Land of the Free: Top Free Attractions & Activities in the DC Area

The Capital Region is a very affordable destination, offering more free world-class attractions than anyplace else.

National Archives in Washington, DC
National Archives, Washington, DC (Photo credit: Kim Baker)
National Museum of the US Marine Corps, exhibit, helicopter, museum, Virginia
National Museum of the US Marine Corps
Walters Art Museum
Walters Museum, Baltimore, Maryland
The Phillips Collection, art, museum, gallery, attractions, Washington, DC, USA
The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
US Botanic Gardens, Capitol Building, Washington, DC
US Botanic Garden in Washington, DC
Torpedo Factory Art Center, Virginia
Visit the galleries of artists at work at Alexandria's Torpedo Factory
National Archives in Washington, DC
National Museum of the US Marine Corps, exhibit, helicopter, museum, Virginia
Walters Art Museum
The Phillips Collection, art, museum, gallery, attractions, Washington, DC, USA
US Botanic Gardens, Capitol Building, Washington, DC
Torpedo Factory Art Center, Virginia

We’ve shared one list of 15 free things to do for visitors to the Capital Region, but with 100 Free (& Almost Free) Things to Do in Washington, DC alone, there are plenty more budget-friendly activities to enhance your next American holiday.

Free Galleries & Art Museums

  • In addition to the Smithsonian Institution’s 17 free museums and National Zoo, DC is home to many more museums that offer free admission. The Phillips Collection in the vibrant Dupont Circle neighbourhood is the first museum of modern art in the US and home to an impressive collection of artists including Renoir, Rothko, O’Keefe and van Gogh. Admission to the museum collection is free Tuesdays through Fridays (donations encouraged).  
  • In Maryland, the waterfront city of Baltimore is home to several art museums offering free admission. Visit the Baltimore Museum of Art, home to the internationally known Cone Collection and the largest and most significant collection of Henri Matisse’s works in the world. Highlights of the Walters Art Museum’s collection of more than 25,000 pieces of art includes Greek sculpture and Roman sarcophagi; medieval ivories and Old Master paintings; Art Nouveau jewellery and 19th-century European and American masterpieces.
  • As the name suggests, the Torpedo Factory in historic downtown Alexandria, Virginia is housed in a former torpedo factory where you can now watch artists at work in the centre’s 82 studios and six galleries. 

Free All-American Road Trips

Charming small towns, mountain vistas, coastal waterways and historic landmarks await you along one of the Capital Region’s 10 National Scenic Byways.

  • Explore the waterways of Maryland along the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway, celebrating the rich marine life of the area, both on land and at sea.
  • Tour the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia along the Blue Ridge Parkway, often called “America’s Favourite Drive”.
  • While many of the byways travel deep into the region, others are clustered around big cities. Baltimore’s Historic Charles Street begins as a wooded parkway that heads south into the heart of the city.
  • The 23 mile long Colonial Parkway connects Virginia’s historic triangle: Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown.

Free Parks & Gardens

  • Located along grounds of the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, the United States Botanic Garden is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. The garden maintains around 65,000 plants, many of which can be seen in the conservatory and outdoor gardens, and offers special exihibits, tours and programs.
  • Maymont is an historic American estate in Richmond, Virginia that was gifted to the city by its original owners, James and Sallie Dooley. The estate’s 100 acres has much to offer visitors – mansion tours, a carriage collection, Italian and Japanese gardens, wildlife exhibits, the Children’s Farm and the Nature Center.
  • Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum’s 560 acres along the Patuxent River in eastern Maryland has more than 65 identified archaeological sites documenting more than 9,000 years of human occupation. Visitors can attend archaeology themed events and educational programs, visit the archaeological sites, or take a guided tour of the MAC lab, home to more than 8 million artefacts.

Free Historic Attractions & Museums

  • In DC, you can view the Declaration of Independence, US Constitution and Bill of Rights at the National Archives. Then head to the Supreme Court to witness history in the making. Open to the public Monday through Friday, visitors can experience a variety of educational programs including Courtroom Lectures, a visitors’ film and rotating exhibits.
  • The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland pays tribute to the first American-born saint. It was here in 1809 that she founded the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph’s and she lived on the site until her death in 1821. Her remains are entombed in the basilica designed by Italian and German craftsmen that was built in 1965.
  • The National Museum of the Marine Corps honours US marines past, present and future, beginning with the museum's structure which evokes the image of the flag-raisers of Iwo Jima. Inside, the 120,000 square foot structure houses interactive exhibits and artefacts, including aircraft suspended from the rafter's in the museum’s 210-foot tilted steel mast and glass atrium.

Want to explore more ... for less? Check out these top free attractions in the Washington, DC area!

Scenic Drives
Outdoors & Nature
Tours & Trails
City Adventures
History & Culture
Attractions & Family Fun

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