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  • Amanda Mercer

WASHINGTON D.C. ON A BUDGET: A Complete Guide 2024

Updated: May 11

Illustration of the Washington DC skyline with a "Budget Friendly" price tag

Washington D.C. is brimming with history and culture. And it's the perfect destination for budget-conscious travelers looking for memorable experiences without having to break the bank. There is something for everyone to enjoy in this dynamic city either entirely free of charge or at very reasonable prices. Here is our listicle of some budget-friendly things to do in the nation's capital:

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


 

The Lobby of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.

Smithsonian Museums

 

The Smithsonian Institution was founded by the U.S. Government in 1846 "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." It is the largest museum complex in the world consisting of nineteen museums and galleries, as well as the National Zoological Park. Eleven are on the National Mall, between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol - and they are all FREE TO THE PUBLIC. These Smithsonian museums offer a wealth of knowledge, inspiration, and entertainment for visitors of all ages. Whether you're interested in history, art, science, or culture, there's something for everyone.



Explore the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem, and see iconic artifacts like Dorothy's ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz." Delve into American culture through exhibits on pop culture, innovation, and the nation's political history.



Walk through the history of aviation and space exploration, from the Wright brothers' first flight to the Apollo moon landing. Marvel at historic aircraft, spacecraft, and interactive exhibits, including the Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module.



Discover the wonders of the natural world, from dinosaur skeletons to gemstones. Visit the Hall of Mammals, the Butterfly Pavilion, and the Hope Diamond. Dive into exhibits on human origins, biodiversity, and the Earth's ecosystems.



Journey through the history and culture of African Americans, from slavery and segregation to the present day. Explore exhibits on topics such as the Civil Rights Movement, African American art, and cultural contributions to music, sports, and literature.



Experience the diverse cultures and traditions of Native peoples from across the Americas. See artifacts, artwork, and interactive displays representing indigenous communities past and present. Explore themes of identity, sovereignty, and cultural resilience. DON'T MISS THE FOOD COURT!!! Delicious Native American Cuisine at very reasonable prices!



Encounter portraits of notable figures from American history and culture, including presidents, artists, activists, and entertainers. Explore the diverse collection of paintings, photographs, and sculptures that tell the stories of individuals who have shaped the nation.



Immerse yourself in American art, from colonial times to the present day. Admire works by renowned artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe, Winslow Homer, and Edward Hopper. Explore exhibitions on American folk art, contemporary craft, and photography.



Delve into the history of mail and postage stamps, from colonial times to the present. See rare stamps, postal vehicles, and interactive exhibits on the role of the postal service in American life. Learn about famous stamp collections and the art of stamp design.



Experience modern and contemporary art in a unique circular building surrounded by a sculpture garden. View works by artists such as Picasso, Warhol, and Rodin. Explore temporary exhibitions, outdoor installations, and special events.



Encounter Asian art and culture through a diverse collection of paintings, ceramics, sculptures, and decorative arts. Explore ancient Chinese bronzes, Japanese screens, and Islamic manuscripts. Experience the tranquility of the museums' serene galleries and gardens.



The National Zoo was founded in 1889 and its mission is to "provide engaging experiences with animals and create and share knowledge to save wildlife and habitats". In addition to the beautiful and majestic animals, other attractions include Me and the Bee Playground, The Conservation Carousel, Squirt Zone, and a Virtual Safari. The Zoo is free to visit, but entry passes are required for all guests, including infants.

 



 

Marc Chagall, Orphée, 1969, stone and glass mosaic, The John U. and Evelyn S. Nef Collection
Marc Chagall, Orphée, 1969, stone and glass mosaic in the National Museum of Art's Sculpture Gardenthe

Gardens of DC

 

Explore Nature's Beauty: Free Gardens and Parks in Washington D.C. Enjoy a peaceful retreat from the city's hustle and bustle. Connect with nature, history, and art in Washington D.C.'s urban landscape. The following are all FREE TO THE PUBLIC.



Wander through 446 acres of gardens, forests, and landscapes showcasing diverse plant collections from around the world. Explore the National Capitol Columns, Bonsai Museum, and the iconic flowering cherry trees. Enjoy picnics, walking trails, and seasonal events.



