Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

How To Plan A Cheap Trip To Washington D.C.


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Harlene Conners



Planning a trip to Washington D.C. doesn’t have to break the bank. With careful research, smart decision-making, and a bit of creativity, you can experience the vibrant culture and rich history of the nation’s capital on a budget. From affordable accommodations to inexpensive dining options and free attractions, there are plenty of ways to make your trip to Washington D.C. both memorable and cost-effective.


When it comes to budget travel, one of the key factors is proper planning. By doing your research and making informed choices, you can find affordable accommodations, transportation, and dining options without compromising on the quality of your experience. In this guide, we will provide you with valuable tips and insights to help you plan a cheap trip to Washington D.C., allowing you to maximize your travel budget and make the most out of your time in the capital city.


Whether you’re a history buff, a food lover, or an art enthusiast, Washington D.C. offers a wide range of attractions and activities to suit every taste. From iconic landmarks like the White House and the Lincoln Memorial to world-class museums and cultural events, there is something for everyone to enjoy. And the best part? Many of these attractions are free or have affordable admission fees, making them easily accessible even for budget-conscious travelers.


So, get ready to explore the wonders of Washington D.C. without emptying your wallet. Let’s dive into the details of how to plan a cheap trip to Washington D.C., from finding affordable accommodations, to budget-friendly dining options, to exploring the city’s top attractions without spending a fortune.


Researching Accommodations

When planning a cheap trip to Washington D.C., one of the first things to consider is finding affordable accommodations. Fortunately, the city offers a range of options to suit different budgets.


Start your search by exploring budget-friendly hotels and guesthouses. Websites like Booking.com, Expedia, and Hostelworld can help you find accommodations that fit your budget. Look for deals, discounts, and promotions that can help you save even more money. Additionally, consider staying in neighborhoods outside the city center where prices tend to be lower.


If you’re open to alternative options, consider booking a room through homesharing platforms like Airbnb. This allows you to rent a private room or even an entire apartment at a lower cost compared to traditional hotels. Plus, you’ll have access to a kitchen where you can prepare your own meals, saving you even more money on dining expenses.


Another budget-friendly option is to stay in a hostel. Hostels offer shared dormitory-style accommodations at a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. This is a great choice for budget travelers who are comfortable with communal living and looking to meet other like-minded travelers.


Additionally, consider flexible dates for your stay. Prices can vary depending on the time of year, with weekdays often being cheaper than weekends. By being flexible with your travel dates, you can take advantage of lower rates and special offers.


Lastly, don’t forget to check if your accommodation offers any complimentary amenities such as breakfast, Wi-Fi, or shuttle services. These additional perks can help you save money and make your stay more convenient.


By researching and considering these different accommodation options, you can find a place to stay in Washington D.C. that fits your budget without compromising on comfort and convenience.


Finding Cheap Transportation

Getting around Washington D.C. on a budget is easier than you might think. With a variety of affordable transportation options available, exploring the city without breaking the bank is entirely feasible.


First, consider utilizing the city’s extensive public transportation system. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) operates a comprehensive network of buses and trains, including the Metrorail and Metrobus. Purchasing a SmarTrip card will grant you access to both these modes of transportation at discounted rates. The Metrorail is particularly convenient for reaching major tourist attractions and popular neighborhoods.


Another cost-effective option is to utilize bike-sharing services. With numerous bike stations scattered throughout the city, renting a bike can be an excellent way to explore Washington D.C. at your own pace. Companies such as Capital Bikeshare offer affordable short-term rental options that are perfect for sightseeing.


If you prefer a more traditional mode of transportation, consider taking advantage of the city’s extensive network of walking paths. Washington D.C. is a highly walkable city with well-maintained sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly areas, making it easy to navigate on foot. This not only saves you money but also allows you to discover hidden gems and enjoy the city’s beautiful architecture.


Additionally, ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft are readily available in Washington D.C. These services provide a convenient and affordable way to get around the city, especially if you’re traveling with a group or have heavy luggage.


For those planning to visit attractions outside the city center, consider using local buses or commuter rail services. These options are usually more cost-effective than taxis and provide an opportunity to experience the city’s surrounding areas.


