Washington D.C. is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, and for good reason. The city is home to some of the most iconic landmarks and museums in the world.

However, what many people don’t know is that Washington D.C. also has a lot to offer when it comes to free activities. In this article, we will explore some of Washington D.C.’s best-kept secrets: 20 free activities that you can do in the nation’s capital.

1.National Mall

Featured Image: National Mall, Washington, D.C. Photo: Viator.

When visiting the District, the National Mall should be at the top of your list of things to do. The mall is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in the world, including the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, as well as the popular National Museum of African American History and Culture, which are all free monuments, memorials, and museums. 

If you’re looking for a way to explore the National Mall that’s a little more active, consider biking around it. There are plenty of bike rental companies in Washington D.C., and most of them have bikes that can be rented by the hour or for the day.

2. The Smithsonian’s New FUTURES Exhibit

If you’re looking for a little bit of culture during your trip to Washington D.C., the Smithsonian’s New FUTURES Exhibit is definitely worth a visit.  

The exhibit—which is free to enter, of course—features exhibits on topics such as climate change, renewable energy, and space exploration. It feels like a recreation of the 1964 World’s Fair, with a smattering of items from that event on display as well as interactive exhibits designed to show what life might be like in the future thanks to technological advances. 

Among the exciting futuristic exhibitions is an AI robot that reacts to your actions, a model of Virgin’s Hyperloop Pegasus pod (which could one day be the future of high-speed transport), and a look at the costumes from Marvel’s “Eternals” film.

3. U.S. National Arboretum

For those who want to get away from all the hustle and bustle of downtown Washington D.C., the U.S. National Arboretum is the perfect place to escape. This little-known gem is located in Northeast D.C., and it’s a great spot for a picnic or a leisurely stroll through nature.

The arboretum is home to a variety of gardens, including the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum (which features miniature trees that are hundreds of years old), as well as the National Herb Garden and the National Capital Columns. Admission to the arboretum is free, and it’s a great place to escape the heat in the summer or enjoy the autumn leaves in the fall. The United States National Arboretum is also a great off-the-beaten-path spot to see cherry blossoms in the spring.

4. The National Zoo 

Featured Image: Facade of the National Zoo. Photo: Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

The National Zoo is another one of Washington D.C.’s most popular tourist destinations, and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the city. The zoo is home to over 2000 animals, including lions, tigers, elephants, and gorillas.

Admission to the zoo is free, although there is a charge for parking. The National Zoo is located in Northwest D.C., and it’s a great place to spend an afternoon if you’re looking for something to do with kids or if you’re a lover of animals.

5. Black Lives Matter Plaza

Featured Image: Black Lives Matter’s Plaza. Photo: Washington.

Washington D.C.’s Black Lives Matter Plaza is a relatively new addition to the city, but it’s quickly become one of its most popular spots. The plaza, which was dedicated in 2017, commemorates the African American experience and pays tribute to the work of the black liberation movement.

The plaza features an interactive art installation that allows visitors to share their own experiences with racism, as well as a mural by renowned artist Hank Willis Thomas. Black Lives Matter Plaza is located in Northwest D.C., and it’s a must-see for anyone interested in exploring the city’s history and culture.

6. Tour DC’s premier cultural arts center

Featured Image: The Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. Photo: State Plaza Hotel.

The Kennedy Center is Washington D.C.’s premier performing arts center, and it features exhibits on theater, dance, music, and visual arts.

Tours of the Kennedy Center are free for visitors 18 and younger, and they’re a great way to learn about the arts and see some of the center’s stunning architecture. You can expect that every ten minutes, docents discuss the museum’s artwork, 50-foot Austrian chandelier, interactive exhibit on President John F. Kennedy’s life, and the panoramic view of the city from its magnificent Rooftop Terrace. Tours are offered in 17 different languages. 

There’s also a complimentary shuttle from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop to the Kennedy Center that runs every 15 minutes starting at 9:45 am – 10:00 am Monday through Friday, midnight – Saturdays at midnight and Sundays at 12 p.m. – Sundays at 12 a.m.

