10 Awesome & Totally FREE Things We Did with the Kids in Washington DC

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colorful display of balloons and ribbons at outdoor festival

It’s FREE when you’re in DC!

It’s a fact that no city in this country provides as many world-class activities completely free as Washington DC. If you plan to make a trip with the family anytime soon (or you live close by), here is a list of totally free and fun things you can do with your kids!

1. Enjoy a free outdoor movie on Wednesdays.

colorful outdoor space with people and outdoor movie

During summer months you can catch a free movie in the trendy DC town of NoMa, and doors open at 7 PM! There are even food trucks to curb your appetite offering inexpensive (but absolutely delicious) foods where you can score anything from a slice of pizza to a juicy Greek gyro.

Hip Tips: There’s plenty of other free places to catch a movie in the grass. The shows at Freedom Plaza even offers complimentary popcorn! 😍

And if it’s cold when you go, the Library of Congress hosts free movies the month of February – just make sure to secure your tickets in December since they’re limited!

2. Bring bathing suits for a splash park.

kids playing on splash pad park with water

If you’re looking to cool off during a trip to DC, check out one of the free splash parks at either Capitol Riverfront’s Yards Park, Canal Park, or even hop over to Georgetown Waterfront Park.

Hip Tip: Since you’re saving so much money, make sure to splurge on some incredible ice cream. Ice Cream Jubilee is close by and rated the best in the city!

3. Enjoy any of the museums at the National Mall (they’re ALL free)!

huge museum with elephant

You will need an entire weekend (or more) just to check out all of the amazing (and free) museums. My kids especially enjoy walking through real rocket ships at the National Air & Space Museum and seeing dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History.

Here is a complete list of all the free museums:

  1. National Gallery of Art
  2. U.S. Botanic Garden
  3. National Air & Space Museum  
  4. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  5. National Museum of Natural History
  6. National Museum of American History
  7. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  8. National Museum of the American Indian
  9. National Museum of African American History and Culture
  10. The Freer | Sackler Galleries
  11. National Museum of African Art
  12. Smithsonian Institution Information Center in the Castle
  13. U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
  14. National Archives Museum

*All museums are closed December 25th. See hours of operations and closings

Hip Tip: Grab a free map of each museum when you get there, so you know where to go and how to take advantage of any extras like an IMAX film at the Air and Space Museum (or a free hands-on experience at the American History museum).

4. Enjoy an amazing fireworks display on the 4th of July.

large pink purple firework exploding in sky

If you happen to be visiting the big city on July 4th, stick around for one of the most incredible fireworks shows you’ll ever see – or put it on your list for next summer. Make sure you sit in one of these spots to get the best view!

Hip Tip: You can also catch free festivals hosting celebrity performers on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day.

5. Ride bikes around the Washington Monument on a gorgeous day.

four people riding bikes outside in DC

There are many places to ride to enjoy the city that are also really wide and safe for family rides. There are even places to rent bikes or Segways at a reasonable cost if you aren’t able to bring your own. According to Foursquare, here are 15 of the best places you can also bike when in DC.

Hip Tip: Bring your own water bottles. There are tons of clean water fountains, so you don’t need to waste money on drinks for the whole family. Better yet, pack a cooler and leave it in the car if you’ll be close by.

6. Spend all day at the National Zoo.

holding mini turtles at National Zoo

The National Zoo admission is completely free and has exhibits featuring Giant pandas, Asian elephants, Sumatran tigers, Aldabra tortoises, and everything in between. Parking will cost around $20, but there’s plenty of free, nearby residential parking if you don’t mind a little walk.

*The zoo is open daily except for Christmas Day. Hours: March 15th –September: 9 AM-6 PM and October–March 14: 9 AM-4 PM. 

Hip Tip: If you’re lucky enough to go during Nov. 23—Jan. 1, the Zoo hosts after-hours visits to the National Zoo during ZooLights, which illuminates the zoo with more than 500,000 environmentally-friendly LEDs, animated light installations, and live music.

*Zoolights does not run on December 24th, 25th, and 31st. 

