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Things To Do

D.C. is full of free things to do beyond the Smithsonian museums.  The Smithsonian has created an atmosphere that fosters easy -often free- access to cultural activities.  If you are looking for something to do in D.C. and you do not want to spend a bunch of money, here are some ideas.

If the weather is nice you should enjoy the variety of activities outside.  There are precious few days in D.C. that are the perfect temperature for outdoor activities and you should enjoy them.  Rock Creek Park is gorgeous and full of trails to hike. You can feel like you are miles outside the city without ever leaving the Beltway.  The Park is scattered throughout the city, but the largest tracts of land are in Northwest between Connecticut Avenue and Sixteenth Street. Another great option to get out of the house is to check out the National Arboretum.  If you go check out the Arboretum you should find the original columns from the U.S. Capitol.  

Another beloved outdoor activity is strolling through the farmers markets throughout the city on weekends.  The largest, and most popular, of these is Eastern Market.  It is located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, right beside the Eastern Market Metro Station.  Eastern Market is open six days a week, Tuesday thru Sunday. On Saturday and Sunday the shops spill out of  the market and into the street. Local farmers sell their harvest and local artists have booths to sell their crafts.  The farmers market in DuPont Circle is another large market that is easily accessible via Metro.  This market is only open on Sunday. The times change during the year, so check their website before heading over.

Theater can be a very expensive outing, but the Kennedy Center offers free performances on their Millennium Stage.  The show is nightly at start at 6:00 PM.  Some of the shows are plays and some are musical performances. Check out the website for to learn about upcoming performances.  It is recommend to get there early as it is a free show and there is limited seating.

During the warm weather months, generally starting around June, the outdoor movie series starts.  Almost every night of the week there is a free movie playing somewhere in the city.  There is a wide variety of movies from classics to new releases that play. Find a movie you want or just see whatever is playing in your neighborhood.  

If you are feeling like being a classic D.C. tourist, but want to up your game a little, The National Parks Service offers free tours around most of the most popular attractions. Some of the tours have a theme and are more than just walking around the monuments.  For more information about upcoming tours, visit the National Park Service website.  A lot of D.C.’s neighborhoods have self walking tours as part of the Neighborhood Heritage Trails.  It is a great way to find hidden gems, tucked away from the heavily trafficked tourist destinations.  

Check out your local gym to see if they offer a free introductory trial.  Almost every gym in D.C. has some kind of free or reduced rate for your first class, if not your first week.  Try out a new workout and see if it is for you. Most of the gyms will have details about their introductory offers on their website or stop in and talk to someone.  This is a great option for locals and tourists alike.

Deciding what to do for a date can be a daunting task if you want to do something different.  Below are five ideas -plus one bonus idea- to make planning a date night a little easier.

  1. Go on a traditional date to the movies.  There are plenty of theaters around D.C., but The Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema is special.  It is different from other theaters because it allows you to enjoy more than popcorn and Coke while you watch your movie in luxury seating. Order a salad, or chicken wings instead of, or in addition to, your ordinary theater food. Seasonal twist: During the warm weather months there are outdoor movie screenings around the city. Find one near you and pack a picnic.  Either of these options are a fun take on the traditional movie date.
  2. Go out to a theatrical play.  Tickets to plays can be expensive, but the Kennedy Center does free performances on the Millennium Stage everyday at 6:00 PM.  Since the performances are free there is no guaranteed seating so get there a little early.  If the showings on Millennium Stage are not appealing, download the TodayTix app.  This app offers deals on local shows in the area, and chances to win free tickets to performances.  
  3. D.C. has a lot of sports teams and so there is always a sport in season in the District. Tickets are available from the ticket office or from online vendors.
  4. For a romantic date, go to the back of Lincoln Memorial and watch the sunset over Arlington Cemetery and the river. Afterward, walk around the mall and see the monuments at night.  The mall is less crowded after the sun goes down and starts to serene. The monuments at night are beautiful so you will probably want to have your camera ready, and your phone storage clear for this date.  
  5. For a low key date, go do some people watching at Meridian Hill Park.  Pack a blanket, a picnic, and some outdoor games to make it a fun afternoon.  On Sunday evenings there is a drum circle in the park so this is the perfect time to go. Yoga groups often meet to practice in the outdoors and there are always people walking, or playing with, their dogs in the park.  
  6. Bonus seasonal date idea: During the winter there are ice skating rinks at the Kennedy Center, in Georgetown, and the National Gallery of Art. Grab some hot chocolate (or your hot beverage of choice) and whirl around the rink.  

Any of these dates can be as expensive as you choose. At the ballgame, food and drinks are usually the most expensive portions of the evening. Mitigate this expense by grabbing some food before you get to the game.  For ticket deals and promotions, checkout sites like Groupon or LivingSocial.  These sites often have deals that include merchandise or concessions with the ticket.If you want to add something to the monuments at night, check out the rooftop at the W Hotel or the Watergate. From these vantage points you will get unparalleled views of the city.  Google “yoga in Meridian Hill Park” to see if any of the studios are offering a class. Generally, the studios offer class in the warm months.

There are plenty of family friendly, and kid-centric, activities in D.C.  Here are some ideas for a family friendly day.

  1. The National Zoo is free, easily accessible by Metro, and a favorite among kids and adults.  If you are going to the zoo by Metro, get off at Cleveland Park instead of Woodley Park – Zoo/Adams Morgan.  The Zoo is exactly between the two Metro Stations, but it is downhill from Cleveland Park and uphill from Woodley Park.  Get off at Cleveland Park and walk downhill to the zoo. When you leave the zoo, walk downhill to Woodley Park.
  2. All the Smithsonian Museums have exhibits that are tailored to kids.  Not only are the permanent exhibits curated with kids in mind, there are special exhibits that are specifically for kids.  These generally have a hands on component or demonstrations from a Smithsonian employee. If you decide to go to one of the museums on the mall, stop for a ride on the carousel by the Smithsonian Castle.  
  3. The paddle boats at the Tidal Basin are a fun activity.  The views of the Jefferson Memorial are the best from the Tidal Basin and it is fun to be out on the water.  There are machines on the dock where you can buy fish food and there is not a shortage of wildlife to eat it.  Fish, ducks, geese, and even the occasional swan are not out of place visitors around the boat dock.
  4. The National Cathedral is home to a lot more than buttresses and vaulted ceilings.  It is the home of the “moon window” so named because it houses a piece of moon rock brought back by the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.  To continue with the space theme, one of the gargoyles might look very familiar, if you have seen Star Wars. Do not miss the gargoyle Darth Vader on your trip to the cathedral.
  5. Even though it is not in D.C., Gravelly Point, in Arlington Virginia is a great place to take kids.  This park is located close to Reagan National Airport and the planes landing and taking off at the airport fly directly over the park. Bring some snacks, a blanket, and sit back and watch.

A lot of places in D.C. do special events for kids.  For instance, the Zoo has a trick or treating night, an Easter egg hunt, and during December it is open late and for Zoo lights.  There is also trick or treating at the embassies on, or near, Halloween and the Easter Egg roll at the White House. Check the attraction’s website to see if something is going on while you are in town.