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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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Tagged: Cheap City, USA, City, Family

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Museums are educational, entertaining and a great way to spend an unexpectedly rainy day when you are in a new city. When you can get into those museums for free, well, that’s just the cherry on top. Here are seven of the best free museums to check out on your next trip.

Red penguins adorn the outside of the 21C Hotel Museum in Louisville. Courtesy of LuAnn Snawder Photography.

Red penguins adorn the outside of the 21C Hotel Museum in Louisville. Courtesy of LuAnn Snawder Photography.

21C Museum Hotel
700 W. Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202

This nine-room boutique hotel features contemporary art throughout the lobby and public spaces, as well as ina basement gallery area. Admission is free, and exhibits rotate. Grab a flight of bourbon in the hotel bar on your way out, because why not. 21C also has locations in Cincinnati, Bentonville, Ark., and Durham, N.C.

An a cappella group sings in a grand room at the Chicago Cultural Center. Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

An a cappella group sings in a grand room at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602

The Cultural Center’s might among the Chicago’s museums is a little unexpected, especially since the city is so famed for its art and museum scene. But nestled along Michigan Avenue, the 1897 building could be an art exhibit of its own with this vaulted ceilings, mosaics and stained glass windows. Rotating art exhibitions incorporate the building’s beautiful spaces into their displays.

 

'Eve Hearing the Voice' by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, at Cincinnati Art Museum. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

‘Eve Hearing the Voice’ by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, at Cincinnati Art Museum. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Cincinnati Art Museum
953 Eden Park Drive
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Cincinnati’s art museum is to die for. Before you’ve even made it into the main galleries, you will have already a mummy and a couple Van Goghs. It’s variety is reminiscent of London’s National Gallery (another fantastic free museum). Occasionally, a special exhibit will roll through town that costs you a couple bucks, but the rest of the expansive museum is free.

 

A piece of artwork from the Museum of Bad Art on display in Taiwan. Courtesy of Connie Ma.

A piece of artwork from the Museum of Bad Art on display in Taiwan. Courtesy of Connie Ma.

The Museum of Bad Art
55 Davis Square
Somerville, MA 02144

This collection of “offbeat” art is a community-driven effort, accepting both monetary and artistic donations. You can decide whether the art is bad or just, well, artistic. The museum is free daily. There are also locations in nearby Brookline and South Weymouth.

 

Among the best free museums is New York's stunning Natural History Museum, which features this incredible T-Rex skeleton. Photo courtesy of Ally Marotti.

T-Rex. Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West and 79th Street
New York, NY 10024

This free museum suggests you pay $22 to get in, but that is considered a donation and is not mandatory. You can donate any amount or nothing. Officials understand that those on a budget like to appreciate art and history as well. Check out millennia of history at this museum just off Central Park. See dinosaur bones and get a picture taken with a life-sized version of Teddy Roosevelt.

 

A child takes advantage of one of the many interactive displays at National Museum of the United States Air Force. Courtesy of Marada.

A child takes advantage of one of the many interactive displays at National Museum of the United States Air Force. Courtesy of Marada.

National Museum of the United States Air Force
1100 Spaatz St.
Dayton, OH 45431

Near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, this interactive military museum gives visitors a look into Air Force vessels through the ages. Visitors can climb in and out of cockpits and see planes soaring overhead. There’s also a nice tribute to Ohio’s own flight pioneers, the Wright brothers.

 

The Hope Diamond is on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., one of the world's best free museums.

The Hope Diamond is on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. Courtesy of Ben_Lei.

Smithsonian Institution

Washington D.C. and New York City

All 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park run by the Smithsonian Institution are free and open every day of the year except Christmas. Not sure where to start? Head to the National Museum of Natural History (one of the best free museums on earth) at the corner of 10th St. & Constitution Ave. in Washington D.C. to see dinosaur bones, a solid gold Monopoly set and the famed Hope Diamond.

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Tagged: Cheap Tips, City, Family, FREE!, Last minute travel, New York City

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Few things go together as well as flights and hotels—and luckily, they’re even cheaper when bundled together on CheapTickets. And we’ll prove it to you. Here’s a sample of our vacations under $500:

The fine print: Each vacation package under $500 includes one round-trip flight and a two-night hotel stay. The prices reflect dates chosen at random.

  • Chicago to Miami: Starting at $215
  • New York City to Atlanta: Starting at $270
  • Cleveland to Denver: Starting at $423
  • Portland to Vancouver: Starting at $396
  • Dallas to New Orleans: Starting at $167
  • Houston to San Diego: Starting at $321

And ‘sample’ is not a misnomer, people. We’ve always got plenty of vacation packages under $500, meaning that if you desperately need a last-minute getaway, we’ve likely got something for you. Hankering to hop from St. Louis to Nashville? We’ve got you covered. Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.? Yup, it’s still cheap. So go live that big-city life, or relax on a beach, or whatever you may need at the moment to recharge. Because with flights and hotels this cheap, there’s basically no reason not to.

