Welcome back for the final week! For those who might just catch this one update, I’ve been sharing some of my handiest tips for traveling the nation’s capitol on a budget. DC can be pricey, but it doesn’t have to be! With just a little bit of planning you can do DC on almost any budget. This week I will be sharing some of my best tips on what to do in the city, and how you can make even the pricier activities affordable.
Washington has a wide variety of activities and events and an overwhelming amount of them are free to the public. Trust me– you’ll never be bored! And you don’t need to spend money on activities unless you absolutely want to. There are also a ton of great day trips near DC that are also free (aside from gas to get there) like the historical Harpers Ferry, WV. But for now, let’s stick within the city limits and check out some of DC’s best.
The Kennedy Center offers great free shows every day at 6 PM on their Millennium Stage. The website offers a performance lineup so you can see what will be playing while you are in town. It’s a great way to see a show without paying a dime! Remember to grab the shuttle from Foggy Bottom metro to save even more.
Hands down the best options DC has are the Smithsonians. There are tons of them, and they are all completely free! The easiest Smithsonians to access are on the National Mall, but in fact the Smithsonian Institution has museums all over the country. If you have a choice, go on a weekday morning… Wednesday mornings were my favorite, and I had the place to myself. Be aware that a TON of tour groups drop off busloads on Sunday afternoons… it’s the absolute worst time to visit. And I recommend eating elsewhere… there are not a lot of dining options unless you are willing to walk a bit outside and all the Smithsonian dining is pricey.
Also, DC hosts many different festivals year round that are free to attend, including the famous Cherry Blossom Festival. The picture below was taken at the National Kite Festival, which is a day-long kite-flying extravaganza on the National Mall. You can also see the scaffolding on the Washington Monument where they were building it up to repair earthquake damage.
The Laogai Museum is another great museum in DC that you should definitely check out. It’s in Dupont Circle and really offers a unique look at Chinese labor camps. See my previous post for more information.
Okay, I know. Your kids or friends or you yourself are dying to get to one of the paid museums in the DC area. Here’s where knowing your stuff comes in. Depending on the museum, sometimes there are discount hours, or even discount tickets. Are you a teacher or a student? Always, always check for discounts. Sometimes it’s beneficial to check for partners if you have a museum membership back home; for example, many zoos and aquariums have partner memberships.
The Spy Museum and the Newseum each cost around $20 for admission; it seems that DC either is free or really expensive! $20 is a lot for me to spend on one museum admission, so I ended up waiting until the Newseum made tickets available on Groupon. Both of these museums as well as others offer deals from time-to-time, so it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you are planning in advance. Typically admission costs $10 when you get the Groupon. While the Newseum is pricey, there is a hidden benefit: your admission is good for two days, so if you don’t have a ton of time one day you can come back to finish up.
The Philips Collection, a prominent art museum that houses Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, offers discounted admission on Tuesday afternoon/ evenings. Other museums may offer something similar but I’m not sure.
For discount tickets, definitely use your standard discount sites but also check out specific programs. The Kennedy Center offers “Generation O” for the opera for youth under 26 and another discount ticket program for other tickets. It’s a great way to get AMAZING seats for cheap if you qualify, but remember that for the general shows the discounts are not available every time.
I hope that you have enjoyed learning a little bit more about visiting DC on a budget over the last month. Definitely let me know if you have any questions, or any recommendations that I should check out the next time I make it back! I’ve just relocated for the summer to the Poconos in Pennsylvania, about an hour outside Scranton for my summer job, so new updates will be coming soon!