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Free Things To Do in Washington, D.C.

If you have extra time, National World War II Memorial is worthwhile.

#1 Lincoln Memorial

#1 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Must-see ? Free
Although the Lincoln Memorial is just one of the District's many monuments, the larger-than-life Honest Abe is also among travelers' favorites. History buffs might enjoy the man of few (albeit powerful) words' two famous speeches, the second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address, which are both etched into the memorial's opposing walls. Meanwhile, art history and architecture aficionados will enjoy admiring the building's striking design by Henry Bacon, complete with 38 Doric columns, 36 of which signify the states in the Union at the time Lincoln passed away.
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Monuments and Memorials Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Lincoln Memorial
Although the Lincoln Memorial is just one of the District's many monuments, the larger-than-life Honest Abe is also among travelers' favorites. History buffs might enjoy the man of few (albeit powerful) words' two famous speeches, the second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address, which are both etched into the memorial's opposing walls. Meanwhile, art history and architecture aficionados will enjoy admiring the building's striking design by Henry Bacon, complete with 38 Doric columns, 36 of which signify the states in the Union at the time Lincoln passed away.
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#2 The White House and the Washington Monument

#2 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Must-see ? Free
Even if you're only in town for a short trip, visiting the Washington Monument and the White House – two marbleized symbols of the free world – is a must for any first-time D.C. visitor.
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Monuments and Memorials Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
The White House and the Washington Monument
Even if you're only in town for a short trip, visiting the Washington Monument and the White House – two marbleized symbols of the free world – is a must for any first-time D.C. visitor.
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#3 National World War II Memorial

#3 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Must-see ? Free
A popular memorial, the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in 2004 to the 400,000-plus Americans who died during the war. A circle of 56 pilings (representing the then 56 U.S. states and territories) looks over the Rainbow Pool. At night, with lights shining, this memorial can be quite ethereal.
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Monuments and Memorials Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
National World War II Memorial
A popular memorial, the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in 2004 to the 400,000-plus Americans who died during the war. A circle of 56 pilings (representing the then 56 U.S. states and territories) looks over the Rainbow Pool. At night, with lights shining, this memorial can be quite ethereal.
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#4 U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress

#4 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Must-see ? Free
Arguably the most magnificent building in Washington, the U.S. Capitol is where visitors go to witness politics in action. Inside, members of both houses of Congress debate and create national policy and law, while visitors explore the building's north and south wings and circular centerpiece: the Rotunda. This iconic hall houses paintings, frescoes and sculptures depicting famous scenes from American history, not to mention a 150-year-old cast iron dome.
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Sightseeing Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress
Arguably the most magnificent building in Washington, the U.S. Capitol is where visitors go to witness politics in action. Inside, members of both houses of Congress debate and create national policy and law, while visitors explore the building's north and south wings and circular centerpiece: the Rotunda. This iconic hall houses paintings, frescoes and sculptures depicting famous scenes from American history, not to mention a 150-year-old cast iron dome.
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#5 Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans Memorials

#5 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Must-see ? Free
One of the most moving war memorials, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – or "the Wall," as it's commonly referred to – is a long black granite wall with the names of more than 58,000 Americans who perished during the Vietnam War emblazoned on its surface. Recent travelers said their visits to the site were heartbreaking but thought-provoking and powerful, adding that even the toughest of individuals will find it hard to not become emotional while reading the wall's names. If you're looking for a specific person, keep in mind that the soldiers' names are ordered by the date they died, not alphabetically. Also, reviewers recommend using the attraction's name books and visiting during the day when there's ample sunlight.
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Monuments and Memorials Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans Memorials
One of the most moving war memorials, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – or "the Wall," as it's commonly referred to – is a long black granite wall with the names of more than 58,000 Americans who perished during the Vietnam War emblazoned on its surface. Recent travelers said their visits to the site were heartbreaking but thought-provoking and powerful, adding that even the toughest of individuals will find it hard to not become emotional while reading the wall's names. If you're looking for a specific person, keep in mind that the soldiers' names are ordered by the date they died, not alphabetically. Also, reviewers recommend using the attraction's name books and visiting during the day when there's ample sunlight.
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#6 National Gallery of Art

#6 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Must-see ? Free
If you're any kind of art connoisseur, you should make a stop at the National Gallery of Art. Composed of the East Building, which houses the gallery's more modern works (think: Henri Matisse and Mark Rothko), and the West Building, which contains the collection's older works (from Sandro Botticelli to Claude Monet), this museum has enough to fill an entire afternoon; pace yourself and maybe order a coffee, gelato or lunch at one of the gallery's five bars and cafes.
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Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
National Gallery of Art
If you're any kind of art connoisseur, you should make a stop at the National Gallery of Art. Composed of the East Building, which houses the gallery's more modern works (think: Henri Matisse and Mark Rothko), and the West Building, which contains the collection's older works (from Sandro Botticelli to Claude Monet), this museum has enough to fill an entire afternoon; pace yourself and maybe order a coffee, gelato or lunch at one of the gallery's five bars and cafes.
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#7 Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

