach the top each day. The ride will take approximately one minute and ascend 50 stories.
At 555 ft., the Washington Monument is the world’s largest freestanding stone structure. In 2011, the monument was severely damaged in a magnitude 5.8 earthquake. Repairs took several years and the monument was reopened again in 2014.
Wear your Halloween costume to the National Air & Space Museum
Every October, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air & Space Museum hosts their annual Air & Scare party. This is a family friendly event that features “creepy crafts, spooky science experiments, and other Halloween-themed activities”.
Don your best Halloween costume (no masks please) and stroll the exhibits and collections. Your children will even be able to take part in a little trick or treating.
Tour the National Mall
No trip to D.C. is complete without a tour of the National Mall. Affectionately known as America’s front yard, the Mall is a symbolic space to honor and remember. Here you will find American’s most revered structures.
National Mall and Memorial Parks includes:
- African American Civil War Memorial
- American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial
- Belmont-Paul National Women’s Equality National Monument
- Constitution Gardens
- District of Columbia War Memorial
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
- George Mason Memorial
- John Ericsson Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- Lincoln Memorial
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
- National World War I Memorial (Pershing Park)
- Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site and Park
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Washington Monument
- World War II Memorial
- Plus 150 additional reservations, circles, fountains, statues and park spaces throughout the downtown Washington, D.C area.
See how money is made at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Have you ever seen millions of dollars in person? If you haven’t, you’ll definitely want to take part in a free tour of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving & Printing. Here, a 40 minute tour will take you along a gallery overlooking the production floor. You will also learn about the history of currency in the U.S. From hand crank machines to sophisticated automation, we’ve come a long way!
Do some Christmas shopping at the Swedish Christmas Bazaar
If you happen to find yourself in the D.C. area in early December, be sure to check out the Swedish Christmas Bazaar. This annual Christmas market along the Georgetown waterfront is the perfect place to pick up gifts for your loved ones. Stock up on traditional gifts, textiles, and foods. Dine on Swedish delicacies, such as “fika” and “glögg” while enjoying caroling performances. If you live locally, you’ll want to make this an annual family tradition.
Celebrate George Washington’s Birthday at Mt. Vernon
On or around George Washington’s birthday each year, Mt. Vernon welcomes the public to celebrate his birthday. Admission is free for one day only and advanced tickets are not required.
This day of events kicks off with a wreath laying ceremony. You can also take part in activities, listen to music, and even have a piece of birthday cake. Bring your kids and have them complete the Mt. Vernon Scavenger Hunt. This will be a fun day for the whole family!
Witness history during a Supreme Court Session
Did you know you can watch the country’s highest court in session? All Supreme Court oral arguments are open to the general public, but seating is limited. Seating is also on a first-come, first-seated basis, so make sure you arrive early. Before a session begins, two lines will form in front of the building. One will be for those who would like to watch an entire argument. The second line is for a three minute brief observation of the court. If you have the opportunity to attend, this will be a very memorable experience.
Tour the White House
If you will be visiting D.C., make sure you write to your congressional office for a White House Tour. You can request a tour up to three months in advance and are on a first-come, first-served basis. These tours fill up extremely fast so make sure you get your request in early! These self-guided tours are typically available Tuesday through Saturday, but may be canceled at the last minute. If you will be visiting D.C. for the first time, this would be the most memorable part of your entire trip.
Smell the flowers at the U.S. Botanical Gardens
Do you know where you can find the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the United States? That’s right! Right in the heart of Washington, D.C., you will find the U.S. Botanical Garden. Admission is free to enter and it’s open every day of the year.
The Conservatory is a whopping 28,944 square feet. You will find a greenhouse, two courtyards, a room of orchids, and many other exhibits. This is one place you can enjoy stopping to smell the roses!
Watch the fireworks display during the Fourth of July
Something to add to your bucket list is watching Fourth of July fireworks along the National Mall. Nothing can beat watching fireworks surrounded by monuments and memorials.
Due to the enormous crowds, you will want to plan ahead and take public transportation. Also, make sure you get to your viewing spot very early! The fireworks typically begin around at 9:00 pm and run for approximately 30 minutes. Bring a blanket, picnic, and enjoy a beautiful show.