Washington, DC can be an expensive city to visit. However, your trip to the nation’s capital doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. There are many ways to save money, and many free resources to utilize. Here are some of our favorite budget travel tricks:
- Invest in a SmarTrip Metro Card – Using a SmarTrip (the plastic metro card) rather than a paper card saves guests $1 per metro ride. The card costs $10 to purchase, though $5 of that is add to your SmarTrip balance and is thus used toward impending rides. Assuming you plan to use the metro more than 5 times, this is a huge money saver as paper cards charge guests an additional $1 for every ride. SmarTrip cards are less likely to be lost, and can make for a nice souvenir if not saved for a future trip to DC.
- Explore the National Gallery of Art with a docent led tour – Though not a Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art is a fantastic art museum that is completely free of charge. Because of the breadth of work that is featured, the National Gallery of Art can be a bit overwhelming for some. Fortunately however, the museum offers free, docent led tours of different types of art throughout the day. Reservations are not required; guests must simply arrive at the start of the tour!
- Dine at the Department of Agriculture – Though the Smithsonian Institute is a fantastic free resource, the price of dining at any of the museums is out of budget for many visitors. The Department of Agriculture’s cafeteria is a nearby and much more affordable option for those looking to save a few bucks on lunch. The entrance to the cafeteria is on C St. SW, just off the corner of 12th Street. It is opened to the public Monday-Friday for lunch, and all that is required is that adults present a form of ID upon entering.
- Take a “name your own price” walking tour of Arlington National Cemetery – No trip to DC is complete without a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. If the tram is out of your budget, consider taking a walking tour of the hallowed grounds. DC By Foot offers a number of “name your own price” walking tours around the city, and guests are only asked to tip what they thought the tour was worth.
- Utilize Capital Bikeshare – With over 200 stands around the city, this is an affordable (and super convenient!) way to get around the city. Visitors can choose between 1 ($7) or 3 day ($15) membership. Just be careful to note that those memberships do not mean that you have access to one bike for that entire time. Guests are expected to drop their bike at a station within 30 minutes of removing it in order to avoid additional fees. However, every time a guest picks up a new bike, their time restarts. Because DC is so small and there are so many stations around the city, it is very easy to avoid the additional fees!
- See a free film on the National Mall – If you are visiting DC during the summer months, consider going to Screen on the Green. Throughout the season, a number of films are shown on the National Mall for free. For a full list of the films and a calendar of when they will be featured, check out Screen on the Green’s website.
- Take advantage of DC’s immense selection of free museums – DC is famed for its huge variety of free museums. All of the Smithsonian museums — including the National Zoo — are free of charge, and 10 of those are located directly on the National Mall. Though not museums, the National Archives and Library of Congress are also free to the public and well worth a visit. Other free museums include the National Gallery of Art, African American Civil War Museum, Anacostia Community Museum, DAR Museum, Ford’s Theater and Peterson Boarding House, and the Holocaust Museum.