Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tips for budget sightseeing in Washington D.C.

Things to see in the Washington, DC area without breaking the bank...

Like most major cities, traveling to Washington, D.C. can typically can get very expensive if you don't watch your spending. However, when visiting the U.S. Capital, you don't have to necessarily break the bank to have a good time. There are many places, activities and events to enjoy in the district that can fit your budget. 

Many things to do are even free!

While accommodations may be pricey, you can scale back in spending by carefully planning your sightseeing. In and about Washington, D.C.
has some terrific sightseeing, and much of it won't even cost you a dime, except perhaps a few bucks to ride the Metro

Washington, D.C. proper

In Washington, D.C., you'll find all the famous monuments, Smithsonian Museums and much more. The most this will cost you is the time it takes to walk around and view the breathtaking scenery. You'll see history, both the past and the future, in the making.

The National Mall sits in the heart of the District. The monuments and memorials are one of the first things many tourists have on their lists of things to see and do. Entry to all of the monuments is free, including visiting the top of the Washington Monument. I'd advise you secure tickets early in the day as these have a tendency to go quickly. Even better, book online (there is a small fee).

Gazing at the Washington Monument's reflection in the Tidal Basin

Nestled within the National Mall are the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and the newer, built in 2004, WWII Memorial. Also relatively new is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. A lesser-known monument, the District of Columbia War Memorial (WWI) also sits within the confines of the Mall.

One of Washington's most prominent attractions is the amazing architecture of many historical buildings. The U.S. Capitol Building, the hub of U.S. government, offers free tours, and guaranteed passes can be approved in advance. Reservations can be made online, however these tickets are limited per day. The White House is another can't miss landmark; however admission to the free self-guided tour also requires pre-planning. The Old Post Office is another wonderful, and free, landmark. Free tours are offered to see the views from the tower.

View of the city from the Old Post Office Tower - very cool!!

One of D.C.'s largest tourist attractions are the Smithsonian Museums. There are 19 museums in downtown Washington, and most of them are located near the Capitol Building. Visitors can enjoy the wealth of information and spectacular exhibits showcased in these museums. 

Most of the museums are pretty close in proximity to one another. The most popular museums are the Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History and the Museum of Natural History. There are also many other less-known, but amazing, museums such as the Freer & Sackler Gallery, National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of African Art, and the National Portrait Gallery. The newest museum, the National Museum of African-American History, opened in 2016.

In the National Museum of Natural History you can get up close and personal with the butterflies in the Butterfly Pavilion (the museum is free, but there is a fee to go into the Pavilion - Tuesdays are free)
Not part of the Smithsonian network, but a popular museum is Ford's Theatre and the house where President Lincoln passed on (across the street). Tours of these landmarks are offered at no charge and run by the National Parks Service who provide an interesting narrative and history as a part of selected tours. Before planning a visit to Ford's, be sure and learn how ticketing works as this has changed in the last few years, it's harder to get a walk in visit than it used to be. Also it is still very much a working theatre, and tours are closed during show times. 

In addition to the formal tours, another way to explore the nation's capital city is to simply walk through the neighborhoods, such as historic Georgetown.

Across the Potomac in Northern Virginia

Many of the Metro region's attractions are located in nearby Northern Virginia which is literally across the Potomac and very close in proximity to Washington D.C. While there are many attractions which span west and south of the district, two close Northern Virginia cities are Alexandria and Arlington which both connect into the Metro system.

The historic city of Alexandria is amazing. While the city was officially founded in 1749, the story of this city goes back further. Visitors can learn about this history through the free and inexpensive tours and landmarks located throughout Old Town Alexandria.

Most places in the northeast tend to quip "George Washington slept here" as their claim to fame, and perhaps he really did. Alexandria, Va., however, is truly a place George Washington indeed frequented, owned property, dined, worshipped and did business.

Many of the museum and landmark tours cost between $2 and $5 each, if not free. Visitors can learn less frequently heard stories and history when visiting Carlyle House, Christ Church, Fort Ward, Gadsby's Tavern, Torpedo Factory, Old Presbyterian Meeting House, Lyceum, Friendship Firehouse, Freedom House Museum, and the amazing Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. These are only a handful of the affordable places that await in Alexandria.

Interior of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary - amazing!!

Arlington Cemetery, located across the Potomac from Washington D.C., is the hallowed ground where our brave heroes are buried. While visitors are welcomed, it is important to respect the fact funerals are taking place and people are visiting the graves of their loved ones. Visitors can view the Changing of the Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and visit Arlington House, the former home of General Robert E. Lee. The Arlington Cemetery's visitor website has a list of the places visitors can see when visiting the Cemetery.

Washington D.C. is considered an expensive city, however most of the expenses when visiting the region are related to accommodations and food. While it is true there are also expensive tours for other attractions, if you know where to look, sightseeing with self or (some) guided tours in the district area can be free or close to free. 

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