Lastly, consider walking or cycling between attractions that are in close proximity to each other. Not only will this save you money, but it also allows you to soak in the atmosphere of the city and discover hidden gems along the way.


By utilizing these affordable transportation options, you can navigate Washington D.C. without exceeding your travel budget, ensuring that your trip is both comfortable and economical.


Budget-friendly Eateries and Dining Options

When it comes to dining in Washington D.C., there are plenty of options that won’t break the bank. From food trucks to local markets and affordable eateries, the city offers a wide range of budget-friendly dining options for every palate.


One of the best ways to experience affordable and diverse cuisine in Washington D.C. is by trying the city’s famous food trucks. These mobile eateries can be found throughout the city and offer a variety of delicious and reasonably priced meals, from tacos and burgers to international delicacies. Food truck festivals and events are also common in D.C., providing an opportunity to sample a wide range of cuisines in one place.


For those who prefer traditional dining establishments, explore the city’s diverse neighborhoods for affordable eateries and cafes. Areas like Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Chinatown have a plethora of options that fit various budgets. Look out for lunch specials and happy hour deals that offer discounts on food and drinks.


Another way to save on food expenses is by cooking some of your meals. If you’re staying in accommodations with kitchen facilities, head to local markets like Eastern Market or Union Market, where you can find fresh produce, meats, and other ingredients to prepare your own meals. This not only helps you save money but also allows you to experience the local flavors.


Consider indulging in the city’s vibrant food scene without breaking your budget by opting for lunch instead of dinner at upscale restaurants. Many restaurants in D.C. offer lunch menus with lower prices or special deals during the midday hours. This way, you can still enjoy the same quality of food at a more affordable price.


Lastly, don’t forget to try out the city’s iconic and affordable local dishes. From half-smokes at Ben’s Chili Bowl to Ethiopian injera, Washington D.C. offers a unique culinary experience that won’t put a dent in your wallet.


By exploring food trucks, affordable eateries, local markets, and trying out the city’s iconic dishes, you can enjoy delicious meals in Washington D.C. without overspending on your travel budget.


Exploring Free Attractions and Landmarks

Washington D.C. is known for its iconic landmarks and world-class attractions, and the best part is that many of them can be explored for free. Here are some of the top free attractions and landmarks to visit during your trip:

National Mall and Monuments

The National Mall is a must-visit destination in Washington D.C. and home to some of the country’s most significant memorials and monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Take a stroll along the Reflecting Pool and witness the beauty and grandeur of these historic landmarks, all without spending a dime.

One of the highlights of Washington D.C. is the Smithsonian Institution, a collection of 19 museums and galleries. The best part? Admission to all Smithsonian museums is free of charge. Explore the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History, or the National Gallery of Art, among others, to immerse yourself in art, history, and culture.

No trip to Washington D.C. is complete without a visit to the U.S. Capitol. Take a self-guided tour of the Capitol Visitor Center, where you can learn about the history and significance of this iconic building. While access to certain areas requires a reservation, the general tour is free and provides a fascinating insight into the workings of American democracy.

The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, is open to the public and offers free guided tours. Marvel at the breathtaking architecture, explore the various exhibits, and even browse the extensive collection of books and manuscripts. The Library of Congress is a hidden gem that should not be missed.

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city by visiting Theodore Roosevelt Island. Located along the Potomac River, this tranquil island offers hiking trails, scenic views, and a memorial to the 26th U.S. President. Enjoy a peaceful retreat amidst nature, just minutes away from downtown D.C.


These are just a few examples of the many free attractions and landmarks in Washington D.C. Take advantage of these opportunities to immerse yourself in the city’s history and culture without spending a dime. Remember to check the opening hours and any additional guidelines for each attraction before your visit.


Saving Money on Museum Fees

Visiting museums is a must-do activity in Washington D.C., but admission fees can quickly add up, especially if you plan to explore multiple museums. However, there are several ways you can save money on museum fees and make the most of your cultural experience without breaking the bank:

Free Admission Days

Many museums in Washington D.C. offer free admission on specific days or times. For example, the Smithsonian museums, including the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of American History, and the National Air and Space Museum, offer free general admission every day of the year. Take advantage of these opportunities to explore these world-class institutions without spending a penny.

