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Budget-Friendly Adventures in the Nation’s Capital: Unveiling fun-filled summer activities.

in Managing Money & Credit
DC monument

Summer is a season of adventure and exploration, and the DC metro area offers many exciting opportunities that will not disappoint. You are sure to find activities that everyone in your family will enjoy – all without breaking the bank.

Museums, Monuments, Memorials, and the Mall

The DC metro area is filled with fascinating museums, stunning monuments and memorials, and of course, the National Mall. You can visit them by foot, car, subway train, bike or bus.

If you opt to drive, parking can be more challenging to find during the day (and it may cost you); alternatively, you may luck out with free, easier-to-find parking by visiting at night. Biking is also a fun, healthy way to make your way around town. Finally, you’ll find there’s no shortage of tour bus companies offering scheduled tours around the city.

Let’s start exploring the many options DC has to offer.


You won’t find any other city in the United States with more world-class museums to visit than in the DC area. And the best part – most of them are free! Whether you are interested in art, history, planes, or planets, there is sure to be a museum that will pique the interest of you and/or your family.

The Smithsonian Institution has 19 free museums in the DC metro area. You could spend weeks just visiting these museums! But there are plenty of other museums to see, so don’t stop there. Here are a few more free museums to consider visiting:

  • The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Museum
  • Folger Shakespeare Library
  • National Guard Museum
  • Ford’s Theatre (there is a small online processing fee to reserve free tickets)
  • Holocaust Memorial Museum (some exhibits require free advance tickets)

Hours vary for each museum, and some require advance tickets, so be sure to call or check out the website for each museum before visiting.

There are several private specialty museums that typically charge admission, but offer special free admission days throughout the year. Be sure to check out those options too.

Monuments and Memorials

When it comes to visiting the monuments, you should consider which ones are of the most interest to you, as there are over 160 monuments and memorials in the metropolitan area.

One benefit of the monuments and memorials in DC is that you can typically visit them 24 hours a day. So if you’re busy visiting the museums during the day, you still have plenty of time to visit the monuments and memorials in the evening.

Be sure to check out the National Park Service event page to see what tours or programs are taking place at the monuments and memorials. An expert-led tour is a great way to enjoy and learn along the way. Or, consider purchasing a narrated self-guided tour app to help you explore.

Let’s take a closer look at just a few of the monuments and memorials in the area:

Washington Monument

One of the most iconic monuments in DC is the Washington Monument. Standing 555 feet tall, the monument was built to honor America’s first president, George Washington. When the monument was built, it was the tallest building in the world, even beating out the famous Eiffel Tower!  From the observation deck, you’ll enjoy a 25 mile radius view of the beautiful city.

Timed reservations are required for the Washington Monument. Although some same-day tickets may be available, you should reserve your tickets ahead of time.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is located just across the Potomac River and serves as the final resting place for over 400,000 military veterans and their families.

The Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where sentinels stand guard 24/7, adds an additional layer of reverence and respect. During the summer, the guards change every half hour.

You can visit the cemetery free of charge if you want to walk the grounds, but with its vast 639 acres, you may wish to opt for a bus tour.

The Lincoln Memorial

Another iconic memorial honoring our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, sits high above the west end of the National Mall. As you climb the steps of the memorial, you are provided a breathtaking view of the Reflect Pool with the Washington Monument in the background. It was also the site of the famous Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The National Mall

The National Mall is a treasure trove of iconic landmarks and world-class museums, all offering free admission. The swath of green grass stretches two miles from the banks of the Potomac River to the United States Capital. Walking along the National Mall feels like a journey through time, with each step unveiling a different chapter of the nation’s past.

Enjoy a walk along the mall and visit outdoor memorials such as the Korean War Veterans, Vietnam War Veterans, or the World War II Memorial. When you need to cool off from the summer sun, head indoors into one of the many Smithsonian museums that line the National Mall.

You could also pack a picnic lunch, find a bench or table, and enjoy a meal on The National Mall before heading off on your next adventure.

Public and Government Buildings

Don’t forget about the many public buildings in DC that also have much to offer. Some buildings, such as the White House or the FBI buildings, require background checks and free tickets ahead of time. You’ll need to request them through your state’s congressional representative. Check out the website for each building for specific requirements and visiting hours.

