When spring arrives in Washington, D.C., tourists are as bounteous as the cherry blossom trees that seemingly bloom everywhere.
But D.C. is expensive, especially for those who bring kids to nation’s capital during the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 17-April 15 this year). The great news is that there are plenty of freebies and bargains if you know where to look.
Check out these 12 bargains whether you’re visiting for a day, spending your kids’ whole spring break or just contemplating a trip to Washington, D.C.:
1. Cherry Blossom Festival performances
You don’t have to board a day-long flight to Japan to experience authentic Japanese dance, music and performance art. Just head over to the Performance Stage at the National Cherry Blossom Festival for an array of cultural delights. Admission is free! Check out this year’s schedule here.
2. Cherry Blossom Parade
Get in on the parade celebrating the National Cherry Blossom Festival. You’ll see plenty of floats, giant helium balloon characters, celebrity musical performances, cultural displays and more. Here’s where you’ll find details about this year’s parade, which is scheduled for 10 a.m.-12 p.m. on Saturday, April 14.
The Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival this year has morphed into Petalpalooza. Organizers set the inaugural event for 1-9:30 p.m. on April 7 at the Wharf, a half-mile-long waterfront destination. The day will feature “interactive art installations, larger-than-life games and activities, live music on three outdoor stages, a roller rink, a beer garden, a spectacular fireworks show.” Get more details on this free festival here.
4. National Air and Space Museum
The 19 Smithsonian museums and galleries in Washington, D.C., offer world-class displays, and admission is free. Another bonus — 11 of those halls are located right in the center of the action on the National Mall. One of the most popular Smithsonian museums — for kids and adults – is the National Air and Space Museum. There you can discover almost anything you want to know about modern or early flight. Find out more here.
5. D.C. food trucks
Forget what you’ve heard about food trucks. Those in Washington, D.C., are clean, plentiful and serve yummy food. Whether you want pizza, corned beef, tacos, Asian specialties, Peruvian dishes or something else, you’ll find it at rock-bottom prices. The trucks are abundant in the city, especially along the National Mall, home to many of the main monuments and museums. Have a hankering for a specific cuisine? Check out the DC Food Truck Fiesta locator.
6. Major League Baseball
Prices at some MLB parks are sky-high, but you can watch the Washington Nationals take on another National League team without breaking the budget. Check out StubHub for some bargains.
7. Hotel bargain season
Those who visit Washington, D.C., when Congress is out of session have a better chance of snaring a bargain hotel price. So if you travel to the nation’s capital in April or August, you can expect to find some discounts on lodging. Check Booking.com for some of the best bargains. If you visit D.C. at other times, you can still find bargains. Check out HotelsCombined for some great deals. Not sure what area is best for you? This insider’s guide to Washington, D.C., hotels will give you plenty of tips and advice.
8. Get around fast and cheap
Once you get to D.C., park your car. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — locals just call it Metro — is a safe, easy and inexpensive way to get around town and even out to the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Prices vary, but you can ride all day for just $10, less than half the usual cost of parking your car for an evening event. Planning to visit Baltimore? You can buy a pass that is valid in both D.C. and neighboring Baltimore, Maryland. Find out more at WMATA.
9. National Museum of African American History and Culture
Don’t miss the D.C. area’s newest Smithsonian museum. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is as close as the nation gets to an exhaustive look at the African-American saga. View 36,000 artifacts, enjoy interactive displays, join book discussions, see films and more. Admission is free. Find out more here.
10. Dupont Circle
Want to check out a wine bar, have some late-night coffee and shop in a funky store? Head over to Dupont Circle (yes, you can get there on the Metro). Not just a traffic circle, the historic district in northwest D.C. is akin to other eclectic landmark neighborhoods — think New York’s Greenwich Village or San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. Check out Travel and Leisure’s overview that outlines some of the hotspots there.
11. Korean War Veterans Memorial
All the memorials in the Federal District are fascinating, but don’t miss the Korean War Veterans Memorial, a short walk from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Go at night. You’ll be stunned by how the lighting transforms the statuary into lifelike figures.
12. The National Archives
The White House, U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial — there are dozens of historic spots that Washington, D.C., visitors will want to experience. If you have to choose one, though, consider making it the National Archives. You’ll likely wait in line for free admission, but once inside you will see the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation — documents that provide the very underpinnings of our democracy. You can even research your own family’s history. Find out details on the National Archives site.
Have you traveled to Washington, D.C.? Share your recommendations for other visitors in comments below or on our Facebook page.