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Tagged: Cheap Tips, City, Family, Last minute travel, New York City, Uncategorized, Vacation packages

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It’s Christmastime. In towns big and small all over America, people are gathering around Christmas trees as they are illuminated for the first time this year. Some of those trees are iconic, adorning Christmas ornaments and postcards, but for some of them, their glory lies in their story. And the best part? It doesn’t cost a dime to take in their majesty, save for the cup of hot chocolate you’ll likely buy on your way. Take a look at this list of some of America’s best public Christmas trees.

The Iconic Tree:

Rockefeller Center Tree

Rockefeller Center Tree | Flickr CC: Shinya Suzuki

Rockefeller Center, New York City — This is about as iconic as you can get when it comes to Christmas trees. New York City’s massive tree overlooks the ice skating rink in Rockefeller Plaza and has made it into many a classic Christmas movie scene. Something that really makes this tree iconic though, is its origins. The New York Times did a story earlier this month that revealed the history of the tree, noting that hard-working Italian immigrants first pushed a tree up in 1931 after a long day of constructing the city into what we know it as today.

 

Millennium Park Christmas tree

Chicago’s Christmas tree sits in front of the city’s skyline at Millennium Park. Photo: Ally Marotti

Millennium Park, Chicago — Chicago’s giant public Christmas tree usually sits in the middle of the German Christmas market, Christkindlmarket, in Daley Plaza in the heart of downtown, but this year it was moved to Millennium Park. Now it rises above Cloud Gate (aka, the Bean) in front of Chicago’s skyline.

  

Gifted trees:

Boston Christmas Tree

Boston Christmas Tree | Flickr CC: Eric Kilby

Boston Christmas Tree — A tree has been lit in Boston each year since 1941, and since 1971, each tree has come from Nova Scotia. Illuminated in Boston Common, the tree is gifted to the city each year by Nova Scotia as a thank you for assistance provided during the 1917 Halifax explosion, which destroyed much of the city. Boston sent help immediately, although their train was delayed by a blizzard. Still, the Nova Scotians never forgot.

 

Union Station Christmas tree

The Christmas tree inside Union Station in Washington D.C. is a gift from Norway. Photo: Chris Gladis – Flickr

Union Station, Washington D.C. — Norway gifts a Christmas tree to Washington D.C. each year as a symbol of friendship with the U.S. and as a thank you for the help the U.S. provided to Norway during World War II. The tree is displayed in Union Station, and the Norwegian Embassy chooses a theme with which to decorate the tree each year. In 2013, when the theme was Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” the tree was fashioned with dozens of tiny reflective versions of the shrieking man in Norway’s most famous painting. This year’s theme is Norwegian music.

 

Public Square Park, Nashville — The Christmas tree in downtown Nashville is often gifted to the city by residents. This year, Tammie Myles donated 42-foot Norway spruce to honor her parents. It will be decorated with 5,000 lights. This idea of individuals donating Christmas trees is common throughout the country, especially when the trees or activities surround them feature some sort of charitable aspect. Local Christmas tree farms will often donate trees for display near the courthouse.

Big trees in small squares:

Rittenhouse Square Christmas tree

The Christmas tree in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. Photo: Marc Cappelletti – Flickr.

Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia — Rittenhouse Square is one of five original open spaces in Philadelphia planned by William Penn. It is about two short blocks long on eachside, and in December a 30-foot Christmas Tree rises out of its center. It makes the little historical park even cozier.

 

Cincinnati's Christmas tree

Fireworks go off at the tree lighting ceremony in Fountain Square in Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo: 5ch4r7z – Flickr.

Fountain Square, Cincinnati — The Christmas tree dominates downtown Cincinnati’s Fountain Square each December, and shadows the temporary ice skating rink that is assembled nearby each year. The smaller size of the square, which is mostly enclosed by the city’s skyscrapers, makes the tree seem even bigger and more festive.

When the trees don’t move:

Town Square Lighting, Jackson Hole — Instead of decorating one giant tree, Jackson Hole sets Town Square ablaze with multiple tree lightings. Fitting in with its outdoorsy M.O., the town does not cut down any trees for its Christmas celebrations, so it earns a spot on our list for being environmentally aware.

Coeur D' Alene, Idaho

Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho | Flickr CC: Tracy Hunter

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho — A nearly 200-foot grand fir at Coeur d’Alene Resort is decorated with tens of thousands of lights and at one point set the world record for the tallest living Christmas tree. The star on top is 10 feet alone.

Sardy House Tree, Aspen — This is the 31st year the owners of the Sardy House illuminate the large fir tree on the corner of Main and Aspen streets in Aspen. (New owners spent $250,000 to amp up the lighting in 2006). It is strewn with 10,000 LED lights hooked up to a system that can emulate everything from fireworks to a cascading waterfall. The glory of using a live tree? The lights stay on year-round and can be used during other holiday celebrations.

