5 Awesome Free Things to do In DC

whitaker_alexis_jeffmem_S14by Alexis Whitaker, CAPPP Ambassador

Washington, DC is a truly unique city, full of history, art, and culture that can’t be found anywhere else.

Making the most of your time in the capital on a college budget can seem like a daunting task but truthfully the options are endless.

There are so many cheap and free activities in DC that you’ll have no trouble filling up each of your ten weekends during the UCLA CAPPP Quarter in Washington Program.

  1. The Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo
UCLA students at the National Air and Space Musem
UCLA students at the National Air and Space Musem

Natural History, Air and Space, American History—you name it! The Smithsonian Institution has 17 outstanding museums in Washington, DC. All of them are free, and they are both educational as well as beautiful.

One of the National Zoo’s red pandas

Whether you’re interested in art, science, culture, or the humanities, there is a museum with something for you. For more information, visit their website.

The National Zoo is one Smithsonian institution you should not miss!

Check out some of the animal cams that show off some of the most popular exhibits at the national zoo.

Some of my must-see animals were the giant pandas, red pandas, and komodo dragons.

  1. National Monuments
UCLA students at the Lincoln Memorial

National monuments are one of the many ways to soak up our nation’s history while in the capital.

From the UC Washington Center many monuments are within walking distance, including the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. The top of the 500-foot Washington Monument has one of the city’s best views; advance tickets are required.

The Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin and Martin Luther King Jr Memorial are excellent if you’re willing to make it a longer walk or if you are a runner. There are both bike tours and guided walking tours hosted frequently by the National Park Service.

There’s even an NPS National Mall app packed with info, including maps and walking directions for 70 sites.

3. Tour the US Capitol

A UCLA student intern at the Capitol Building

Outstanding architecture, rich history, and historic artwork are everywhere on Capitol Hill.

While some of you may be interning on the Hill and have had enough hallowed halls to last a lifetime, everyone should tour the US Capitol building at some point during their time in DC. Not only can you see Congress in action, but the building itself is a work of art.

A spacious and beautiful Visitors’ Center opened in 2008 beneath the Capitol where you can learn more about its history and art while waiting for your tour of the actual building to begin.

While tours are free, they do require tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Better yet, ask a friend who interns on the hill give you a tour.

  1. Rock Creek Park

Nestled between the Potomac River and the Maryland border, Rock Creek Park offers a retreat from the constant action of the city. The beautiful area offers everything from hiking and fishing, to tennis and ranger programs. While the national park is a bit far from UCDC it is accessible by public transportation, and with a few friends joining in, and Uber or Lyft would be college budget-friendly.

Stone bridge in Rock Creek Park (photo credit: Patricia Highsmith)
Stone bridge in Rock Creek Park (photo credit: Patricia Highsmith)

5. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is renowned for the outstanding musical talent that it attracts and is the premier performance venue in Washington, DC. The Millennial Stage in the Grand Foyer at the center hosts free concerts every night at 6 pm, including performances by dance troupes, poetry, jazz musicians, and the National Symphony Orchestra.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

The spot is definitely worthwhile for anyone interested in arts and culture in the capital. There is a free shuttle to the Kennedy Center leaves from the Foggy Bottom/George Washington University Metro Station.