DC’s weather in December is certainly not the best, so why would I leave the beaches of Mexico´s Pacific coast to visit Washington DC in a day? The answer is very simple: a job interview. But as in any interview, part of it involves knowing the area and its surroundings, and thus Liza and I set ourselves on visiting Washington DC in a day. And the best part of it was that, surprisingly, there are enough free things to do to keep you busy the better part of a day.
Unlike the rest of the states in the US, Washington is not part of any state but part of the special district of Columbia.I learned that the reason for this is that Article 1 of the US Constitution states that the national capital has to be located in a federal district and not a state. It is here that all three branches of the federal government are, and hence most of the tourist attractions are politically related.
We left the hotel in Leesburg and swiftly made our way to DC thanks to the GPS- it was the first time I ever used one of these (this might surprise you!), and boy are they helpful. I am pretty good with maps as long as they are good, but having a machine tell you where you are at and where you have to go with plenty of time in advance sure makes things much easier. The funny thing was that the GPS would not register important tourist locations, and we had to actually Google the address of the Lincoln Memorial, our first stop knowing from the movies that it is free to visit.
The next step in our quest of visiting Washington DC in a day at zero cost involved finding a free place to park, and being in the US this would not be easy. But alas, luck was with us this time because most of the sidewalks around the West Potomac Park (the one where Forrest Gump made his famous speech) have free parking for up to four hours until 4 pm. From there we made our way to the Washington Monument( aka the obelisk) and since the Capitol didn’t look too far we walked over for a closer look and take a few pictures. Once there we though we might as well ask for prices of public tours, and alas, surprise number two: the tours are free!
The tour begins with a 15 minute movie that briefly explains the history of Washington DC and the USA, and after that a guide takes you around the most important spots of the building. Ours was very entertaining too, and kept joking with us visitors and any senator that walked by ( he apparently knew them all and well!). The tour is about an hour long, and I have no complaints at all but much to praise instead: the enthusiasm, the building and earphones provided at no cost are hard to beat. Don’t miss it!
From here we walked back to the Park and all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, another free thing to do in Washington DC, and quick to visit. Again I could envision Sylvester Stallone running up the stairs in one of the Rocky movies…this place has been featured in so many films.
The Vietnam War memorial is also free to visit and just a couple of hundred meters from the Lincoln Memorial. It is a reminder of all the lives lost in the Vietnam war and the size of the names vs the size of the wall reminded me once again how daunting it must have been. You will always find people looking for somebody they were familiar with on the wall.
From here we walked to our car and drove to the White House, which is actually within walking distance too as we soon found out. I had heard that it is possible to join visiting tours, but perhaps not surprisingly this isn´t so easy anymore. To join one of them you have to make a request in advance ( via its’ website) and will undergo a background check too. This is something you have to plan months in advance.
It was just after 4pm by now and we made our way to the car, remembering too that the free parking was until that time. And sure enough as soon as we got in and were buckling up a cop showed up telling us to leave right away if we did not want to get a ticket. We did, of course, and saw a few other cops fining a few cars that were still there. About a hundred meters down the road we spotted a man running towards the cars, I hope he avoided paying the ticket!
And the day was pretty much over by then! We had walked for many hours and had seen what are probably the most famous areas of Washington DC in a day, though I know there is more to enjoy. In fact to make things easy for you, here is a comprehensive list of things to do when visiting DC on a budget:
Washington DC in a Day: 11 Free Places to Visit
- The Capitol
- The White House
- Lincoln Memorial
- The Obelisk
- The Smithsonian Museum
- The National Gallery of Art
- The National Air and Space Museum
- Attend a Millennium Stage Performance at the Kennedy Center: Every evening at 6pm, the Kennedy Center presents a free 1-hour concert performed by local, up-and-coming, national, or international musicians
- The Vietnam Memorial
- Arlington Cementery
- The National Zoo
Have you visited DC? Did you know most of the city’s top attractions are free? Which others do you recommend? Please remember to share this post if you liked it!