Budget Friendly Washington, D.C.

AAA/Sherry Mims
By AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
September 05, 2018
If you’re looking for cheap things to do, then consider booking a trip during an off-peak time in Washington, D.C. The destination features many free museums and other inexpensive things to see.
Capitol Hill Hotel in Washington DC
Courtesy of Capitol Hill Hotel
Capitol Hill Hotel
200 C St. S.E.
AAA Inspector Rating
(202) 543-6000
This boutique hotel in Washington, D.C., is the place to stay by the United States Capitol. Not only is it convenient but also offers perks, such as a complimentary breakfast and a wine hour in the library. (Many rooms also offer kitchenettes, a bonus if you plan to travel with kids.) To save money during your stay in Washington, travel in August, a slow time in the capital city.
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Mitchell Park, near Embassy Row and the Spanish Steps
AAA/Sherry Mims
Mitchell Park
1801 23rd St. N.W.
This beautiful park, though slightly off the beaten path, offers lots to love since it’s a dog-friendly park with sports courts and a playground for kids. If you’re looking for things to do in the summer in Washington, D.C., watch a free movie with Mitchell Park Films in the Field. (On the way there, you’ll want to visit the cultural landmarks in Embassy Row and take pictures of the Spanish Steps and its historic fountain.)
The National Air and Space Museum, off the National Mall, offers the opportunity to see more than 60,000 "air and space" objects.
AAA/Sherry Mims
National Air and Space Museum
6th St. & Independence Ave. S.W.
(202) 633-1000
With real planes and rockets, it’s no wonder this is the Smithsonian’s most visited museum. There are more than 60,000 “air and space” objects at the attraction and even simulators (for an extra fee), where kids can experience what flight would feel like. Things to see include the kid-friendly “How Things Fly” gallery as well as the original Wright Brothers’ Wright Flyer, which flew for the first time in Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903.
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alexander calder sculpture in outdoor exhibit
AAA/Photo submitted by Brooke Holt
National Gallery of Art
4th St. & Constitution Ave. N.W.
(202) 737-4215
Keep your Friday evening open as this Smithsonian museum provides one of the best things to do in D.C. at night (weather permitting); nearly 2 million people have enjoyed this summer concert series since the collaboration with D.C. Jazz Festival began. Each Friday, visitors are welcomed among the works at the Sculpture Garden to hear a variety of jazz—blues, Dixieland, Latin and swing to name a few.
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The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, featuring his statue and memorable quotes, can be found along the National Mall.
AAA/Sherry Mims
National Mall
3rd to 23rd sts. N.W. between Constitution and Independence aves
(202) 426-6841
Visiting the monuments and museums along this impressive stretch of open space is among the most meaningful things to do in Washington, D.C. You may even find free events in summer, such as a performance by the United States Marine Band at the Lincoln Memorial; check the band’s calendar for precise dates. Highlights include the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and World War II Memorial.
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The National Museum of African American History & Culture, circa 2016, is the newest museum operated by the Smithsonian.
AAA/Sherry Mims
National Museum of African American History & Culture
1400 Constitution Ave. N.W.
(202) 633-1000
Opened in 2016, the newest Smithsonian museum features some 37,000 objects relating to the African-American experience. These include items from a sunken slave ship, manacles from the 19th century, a segregated water fountain and Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves. To see the popular museum, request the free timed passes before you travel, though it’s possible to visit with “walk-up weekdays” in September or other specially announced dates if you time it right.
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The United States Capitol is the supreme legislative body, where the Senate and House of Representatives reside. The Capitol Visitor Center is where tours start; make reservations in advance with your senator, representative or embassy.
AAA/Sherry Mims
United States Capitol
1st St. & Independence Ave. S.W.
(202) 226-8000
Starting with an opening film about the United States, a guided tour takes visitors through the historic structure, including the rotunda and its well-known artwork. After the tour, continue your education at Exhibition Hall, which features several models of the U.S. Capitol. Then use the tunnel to visit the nearby Library of Congress—without having to step outside. The free tour can be booked through your legislator’s office up to 90 days in advance, though sometimes you can check with the information desk about availability. (There are a number of prohibitions, such as liquids, so check what to do in advance.)
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The White House, the home and office of the president, is at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
AAA/Sherry Mims
White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
(202) 456-7041
This historic landmark is where to go in Washington, D.C. You’ll often see a crowd in front snapping pictures, but a tour will get you special access to the East Wing, including the Blue Room, and a view of the White House rose garden. Like the United States Capitol, tours must be requested through a member of Congress (or your embassy if you’re not a citizen of the United States) at least 21 days ahead of time; restrictions on what to bring also apply.
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