7. Meridian Hill Park (Malcolm X Park)

Featured Image: Cascade Fountain at Meridian Hill Park/Malcolm X Park. Photo: Wikipedia.

Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, is a beautiful park located in Northwest D.C. The park is home to a waterfall, a statue of General James Oglethorpe (the founder of the colony of Georgia), and loads of open space for picnics or just relaxing on a bench.

It’s also a great spot for people-watching, as the park attracts a diverse crowd of locals and tourists alike. Meridian Hill Park is open from dawn to dusk, and it’s a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

8. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial

Featured Image: Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo: Smithsonian Magazine.

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial is a must-see for anyone visiting Washington D.C. The memorial honors the life and work of Dr. King.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1968. His accomplishments and vision for a life of freedom, opportunity, and justice for everyone are commemorated in this memorial. It’s a beautiful location to meander and think on all the work that still needs to be done as you read inspirational lines from some of Dr. King’s renowned speeches that still ring true today as much as they did during the Civil Rights period. It’s located around the western edge of the Tidal Basin.

9. Enjoy a guided walking tour with DC by Foot

Featured Image: Woman in Blue Backpack Walking. Photo: Unsplash.

DC by Foot is a great way to see the city if you’re on a budget. DC by Foot offers free walking tours of the city, and they cover a variety of topics including history, art, food, and more.

The tours are led by knowledgeable guides who are passionate about sharing their love for the city with visitors. These tours are offered every day of the week, and they last around two hours. 

All you need to do is show up at the designated meeting spot (which is typically a landmark in the city) and be ready for a fun and informative walk through Washington D.C.

10. Check out the largest library in the world

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, and it’s a great place to visit if you’re interested in learning more about the history and culture of Washington D.C.

As soon as you enter the beautiful Library of Congress, you will be mesmerized. The Thomas Jefferson Building, with its beautiful Gilded Age architecture, special displays, and the Library’s extraordinary collection of books, documents, recordings, maps, and much more, offers the best tourist experience.

The best part is the Library of Congress offers free tours that cover the history of the library, as well as its architecture and artwork. Tours are offered Monday through Saturday at 11:00 am, noon, and sometimes at 2:00 pm. 

You don’t need to reserve a spot in advance – just show up at the information desk on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building and let them know you’re interested in taking a tour.

11. Stroll through historic Georgetown

Featured Image: Tourists Visiting Georgetown. Photo: The New York Times.

Georgetown was founded in 1751, making it one of the oldest neighborhoods in Washington D.C. The neighborhood is a popular spot for tourists, and it’s a great place to wander around on a weekend afternoon. This neighborhood is located on the banks of the Potomac River and it’s full of beautiful buildings, churches, shops, and restaurants.

When you visit, be sure to check out the waterfront esplanade, which offers lovely views of the river and Washington D.C.’s skyline.

12. Visit the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum

Featured Image: Statues of African American Civil War Soldiers. Photo: Washington.

The African American Civil War Memorial and Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in learning more about the Civil War and the role that African Americans played in it. The museum tells the story of how African Americans fought for their freedom, both as slaves and as soldiers.

The museum is located in Washington D.C.’s historic Shaw neighborhood. Shaw was one of the first neighborhoods in the city to be settled by African Americans after the Civil War.

It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm, and it’s free to visit. Guided tours are offered, or you can explore the museum on your own. Either way, you’re sure to learn something new about the Civil War and the role of African Americans.

13. East Potomac Park

Featured Image: Entry Sign to East Potomac Park. Photo: Brent/BlogSpot.

East Potomac Park is a great place to spend a sunny day. It is a large park located along the banks of the Potomac River. The park offers a variety of activities, including fishing, swimming, basketball, and tennis. There’s also a golf course and a playground for kids.

The best part about East Potomac Park is that it’s free to visit. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, and it’s a great place to spend a sunny day in Washington D.C.

