Most people think of the Smithsonian Museums, Galleries and Zoo as being the only free places to take kids or offer to visitors who are in town. While those are definitely worth the trip and are family go-to’s when escaping bad weather, the city has many other free options.
Park your car (off the northbound George Washington Parkway in Virginia) at Gravelly Point Park and head to a picnic table, the grass or sit on the dock and watch airplanes take off from Reagan National Airport. There are walking and bike paths that run through the park as well.
Your family can explore the exhibits and then create an art project through Freer and Sackler Gallery ImaginAsia Family Programming.
U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing is a great place to learn all about U.S. paper currency. You can see millions of dollars being printed as you walk along the gallery overlooking the production floor! The free 40-minute experience includes an introductory film and gallery tour of the production process. Admission is free, however tickets are required. The Ticket Booth opens at 8:00am and closes when all tickets have been distributed.
One of the most beautiful and least appreciated parks in D.C. is a place officially called Meridian Hill Park but known also as Malcolm X Park. Its 12 acres sit on a hill overlooking downtown and the monuments. Go on a hunt to find how many statues your kids can find and relax by one of the cascading pools of water. Visit late on a Sunday afternoon to dance at the drum circle (or picnic, play ball, stretch out with yoga or observe all the action) that has been forming weekly since the 1950s.
DC By Foot presents the original name-your-own-price Washington, DC tours. They offer a platform for independent, licensed Washington, DC tour guides to lead tours with no upfront costs, allowing you the visitor to pay what you think a tour was worth or what you could afford only after the tour is finished. And they don’t stop at walking tours. They have a huge selection of tours that also include food, bike, bus and photography tours.
The National Theatre presents free Saturday morning entertainment such as puppet and magic shows, musicians and ballet performances. tickers are distributed 30 minutes before shows begin.
Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center presents free performances everyday, no tickets required! Shows typically begin at 6:00pm.
Get a bird’s eye view of the nation’s capital from the Washington Monument. This popular attraction is limited to ticketholders only. Tickets are required for all visitors ages 2 and up. Get free Washington Monument tickets at the Washington Monument Lodge on 15th Street adjacent to the Washington Monument Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Supplies are limited.
Rock Creek Nature Center includes a children’s Discovery Room offering environmental education books and games and a “Discover Rock Creek” bilingual (Spanish and English) exhibit geared for middle school audiences. The Nature Center also includes live turtles, fish, snakes, an active beehive, a bird observation deck, and “water-wise” garden. There is also a one-half mile self-guiding interpretive trail; the Woodland Trail, which begins behind the Nature Center. Located within the Nature Center, The Rock Creek Park Planetarium uses high-tech Spitz software to project the image of the night sky onto a large, dome-shaped ceiling. Rangers lead you on a journey of exploration into our solar system, galaxy, and beyond. Free tickets to each planetarium show may be picked up at the Nature Center front desk up to one-half hour before the show.
Woodrow Wilson Aquatic Center is an amazing aquatic center in Tenleytown that offers an Olympic size indoor lap pool and indoor kiddie pool that is open year round, seven days a week. Kiddie pool includes basketball hoops, a wade in area and buckets that dump water. Bring a lock/key for lockers. Free to DC residents with proper ID.
Every Tuesday you can get into the magnificent Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly Pavilion for free! Reservations and a timed ticket are still strongly recommended. These are made onsite at the Butterfly Pavilion Box Office. You and your littles will be amazed by how many butterflies are flying around, some may even land on a shoulder. Look closely and you could spot a frog under some trees.
Explore the outdoor Children’s Garden in the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory where kids can grow their imaginations while checking out a variety of colorful garden plants. The Children’s Garden gives kids a chance to get hands-on in a garden where they can explore and use gardening tools and watering cans.
Wander around the Washington National Cathedral on Sundays at no cost. Your kids will be amazed at the size and the colorful stained glass windows. Be sure and go to the seventh floor where they have an Observation Gallery where you can see across the city. The Old Baptistry building next to the Cathedral is Open City Cafe if you need a bite to eat.
The Supreme Court is in session October through April and visitors may view sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Seating is limited and given on a first-come, first-serve basis. Visitors can also explore exhibits, see a 25-minute film on the Supreme Court, and participate in a variety of educational programs. Lectures in the Courtroom are given every hour on the half-hour, on days that the Court is not in session. A line forms in the Great Hall on the First Floor before each lecture, and visitors are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis.
Check out a few free tours on Capitol Hill.