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100 Free & Almost Free Things to Do: History & Heritage

@ray.payys - World War II Memorial on National Mall at night - Washington, DC

Discover American history in the nation’s capital with these free & almost free activities

Adventure through American history in Washington, DC, a city brimming with exciting experiences, some of which literally date back to the founding of our nation (we’re looking at you, Declaration of Independence). Not only is DC filled with exciting history and heritage, it’s also been called the “capital of free” for the many attractions and museums that cost nothing (or very little) for you. Check out these different ways to experience both national and local history in Washington, DC.

1 National World War II Memorial
National World War II Memorial

Pay tribute to the soldiers that served in World War II, as well as those that supported efforts from home, at the National World War II Memorial, which features two 43-foot arches, a 17-foot pillar for each state and a field of 4,000 gold stars. If you want to honor local World War I participants, stop by the nearby DC War Memorial, one of the Mall’s hidden gems.

2 President Lincoln's Cottage
President Lincoln's Cottage

Some six million people visit the Lincoln Memorial each year,, but did you know you can tour Honest Abe’s summer home? President Lincoln’s Cottage reveals the distinctly domestic side of a historic presidency. Admission is only $5 for kids.

3 Library of Congress
Library of Congress Matthew and Heather via Flickr

Inside the largest library in the world, you can check out the Library of Congress' interactive elements, like the re-creation of Thomas Jefferson's library. Before you go, check the Library’s calendar to see if you can catch one of the free lectures, concerts, exhibits and poetry readings that are held there regularly.

4 National Archives
National Archives Victoria Pickering

Read the original Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights at the National Archives, then research your family's immigration records.

5 Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery David D'Agostino

Visit Arlington National Cemetery to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The ceremony is held every hour on the hour from Oct. 1-March 31, and every half hour from April 1-Sept. 30.

6 The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court @pauladamsvideo

Watch history in the making by sitting in on a groundbreaking Supreme Court ruling. Keep in mind that the building is closed on weekends, and prepare for longer wait times from March through June. Seating for a session begins at 9:30 a.m. outside the Front Plaza, but visitors should arrive much earlier for a chance to attend a session.

7 Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Michael Kleinberg

Reflect on the sacrifices of American servicemen and women at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by sculptor Maya Lin. Etched into the memorial’s wall are 58,307 names of those who died or were lost, all appearing in chronological order.

8 National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery Hrag Vartanian

At the National Portrait Gallery, marvel at the nation's only complete collection of presidential portraits outside The White House.

9 National Postal Museum
National Postal Museum National Postal Museum

Witness America's story told through stamps at the National Postal Museum. Afterwards, walk across the street and inside the more-than-100-year-old Union Station and be inspired by its Beaux Arts-style architecture.

10 Tudor Place
Tudor Place Tudor Place

Go back in time by visiting Tudor Place Historic House and Garden, a Federal-style home in Georgetown that belonged to Martha Washington's gradduaghter. Experience local history through the museum's exhibits covering six generations of families who lived in the home, and marvel at the more than 200 artifacts related to George and Martha Washington. 

11 Historic Neighborhoods
Historic Neighborhoods Tony Brooks

Get out into DC's neighborhoods to learn about history beyond the National Mall. From the historic U Street and Shaw neighborhoods to the Southwest Waterfront or Upper Northwest, there's plenty of history to be found in the nation's capital.

12 Anderson House

The Winter Garden at Anderson House - Dupont Circle - Washington, DC

Experience the elegance of the turn of the century at Anderson House, the former residence of American diplomat Larz Anderson built primarily for entertaining prominent figures of the early nineteenth century. The home was gifted to the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization founded in 1783 to promote the knowledge and appreciation of the Revolution's success, in the 1930s. While you're there, check out Revolutionary-era books, manuscripts, maps, graphic arts and archives. Anderson House also hosts lectures, book signings, luncheons and events for kids.

13 Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum

Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum - History & Heritage in Washington, DC

Explore this fascinating museum that once housed Clara Barton's efforts to care for Civil War soldiers. Admission is only $7-$10, and the historic building is located in the lively Penn Quarter neighborhood.

If you’re looking for more fun and free things to do, there are plenty of other options. Check the full list of our 100 Free & Almost Free Things to Do in Washington, DC.