Things to Do on a Budget this Summer in Washington DC


Summer in Washington DC can be stifling, but there are plenty of things to see and do that come with a price tag that won’t leave you hot under the collar.

Washington Monument at Sunset (Photo: John Brighenti via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

The compact US capital may be best known as the nation’s political epicentre, but those who visit soon discover that there’s so much more to the city than the White House and Capitol. Indeed, the summer months are when politics descends into the background, with the city’s landmarks and attractions instead coming to the fore. Here’s our pick of 12 affordable things you should add to your DC summer itinerary.

National Mall

The long, grassy National Mall is free of charge to amble around, yet the iconic landmarks dotted around the area are worth their historical weight in gold. The Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument are perhaps the most distinctive of the attractions here, but flanking the mall are also the internationally acclaimed Smithsonian museums, while its lawns and pathways are often crowded with tourists and locals.

United States Botanic Garden

Inside the United States Botanic Garden (Photo: Domenico Convertini via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dating back to 1820, this is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America and a delight to explore during the summer. Created for the purpose of informing visitors about the importance and fundamental value and diversity of plants, as well as their aesthetic, cultural, economic, therapeutic and ecological significance, the gardens attract over a million visitors annually with its variety of exhibits, tours, and programs. Admission is free.

100 Maryland Ave nue SW / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm

United States National Arboretum

A butterfly at the United States National Arboretum (Photo: Lydia Fravel Via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Another historic plant-oriented DC attraction that’s completely free to enter is this magnificent arboretum. The gorgeous, 446-acre site makes for an immersive and  visually captivating visit, teeming with diverse plant collections, with each given its own display. Highlights include the Gotelli Conifer Collection, which showcases conifers that hail from a range of climates, including the Arctic and subtropical regions.

3501 New York Avenue NE / Mon-Sun 8am-5pm


The city’s oldest neighbourhood makes for a superb leisurely wander, thanks to its picturesque riverside setting, cobblestone streets with historic row houses, stunning gardens, and an array of shops and restaurants. The original waterfront was lined with sailing vessels and industrial buildings, but today has been reclaimed as a relaxing park and boardwalk lined with enticing eateries and the occasional yacht. During the summer months, the district’s Washington Harbor Fountain lights up with music and live performances.

Fourth of July fireworks

Fireworks over Washington DC on the Fourth of July (Photo: m01229 via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

If you happen to be in Washington on July 4th, then you’re in for a treat. With an Independence Day parade, a legendary concert, and all-American activities held across the city, it’s a magical place to be for the historic annual celebration. But it is the fireworks display that is perhaps the highlight, and it can be observed from several spots. Among the most popular are the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the edge of the Potomac River in neighbouring Arlington.

Rock Creek Park

Double the size of New York’s Central Park, this urban oasis is a haven for nature lovers and locals looking for some respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Lush greenery, miles of flat walking and biking trails, picnic areas, and expansive playing fields, draw huge numbers of visitors throughout the year, and never more so than during the balmy summer months. For sports fans, there are also golf and tennis facilities.

5200 Glover Road NW

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

A performance at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (Photo: S Pakhrin via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

After a two-year hiatus, this enduringly popular festival returns this summer. This year’s featured programs are “Earth Optimism × Folklife: Inspiring Conservation Communities” and “United Arab Emirates: Living Landscape | Living Memory.” Visitors can enjoy music performances, craft workshops, cooking demonstrations, hands-on activities, and more – all free of charge – and a selection of events live streaming worldwide in this annual celebration of culture of, by, and for the people of Washington, D.C., and beyond.

National Mall, 22-27 June & 30 June-4 July 2022

Eastern Market

Located in the heart of the historic Capitol Hill neighbourhood, visitors flock to Eastern Market, where merchants serve the finest meats, poultry, seafood, produce, pasta, baked goods and cheeses from around the world. On weekends, the market buzzes with excitement, live music, and, over 100 exhibitors of handmade arts, crafts, jewellery, and antiques. There are also regular arts and community events in the market’s North Hall Event Space.

225 7th Street SE / Mon-Sun 8am-6pm

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Visitors to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (Photo: F Delventhal via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Nestled on the eastern bank of the Anacostia River, this is America’s only national park devoted to cultivated water-loving plants. The scenic gardens are home to a unique habitat featuring over 45 ponds filled with a variety of water lilies and lotus, an elevated boardwalk through the surrounding tidal marshes, and access to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail that’s popular for a casual stroll, a jog, or a bike ride,

1550 Anacostia Avenue NE / Mon-Sun 8am-4pm

Free Shakespeare Show

Each year, the Shakespeare Theatre Company hosts its special Free for All series, in which performances of one of The Bard’s classic plays are made available to the public, free of charge. This year’s summer performance will feature a contemporary take on Hamlet and will take place at both the 451-seat Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh and the 761-seat Sidney Harman Hall in downtown DC.

Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week

Summer in DC wouldn’t be complete without Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week. Throughout the annual promotion, over 100 restaurants across the DC area offer three-course, prix-fixe meals for brunch, lunch and dinner, with brunch and lunch priced at $22 and dinner at $35, allowing you to eat like royalty but for peasant prices. The sheer choice of food on offer is beguiling, with almost every international cuisine on earth represented.

Labor Day Weekend 

People gathered watching a concert on Labor Day Weekend (Photo: Sue via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Spread over three days in early September each year, Labor Day weekend is a great way to close out summer in Washington. Events are held across the city to mark the occasion, including family-friendly activities on its many waterfronts, and a magical concert held on the West Lawn of the US Capitol featuring bands and acts belting out classic American tunes. A short drive outside the city, the annual Maryland Renaissance Festival also draws visitors from far and wide over the fun-packed weekend celebration.

By Paul Joseph