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Free DC: A Family-Friendly and Wallet-Friendly Vacation in Washington D.C.

Looking for an easy-on-the-budget holiday? Washington, D.C. may be a perfect choice!

Airfare, accommodations, car rentals, transfers, entertainment – a family vacation can quickly add up in terms of costs. Add some attraction tickets and the holiday might instantly be over budget. With affordable accommodations, a walkable core and free admission to most attractions, Washington, D.C. offers a perfect family-friendly getaway without breaking the bank.



The world’s largest museum, education and research complex, the Smithsonian prides itself on being a community of learning and an opener of doors. Consisting of 19 world-class museums, galleries, gardens and a zoo, all offer free admission with the optional choice of leaving a donation.

Washington DC-Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle) - Photo Lisa Johnston

Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle) – Photo Lisa Johnston

For those travelling with families, it is not all about sculpture, art and history. The National Museum of Natural History features fossils, mammals, ocean exhibits, Egyptian mummies and a real-life bug zoo with daily tarantula feedings. The National Air and Space Museum is also a family favourite boasting 23 galleries exhibiting hundreds of aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, rockets and other flight-related artifacts including Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit and the 1903 Wright Flyer.

Washington DC-Neil Armstong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit on display at the National Air and Space Museum. Washington DC - Photo Lisa Johnston

Neil Armstong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit on display at the National Air and Space Museum. Washington DC – Photo Lisa Johnston

It’s not just museums that offer free admission. Travel up the Trump International Hotel Tower for a 360-degree view of Washington with the Pentagon in the distance: free. Visit Ford’s Theatre where President Abraham Lincoln was shot and the Petersen House across the street where he died: free. Journey to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights: free. Tour a 19th-century castle: free. Stroll the 163-acre National Zoo, home to 2,700 animals representing more than 390 species: free. And don’t forget the Library of Congress (the world’s largest book depository and the U.S.’s oldest federal cultural institution): free.

Washington DC-National Museum of Natural History - Photo Lisa Johnston

National Museum of Natural History – Photo Lisa Johnston

Washington is also home to the National Mall – a 6,500-acre greenspace honouring American forefathers and heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to the country. Popular sites include the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Stretching from the Capitol to the Potomac River, summer is a great time to visit with many festivals and concerts – all again free. Locals flock to the park-like setting in the evening hours for a game of softball or kickball, enjoying the ambience of the lit monuments and memorials in the darkening sky.

Washington DC-Lincoln Memorial lit up at night - Photo Lisa Johnston

Lincoln Memorial lit up at night – Photo Lisa Johnston

Travel across the bridge into Virginia to pay respects at Arlington National Cemetery – the country’s largest military burial ground that serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 active-duty service members, veterans and their families. Admission is free for those willing to walk the hilly 624 acres to visit John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington House and the Memorial Amphitheater. For those less mobile, tickets can be purchased for a hop-on/hop-off trolley.

Washington DC-Korean War Veterans Memorial - Photo Lisa Johnston

Korean War Veterans Memorial – Photo Lisa Johnston

Or head toward trendy Georgetown, bustling with shops, cafés and the venerable Georgetown University. Located just east of the Georgetown area is the upscale neighbourhood of Kalorama, where the Obamas now call home, and Embassy Row. The 70 embassies in the area open their doors on the first two Saturdays of May, allowing guests the opportunity to visit multiple countries in one day (they are deemed foreign soil). It is all part of Passport DC, featuring food, art, dance, fashion and the music of other countries. The cost: free.

Washington is a walkable city but also offers the Circulator transportation system in the downtown core for only $1. For further distances, the Metro is close by, costing between $2.25 to $6 a trip. There are also an abundance of affordable scooter and bike rentals on almost every corner.

Families can even take in a sporting event without spending a fortune. Line up for Nationals baseball tickets two hours before every game when 400 $5 tickets are released. The seats are high, but the experience is priceless.

Washington, D.C. makes for a great family trip at any time of the year. Full of sites, history, museums and monuments, this welcoming and clean city may be one of the best budget-friendly escapes in North America.

Washington DC-View From the Trump International Hotel Tower - Photo Lisa Johnston

View From the Trump International Hotel Tower – Photo Lisa Johnston

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Due to COVID-19, travelling is not what it used to be. It is advisable to adhere to physical distancing requirements, ensure frequent hand washing, and wear a mask indoors when maintaining distances is not possible. See www.travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories for more details.