Special Discounts

Check for special discounts offered by museums for students, seniors, military personnel, or members of certain organizations. Many museums have special rates or even free admission for these groups. Additionally, some museums offer discounted tickets for entrance after a certain time in the afternoon or during specific seasons. Take advantage of these offers to save on museum fees.

Membership Passes

If you plan to visit multiple museums, consider purchasing a museum membership pass. These passes often grant you free or discounted admission to a network of museums for a specific period. They can save you money if you plan to visit several museums over the course of your trip.

Combo Tickets

Some museums offer combo tickets that allow you to visit multiple museums at a discounted price. Check if there are any bundled ticket options available that include several museums or attractions. This can be a cost-effective way to explore multiple cultural sites without paying full price for each.

Free Tours and Events

Many museums offer free guided tours or special events that are included in the price of general admission. Take advantage of these opportunities to enhance your museum experience and learn more about the exhibits and collections. Check the museum’s website or inquire at the information desk for the schedule of free tours or events.


By taking advantage of free admission days, special discounts, membership passes, combo tickets, and free tours or events, you can save on museum fees and immerse yourself in the rich cultural offerings of Washington D.C. without straining your travel budget.


Affordable Shopping in Washington D.C.

When it comes to shopping in Washington D.C., there are plenty of options to suit different budgets. From souvenirs and local crafts to discounted fashion, the city offers a range of affordable shopping opportunities. Here are some tips to help you shop on a budget in Washington D.C.:

Explore local markets such as Eastern Market or Union Market, where you can find a wide variety of products including fresh produce, artisanal goods, and handmade crafts. These markets often have a vibrant atmosphere and offer unique items at affordable prices. It’s a great way to support local vendors and find one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

For those looking for discounted fashion and brand-name items, Washington D.C. has several outlet stores and discount retailers. Head to places like Tanger Outlets in National Harbor or Potomac Mills in Woodbridge, where you can find deals and discounts on clothing, accessories, and home goods. These outlets offer a wide range of options and can help you save money on your shopping spree.

Washington D.C. is home to various thrift stores and consignment shops where you can find unique clothing, vintage items, and even high-end designer pieces at a fraction of the original price. Take a stroll around neighborhoods like Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan to discover these hidden gems and score some affordable fashion finds.

Book lovers will be pleased to know that Washington D.C. boasts a wide array of independent bookstores. These stores often offer both new and used books at reasonable prices. You can spend hours browsing through the shelves and finding literary treasures without overspending.

Keep an eye out for sidewalk sales and flea markets, especially during weekends and special events. These temporary markets and sales pop up throughout the city and offer discounted prices on everything from clothing and accessories to artwork and collectibles.


By exploring local markets, discount stores, thrift shops, bookstores, and attending sidewalk sales and flea markets, you can shop for unique finds and souvenirs in Washington D.C. without straining your travel budget.


Taking Advantage of Public Transportation

Public transportation in Washington D.C. is not only convenient but also cost-effective. It provides an affordable way to navigate the city while avoiding the high costs of parking and fuel. Here are some tips to help you make the most of public transportation in Washington D.C.:

Metro System

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) operates an extensive network of Metrorail and Metrobus services. The Metrorail is a subway system that connects various neighborhoods and attractions in the city. Purchase a SmarTrip card, which offers discounted fares compared to cash payments. Plan your route using the Metro’s trip planner or use mobile apps to check real-time schedules and service updates.


Metrobus services cover areas not served by the Metrorail. Buses are an affordable option for getting around Washington D.C., especially for reaching destinations that are not directly accessible by the subway. Check the bus routes and schedules to plan your journey, and don’t forget to have the correct fare or use your SmarTrip card.

Circulator Bus

The DC Circulator is a bus service that operates on specific routes within downtown D.C. With its flat fare system and frequent service, the Circulator is an economical and convenient way to get around popular areas such as the National Mall, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle. The Circulator operates distinct routes and runs every 10 minutes, providing a hassle-free transportation option for visitors.


