Many of Washington DC‘s internationally recognizable buildings and monuments are indeed free to visit, but there are other options besides Presidential statues and plaques if you want to conserve a little cash. Here are three ideas to mull over while planning your getaway to the nation’s capital.
1. Eavesdrop on the Supreme Court: Seriously – oral arguments are open to the public, but you’ll have to show up early and be patient if you want to grab a seat in the Courtroom. Justices Kagan, Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Kennedy, Thomas, Sotomayor, and Chief Justice Roberts face a lot of pressure these days, and on certain scheduled mornings, you can see them in action, whipping out those precedents. As for the rest of the building, there isn’t a group tour per se, but guests are welcome, so you can still explore the elegant ground floors, see the visitor’s film, and attend Courtroom Lectures on your own. Prepare for long lines in summer and the predictable amount of security on the way in, and of course keep the volume down while passing law-makers hard at work in nearby offices.
2. Watch Classic Movies at the National Theatre: On Monday evenings in the Helen Hayes Gallery, free tickets are given out a half-hour before the screenings (one per person in line, so bring everyone early together). Reconnect with Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Deborah Kerr, Kirk Douglas, and Jean Simmons – you know you missed them. Saturday mornings are also free ticketed events, this time for kids; activities and performances are often song-and-dance related and promote social awareness.
3. Sniff the Scents at the U.S. National Arboretum: Spread over roughly 450 acres and visited by half a million people a year, the Arboretum was established in 1927 and continues to be a leading scientific and educational haven for plant-lovers. The library has 11,000 books on subjects like botany and plant taxonomy; the herbarium alone has 650,000 specimens for medicinal and horticultural studies. As far as ‘living museums’ go, this one tops the list in depth and appeal. It’s open almost completely year-round, and admission is free. Tip: the National Grove of State Trees is a prime spot for afternoon picnics.
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