Discover a lush oasis in the heart of the city with a diverse array of plants from around the globe. Explore themed rooms such as the Tropical Rainforest, Desert, and Medicinal Plants exhibits. Enjoy guided tours, educational programs, and special events throughout the year.



Escape the hustle and bustle of the city in this expansive urban park offering miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, and recreational activities. Explore historic sites such as Pierce Mill and the Old Stone House. Spot wildlife, including deer, birds, and foxes, in this natural oasis.




Experience the beauty of aquatic plants, including lotus and water lilies, in this unique urban oasis. Walk along boardwalks through marshes and ponds, spotting birds, frogs, and turtles along the way. Explore the visitor center and learn about the park's conservation efforts.



Relax in this historic park featuring neoclassical architecture, cascading fountains, and lush greenery. Admire the statues, including the famous Joan of Arc statue and the Dante Alighieri statue. Enjoy picnics, yoga classes, and drum circles in this vibrant community space.


National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden


Discover an outdoor gallery featuring contemporary sculptures by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Miró, and Claes Oldenburg. Wander through formal gardens, shady groves, and seasonal plantings. Enjoy outdoor concerts, ice skating in winter, and sculpture tours.


 

The Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC

The National Mall

(Monuments & Memorials)

 
Map of the National Mall in Washington DC

The two-mile stretch of green running down the center of the U.S. Capital is sometimes referred to as America’s front yard. For over 200 years the National Mall has stood to commemorate and inspire. The important memorials and museums that line the park represent a celebrated cultural history of an experimental democracy and its struggle to endure. Now there is an immersive way to experience the Monuments & Memorials by allowing visitors to step inside the story of true events to understand the powerful meaning behind these iconic structures of metal and stone. 


DON'T JUST SEE THE SITES

STEP INSIDE THEIR STORIES


The BARDEUM mobile app offers audiovisual tours written by the world's best storytellers - including New York Times, USA Today & Sunday Times bestselling authors; award-winning journalists; and renowned historians.


At the heart of BARDEUM's audiovisual walking tours is the power of storytelling. Each tour is meticulously crafted to transport participants to a specific moment in history, bringing the past to life through a compelling narrative and vivid imagery.


The self-guided audio and visual walking tours are available for only $3.99 each or $19.99 for all six experiences. The app is free to download and is available in the App Store and Google Play.


 

Cover art for the audio visual tour for the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC written by Laura Kamoie

To Begin the World Again, written by New York Times bestselling author Laura Kamoie (America’s First daughter).


In May of 1776, at the age of 33, Thomas Jefferson was one of the youngest members of the Second Continental Congress. A political up-and-comer from Virginia, he was appointed to a committee tasked with drafting a document to declare that the American colonies were to be free and independent states - absolved from all allegiance to the British crown.


The committee, which included John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, elected Jefferson as the principal drafter of this declaration of independence.



Step inside the story of the creation of a document that would shape not only America’s history, but that of the World’s.


“With beautiful writing and a deep understanding of her subject matter, Laura Kamoie brings life to the young, conflicted, idealist, Thomas Jefferson, in the momentous summer of 1776, when he is asked to write the document that would change his life and forge a new nation.”


Stephanie Dray, New York Times bestselling author of The Women of Chateau Lafayette


 

Cover art for the audiovisual tour "Unforgotten" written by Hampton Sides for the Korean War Memorial in Washington DC

Unforgotten, written by award-winning journalist Hampton Sides (On Desperate Ground).


The Korean War is often said to be our “Forgotten War”. Perhaps because it was a war that never officially ended. The hostilities concluded with a fragile armistice that left the two Koreas separated by a demilitarized zone, studded with mine fields and snarled in barbed wire.


The American veterans of the Korean War bravely answered a call that came not only from their own country but from the United Nations, travelling halfway around the world to thwart a naked act of Communist aggression.



These men, known as the Silent Generation, took part in the rescue of a small vulnerable country, then returned home, resuming their lives with little fanfare.


Step inside the story of one man’s acts of heroism in one of the most ferocious battles of the War. One story, among many, that should never be forgotten. Here is Jack Chapman’s story.


"A spellbinding and moving story—one of the most harrowing accounts of war I have ever encountered.”


Douglas Preston, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of the Monkey God.



 

Courage & Determination, written by two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times bestselling author H.W. Brands (Traitor to His Class).


Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the longest serving President in U.S. history - winning four Presidential elections. He saw America through the Great Depression and through World War II, dying just months before it ended.


Born into America’s upper class, FDR lived inside the highest circles of power and wealth. He was athletic and handsome and enjoyed all the privileges life offered. Until, at the age of 40, tragedy struck.


Step Inside the Story of FDR’s polio diagnosis and learn how this test of personal hardship shaped the man and the President he would become. Inspired by those around him, including his wife Eleanor and the ordinary Americans he met during his recovery, FDR found the Courage & Determination to fight for not just his own survival, but for the common good of all Americans.


 

Cover art for the audio visual tour "Behind Enemy Lines" written by Eric Blehm for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC

Behind Enemy Lines, written by New York Times bestselling author Eric Blehm (Legend, Fearless).


The Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands to honor the service of the U.S. armed forces who fought in the Vietnam War. It was a war like no other – in both battle tactics as well as the lingering political controversy. However, there is no doubt that these men fought to preserve the American way of life; to shield us from the red tide of communism before it crossed the oceans and crashed into our shores.


Behind Enemy Lines relives the story of a single mission; one that offers just a glimpse into the honor, loyalty and sacrifice of the men who served.


At dusk on May 2, 1968, not even the scent of fuel and oil hanging in the humid heat, could repel the smell of blood and death as medics raced about, triaging the wounded as they were pulled from the belly of the work horse of Vietnam—a Huey helicopter that had just barely hobbled back to the base, riddled with bullet holes.


What had taken place in the hours before became the stuff of Legend.



“A masterfully-told account of astonishing heroism. Captivates from the start. Hearing of the grit, determination, and bravery of these soldiers while walking along the names etched into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial offers a far greater understanding of their sacrifice. Prepare to be immersed!"


Adam Makos, New York Times bestselling author of Spearhead.


 

Cover art for the audoi visual tour "Retiring Becomes Him" written by Edward J. Larson for the Washington Monument in Washington DC

Retiring Becomes Him, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Edward J. Larson (Franklin & Washington, The Return of George Washington).


On the 23rd of December 1783, George Washington walked into the Assembly Chamber of the Maryland State House in Annapolis and submitted his resignation as the Commander-in-Chief of the American Forces during the recently concluded Revolutionary War.


Learn how this seemingly ordinary act was truly one of the most remarkable events in the history of war, revolution, and politics. Follow the story as George Washington is eventually brought back from retirement to become the First President of the United States and after eight years in office repeats yet another extraordinary act.


Step Inside the Story of these events and gain insight into the exceptional qualities of a complex man who became the father of our country.


 

Cover art for the audiovisual tour for the World War II Memorial in Washington DC entitled "Field of Fire" written by Gregory A. Freeman

Field of Fire, written by award-winning journalist Gregory A. Freeman (The Forgotten 500).


World War II stretched across the globe – consuming all of Europe, Africa and the far reaches of the Pacific. When the United States was forced into the war following the attack on Pearl Harbor, American men and women responded dutifully to protect the United States and our way of life.


School teachers became bomber pilots, farmers became paratroopers, the bank manager found himself in the sands of northern Africa facing Rommel’s Panzer division, the shop owner from Iowa became the lieutenant charging up a mountain on a Pacific island he didn’t know existed a week earlier.


There are countless stories that exemplify those to whom this WWII monument memorializes. Join us for just one - that of Benjamin Lewis Salomon, a dentist, who at 29 years old found himself in one of the most brutal battles of the Pacific, 8 days after D-Day, on the tiny island of Saipan.


 
Cheap Eats in DC
 

Taste of DC: Affordable Dining Gems in the Capital Washington D.C. These affordable dining spots offer delicious meals and snacks without breaking the bank, allowing you to enjoy the diverse culinary scene of Washington DC on a budget.


*Food Truck mania has hit D.C. Track their real time locations at Food Truck Fiesta.



Savor delicious and affordable Mexican fare at District Taco. Enjoy build-your-own tacos, burritos, bowls, and salads with fresh ingredients and flavorful meats. Don't miss their daily specials and homemade salsas.



Indulge in the famous half-smokes and chili at this DC institution. Enjoy hearty and budget-friendly meals that have satisfied locals and visitors alike for generations. Don't forget to try their milkshakes for a sweet treat.