7. Make sure to stop by the other National Monuments.

Washington Monument with people flying kites

Whether you want to relive your favorite Forrest Gump moments at the Reflecting Pool, show the kids a huge sculpture of the 16th President at the Lincoln Memorial, or fly a kite at the Washington Monument, these are major stops you don’t want to miss. Plus, they’re all close to each other, so you can visit them at the same time. 😉

8. Go during the Cherry Blossoms and enjoy the free festivals.

people dancing in festival outside

It’s no surprise that the iconic 3,000 cherry blossoms that bloom every year made this list, but just in case you miss them, there’s no need to worry… DC celebrates them from the end of March to the middle of April every year with numerous free festivals.

9. Tour The White House and snap some pics.

the white house exterior

It wouldn’t be a trip to DC without seeing The White House. Make sure to plan a tour up to three months before your visit, as the slots fill up fast!

*All self-guided tours are free and available from 7:30 AM-11:30 AM Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30 AM-1:30 PM Fridays and Saturdays (excluding federal holidays or unless otherwise noted). 

10. Walk the streets of Georgetown on your way home.

city street at night with cars and lights

Our family always ends our trips to DC in the gorgeous and charming town of Georgetown. It will take you just about 15 minutes to get there from the center of the National Mall. You’ll be dazzled by a street of great restaurants and markets to end your family day or shops that have plenty of drool-worthy window shopping.

Hip Tip: Most restaurants in Georgetown aren’t stroller accessible, so if you plan to grab dinner, plan to leave it in the car or call ahead to make arrangements.

Check the best (and cheapest) travel destinations for your next family vacation!

About the writer:

Sara is a self-taught blogger & photographer and brings 9+ years of experience to her craft. Her work has been featured in numerous esteemed publications, spanning building, travel, and fashion. Beyond her creative pursuits, Sara’s primary mission is to empower others to embrace a toxic-free & sustainable lifestyle.

Join The Discussion

Comments 33

  1. Casey

    I just spent a week and a half in DC while my spouse was there for work. I hit museums and the zoo and I still have things left to do when I go back. The city was very easy to navigate on foot and the cost effective Metro, and I never once felt unsafe. Highly recommended!

    • fran

      Where did you stay?

      • GAmommyof4

        My family stayed at the Adams Inn. It is an older bed-and-breakfast in a very quaint part of town. Very convenient to the metro. The price was reasonable. Breakfast was a bonus!

        • Vicky

          I know that B&B. A church missionary group stayed there – took over the two houses – a few years back and it’s a nice little place.

      • Casey

        Dupont Circle area on N Street. Very walkable area and close to Metros.

  2. GAmommyof4

    I took my family to Washington DC last spring. We had an amazing time! One of the hidden treasures there is the Ford’s Theatre. It is free but you have to have tickets. Go early in the morning to get your tickets and then you will have a timeslot assigned to return later in the day. It was my daughters favorite destinations. Very touching and one of the most amazing museums on the Civil War is located in the basement where it talks about President Lincoln‘s life. Also when you go to Georgetown don’t forget to stop by Georgetown cupcake‘s. They had a show on television and the cupcakes really are out of this world!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      How neat! Thanks for the helpful tip! I haven’t been to Ford’s Theater yet!

  3. GAmommyof4

    I took my family to Washington DC last spring and we had an amazing time! One of the hidden treasures is the Ford’s Theatre. It’s free to get in but you have to go early in the day to get your tickets for a time slot. This was my daughter’s favorite attraction. It is very touching and has one of the best museums on Civil War history and Lincoln’s life in the basement.You can also go early to get tickets to visit the Bureau of engraving and printing. It was a great tour as well! If you go to Georgetown be sure to go to Georgetown Cupcakes and get a sample pack. They had a television show a few years ago and the cupcakes truly are amazing!

  4. Suzanne

    I lived there for a year and love going back to visit. There is so much free stuff to do and the metro makes it simple to get around. The Holocaust museum is a must see. I can’t wait until my daughter is a little older so she can enjoy all the history.

    • shop4mybabies

      I saw the Holocaust museum 25 years ago and it still haunts me. I agree, it is a must see.

    • Wren

      Yes, Holocaust museum is a very incredible experience. 🇮🇱🇺🇸

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      I agree! Super easy to get around with the Metro! Thanks for sharing with us, Suzanne!

  5. shop4mybabies

    I was 17 when I went to DC, i had already lived on my own for two years, i had zero money and went with a class trip for smarty farty history students. The last 3 days, I had 10 dollars to last the entire time, and I made it. Mind you it was 25 years ago, so limping along with no cash was easier. I did all the free things.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Yes! SO fun to enjoy the free places to visit, even today! I will say that the food you find available to purchase can be pricey depending on where you stop.

