Posted in Travel

Free things to do in Washington DC

In August 2017 I had a work trip to Washington DC, spending three days at a conference. Luckily I had the evenings off, so each day at 4:30pm I left the conference hall and headed straight onto the train into town. Here’s what I got up to – all things were free!

The White House

On the first afternoon, before the conference started, I had an excuse to go into town and meet with a colleague for lunch. We dined at the Iron Gate Restaurant and I had soft-shelled crab for the first time in my life. Walking up to the restaurant from McPherson Square Station, I was interested to see that the architecture was a lot like I remembered in Boston.

Washington DC
Soft-shelled crab

After lunch, I detoured past The White House. The building seemed very small in real life, and for some reason I didn’t take any pictures.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the Mall

After the first day of the conference I headed to Georgetown, otherwise known as the student district. From Foggy Bottom-GWU station I walked to the Lincoln Memorial and the Mall. The Lincoln Memorial was vast – much bigger than I imagined. I climbed the many steps to the top to admire the Lincoln statue and found it packed with people taking selfies.

Lincoln Memorial
Inside the Lincoln Memorial
View over the Mall

Then I walked alongside the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument. On my flight into National (DCA) we flew right past this monument – from my window seat it looked like we could reach out and touch it. Near the Monument was the National World War II Memorial which was quite beautiful and touching. Like the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument was much bigger in real life.

Lincoln Memorial
Reflecting Pool
World War II memorial
At the Washington Monument
Capitol Building
Sunset and the Washington Monument

Even though it was nearly sunset, I kept walking along the mall. On the lawns there were hundreds of people playing what I would describe as football rounders (I’m sure it’s called something else). It looked like fun! I walked past the Smithsonian Castle and the Smithsonian museums and took pictures of the sunset. At this point I was close to the Capitol Building and was tempted to make my way there, but my feet were seriously sore at this point and I didn’t really want to be out after dark, so I called it a night and got back on the Yellow line to the hotel.

Arlington National Cemetery

I went to Arlington Cemetery the following evening. It was only a short walk from the train station and was free to enter. I got there about 45 minutes before closing, but figured that was enough time to get the idea. I followed the walking path around to see  JFK’s grave and memorial, and the tomb of the unknown soldier. Then I walked out past the thousands of tombstones. It was a sobering place.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Arlington Cemetery

National Air and Space Museum

On the last day, a Saturday, the conference ended at lunch time, so once I’d packed up, it was back to the train station – this time to see the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. I got there at about 2pm and the line was out the door and along the street. Since the museum is free to enter, this line was just for security. Once I figured out I could go in the “no bags” line, I was in fairly quickly. Again, I didn’t have much time here as my flight back to LA was later that evening, so I did an extremely cursory look around. Hubble Space Telescope model: check, Wright Brothers plane: check (wait, didn’t I see that at the Pima Air Museum as well?), Apollo lander: check.

The museum was absolutely packed and there was almost no room to move in some parts. I don’t think I would have liked to have spent much longer in there on such a busy day. However, it was an impressive museum, and I’d like to spend more time there one day.


There are so many great things to do in Washington DC, and it’s very easy to get around. I hope to come back one day to do it properly!


Travel, photography, blogging, being an expat. And that's just in my spare time.

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