Last updated on January 1st, 2020 at 04:28 am
Washington DC is one of the more expensive cities in the world in which to live, but that doesn’t mean it has to be over-the-top expensive to visit. In fact, it’s one of the most affordable cities for a family vacation thanks to so many activities and attractions that are either free or very affordable. Here are some tips to stretch your budget in the nation’s capital.
1. Stay Outside of the City Center
The biggest expense you’re likely to incur while in Washington DC is your hotel or other accommodations. Hotels in the city itself are quite expensive, even for budget options. Thanks to lots of tourists, business, and government work, there is always a high demand for hotel rooms. Instead of staying right in the city, stay in one of the suburbs. The great public transit system in the DC metro area means you can stay quite far away from the city and head in each day.
Many suburban hotels offer shuttle service to the local metro station for free. You’ll also find extended stay accommodations in the area. If you plan to visit for a week or more, this can be a great option. It can be cost effective and give you the added savings of having a kitchen to prepare some of your meals. On our recent visit, we found a great hotel in Arlington that provided a shuttle to the metro station. It was also near a shopping district with some good restaurants.
2. Free Museums and Attractions
There may be no other city in the world that has as many free museums and attractions as Washington DC. All of the Smithsonian museums, including the National Zoo, are free – all the time. You won’t be able to visit everything, so make a list of what you’d really like to see and plan accordingly. You also can visit the US Capitol for free. If you’d like a tour, get in touch with your Senator or Representative ahead of time to secure tickets.
These amazing museums and attractions are all free. Click below to learn more about each of these, and decide where you’d like to visit. On our family’s last visit, we didn’t have time to go to see very many of them, so we need to plan another trip soon.
See more of our Washington DC photos at this link (will open in a new window).
In addition to free museums, there are almost always events happening in Washington DC that are cheap or free. Follow Visit Washington DC on Facebook, or visit their website before you go to see the latest event listings.
3. Parks and Outdoor Activities
Even though Washington DC is an urban center, there are plenty of green spaces. Rock Creek Park is a great place to go for a hike near the Potomac River. You’ll also find dozens of other neighborhood parks that are great for letting kids run of steam. Maybe the most interesting park is near Washington Reagan airport. At Gravelley Point Park you can sit near the river and watch while planes take off and land, quite literally right above your head!
4. Public Transportation
Even if you drive to Washington DC, public transportation is your friend. There are trains and buses that run at all hours across the city and suburbs. It’s affordable, and you’ll never have to worry about parking. My kids loved riding the train, since this isn’t something we do at home. Take advantage of public transportation as much as possible to save yourself headaches! By the way, the workers at the information booths in the stations are extremely helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about tickets or which are the best stops for where you’re heading. One thing to note, rush hour in the mornings and evenings can mean extra full trains heading to and from the suburbs.
5. Food Options
There are plenty of fine dining options in DC, but there are just as many good food choices that are affordable. Thanks to its international nature, you’ll find every kind of ethnic food imaginable. Visit the hole-in-the-wall, mom and pop restaurants for delicious food at affordable prices. Visit a grocery store and pack a picnic a few days to save even more. And, another quick tip–I always check Groupon and Restaurant.com for restaurant deals before traveling. I use these offers at home, but they work just as well when you travel.
Finally, spring and summer are high season in DC. If you can, schedule your visit for fall or winter to take advantage of smaller crowds and lower prices. Don’t let the reputation of a high cost of living scare you away from visiting Washington DC – it’s much more affordable than you might think!
Have you taken a family vacation to Washington DC? What are your favorite tips for keeping it fun and affordable?