  6. Ivan

    Great city to visit! My wife and I were there for Memorial Day weekend. Highly recommend visiting the Bell Tower at the Trump Hotel (old post office). Totally free and is the highest viewpoint of DC (besides Washington Monument, which is closed for a while for renovations). Can see lots of cool buildings from high up.

  7. Aly

    If you want to hit all the free museums, you will need to plan at least a whole week or two and good shoes. Some of the museums had so much info it would take 4-5 hours to see everything in just one museum. I have been to DC twice and have only hit up about a third that are on or adjacent to the Mall. My husband once went to the fireworks show there many years ago and he said he couldn’t get home in the suburbs until 2 am because of the traffic, even on the Metro.

  8. Sara

    I highly recommend the Twilight Tattoo at Fort Myer (adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery)! It begins in late spring and goes through July. Here’s a description from the website: “Twilight Tattoo is an hour-long, live-action military pageant featuring Soldiers from The 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” Experience a glimpse into American history through performances by The U.S. Army Blues, vocalists from The U.S. Army Band Downrange and U.S. Army Band Voices, The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, and The U.S. Army Drill Team.”

    And the website with more info: https://twilight.mdw.army.mil/. The soldiers remain on the field after the performance and my kids LOVED getting to talk with them and have their pictures taken with them!

    Arlington National Cemetery is also a must see! The changing of the guard ceremony is fascinating and moving and the cemetery is peaceful and serene with some of the best views of the city.

    • Liza (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for the recommendation! This sounds really interesting!

  9. Sara

    City busses, called D.C. Circulator, are free. We didn’t realize it until the end of our most recent trip so we didn’t get to use them but they should save you some steps when seeing the sites actually located in Washington, D.C.

    • Liza (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for the great tip, Sara!

  10. Lori

    I can only imagine the work that went into this post. Thanks for all of the great tips!

    • Liza (Hip Sidekick)

      You’re very welcome Lori! 🙂

  11. Chelsea

    The renwick gallery, on the same street as the White House, is another must-see for us. We go several times a year. We also loved the postal museum-also free 🙂

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Oh cool! Thanks for the suggestions, Chelsea! I’ll have to add those to my list!

  12. Kristie

    If anyone has an RV, Cherry Hill Campground in College Park, MD is excellent. Closest campground to DC. Bus stop at the campground to get you to train station though we ended up driving to save time.

  13. Jenny

    I was born and raised in DC dont forget Ben’s Chili Bowl love that place great food. Moved to Florida over 14 years ago but still stop by for the great food 🙂

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      YUM! Thanks for the helpful comment, Jenny!

  14. daniholsapple@yahoo.com

    Hoping to go over Thanksgiving break – thank you for all this information! Helps me plan!

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You’re very welcome! Hoping you have a wonderful trip!

    • Heather

      We went to the National Zoo Thanksgiving Day last year. Parked for free and had the place to ourselves!

  15. KAH

    We took our family to Washington DC because we had tickets to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll. My husband and son got to shake President Obama’s hand. (My girls and I saw him from a distance.) We had the most wonderful time there! We used the metro for transportation and stayed at (and would highly recommend) the Omni Shoreham Hotel, just a few minutes from the metro up near the zoo. It was a wonderful family destination, and I would go back there in a heartbeat, with or without kids.

  16. Angie

    I have lived in DC for 19 years. A few edits. First, Georgetown and NOMA are neighborhoods not towns. There are tons of sprayparks throughout the city and DC is definitely worth exploring outside of the mall. There are also amazing playgrounds all over the city too.
    There really isn’t residential parking around the zoo. The only exception is on sundays. Otherwise it’s zoned and they WILL ticket you if you park there for more than 2hrs. Some streets are zoned only parking so definitely read the street signs before you walk away.
    You didn’t mention eastern market but that’s also a fun way to spend a Saturday/Sunday morning.
    This is a great city to raise a kid too.
    Also dear tourists the number one rule is on metro escalators stand on the right walk on the left.

    • je

      Lol on the escalators. I was just telling my kids this over the weekend because they were standing in the middle of the escalator. This really should be the rule anywhere in the US. Such common sense.

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