Washington D.C. offers a bike-sharing program called Capital Bikeshare, which allows you to rent bicycles for short-term use. With bike stations conveniently located throughout the city, you can easily pick up and drop off bikes at different locations. Bike-sharing is a fun and cost-effective way to explore Washington D.C., particularly for short trips and sightseeing in bike-friendly areas.


Washington D.C. is a walkable city, with many attractions and landmarks situated within walking distance of each other. Take advantage of the city’s well-maintained sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly areas to explore neighborhoods and soak in the atmosphere. Walking not only saves you money but also allows you to discover hidden gems and enjoy the city’s architectural beauty.


By utilizing the metro system, buses, the Circulator, bike-sharing, and walking, you can easily navigate the city and make the most of your time in Washington D.C. while minimizing transportation expenses.


Planning your Itinerary on a Budget

When visiting Washington D.C. on a budget, thoughtful itinerary planning can help you make the most of your time and money. Consider the following tips to create a budget-friendly itinerary:

Prioritize Free Attractions

Washington D.C. offers numerous free attractions and landmarks, such as the National Mall, Smithsonian museums, and memorials. Prioritize visiting these free attractions to save on entrance fees and still experience the city’s iconic sites and cultural offerings.

Make Use of Discounts and Deals

Take advantage of discounts and deals available for attractions, restaurants, and transportation. Seek out discounted combo tickets, special offers for certain times or days, and student, senior, or military discounts. Look for coupons, promotional codes, or deals on websites and apps dedicated to travel discounts.

Plan for Free or Low-Cost Activities

Balance your itinerary with free or low-cost activities such as walking tours, visiting local markets, exploring neighborhoods, and attending free events or exhibitions. Check websites of local organizations, community centers, and tourist information centers for upcoming free or low-cost activities during your visit.

Pack Picnics and Cook Meals

Save on dining expenses by packing picnics or visiting local markets to buy affordable and fresh ingredients. Enjoy outdoor picnics in parks or public spaces, or take advantage of accommodations with kitchen facilities to cook meals. This way, you can control your food expenses and still have unique dining experiences.

Take Advantage of Public Transportation

Utilize cost-effective public transportation, such as the Metrorail, Metrobus, Circulator bus, or bike-sharing programs, to navigate the city. Plan your itinerary using public transportation to avoid spending on taxis or rideshares, save on parking fees, and add an adventurous element to your trip.

Research Free Events and Festivals

Before your trip, research and take note of free events and festivals happening during your visit. Washington D.C. hosts various events throughout the year, from concerts and cultural festivals to parades and exhibitions. Attending these free events not only adds excitement to your itinerary but also helps you immerse in the local culture and community.


By prioritizing free attractions, making use of discounts and deals, planning for free or low-cost activities, packing picnics, utilizing public transportation, and researching free events and festivals, you can create a budget-friendly itinerary that allows you to explore and enjoy Washington D.C. without exceeding your travel budget.



Planning a cheap trip to Washington D.C. is not only possible but also a rewarding experience. With careful research, smart decision-making, and a little creativity, you can explore the vibrant city without breaking the bank. By following the tips outlined in this guide, you can find affordable accommodations, save on transportation costs, and enjoy budget-friendly dining options.


Take advantage of the city’s wealth of free attractions and landmarks, from the National Mall and monuments to the renowned Smithsonian museums. Research discounts and special offers to ensure you make the most of your museum visits without overspending. Consider exploring local markets, thrift shops, and discount stores for affordable shopping experiences, and embrace public transportation options like the Metro, buses, and bike-sharing to navigate the city with ease and affordability.


When planning your itinerary, prioritize free or low-cost activities and events, and consider packing picnics or cooking meals to save on dining expenses. By taking these steps, you can make the most of your time in Washington D.C. without straining your travel budget.


Remember, the key to a successful budget trip is proper planning. Research, be flexible, and stay open-minded to make the most of the resources and opportunities available. By doing so, you can have a memorable and enjoyable experience in Washington D.C. while keeping your wallet happy.


So, start planning your cheap trip to Washington D.C. today and get ready to immerse yourself in the history, culture, and charm of the nation’s capital without breaking the bank!