Things to do for free in Washington, DC

Discover where to go for gratis in the nation’s capital

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National Archives

The vast collection of the National Archive & Record Administration (NARA) represents the physical record of the birth and growth of a nation in original documents, maps, photos, recordings, films and a miscellany of objects. The catalogue resonates with national iconography and historical gravitas (and pathos), and includes the Louisiana Purchase, maps of Lewis and Clark’s explorations, the

National Zoological Park

The free-admission National Zoo offers a diverting escape. Particularly during the off-season, when the paths are not cluttered by pushchairs, the zoo offers a perfect (albeit hilly) stroll, away from the bustle of Connecticut Avenue. Tree-shaded paths wind through the margins past the various animals. The stars are two pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, brought on ten-year loan from China in 2001;

Arlington National Cemetery

It is the right of anyone killed in action in any branch of military service, or who served for 20 years, to be buried at Arlington, along with their spouse. It’s ironic, then, that the cemetery started almost as an act of Civil War vengeance: in 1861 Union forces seized the estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and in 1864 they began burying soldiers close enough to Arlington House to

United States Botanic Garden

In 1842, the Navy’s Wilkes Expedition returned from exploring Fiji and South America, showering Congress with a cornucopia of exotic flora. The present conservatory was erected in 1930 and recently modernized with state-of-the-art climate controls and a coconut-level catwalk around the central rainforest. The conservatory displays 4,000 plants, including endangered species. Themed displays

Kennedy Center

Festooned with decorative gifts from many nations and some wonderful 20th-century works of art, "Ken Cen" is as much a spectacle as the shows it presents, with its flag-filled Hall of States and Hall of Nations, six theaters and concert halls, three rooftop restaurants and great views from the open-air terrace. Free concerts (6pm daily) liven up the Millennium Stage, and there are free 45-minute

Torpedo Factory Art Center

Originally a World War I munitions plant, the Torpedo Factory now spawns arts rather than arms, with three stories containing 82 studios, six galleries—among them spaces dedicated to enameling, ceramics and photography—and two workshops, one devoted to fiberwork, the other to printmaking. Also on site is the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.

Library of Congress

The national library of the US, the Library of Congress is the world’s largest. Its three buildings hold some 100 million items—including the papers of 23 US presidents—along 535 miles of bookshelves. Contrary to popular notion, the library does not have a copy of every book ever printed, but its heaving shelves are still spectacular. To get to grips with the place, it’s best to start

Supreme Court

The ultimate judicial and constitutional authority, the United States Supreme Court pays homage in its architecture to the rule of law. Justices are appointed for life, and their temple reflects their eminence. Designed by Cass Gilbert in the 1930s, its classical façade incorporates Corinthian columns supporting a pediment decorated with bas-reliefs representing Liberty, Law, Order and a crew of

  1. 1st Street & Maryland Avenue, NW
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