14. Learn About President Lincoln Where He Was Assassinated

Featured Image: Ford’s Theatre Hall. Photo: Ford’s Theatre.

If you’re interested in history, then a visit to Ford’s Theatre is a must. Visitors can listen to a National Park guide give a discussion about the events surrounding President Lincoln’s untimely assassination and learn more about the interesting story. 

The Ford’s Theatre Museum, on the bottom level, has exhibited his life and recounts the events surrounding his terrible demise. 

The Petersen House and Education Center, situated across the street from the theater, has two floors of permanent displays addressing the aftermath of Lincoln’s death and the progression of his legacy, as well as a lecture and reception hall and two levels of education studios. 

While admission to Ford’s Theatre, the Petersen House, and the Education Center are typically free, you will be charged a $3 convenience fee if you make an advanced reservation online.

15. Check out the National Air and Space Museum

Featured Image: Exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum. Photo: WUSA9.

The National Air and Space Museum is one of the most popular museums in Washington D.C., and for good reason. The museum is full of fascinating exhibits about the history of aviation and space travel.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in airplanes or space rockets, the National Air and Space Museum is worth a visit. The museum is huge, and it’s impossible to see everything in one day. But that’s okay – you can always come back and explore more of the museum’s exhibits another time.

The National Air and Space Museum is open from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, seven days a week. Admission is free, but there is a fee for parking. The museum can get very crowded on weekends, so be prepared to wait in line if you visit on a Saturday or Sunday.

16. Washington National Cathedral

Featured Image: Washington National Cathedral’s Building Front. Photo: Washington National Cathedral.

The Washington National Cathedral is a magnificent English Gothic cathedral with more than 200 stained glass windows and outstanding architectural sculptures, wood carvings, gargoyles, and mosaics.  It is the second-largest church in the United States and took 83 years to complete.

It is open to visitors every day from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. Admission is free, but there is a charge for guided tours. The cathedral also offers a variety of events and programs, many of which are free.

17. Lafayette Park

Featured Image: Lafayette Square. Photo: iStockphoto.

Lafayette Park is a seven-acre public park located across the street from the White House. The park is a great place to take photos of the White House, and it’s also a popular spot for political protests and rallies.

The park is open 24 hours a day, and it’s free to visit. However, keep in mind that the park can get quite crowded on weekends. If you plan to visit Lafayette Park, be sure to arrive early in the morning or late in the evening.

18. Palmer Alley

Featured Image: Woman Walking in Palmer Alley. Photo: Washington.

Palmer Alley, a gorgeous avenue ornamented with varied seasonal embellishments throughout the year, is the showpiece of CityCenterDC. 

The decorations, which range from pink balloons during cherry blossom season to dazzling lights during the holidays, are beautiful and begging to be photographed. CityCenterDC also hosts a number of free events.

While you’re admiring the decorations on Palmer Alley, be sure to check out some of the other CityCenterDC attractions, such as the DC Design Center and the International Spy Museum. Admission to these attractions is free.

19. Planet Word

Featured Image: People Looking At an Earth Model in Planet Word. Photo: Planet Word Museum.

Planet Word is an interactive museum that celebrates the power of language. The museum has more than 15,000 exhibits and offers fascinating programs for all ages. Admission to Planet Word is free for children five years old and younger, and reduced admission is available for students, seniors, and military personnel.

The museum is open from Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm on Sundays. It’s located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, D.C., which is a great place to explore after you’ve finished your visit to Planet Word.

20. Visit the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial is a newly built memorial dedicated to the 34th president of the United States. The memorial consists of a series of outdoor sculptures, stone panels, and a bronze statue of President Eisenhower. 

The memorial is located on four acres of land near the National Mall, and it’s open 24 hours a day. Admission is free.

There are plenty of free things to do in Washington, D.C. Whether you’re looking for history, art, or just a good photo op, Washington has plenty of free activities to keep you busy.  So, the next time visit, be sure to check out some of these amazing free attractions.