#7 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Must-see ? Free
Attracting millions of people each year, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum contains a trove of celebrated aircraft, including Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega 5B, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and Wilbur and Orville Wright's 1903 Wright Flyer, among others. Exhibits include a flight simulator, an IMAX theater and the Einstein Planetarium. And parents beware: The three-level gift shop is huge, so get ready for pleas from your kids.
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Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Attracting millions of people each year, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum contains a trove of celebrated aircraft, including Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega 5B, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and Wilbur and Orville Wright's 1903 Wright Flyer, among others. Exhibits include a flight simulator, an IMAX theater and the Einstein Planetarium. And parents beware: The three-level gift shop is huge, so get ready for pleas from your kids.
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#8 The Tidal Basin

#8 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Must-see ? Free
If you've never been to D.C. before, plan to spend some time along the Tidal Basin, a 2-mile-long pond that was once attached to the Potomac River and serves as the backdrop to some of D.C.'s best-loved sites. Every spring, the Tidal Basin bursts with color as cherry blossom trees (gifted to D.C. from Tokyo) bloom into cotton candy-colored tufts, and they attract hordes of visitors. You can follow the path that leads around the basin, but many recent visitors recommended testing the waters in a paddle boat. Paddle boats are available to rent starting March 15 for $18 per hour for a two-passenger boat or $30 per hour for a four-passenger boat. You can pick up a paddle boat every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March 15 through October 9 from the boat dock near Maine Avenue. 
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Sightseeing Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
The Tidal Basin
If you've never been to D.C. before, plan to spend some time along the Tidal Basin, a 2-mile-long pond that was once attached to the Potomac River and serves as the backdrop to some of D.C.'s best-loved sites. Every spring, the Tidal Basin bursts with color as cherry blossom trees (gifted to D.C. from Tokyo) bloom into cotton candy-colored tufts, and they attract hordes of visitors. You can follow the path that leads around the basin, but many recent visitors recommended testing the waters in a paddle boat. Paddle boats are available to rent starting March 15 for $18 per hour for a two-passenger boat or $30 per hour for a four-passenger boat. You can pick up a paddle boat every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March 15 through October 9 from the boat dock near Maine Avenue. 
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#9 National Archives Museum

#9 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Recommended ? Free
A treasure trove of the United States' founding documents, the National Archives Museum is high on travelers' to-do lists and almost always has long entrance lines. But once you do get inside, you'll see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, along with one of the surviving copies of the Magna Carta and the Emancipation Proclamation. Other interactive and kid-friendly exhibits fill the museum, which is located off the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro station on the Green and Yellow lines.
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Museums Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
National Archives Museum
A treasure trove of the United States' founding documents, the National Archives Museum is high on travelers' to-do lists and almost always has long entrance lines. But once you do get inside, you'll see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, along with one of the surviving copies of the Magna Carta and the Emancipation Proclamation. Other interactive and kid-friendly exhibits fill the museum, which is located off the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro station on the Green and Yellow lines.
... more

#10 Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

#10 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Recommended ? Free
With more than 126 million artifacts on display, this robust Smithsonian museum on the National Mall attracts millions of visitors each year. Some of the museum's highlights include tarantula feedings in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo and the replicas of giant whales and other marine life in the 23,000-square-foot Sant Ocean Hall. You can also venture to the Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater for a show or the Butterfly Pavilion for some fluttery fun with multi-colored bugs. And no stop at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History would be complete without stopping by the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, which traces the history of human species over the past 6 million years and displays life-size models of early human faces generated using modern forensic techniques. While the museum's famous National Fossil Hall is currently closed while it undergoes renovations, dinosaur fossils can be viewed in "The Last American Dinosaurs: Discovering a Lost World" exhibit on the second floor.
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Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
With more than 126 million artifacts on display, this robust Smithsonian museum on the National Mall attracts millions of visitors each year. Some of the museum's highlights include tarantula feedings in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo and the replicas of giant whales and other marine life in the 23,000-square-foot Sant Ocean Hall. You can also venture to the Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater for a show or the Butterfly Pavilion for some fluttery fun with multi-colored bugs. And no stop at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History would be complete without stopping by the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, which traces the history of human species over the past 6 million years and displays life-size models of early human faces generated using modern forensic techniques. While the museum's famous National Fossil Hall is currently closed while it undergoes renovations, dinosaur fossils can be viewed in "The Last American Dinosaurs: Discovering a Lost World" exhibit on the second floor.
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#11 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

#11 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: Recommended ? Free
You need to be in the right frame of mind to visit this sobering museum that focuses on the atrocities of the Holocaust during World War II. Upon entering the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, you'll be given an identification card with the name and personal information of an actual person who experienced the Holocaust; as you move through the exhibits – Hitler's rise to power, anti-Semitic propaganda, the horrors of the Final Solution – you'll be given updates on your person's well-being.
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Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
You need to be in the right frame of mind to visit this sobering museum that focuses on the atrocities of the Holocaust during World War II. Upon entering the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, you'll be given an identification card with the name and personal information of an actual person who experienced the Holocaust; as you move through the exhibits – Hitler's rise to power, anti-Semitic propaganda, the horrors of the Final Solution – you'll be given updates on your person's well-being.
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#12 Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute

