free in dc

Visit the memorials in DC any time of year
Credit: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TMOM

Free in DC

Our nation’s capital is awash in family-friendly and free things to do, including all of the city’s famous monuments, as well as the 16 museums of the Smithsonian system and the National Zoo, home to those adorable giant pandas. All of which makes Washington, D.C. a great choice for a cheap family vacation.

1. Say hi to Tai Shan


The National Zoo is home to Tai Shan (tie-SHON), only the third panda to be born and thrive in the United States.

2. Take in a concert.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts offers free concerts or performances every night at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage.

free in DC

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Credit: Judy Antell / Vegetarian TMOM

3. Walk around.

DC by Foot offers free walking tours of the National Tuesday through Sunday. Tours cover about a mile and last about 90 minutes. Look for the guy in the baby blue shirt and check the Web site for tour times. Guides don’t charge a fee, but they’re happy to accept a tip.

4. Make some money.

Or at least watch while the government does with a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

5. See the stars in Rock Creek Park at the only planetarium operated by the National Park Service.

6. Explore an exhibition and create a related art project to take home through the Freer & Sackler Gallery’s Imaginasia family programming.

12freeDC7. Take pictures with Fala, the famous presidential pooch, at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

8. Explore the beautiful grounds of the National Cathedral, the sixth largest cathedral in the world.

9. Play pilot in a mock cockpit at America by Air, an exhibition on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

10. Walk among living butterflies at the National Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly Pavilion (only free on Tuesdays and timed-entry tickets are required. Get them at the Butterfly Pavilion box office beginning at 10 a.m. each Tuesday).

11. Learn about history at the newly renovated National Museum of American History. The redesigned attraction offers visitors a look at the original “Star-Spangled Banner,” the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem.

12. Go fly a kite next to the Washington Monument for a great family photo.