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Tagged: Cheap Tips, Festivals, FREE!, Holidays, New York City, Seasonal

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In this age of online shopping, it’s easy to forget that our favorite goods come from actual, you know, places. See where everyday items are born during one of these made-in-America factory tours.

Crayola Factory in Pennsylvania

Photo courtesy of Frances MacLeod

Crayola Experience, Easton, PA

Let your imagination run wild through four floors of colorful fun at this attraction about a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia or New York City. Watch a live-action theater show that explains how crayons are brought to life, create custom crayons and run wild in the two-story color-themed playground.

Photo courtesy of Darah Thomas

Photo courtesy of Darah Thomas

Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory Tour, Louisville, KY

This bat factory will score a home run with baseball fans. As you enter the building, you’ll walk past the world’s largest bat—a 120-feet-tall replica of Babe Ruth’s own Louisville Slugger. Then it’s onto the factory and museum, where you can watch bats being made, hold bats used by Major League Baseball legends and test out the batting cages. At the end of the factory tour, take home a free miniature bat or order a full-size personalized Slugger.

Photo courtesy of Jelly Belly Candy Company

Photo courtesy of Jelly Belly Candy Company

Jelly Belly Factory Tour, Fairfield, CA 

You’ll feel like a kid in a candy store at this factory located between San Francisco and Sacramento. See what goes into making jelly beans that taste like buttered popcorn, toasted marshmallow and A&W Root Beer, and discover why it takes up to 20 days to create a single bean. But don’t fill up on the free samples; save room for bean-shaped burger or bean-shaped pizza in the Jelly Belly Cafe.

Stuffington Bear Factory Tour, Phoenix, AZ

Before there was Build-A-Bear, there was Stuffington Bear. Watch bears and other stuffed animals come to life as they are cut, sewn and stuffed, and learn about the history of teddy bears. After the tour, stop by the retail store to take home a cuddly companion of your own.

Ben and Jerry's Factory Tour in Vermont

Photo courtesy of Nick Caruso

Ben and Jerry’s Factory TourWaterbury, VT

How could an ice cream factory tour not be fun? Learn about the history of the company, watch as sweet treats come to life on the factory floor and, yes, indulge in free samples. Find even more sweet treats in the Scoop Shop, which offers traditional ice cream treats and specialty desserts. 

Photo courtesy of: linearclassic | Flickr Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of  linearclassic | Flickr Creative Commons

Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Washington, DC, and Fort Worth, TX

Anyone can make money, but not everyone make money. In each of these tours, you can stand above the production floor as millions of dollars roll off the printing press, watch a video about the production process and, ironically, buy souvenir currency in the gift shop.

Photo courtesy of Becky Musgrove.

Photo courtesy of Becky Musgrove

Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory Tour, Avery Island, LA

The hottest tour in the South starts with a visit to this lush Louisiana island. Watch a film about the history of the spicy condiment, see where Tabasco is aged in white oak barrels and look on as the sauce is bottled and packaged to begin its journey to kitchen tables across America.

Photo courtesy of Harinder Singh

Photo courtesyof Harinder Singh

Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing TourEverett, WA

Take your knowledge of air travel to new heights during this rare public tour of a commercial jet assembly plant just north of Seattle. Interact with exhibits, walk through tunnels and ride a freight elevator to a balcony high above the factory floor as you watch 747s and other aircraft being assembled.

Photo courtesy of Tillamook.

Photo courtesy of Tillamook

Tillamook Cheese Factory, Tillamook, OR

Tillamook ages its cheeses for up to three year,s but you won’t need to wait that long to sample the goods during a self-guided tour of its Pacific Coast factory. Get a bird’s eye view as milk is transformed into 171,000 pounds of cheddar, pepper jack and more every day. After the tour, nosh on grilled cheese sandwiches, ice cream and other dairy delights in the on-site restaurant.

Photo courtesy of: ooitschristina | Flickr Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of ooitschristina | Flickr Creative Commons

Gibson Guitar Factory Tour, Memphis, TN

First come the instruments; then comes the music. Watch and listen as the legendary guitars are bound, neck-fitted, painted, buffed and tuned on at this famed Beale Street factory. After the tour, stop by the retail shop for a guitar of your own, and start singin’ the blues.

Photo courtesy of: Matt Lehrer | Flickr Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Matt Lehrer | Flickr Creative Commons

Budweiser Brewery Tour, St. Louis, MO

Before the craft beer phenomenon took off, there was good ol’ Budweiser. Learn about the company’s century-old brewing process as you walk through its historic building. Save room for a cold one at the end of the tour. Additional tours are available at these Anheuser-Busch factory locations: Fort Collins, Colorado; Jacksonville, Florida; Merrimack, New Hampshire; and Fairfield, California.

Tagged: California, Family, Food & drink