How To Travel Washington DC On A Budget
If you’re traveling around the United States, visiting the capital is a must-do.
From the White House, to the Lincoln Memorial, it’s time for you to see the famous sights from movies with your own eyes - but where do you begin?
Firstly, it’s important to remember that, like all fast-paced cities, Washington D.C. can become expensive and can easily eat up your budget. You need the inside scoop on D.C. so you can pre-plan your visit and stay well within your budget.
That’s where we come in. Our Smaller Earth experts have created a jam-packed itinerary that won’t break the bank balance. So whether you’re currently a student, used to be, or just fancy traveling like one, here’s a low cost way to do Washington DC on a budget.
Navigating D.C. on a budget
The Metro system.
A brilliant invention that’ll save you loads of money, compared to Uber or taxi rides. If you fly into Washington D.C., hop on the Metro at the airport and it’ll take you where you want to be - easy peasy.
To get the Metro you’ll have to buy a $2 SmarTrip card and top it up with enough dollar for your journey. You can do this at one of the blue machines located in all Metro stations. To see how much your trip will cost, look at the fare charge for your destination station (on the big electronic boards that you can’t miss). It’s cheaper to travel during off-peak hours, but even during peak time, the maximum fare is only $6- not too bad for transport in a Capital city! You can use your SmarTrip card on buses around the city too and you can get some great deals and discounts at some popular tourist attractions, just by having a card.
Sightseeing D.C. on a budget
When picturing Washington D.C. you think of grand buildings, historic monuments and museums, and you won’t be disappointed.
One of our favourite things about the U.S Capital is that all government buildings, memorials and monuments are free.
Yep, you read it correctly - free!
All 11 Smithsonian Museums have free admission too but may involve long queues, particularly during peak season in the summer. So that’s something to bear in mind with your time frame when planning your trip. Here’s our top picks for sights to see when traveling on a budget.
Home to the President of the United States, you absolutely have to head to The White House. Though you can’t go inside, walking around the perimeter, peering through the fences at the gardens and witnessing the crazy level of security will be like nothing you’ve ever seen before. There are always tour guides leading people around the perimeter too, so listen closely to find out some interesting facts.
If you’re traveling on a budget, we’re sure you’ll have a 1 cent coin somewhere in your wallet, so take it out and look at the picture. On one side you’ll find a picture of Abraham Lincoln and if you flip it over, you’ll see the Lincoln Memorial. Head over to this free monument if you’re sight-seeing on a budget and take an artsy picture holding your 1 cent coin in front of the memorial itself. While you’re there, take some time out of your day to sit on the steps. Here, you can gaze out at the impressive reflecting pool; you’ll find that it is surprisingly calming in such a busy city.
If opting to travel by subway, get off at the Smithsonian stop (on the blue, grey and orange line). You’ll find yourself on the National Mall; a huge open space filled with memorials and museums. The Smithsonian museums are worth checking out, even if you don’t see yourself as a museum lover. Why? Well, these museums leave you spoilt for choice. From the Air and Space Museum, to the Museum of American History, you’re sure to be interested in at least one of the 11 museums. As we said before, they’re all completely free, so go and check out some of the coolest, most extravagant exhibits in the world.
While we’re on the topic of museums, the National Archives is where the famous Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are kept. If there are any history/law buffs (or ‘National Treasure’ film fans) you’ll be in your element, as you can see these instrumental documents through the glass panes. Of course, entrance is completely free.
The African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum is well worth a visit, as it highlights parts of American history that have previously been ignored. You will learn how slavery ended and hear stories of many Americans of African, Hispanic and European descent, who played a key role in keeping America united. It’s a great free way to learn about an important part of history.
4. National Botanical Gardens
Fancy stepping away from the fast-paced city life? The United States Botanic Garden is a stunning plant exhibition you have to visit. Here, you can leisurely walk around, admire the scenery and learn about the importance of plants for human well-being and the ecosystem. So take your camera (or a pencil and sketch pad if you enjoy drawing!) and enjoy the free, aesthetically pleasing views of the gardens.
Eating in D.C. on a budget
If you’re travelling on a student budget, you’ve got to think like an American college student. With plenty of American colleges (universities) residing in the Washington, D.C. area, you can find plenty of cheap places to eat near the campuses. A personal favourite food place of ours is Ben’s Chilli Bowl. A 10-minute walk from the African-American Civil War Memorial, you’ll notice Ben’s place straight away from its impressive U Street-inspired artwork decorating the outside walls. You have to try one of their famous half-smokes which, in our opinion, is one of the most delicious hot dogs in existence. For $5.95 it’s an absolute bargain that will not disappoint.
Where to stay in D.C. on a budget
Our top tip for saving money on accommodation is to be proactive and book as far in advance as possible.
It may seem like it goes without saying, but as D.C. is the Capital, the influx of tourism means that rooms get booked up fast. If you’re travelling in a large group, booking an AirBnb is likely so save your group some money. The Metro system is easy to use and very accessible, so staying somewhere further out of the city centre is a great way to save money (just make sure that you’re near a stop!). If you’ve just finished your incredible summer working at a US summer camp with Camp Leaders, HI Washington D.C. Hostel may be the best option for you. You can save up to 10% off your booking and your $3 daily membership fee is waived. Use the discount code on this page when you book- (you’re welcome!)
Whether you're opting for a few days stay, or a fleeting visit to the US Capital, you’ll be able to enjoy Washington DC on a budget and without spending too much money. We know it can be tempting to get carried away and forget about the student budget. But we’ve shown you that with a little bit of research and pre-planning, you can do everything you want to, while keeping your bank balance intact. So take pictures, visit monuments and learn about the historical importance of the US capital and enjoy D.C., without breaking the bank!