Last updated on November 20th, 2022 at 10:00 pm
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.
You can visit Washington DC on a budget. Keep reading for all our best tips.
How to Visit Washington DC on a Budget
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 rooms.
So, 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 without a lot of trouble.
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.
You can also check out VRBO to compare the cost of a short-term home or apartment rental versus a hotel.
How do you decide where to stay? Check out a DC metro map, and look for hotels in the different cities the metro services. (Then check out hotel deals.)
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 in one visit, 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 them, 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 want to plan another trip soon.
Washington DC Free Attractions
- National Museum of American History
- National Museum of African American History & Culture
- Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
- Lincoln Memorial
- National Museum of the American Indian
- National Museum of Natural History
- Smithsonian’s National Zoo
- National Gallery of Art
- National Air & Space Museum
- U.S. Botanic Garden
- National Building Museum
- U.S. Bureau of Engraving & Printing
- World War II Memorial
- Korean War Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Jefferson Memorial
- U.S. Capital Building
- The White House
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Arlington National Cemetery
Yes, these are Dorothy’s famous “ruby slippers” from the Wizard of Oz!
We saw many of the memorials at night, and they were illuminated beautifully. This is part of the Korean War Memorial.
The White House was beautiful at night too.
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 off some energy.
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.
6. Time Your Visit
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 on hotel rooms or VRBO rentals.
The bottom line? Visit Washington DC! It has so much to offer. Don’t let the reputation of a high cost of living scare you away – it’s much more affordable than you might think.
Have you taken a family vacation to DC? What are your favorite tips for keeping it fun and affordable? We’d love to read your comments.
And, check out more photos from our short, but very worthwhile trip!
10 Unique & Memorable Souvenir Ideas for Your Next Vacation
Looking for Road Trip Activities for Kids? Pick up These Free Printable Travel Games
thank you so much for sharing this blog with us.
The article you have shared here very good. This is really interesting information for me. Thanks for sharing!
I loved DC and I can’t wait to go back one day. Bring comfortable shoes!
I got to live in DC for 3 months for work. We worked from 5pm-midnight so our days were free to explore. So much to see and do.
Mary Beth Elderton
OMGoodness–I pinned this! I have never visited DC, but Hubz and I were just talking about making the trip for one of next year’s vacations…maybe take a train from here in St Louis. Thank You! Whatever we do will need to be fun on a budget.
Looks like lots of fun things to do there!
This is a great list of things to do! That sure saves a lot of time when planning what your going to do on a trip to Washing D.C. The affordability of these options is also very nice. Thank you for sharing!
OMG I love this I pinned it and I am going to save it for later.
Wow! I want to see the Rudy Slippers! I thought DC was just the Washington Monument and the White House-I had no idea there were so many more FREE attractions. That’s awesome!
Thankfully, the key attractions that bring families to the DC area are free. Like you said, once you find an inexpensive hotel, the rest is a breeze.
I have visited Washington D.C three times and I love these tips !! We always take the metro and we save loads a money and its so nice in D.C put our NYC subways to shame
I know I need to make it back to the east coast with my daughter sometime. It was one of the most amazing trips of my life. And I love all things history. Such an incredible experience. And thanks for all the great information here.
These are some great money saving tips. I’ve never been to Washington, but it’s absolutely on my bucket list. Will also be very educational for my son. Will keep your tips in mind for when we visit.
This makes me want to visit DC again! So many amazing free museums, it would be hard to see them all even if you lived there. Definitely adding some to my list that you shared in this post.
Will definitely keep this in mind whenever I visit.
These are all great tips! Next time we visit DC I want to try these.
Very informative piece that can help maximize one’s income while in Washington DC. Thanks for the info.
I will prefer your tips whenever i visit Washington DC..:)
On women mind
Great tips for traveling on budget. especially when traveling with kids and we are really tight on budget. I use group on offers sometimes and try to look for free kids activities when traveling.
Although both of my daughters had the fabulous opportunity of traveling from California to Washington via school field trips, this location is still on my own personal wishlist! Thank you so much for this wonderful list of FREE attractions in Washington. It makes trip planning so much easier!
I have never been to Washington DC but hope to get there someday. I love finding free places to visit with my family
corinne & kirsty
I would love to visit Washington! I heard so many good things about the city! I’d spend my time in museums coz I loooove museums! xx corinne
These are some great pointers for travelling on a budget. Taking the hotel’s shuttle service is the best way to reach the city centre. I believe in a lot of outdoorsy activities too, including chilling by the river or lake and spending an evening at the park. It’s so refreshing.