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Washington D.C. is our nation’s capital and a living, breathing symbol of freedom as well. With its elegant monuments and extensive museum exhibits, this destination can also be considered the capital of free things to do. Add in a poppin’ night-life scene and a mixture of cultures, and you have a perfect cheap destination for the historically inclined college student (or really, anyone else). Here are the best things to do in Washington D.C., if you’re traveling cheap.

Enjoy some seriously iconic national monuments

Washington D.C. is much more than just the monuments it is famous for, but still, these historic landmarks are not to be missed—especially since seeing them is free. And they remain among the top things to do in D.C.

The city is covered in monuments, and the epicenter of it all is the National Mall. There, you can find such classics as the Washington, Lincoln and the Jefferson memorials, among many others.

A view of the Washington Monument, as seen from between the huge columns of the Lincoln Memorial. Both of these stately attractions are among the top things to do in Washington D.C.

Washington Monument seen from Lincoln Memorial. Courtesy Washington.org

The Washington Memorial is one of D.C.’s most iconic views. The monument is not hard to miss, thanks to its towering height (compared to the city’s famously low skyline) and the giant reflecting pool that mirrors this tribute to our nation’s first president.

What many people don’t know is that you can see the monument from the inside as well as from the outside. That means you can climb to the top of the Washington and get an aerial view of the National Mall. The best part? Tickets for this breath-taking view can be found for free!

In order to obtain free Washington Monument tickets, you must be resilient, patient and most of all early…tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Which is why attempting to score a ticket can feel a bit like Black Friday, but it’s it totally worth it once you see that view. The tickets can be found at the Washington Monument Lodge on 15th Street, adjacent to the monument.

An evening view of the Lincoln Memorial, with people sitting on the steps in front. This attraction is one of the most popular in the city, and a must-see on your list of things to do in D.C.

Photo courtesy of washington.org.

Honest Abe can always be found greeting guests at the Lincoln Memorial. While gazing at the peaceful figure, you might start to wonder if his backside is hurting after sitting inthat stone chair for so many years. His face, however, will give you no indication…

At the top of the memorial’s steps is a tile that is marked for its significance. Not only can you visit Mr. Lincoln here, you can also be a part of a pivotal event in our nation’s history, by standing where Martin Luther King Jr. stood when he gave his “I have a dream” speech to thousands of spectators.

A broke student's guide to doing Washington D.C. on the cheap

Photo courtesy of Washington.org

Across the Tidal Basin sits the Jefferson Memorial, the beautiful location is great for relaxation and enjoying the greenery of D.C. This is especially true during March and April, when the Tidal Basin’s borders are colored with romantic pink cherry blossoms.

If you take the time to walk in between these three iconic monuments, you will surely come across many many others, such as several veterans memorials, the National World War II Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Try to catch a glimpse of the Commander in Chief

If you are making an impromptu stop at the President’s home, don’t expect to be invited in… However, if you are planning your trip in advance, you might have a chance to walk through the iconic home’s halls, which is by far one of th coolest things to do in D.C.

You can make a public tour request up to three months in advance through a member of Congress. Tours of the White House are free, if you are quick and lucky enough to snag a spot—the latest you can file a request is 21 days before your planned visit.

If you dropped the ball this time don’t worry, you can still take a selfie outside the mansion and visit the White House Visitor Center, at 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Here, you can take an interactive touchscreen tour of the White House, view over 90 artifacts from the White House collection and see the short film, “White House: Reflections From Within.”

A broke student's guide to doing Washington D.C. on the cheap

Photo courtesy of washington.org

Your trip-planning keyword: Smithsonian

Here’s a good tip for your trip to Washington D.C.: Look for the word “Smithsonian,” as it usually equates to “free.” There are countless free museums in D.C., and all of them have something worth seeing. Best of all, most are within walking distance of those iconic monuments we discussed earlier.

