- There’s a free performance at the Kennedy Center every day at 6 pm.
The Millennium Stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts features music, dance, theater, international, and children’s programs. Take the free shuttle from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop.
- You can watch the Supreme Court argue.
Oral arguments are open to the public, on a first-come first-served basis, and they’re free to attend. Just arrive early enough (and make sure the Court is in session).
- You can get inside the Pentagon.
There are 60-minute tours that take you on a 1.49-mile walk through this architecturally fascinating building. Advance reservations are essential and must be made at least two weeks ahead.
- It’s not just museum entry that’s free.
Smithsonian museums are not only free to visit but also offer free tours, films, workshops, lectures, performances….Even some of their gift shops are tax-free.
- The memorials on the Mall are not only free, they’re open 24 hours a day.
Nighttime is when they’re beautifully lit and, minus the daytime crowds, especially poignant. When you’re the only person at a moonlit Lincoln Memorial, you’ll never forget it.
- Fly into Reagan National Airport (DCA) if you can.
Compared to Dulles (IAD) or Baltimore-Washington (BWI), it’s much more convenient—just three miles from downtown and connected by Metro.
- On Metro escalators, stand on the right, walk on the left.
Don’t get mowed down—or at least snarled at—by angry commuters.
- One of the best ways to see D.C. is on a bike.
The terrain is flat (except for Capitol Hill), the grid pattern is easy to navigate, and there are beautiful parks with trails. Rent a bike on your own or join a tour. There are even nighttime bike tours for the best views of the aforementioned moonlit memorials.
- Embassies are worth visiting, even if you’re not a foreign citizen.
There are 177 international embassies in D.C, and many of them host concerts, exhibitions, and other cultural events. The Embassy Series, for example, highlights music and cultures from around the world.
- There’s a site that forecasts the peak cherry-blossom bloom date.
The Cherry Blossom Festival lasts a whole month, but the peak bloom period lasts only a few days. It’s weather-dependent and varies from year to year. Since it’s almost impossible to forecast the peak bloom date more than 10 days in advance, it might not even happen during the Festival. Check the forecast.
- You can see the cherry blossoms by boat.
Hundreds of cherry trees line the Tidal Basin, yet most people never think to see them from the water. Take a cruise of the Tidal Basin or rent a paddle boat.
- You can see a changing of the guard.
In case you thought guard-changing ceremonies are for European palaces only, there’s a changing-of-the-guard ritual at Arlington National Cemetery. It happens every hour on the hour from October through March and every half hour from April through September.
- You can see a giant assortment of miniature trees.
The National Arboretum has an awe-inspiring collection of Japanese bonsai and Chinese penjing masterpieces—and, again, it’s free.
- There’s a Little Ethiopia.
Many cities have a Little Italy or a Chinatown, but not many have a Little Ethiopia. In the heart of it at Dukem, in addition to the forkless dinner (use your fingers and spongy bread to scoop up lamb stew), there’s free jazz on Thursday nights.
- Arrive at Union Station hungry.
Taking the train? There’s a Shake Shack in Union Station—the 1907 landmark— that, miraculously enough, usually has no line. Bonus: You can eat your ShackBurger at café tables in the magnificent West Hall itself.