Grab a slice of New York-style pizza at Wiseguy Pizza. Choose from a variety of toppings or try their signature pies like the "Capitol Hill" or the "Federal Triangle." Enjoy generous portions and reasonable prices.



Indulge in the perfect combination of sweet and savory at Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken. Enjoy crispy fried chicken sandwiches, flavorful doughnuts, and decadent sides like macaroni and cheese. Treat yourself to a delicious meal without breaking the bank.




Feast on Korean-inspired tacos, bowls, and salads at TaKorean. Choose from flavorful proteins like bulgogi beef, tangy chicken, or spicy tofu, paired with fresh toppings and zesty sauces. Enjoy bold flavors at budget-friendly prices.



Indulge in gourmet burgers, fries, and shakes at Good Stuff Eatery. Bite into juicy burgers made with grass-fed beef or indulge in a crispy chicken sandwich. Don't miss their hand-cut fries and thick milkshakes for the ultimate comfort food experience.


ADDITIONAL GREAT OPTIONS


 

A charming street in the neighborhood of Georgetown in Washington D.C.

Neighborhoods of Washington DC
 

Immerse yourself in the real D.C. and wander its historic neighborhoods. Experience the diverse history, culture, and architecture of the nation's capitol.


Georgetown


Wander through cobblestone streets lined with historic homes, shops, and restaurants. Explore the C&O Canal towpath, Georgetown University campus, and the Exorcist Steps. Enjoy waterfront views along the Potomac River.


Capitol Hill


Discover the heart of American politics in this historic neighborhood surrounding the US Capitol. Admire the iconic rowhouses, many dating back to the 19th century. Explore Eastern Market, one of the city's oldest public markets, and nearby Barracks Row. Visit historic sites such as the Library of Congress (FREE with timed entry reservations) and the Supreme Court.


Dupont Circle


Immerse yourself in the vibrant cultural scene of this eclectic neighborhood known for its historic mansions and embassies. Explore the circle itself, a hub of activity with its fountain and outdoor chess tables. Stroll along Embassy Row.


Shaw


Experience the rich history and cultural heritage of this dynamic neighborhood once known as the "Black Broadway." Explore historic landmarks such as the African American Civil War Memorial and the Howard Theatre. Discover vibrant murals, trendy restaurants, and historic rowhouses along U Street.


Bloomingdale


Step into a charming residential neighborhood filled with Victorian rowhouses and tree-lined streets. Explore the historic Crispus Attucks Park and the former home of poet Langston Hughes. Visit neighborhood gems like Big Bear Café and Boundary Stone.


Anacostia


Cross the river to explore this historic neighborhood with a rich African American heritage. Wander through the Anacostia Historic District, home to historic churches, schools, and homes dating back to the 19th century. Visit the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (FREE but reservations highly recommended) and the Anacostia Arts Center.


Mount Pleasant


This vibrant neighborhood nestled between Rock Creek Park and Columbia Heights was initially developed around the Mount Pleasant Hospital, which was built and operated during the American Civil War. Discover the diverse cultural heritage by exploring the historic Mount Pleasant Street corridor lined with shops, restaurants, and historic buildings. Visit the Mount Pleasant Library and stroll through Lamont Park.


LeDroit Park


Explore one of DC's first planned suburbs, known for its beautiful Victorian homes and tree-lined streets. Wander through LeDroit Park's historic district, home to the Howard University campus and the historic Lincoln Theatre. Visit nearby landmarks such as the African American Civil War Museum (FREE) and the U Street corridor.


Foggy Bottom


Experience the historic charm of this neighborhood adjacent to the George Washington University campus. Explore the historic district, home to landmarks such as the Watergate complex and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (FREE Guided Tours). Visit the nearby Potomac River waterfront.


Penn Quarter


Dive into the vibrant energy of this bustling neighborhood in the heart of downtown DC. Explore historic sites such as Ford's Theatre (tickets range from $3.50 to $11.00), where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and the National Portrait Gallery (Free). Enjoy window shopping along bustling streets like 7th and F.


Map of Washington DC neighborhoods

 

ENJOY YOUR BUDGET-FRIENDLY TRIP TO DC!

The text of BARDEUM



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