Looking for the best free things to do in DC? How about a day spent at the most well regarded Washington, DC parks? Grab a to-go meal at one of the best restaurants in DC, pick up an iced latte at one of the best coffee shops in Washington, DC and spend your day relaxing, picnicking and getting some sun on lush green spaces. Whether solo or with kids, you’ll be sure to have an amazing time outdoors while enjoying some beautiful weather.
The best parks in Washington, DC
When it comes to things to do and places to see, no other DC park comes close to the National Mall. Nestled in the heart of the city, the national park is a true celebration of our nation’s history encompassing over 1,000 acres of lush green space, several world-class museums, and DC’s most iconic national memorials including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial. It’s no wonder the park is nicknamed “America’s front yard.”
Rock Creek Park is a big, beautiful oasis within the city. It’s easy to see why this U.S. National Park is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. It truly has something for everyone. Intrepid hikers can wander through the park’s 32 miles of trails. History buffs can explore the 1820s-built Pierce Mill. Equestrians can go on scenic rides. Water-loving adventurers can kayak. Sports enthusiasts can play a round of tennis or golf, and those who just want to chill can set up a nice picnic. Whatever you do, don’t leave without paying a visit to the Nature Center where you can view exhibits of the park’s flora and wildlife and watch a starry show inside the planetarium.
When you want to get away from the city, check out Theodore Roosevelt Island. The woodsy island in the Potomac River is a living memorial to President Roosevelt and his legacy of conservation. If you share Roosevelt’s love for the great outdoors, you’ll really enjoy the wildlife viewing, miles of hiking trails and canoeing the island has to offer. Situated at the center of the island, you'll also find a statue of Roosevelt himself.
This 446-acre nature haven is what dreams are made of. No matter what time of year you visit, the United States National Arboretum is downright gorgeous. In the warmer months, see the glorious azaleas in full bloom and during the winter you'll be in awe at the sight of the majestic former U.S. Capitol Building columns covered in snow. Whatever the season, check out the 115,000-gallon reflecting pool filled with aquatic plants and colorful Japanese koi fish. Literally stop and smell the roses as you stroll through the fragrant rose garden and don’t leave without visiting the beautifully designed herb garden.
Yes, the White House is actually situated on its own national park. Open year round, President's Park also encompasses the White House Visitor Center, which features artifacts from the White House Collection, as well as the seven-acre public park in front of the President’s home known as Lafayette Square. The perfect place to snap a picture of the White House, Lafayette Square also features statues of foreign revolutionary war heroes and one of President Andrew Jackson.
Springtime visitors of West Potomac Park are treated to quite a spectacular display of beauty as the famed cherry blossom trees that line the iconic Tidal Basin reach peak bloom. Photo ops are abundant. The park is also the epicenter of DC’s annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, which welcomes the arrival of spring while celebrating American and Japanese cultures.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park is definitely one DC park you don’t want to miss. The national park stretches over 184.5 miles along the Potomac River and offers visitors so much to see and do. Originally used to transport goods, the historic canal is now its own veritable attraction. Experience a different type of transportation on a mule-drawn boat ride on a replica canal boat. The park also boasts campsites for those who want to stay for a bit longer.
Although the Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens are beautiful year-round, the national park shines the brightest during the summer when the water lilies and lotus flowers are in full bloom—transforming it into a magical oasis of color for the annual Lotus and Lily Festival. The best ways to take in the beauty of the wetlands are through ranger-led nature walks and bird watching sessions.
Constitution Gardens is a 50-acre park that serves as a living legacy tribute to the Constitution. Come here and take a stroll around the lake, snap pictures of the wildlife that call the park home, and take a bridge to Signers Island to see the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial.
Capitol Hill Parks
Spend an afternoon exploring the many parks of Capitol Hill including Folger, Stanton, Marion and Lincoln Park. The latter in particular is definitely worth a visit. Lincoln Park was erected 11 years after the death of President Abraham Lincoln and features an Emancipation Proclamation statue of our 16th president as well as a statue of civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, be sure to stop by the historic Eastern Market to stock up on delicious farm-fresh fare. 1318 Vermont Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 202-673-2402Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/yeowatzup
Nestled within Rock Creek Park, Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, deserves a spot on the list for good reason: the space is rich with history. The park began as a mansion, which President John Quincy Adams called home in 1829 after his term at the White House. The space was later used as a camp for union troops during the Civil War before it was transformed into the picturesque Italian-inspired garden that it is today. The green space features a downright stunning thirteen basin cascading fountain (the longest in North America!), a James Buchanan Memorial and statues of Joan of Arc and Dante. For the best Meridian Hill experience, stop by on a Sunday afternoon to see the weekly drum circle.
The next time you’re craving a quick escape, head to Montrose Park. The tranquil 16-acre hidden gem is far removed from all the hustle and bustle of the city. As soon as you arrive, you’ll feel transported back to the 18th century. The park originally was the sprawling personal estate of rope-making magnate Richard Parrott before it was transformed into a public park in 1911. Many of the space’s original design elements, such as the tree-lined ropewalk made for manufacturing rope, still remain today.