10 Tips to Save Money and Hassle on Your Washington, D.C. Vacation
When we lived in Washington, D.C., I was always encouraging everyone I knew to come visit. We could help them achieve a memorable family vacation in this important and historic city, without spending a fraction of the cost you would expect to spend on a trip of this magnitude.
Granted, one way we saved our friends and family hundreds was providing them a free place to sleep, to include free breakfast and dinner. We live in Georgia now, so I can’t give you all that anymore.
However, after living in D.C. for five years, both inside and outside of the beltway, I still have a few good tips to save you money and hassle on your trip.
#1. Take the Moonlight Monument Tour.
First, let’s establish that the National Mall is not a shopping center. That’s what we call the giant green rectangle that forms a perfectly straight line stretching for blocks, from the Capitol building all the way to the Lincoln Memorial.
All the best things to do in D.C. don’t cost any money at all!
Why hike the National Mall in the heat of the day when you can see the monuments at night with a lot less sweat, crowds, and traffic!?? We used to wait for the sun to go down and then pile everyone into our cars and park right in those parallel spaces along the mall. That’s not an effective strategy in the day time. Don’t even attempt it, but after 6pm, why not?
But if this is your first time in D.C., just stick to the Metro. It’s perfectly safe to take the Metro in the evening.
The monuments are actually even more beautiful all lit up at night.
Here’s what you can see out there on your Moonlight Monument Tour:
- the outdoor portion of the Capitol building
- the WWII Memorial
- the Vietnam Memoral
- White House
- Korean Memorial
- Lincoln Memorial
- Reflecting Pool
- Martin Luther King Jr. Monument
- Jefferson Memorial
- Of course, the Lincoln will always be my personal favorite.
#2. Choose your hotel carefully.
Use google maps to figure out how close your hotel is to the Metro.
I’m planning to stay in Springfield, near the Franconia Metro stop and ride the train in from there. Yes, that might be a 30 minute Metro ride. If you are looking to stay closer, aim for Alexandria or Arlington. I recommend staying in either northern Virginia or western Maryland, rather than inside the district, to save hundreds of dollars.
There are some rough areas of D.C. you will want to avoid. If your hotel seems too cheap to be true, then you are either looking at one of those rough areas or a long drive to the Metro stop.
#3. All Smithsonian Museums are FREE, and the Art Galleries are the most overlooked. Don’t overlook the art galleries. They are my favorite.
I love all the Smithsonians, and you really can’t get in more than a couple in a day. I most highly recommend the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Portraiture Gallery. These two museums are located in one building, and people often miss this one because it isn’t on the Mall. However, this is the one that has a portrait of every single U.S. President, and the art in the American Art Museum tells the story of our country even better than the American History museum, in my opinion.
My 2nd favorite is the National Gallery of Art. No, actually it may be my 1st favorite. It is one of the biggest museums on the Mall. You can’t miss it. I could have spent hours upon hours there. Actually, I did, but I did not have my children with me that day.
My children, on the other hand, love the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History the best.
Oh! And be sure to catch the First Lady’s gowns exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, which is also on the Mall.
#4. Want a cheap lunch on the National Mall?? McDonald’s is at the Space Museum.
#5. Some museums in town are not owned by the Smithsonian, and are very much NOT free.
And when I say not free, I mean super-not-free! The Newseum charges $25 per adult ticket. Seriously.
This site has a more complete list of which venues require tickets.
#6. It’s FREE to see the Capitol, and it’s worth your time to set that up.
Over the years, we’ve visited the Capitol building several times. I especially enjoyed watching Congress in session. Is it bad that I don’t even remember if I was watching the Senate or the House of Representatives? Oh well, either way, a fun time was had. We had small children with us, so Alan and I took turns sitting in the audience balcony and waiting in the hallway with our little boys.
Pssst! While you’re at the Capitol, take a gander at the Supreme Court and Library of Congress on the street behind the Capitol building.
Oh! And there’s a food court in the Capitol building.
#7. Arlington National Cemetery
This one could easily be made into an all day affair, if you buy the bus tickets and see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, the Robert E. Lee house, and all that jazz. It has an incredible view of D.C. However, if everyone in your group is able-bodied, it is TOTALLY possible to just hike up to the Tomb of the Unknowns without buying the expensive bus passes.
But be forewarned: Arlington National Cemetery is large and extremely hilly. Only the very fit should embark without a bus pass. Bus passes are for sale when you first arrive at the giant service center building.
#8. Most importantly, buy a Metro pass, and you will be fine.
The Metro is a perfectly safe form of transportation, and it is the most affordable way to do D.C. There are even buses that run between Metro stops that you can hop on with your Metro pass.
I used to walk around D.C. with my Metro map, but now that everyone has smart phones, you can give your Google Maps app a good work-out on this trip! Which leads me to my next tip…..
#9. Download the Metro app!!!
Yes! There’s an app for that! There are several apps to choose from, actually. Here’s one to get you started!
DC Metro and Bus–bus and train schedules. It’s also able to locate stops that are nearby for ya.
#10. Pack sack lunches, drinks, and snacks to save major money on food!
You may not want to do this for your long days of touring, but at least try it for the road trip.
For D.C., your hotel will be your biggest expense. Food will probably be second. The more food you can buy from a grocery store and pack with you, the better off you will be. There is not a lot of affordable food options down on the Mall. The museum cafeterias are not cheap, just to warn you.
Oh! And if you have small children, don’t miss the Smithsonian Carousel. It brightens their day every single time.
Wishing you a wonderful D.C. vacation! Questions? Ask me anything in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to help ya out!
featured image credit: depositphotos.com
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