These free Smithsonian museums include:

  • The Air and Space Museum, which offers a glimpse (or rather, a long hard look) into our country’s past, present and future in the fields of flight and aerospace technology.
  • The American History Museum, which houses an extensive collection of American artifacts, such as the first American flag, Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and even Kermit the Frog.
  • The Natural History Museum, which captures the natural wonders of the world, including several dinosaur fossil skeletons and hundreds of preserved animals that are sure to intrigue you and give you nightmares.
  • The National Zoo, where you can see many of the animals you saw in the Natural History Museum…but this time without the stuffing.
A broke student's guide to doing Washington D.C. on the cheap

Tian Tian the giant panda eating bamboo at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Mehgan Murphy and the Smithsonian.

Party in the eclectic D.C. neighborhoods

Washington D.C.’s neighborhoods are a mixture of diverse cultures and historical significance. The nightlife scene has really taken off in D.C. in recent years and can be found all over the city. Here is a look at the best of the best of D.C. nightlife.

The Adams Morgan neighborhood is known for its historic architecture and local boutiques by day, and its unique bars and restaurants by night. This “hipster hotspot” also features many ethnic restaurants and live music. No matter what time of day you choose to visit, 18th Street is the place to be in this neighborhood.

Want to find some of these ethnic eats for a cheap price? First, check out the Amsterdam Falafelshop for a seriously filing and unique late-night meal. A regular-sized falafel sandwich, which comes with 5 falafel balls in a large pita and as many toppings as that pita can handle, is less than $7. If empanadas are more your style, check out Julia’s Empanadas for treats that are filled to the brim with fresh ingredients. You can get a hot and juicy empanada for a mere $5 at Julia’s. What we’re getting at here is: Eating is one of the absolute best things to do in Washington D.C., and Adams Morgan is among the best places to do exactly that.

Looking for a place to chill and discover some new music? Look no further than Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe. This place offers a variety of live shows that are relatively cheap to attend—tickets can cost anywhere from free (with rsvp on their website) to $20.

If you want to combine two of life’s greatest treasures—great music and food—be sure to check out Adams Morgan Day, held on the second Sunday in September each year. This local celebration features live music and food from around the world, as well as sidewalk cafes, unique vendors, and cultural demonstrations and dances.

Logan Circle is also known for its historic architecture, and is so named for the roundabout on its southern end, and the statue of Civil War general John Logan found in the area’s park. This neighborhood’s nightlife has taken off thanks to the transformation of 14th Street NW, where dozens of restaurants, indie and national-brand shops and a hoppin’ bar scene can be found.

Here, you’ll find the legendary Black Cat, which has been offering indie bands and themed dance nights since 1993. And entry will only set you back from the gloriously cheap $0, to roughly $20 at the high end. Shows include DJ dance parties, live bands and weekly “Doctor Who” screenings, among others.

The Studio Theatre is also a place where you can catch local talent and some traveling performances, including musicals, avant garde dramas and new comedies. Although this might be a bit of a splurge, depending on the show you choose, it can be a good look into Logan Circle’s artistic draw. And you can definitely find tickets for as little as $20—just be sure to buy them in advance.

HStreet NE is a 1.5-mile stretch in Northeast D.C. that is known for its nightlife, restaurants and festivals. Rock and Roll Hotel is a local mainstay for up-and-coming indie rock bands. Tickets to shows are typically $10 to $25, and the admission to the rooftop bar is free.

If you are visiting in the summer or fall, check out Gallery OonH during its Music in the Courtyard series. The gallery offers free music concerts in the Courtyard on weekends from May 1 to October 31. The series features local musicians with genres ranging from electronic violin to zydeco, to steel bands and rock n’ roll.

H Street NE has plenty of late-night snack options for post-concert indulgences, but if you find yourself looking to recharge the next morning, take a brunch break at Bullfrog Bagels. The eatery offers fresh bagels and a deliciously simple brunch menu, which features nothing over $15.

H Street’s largest event is the annual, aptly named H Street Festival, which spans 10 blocks and attracts thousands of people each year. The September festival features musical performances and multi-cultural entertainment, art exhibits and local food trucks, making it one of the top things to do in Washington D.C. — that is, if you want a taste of local life.

A broke student's guide to doing Washington D.C. on the cheap

Night life on H Street NE. Photo courtesy of washington.com

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