#12 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: If Time Allows ? Free
More than 1,500 animals call the Smithsonian's 163-acre National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute home, from Asian elephants to great apes to sea lions. While here, don't miss your chance to meet the zoo's most popular resident, a baby panda named Bei Bei who was born on Aug. 22, 2015. Also, be sure to look up every now and then as you stroll beneath the Orangutan Transport System (called the O Line): Chances are you'll spot orangutans swinging along cables between eight steel towers. Or, if you're more intrigued by the exotic animals native to South America, head over to the 15,000-square-foot Amazonia exhibit, home to creatures like titi monkeys and yellow-rumped caciques.
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Zoos and Aquariums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute
More than 1,500 animals call the Smithsonian's 163-acre National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute home, from Asian elephants to great apes to sea lions. While here, don't miss your chance to meet the zoo's most popular resident, a baby panda named Bei Bei who was born on Aug. 22, 2015. Also, be sure to look up every now and then as you stroll beneath the Orangutan Transport System (called the O Line): Chances are you'll spot orangutans swinging along cables between eight steel towers. Or, if you're more intrigued by the exotic animals native to South America, head over to the 15,000-square-foot Amazonia exhibit, home to creatures like titi monkeys and yellow-rumped caciques.
... more

#13 The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

#13 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: If Time Allows ? Free
Many travelers highly recommend a visit to The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, built and named for America's beloved Camelot president. The Kennedy Center houses the National Symphony Orchestra, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and the Washington National Opera, as well as a number of other theater and musical performances throughout the year. Although ticket prices run a bit high, you can take in a performance for free on the Millennium Stage.
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Entertainment and Nightlife Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Many travelers highly recommend a visit to The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, built and named for America's beloved Camelot president. The Kennedy Center houses the National Symphony Orchestra, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and the Washington National Opera, as well as a number of other theater and musical performances throughout the year. Although ticket prices run a bit high, you can take in a performance for free on the Millennium Stage.
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#14 Washington National Cathedral

#14 in Washington, D.C.

Local Pick: If Time Allows ? Free
Construction first began on this massive cathedral – the sixth largest in the world –  in 1907, but it wasn't actually completed until 1990. Designed in the Gothic style, the Washington National Cathedral sits surrounded by gardens, creating a pleasant atmosphere for visitors. Take a stroll around the cathedral and peer at its high vaults and flying buttresses, or step inside to admire its intricate glass-stained windows. Another highlight is the cathedral's Gargoyle Tour. This tour – offered between May and September – gives you a chance to gaze up at the building's stony grotesques and gargoyles. (There's even a Darth Vader gargoyle that was appointed in the 1980s along the right-hand side of the northwest tower.)
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Sightseeing Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Washington National Cathedral
Construction first began on this massive cathedral – the sixth largest in the world –  in 1907, but it wasn't actually completed until 1990. Designed in the Gothic style, the Washington National Cathedral sits surrounded by gardens, creating a pleasant atmosphere for visitors. Take a stroll around the cathedral and peer at its high vaults and flying buttresses, or step inside to admire its intricate glass-stained windows. Another highlight is the cathedral's Gargoyle Tour. This tour – offered between May and September – gives you a chance to gaze up at the building's stony grotesques and gargoyles. (There's even a Darth Vader gargoyle that was appointed in the 1980s along the right-hand side of the northwest tower.)
... more

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Free
Located beside the Tidal Basin, this 30-foot-high granite memorial pays homage to civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Everything from its address at 1964 Independence Ave. (a reference to the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by Congress) to its design (which shows King emerging from the "Mountain of Despair"), are meant to reflect King's significant contribution to American history. What's more, this towering sculpture opened to the public in 2011, making it one of the newest memorials to open in the District. It is also the National Mall's first memorial dedicated to an African American.
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Monuments and Memorials Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Located beside the Tidal Basin, this 30-foot-high granite memorial pays homage to civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Everything from its address at 1964 Independence Ave. (a reference to the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by Congress) to its design (which shows King emerging from the "Mountain of Despair"), are meant to reflect King's significant contribution to American history. What's more, this towering sculpture opened to the public in 2011, making it one of the newest memorials to open in the District. It is also the National Mall's first memorial dedicated to an African American.
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Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

Free
Designed to replicate the three-tiered crowns found in Yoruban art from West Africa, with bronze-colored latticework accents that honor the United States' slave roots, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture opened on the National Mall in 2016. More than 36,000 African American artifacts are displayed inside, including photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a fedora once worn by Michael Jackson.
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Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture
Designed to replicate the three-tiered crowns found in Yoruban art from West Africa, with bronze-colored latticework accents that honor the United States' slave roots, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture opened on the National Mall in 2016. More than 36,000 African American artifacts are displayed inside, including photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a fedora once worn by Michael Jackson.
... more

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