January can be a sad time. Daylight is still on the short side, and the temperature hovers around 42 degrees seemingly forever. The trees are bare, the sky is gray, the holidays are over and you’re left with nothing but torn bits of wrapping paper long since cast aside, pine needles that stubbornly evade every vacuuming, and bills, bills, bills.
What you need is some fun — some free fun. Luckily, D.C. has plenty of that.
Our city is funny that way. Sure, there are lots of places you can go around here where they’ll clip you $18 for the same martini that would be $7.50 in a third-rate city like Scranton, but you just have to avoid those places in January (but avoid Scranton all the time; this is literally the picture that comes up when you Google it).
Some of D.C.’s free fun is well-known, some less so. Save the list below for when your bank account is empty, so you can have some good times, gratis!
Museums: Unlike New York, where you have to fork over 25 bucks in exchange for some culture, many D.C. museums are free.
The following are all free Smithsonian Museums: the National Museum of American History, the National Zoo, the National Air & Space Museum, the American Art Museum & Renwick Gallery, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, the Freer Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Postal Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the Anacostia Community Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (the waiting list to get in here is long; put your name on the list for next January).
Other non-Smithsonian free museums include: the Art Museum of the Americas, the African American Civil War Museum, the DAR Museum, Ford’s Theatre (free for in-person ticket pickup only; advance reserved tickets are $3) and the Holocaust Museum.
Monuments: When you choose a day to do a monuments tour, check ahead to make sure you’ll have nice weather. And remember that although some monuments look beautiful lit up at night, you will have to look past the rats in the nearby trash bins to appreciate that beauty. But there are less of these in the winter.
It’s common knowledge that you can hardly swing a cat in D.C. without hitting a memorial or monument of some type, but the most-visited favorites include: the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.
Parks: You will undoubtedly eventually tire of all the culture and yearn to get away from the crowds swarming the poor pandas and Dorothy’s red shoes. When this happens, head for one of D.C.’s beautiful, spacious public parks.
The 1,754-acre Rock Creek Park is a favorite of hikers, bikers, runners and more. With a nature center, planetarium and horse center, there’s something here for every outdoor enthusiast. Also be sure to stop by the U.S. Arboretum, Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens and the United States Botanic Gardens.
A great resource for even more free things to do in and around D.C. is Free Tours by Foot.
With the proper effort, you can find free performances, movies, festivals, parades, events and more.
So get out there, and leave your wallet at home!