Ever since I watched Forrest Gump as an 8 year old I have wanted to go to Washington, D.C. Not only that but as I grew up and learnt about events which really resonated with what I believed on such as martin Luther kings famous speech the longing to visited only grew. DC was somewhere that rated highly in my estimations and I am pleased to say that it truly lived up to them, and some! Here’s our free things to do in Washington DC guide!
Getting to Washington DC
There was something strangely magical about the place in my imagination and when we visited New York I was really keen to take a short trip down. We also did a similar thing when we visited New York in 2011 when we took a trip up to Boston, so like last time we took the greyhound bus from Port Authority and it took around 5 hours, which is pretty much the same as Boston. The coach itself cost only $15 each way and they run pretty much 24 hours meaning we could get a coach which landed us in DC for 9:00am and we could leave for 9:00pm giving us plenty of time to get a good days exploration in! DC is really easy to get to from NYC on public transport which makes it a great option for a car-less road trip across the USA! There are also heaps of free things to do in Washington DC too making it a great budget trip too.
Visa requirements for the USA
There’s no doubt that a trip to the USA is an amazing experience. However, people who are planning to go there lose a part of their enthusiasm when they think about the visa process. In fact, this is one of the reasons for which many potential visitors give up without even having started.
The visa process is not as difficult as it seems ESTA visa registration is a simple and straightforward process. You can apply for it online and the process takes around 10 minutes and is inexpensive. The ESTA is a visa waver program that allows visitors travelling for tourism or business purposes from eligible countries to visit for up to 90 days without a visa. You should complete your registration at least 72 hours before you travel to the US.
America is a strange and wonderful country at times in that between each state you feel you could be in a different country such is the difference in cultures, attitudes, outlooks and also environment. What struck me the most when we arrived in DC was just how different it was to NYC. It seemed so clean and presentable, so open and quiet. Now don’t get me wrong, that griminess and buzz is one of the things I love about New York, but there was this serenity about DC which I really enjoyed and was a nice break after 8 days in the middle of the NYC craziness!
The metro is also so much different to New York, it is really quite modern and sensible looking, it feels so much more organised, light and open. DC was somewhere I really did enjoy, walking around and soaking in all that history was a wonderful experience, but it didn’t capture my heart in the way New York does, but I doubt anywhere else really ever will! That being said, it is somewhere I would wholeheartedly recommend and a city which I hope I will visit again one day. One of the great things about DC is how walkable it is making walking a top tip for our free things to do in Washington DC guide.
What did we do!?
Well of course we spent the majority of the day wandering in and about the memorials and monuments up and down Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall, taking in the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool as well as the Washington Monument where things I had dreamed about and part of me just couldn’t believe we were really here. This was truly a Bucket list moment! (It had been quite a week for it in all honesty: We got married in New York 5 days earlier! ) Just standing here thinking about all those moments in history which have taken place here, reading the carved inscription of the Gettysburg address and Lincoln’s second inauguration speech made the hairs on my neck stand on end. They are all great free things to do in Washington DC too!
War Memorials/ Other Memorials
The war memorials were also moving sights and the National World War II Memorial is a really impressive construction with 56 pillars creating a circular configuration around a central pool. It’s location just beyond the Reflecting Pool also adds to it’s sense of importance and grandeur. The memorial is full of features, inscriptions and plaques to discover as you walk around it’s circumference, one of the most moving is the Wall Of Freedom which has 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war. Just another incredible one of the many free things to do in Washington DC!
Another two war memorials which we stopped by were the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial, I was keen to stop by at both of these because of the political significance of the Vietnam war and also as my Late Grandfather served in Korea. Both are located relatively close by to each other in the beautifully kept West Potomac Park which contains many memorials and monuments including the impressive Martin Luther King JR Memorial as well as the near by Constitution Gardens hosting the Vietnam Memorial. The Korean memorial for me was one of the most touching memorials with the inclusion of several sculptures of serving soldiers.
Of course a trip to DC would not be complete without seeing the famous White House and the amazing Capitol Building and Capitol Hill. I have to be honest in saying that The White House is a lot smaller and low key than I was expecting, although of course security is high, the perimeter seems rather open! The Capitol building however is a much more impressive structure and of course, this being the home of US and arguably world politics there is always a protest or two going on around here, so never a dull moment! These are another two amazing places on our free things to do in Washington DC.
The White House/ Capitol Building
Another must do when in DC is to hop across the state border into Virginia and head over to Arlington National Cemetery which along with many things we saw today is an important piece of American history having been the resting place of many casualties, and deceased veterans, of the nation’s conflicts from the the American Civil War onwards as well reinterred dead from earlier wars. It’s also yet another moving place to see on our free things to do in Washington DC guide.
The cemetery also played an important role in the Civil war which had been the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s wife Mary Anna Custis the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. There are over 400,000 graves at Arlington including that of JFK.
We didn’t have long here and I would have loved to have spent more time visiting the graves and memorials on the site, but the whole place itself is really quite moving. Line after line of silent white grave stones marking the victims of conflict puts a lot into perspective and allows you to quantify some of those numbers you see attached to wars as people and not just statistics. The grounds are impeccably kept and respectfully visited and made me think about my great Grand Uncle who died in WW1 who is buried over in Belgium whose grave I would love to visit in the coming years.
So that was our amazing day in DC, although at times it was a little frantic and we packed quite a lot in it felt quite a relaxing pace compared to NYC. The day was hot and humid but sitting down and cooling off by the water and in the many parks, gardens and memorials, taking in the beautifully historic surroundings was a fantastic way to spend a day in the US. I would love to return for a little longer, to take a little more time and visit some of the other things we didn’t get chance to such as the Smithsonian and the site of Lincoln’s assassination, but its good to have a reason to come back!
DC is a very well kept city and even in the downtown areas it doesn’t seem too busy or claustrophobic. A great thing to note about Washington DC is the fact that most of the attractions are in fact FREE or indeed very cheap. We spent hardly any money in DC and although cash was running out at this point were able to do nearly all we set out to to… on a more humorous note, I was also attacked by a squirrel in one of the parks whilst being slightly over confident with my photography and ended up one flat jack light, but given my ninja nature dodging skills, no injuries (other than pride) were sustained!
Washington DC is somewhere I would highly recommend, especially if you are in the area visiting NYC. It isn’t far at all and the change of pace and breath taking sights definitely make the trip worth while. What we also love about the city is just how many free things to do in Washington DC and how great that makes it for travellers on a budget.
Book your accommodation here
Hey, you’ve got your Travel Insurance sorted haven’t you?
Travelling and especially backpacking is a wild adventure, but make sure you are covered just incase something goes wrong, which if you’re living it up to the fullest it’s always a possibility!
Check travel insurance prices with World Nomads here!
What are your tips for free things to do in Washington DC?