Lifelong Vagabonds Home Banner

A Free Day Out in Washington D.C.

12 June 2016 | Mri Grout

America's capital is a world famous holiday destination and its pricey streets, fancy buildings, and historical and current political significance gives it an aurora of high-class expense. But if you travel there on a weekend during the fall or winter then the price of visiting drops dramatically (if only because you can find free parking) and you can actually experience more of the city (due to not wasting precious time fighting the crushing crowds of summer).

We visited over Halloween weekend in 2015 and after spending nearly a week there, we compiled this awesome and free one-day itinerary for Washington DC:

10.00 - Smithsonian Zoo

spoonbill | bird house in Smithsonian Zoo asian elephant | Smithsonian Zoo sun bears fighting | Smithsonian Zoo
Bird HouseElephant HouseSun Bears

Limited free street parking can be found on Conneticut Avenue, right beside the Smithsonian zoo, on the weekends. Given it was the off season (end of October), we found plenty of spots to choose from that offered two hours of free parking - though we still personally opted for the ridiculous $22/day parking so we could spend the whole day there (if you haven't guessed by now I am an animal fanatic). There is normally a feeding/talk program going on every day that lasts from 10.00-14.00, but every staff member there is seemingly full of information and excited to answer all of your questions and then some. (:

Must Sees: Bird House (free-range exotic birds, tanks full of beautiful rays, giant fish, and other marine life, and weird looking plants), Asian Elephants House (cool educational displays, funny stories (like the elephant that learned to play music!), and of course, elephants), and the sun bears (they're bears with awesome looking chests. They're also quite active - at least when we were there).

12.30 - Park at Jeffersonian Memorial

In the summer, this place is supposedly packed as soon as the sun comes up, but in the off season (even over Halloween weekend), there were tons of free spots left in this carpark all day long. It's located 15 minutes drive south of Smithsonian Zoo and a convenient thirty minute walk to the main Smithsonian musuem areas (eating while walking convenient I mean :P - though if you want to stop for a picnic, there are plenty of lovely parks nearby to do so).

13.00 - Smithsonian Museum(s)

Triceritops skeleton in the National History SmithsonianThe Museum of National History alone will take you more than a day to thoroughly see every exhibit - a trait that is easily shared by a number of the ten other Smithsonians in the area depending on where your interests lie. Every single one of these offers free entry until 17.30 (with a few extending to 19.30 over the summer), but they aren't the only game around by far. There are also a handful of free galleries and non-Smithsonian museums that are just begging to be entered, with my personal favourite of these being the Holocaust Museum.

Must Sees: Forces of Flight in the Air & Space Museum (hand on displays that seemed to be sheer magic until you discovered the forces behind the outcome; then they were just magical :P) and the Blue Zone (mammal skeletons and stuffed (or pretend-stuffed) versions, dinosaurs!, and stunning photography that centers around the green earth and its inhabitats) and Green Zone (beautiful minerals and gem jewelry, and a section of creepy crawlers) at the Natural History Museum.

18.00 - Washington DC's Monuments

lincoln memorialBy visiting the monuments and memorials at night you get to 1. see America's capital in a way that fewer people do, and 2. escape the crowds of the day (though there's not a big one in, the heat? lols). A number of these free attractions (if not all) are open to the public until 22.00 and lit up at night so it's not a hassle to see them after the sun sets and everything else closes. Plus, you parked your car at one of them so it's an obvious and fantastic way to finish the loop, going from the Smithsonians to the Library of Congress, White House*, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and back to Jefferson Memorial

Must Sees: Lincoln Memorial (it's Lincoln) and the White House (because it's suprisingly not very white; lols)

*For those that want to visit the White House: You must submit a request a minimum of 21 days before your planned visit at either your home country's embassy (not sure if it has to be the one in DC) if you're a foreigner, or through your member of Congress if you're a native, and then they give you a time and a date for your free tour. Depending on when that time is will obviously effect this itinerary, but with luck you'll get the 7.30 spot and not have to change much (or anything at all!

There is also free parking available over the weekends at a number of metro stations outside of Washington D.C. You might even be able to stealth camp in some, but I'm not sure if they have any guards or if you get locked in over night. But if it is possible, then I would definitely suggest spending another day in America's capital because though you may have experienced a lot, you definitely haven't seen everything yet.

How would you spend only one day in Washington DC? We'd love to hear how in the comments below!