Even if you can’t score tickets for the White House or the Capitol buildings, each has a separate visitor center that is still worth visiting. These are some of the more popular buildings to visit:

  • White House/Visitor Center
  • National Archive
  • United States Capitol/Visitor Center
  • Supreme Court
  • Library of Congress
  • Pentagon
  • FBI Building
  • Washington National Cathedral (free admission on Sundays)

Outdoor Activities

The DC metro area is surrounded by picturesque parks and greenery that spans for miles, offering a variety of outdoor activities. Rock Creek Park, Great Falls Park, and Theodore Roosevelt Island provide opportunities for hiking, biking, picnicking, and wildlife observation. Many local parks also organize free or low-cost concerts, movie screenings, and festivals during the summer.

Neighborhood Festivals and Events

DC’s unique, eclectic neighborhoods are known for their vibrant cultural festivals and events, and many of them are free or reasonably priced. From the Jazz in the Garden series at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden to the colorful Adams Morgan Day celebration, there is something for everyone.

Bring a blanket or chair, sit out under the stars, and visit one of the many locations around the DC that offer outdoor movies.

Check local event calendars and websites to stay updated on upcoming festivals and plan your visits accordingly.

Summer Cultural Performances

DC is renowned for its vibrant arts scene. During the summer, you can find free or low-cost cultural performances throughout the city. The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage offers daily, free performances ranging from music and dance to theater and poetry readings. Additionally, check out local theater companies and community centers for affordable or low-pay admission productions.

There’s no shortage of free summer outdoor concerts to enjoy during the beautiful DC evenings, including the Salute the Concert Sunset Series or the Stars & Stripes Military Concerts at the National Harbor. But if jazz, bluegrass, indie, or good old rock and roll are more your style, there are plenty of other concert options to fit the bill.

Community Pools and Splash Parks

There’s no better way to beat the DC summer heat than by visiting the numerous community pools and splash parks in the area. Many local municipalities offer affordable day passes or seasonal memberships for families and individuals.

Some neighborhoods also have free splash parks, providing a fun way for children to cool off from the summer heat and humidity and enjoy the outdoors.

National Zoo

The National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian exhibits and is popular among animal enthusiasts. It is particularly famous for its giant panda exhibit. The zoo houses over 2,700 animals from over 390 different species.

Entrance to the zoo is free, although you may be required to pre-select a day/time slot and pay for onsite parking.

United States Botanic Garden

Established by Congress in 1820, it is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. It serves as a center for plant research, conservation, and public education, and displays approximately 4,000 plant species.

The Botanic Garden encompasses a variety of unique and beautifully curated gardens. The Conservatory, its main attraction, showcases a stunning array of plants from different ecosystems and regions worldwide. Visitors can explore various themed rooms, such as the Tropics Room, Desert Room, and Orchid Room, each offering a captivating display of plant life.

In addition to the Conservatory, the Botanic Garden features an outdoor garden called the National Garden. This outdoor oasis highlights the diversity of American plants, with sections dedicated to regional flora, including the Mid-Atlantic, New England, and the Southeast. The National Garden also features the Rose Garden, a delightful sensory experience with its vibrant colors and captivating fragrances.

Historic Georgetown

You can walk the cobblestone streets of historic Georgetown and you’ll get a glimpse of the past. Well-preserved row houses dating back to 1751 can be found in this charming section of town. Today, you’ll be treated to a mix of cozy cafes and boutique shops, nestled in among the historic housing. The neighborhood’s location along the Potomac River provides beautiful waterfront views and opportunities for leisurely walks along the canal.

Let’s explore some ways Lafayette Federal Credit Union can help you maximize your savings and enhance your summer as you enjoy free summer activities in the DC metro area.

Let Lafayette Federal Jumpstart Your Summer Fun

Exploring the DC metro area during the summer doesn’t have to break the bank. By taking advantage of the many budget-friendly activities and using your Lafayette Federal Credit Union to fund your adventures, you can create memorable summer moments while keeping your budget intact.

Earn competitive dividends through our various savings accounts, where you can start accumulating summer funds with as little as $50. Your deposits are safe and insured up to $250,000 and you also have the option to invest your money through our IRA and Coverdell Education accounts.

Alternatively, certificates provide a low-risk way to save money over a period of time. At Lafayette Federal, we offer nation-leading rates as high as 5.15% APY (Annual Percentage Yield) and terms up to five years on fixed-rate, jumbo-rate, and variable-rate certificate options.

With a Lafayette Federal credit card, you can earn points towards merchandise and travel expenses for every dollar you spend. Unlike many credit cards, there’s no annual fee on credit cards offered through Lafayette. You’ll also find that our interest rates are very competitive and often lower than cards offered by other financial institutions.

Not a Lafayette Federal member yet? You can become a member by completing an online membership application.