Katrina Warren, CEO of Alexandrian Consulting, is here to share all the cheap attractions and restaurants you can find in Washington DC, plus transportation and accommodation tips!
Washington DC is the capital of the United States of America, but it’s more than government buildings and monuments. It’s home to over 700,000 people. The city is filled with a beautiful culture that expands outward from the national mall.
Unfortunately, with so many state galas and embassy parties many believe visiting DC is very disconnected or stuffy. Alas, Washington is one of the most friendly cities in America. DC is extremely easy to navigate with multiple forms of transportation and tons of signage.
What to do in Washington DC
Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art
There are a ton of free art galleries with the highlights being the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art. Those who visit in the summer get to view the galleries and the sculpture garden in full bloom. One of my favorite museums is the Hirschorn which brings infinity rooms to DC.
Jazz in the Garden: Sculpture Gardens, National Mall
Every summer, the National Gallery of Art hosts Jazz in the Garden. This free event takes place every Friday at 6 PM. Residents bring chairs and blankets and can purchase sangria on site. Guests are welcome to sit by their favorite sculpture or relax by the center fountain while enjoying the two-hour performance. I love attending this event because everyone dances and has a great time. It’s a great way to meet new people who have been in the city for years.
Ice Skating: Sculpture Gardens, National Mall
Each winter, the National Gallery of Art sponsors an ice rink in the middle of the Sculpture Gardens. Visitors can rent skates and enjoy the rink for two hours for under $20. After skating, take a walk to the national Christmas tree. The tree is surrounded by a tree from each of the 50 states. I have always loved ice skating but for those who are new to the activity, there are lessons available.
Artechouse is a small gallery chain that focuses on bringing art and technology together. This gallery is for adults only after 6 PM and has a full bar. The art installations switch entirely every four to six months. Every spring, they have an incredible cherry blossom installation which is very intriguing.
Yoga at the National Building Museum
Yoga at the National Building Museum has been on my to-do list for months. Finally, you can participate in yoga every Saturday inside one of DC’s most beautifully constructed buildings. This event is also $20, and mats are not provided. If you are coming from out of town, feel free to bring a towel or blanket instead.
Museum of Natural History
Washington is full of history and amazing history museums. For lovers of nature, the Museum of Natural History is a must. This free museum showcases human evolution starting 50,000 years ago. You can also see how our planet looked thousands of years ago and see how it’s evolved.
Holocaust Memorial Museum
One of my favorite museums is the Holocaust museum. Tickets are only $10. This museum not only teaches you about the Holocaust but walks you through the life of someone who the Nazis caught.
Museum of the Bible
Christians and history lovers will be amazed by the Museum of the Bible. This museum has full life models of the stories every Christian child was taught. This museum is a little more expensive with tickets online starting at $20 and $25 at the door.
The National Zoo is consistently overlooked because it isn’t close to the national mall. However, this free Smithsonian zoo is one of my favorite places to visit in the winter. Every year they host Zoo Lights. A free nightly event in which the entire zoo is lit up with twinkling lights. It’s a whole event filled with slides, a carousel, hot chocolate, and light shows. Most of the animal enclosures are still available to visit.
Food and Libations
Washington can be a very expensive place to eat. There are thousands of restaurants, and you should budget at least $10 for every meal. If you’re visiting the national mall, each museum has a cafe or restaurant, but they will cost you a premium.
As soon as you feel hungry, head out as there are very few restaurants within a few blocks of the national mall. The mall is known for its food trucks. Their prices range, but there are some good deals. Eating on the mall will allow you to see daily life in the city. There are many sports leagues that have games in the evening in the shadow of the National Monument.
Some of the best places for cheap eats are Union Market. This food hall in North East DC has over a dozen options inside and around the Market. This place gives rooftop vibes without the premium cost. There are literally picnic tables on the roof, and anyone can take their food up there and enjoy it. The surrounding restaurants are known for their happy hours which include food as well as drinks.
H Street is very popular for its small eateries. There are some great deals to be had with restaurants ranging from soul food to beer halls to sushi. This is also a great location for cheap bar hopping as the entire H Street corridor is full of bars with deals.
Adams Morgan is another great bar area with Madam’s Organ being at the center of it all. Tryst is a great coffee shop that is open late and serves alcoholic drinks. It’s known for being a great space to meet new people.
The best way to save money on accommodations in DC is to not stay in DC.Therefore, Crystal City, Arlington, and Clarendon, Virginia, are great places to stay because they are within walking distance to a metro stop and will get you to most tourist destinations in less than thirty minutes. These areas also have their own great restaurants and culture to explore.
The only hostel I recommend is Generator DC if you’d rather stay in the city. Generator hostel is a great option for solo travelers that are not comfortable with paying $200+ a night to stay in downtown DC. I have stayed in Generator hostels in Europe and have been consistently impressed by their hostels. They are located in NorthWest DC, equidistant from Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle. These two neighborhoods are known for their nightlife and brunches.
DC has four designated quadrants: NorthEast, NorthWest, SouthEast, and SouthWest. I encourage first-time visitors to stay in SouthWest or NorthEast DC. These areas contain fewer corporate and residential buildings.
The most popular hotels include the Mandarin Oriental, The Westin and The Conrad. If you choose to book an Airbnb, try to stay on a street that has a state name like Connecticut Avenue or Rhode Island Avenue to stay on a busier street.
DC has endless transportation options. The Circulator is your best option if you plan on sticking with the popular tourist attractions. It costs $1 to ride, and it goes around the popular sites, including Georgetown, the National Mall, and Dupont Circle.
The Metro is a great option to get in and out of the city. It also has a stop at the DCA airport. As of summer 2022, the Metro is running on limited service. Therefore, I encourage you to check the schedule ahead of time as some trains only run every twenty minutes. The Metro is the safest and easiest way to get around. To pay, you can add a metro card (SmartTrip) to your apple wallet.
I could go on and on because DC is an ever-evolving city. So I’ll leave you with one last free activity that takes some work but is very much worth it. As of May 2022, White House tours are available to the public. To request a tour, reach out to your congressman or senator. They will be your point of contact. It is tough to get a ticket, so reach out in advance.
I hope you enjoy your visit to our beautiful city. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions! Happy travels!
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