Bargain DC: How to Survive the Nation’s Capital in $25 or Less Per Person

It’s no secret that living in Washington, DC is expensive. No fewer than a dozen surveys and studies last year showed that the nation’s capital ranks in the top five of the most expensive cities to live in the United States. Thankfully for visitors, it can be one of the most affordable vacation spots to go to. It’s possible for savvy and smart tourists to explore the District and its surrounding areas for $25 or less per person if you’ve done your homework. As someone who lives here, but also enjoys being a tourist in my own town, here are some tips for a bargain DC holiday.

Bargain DC Holiday

Take Advantage of Free Attractions

Just like London, Washington, DC is full of free attractions. The Smithsonian Institution alone has no fewer than a dozen museums you can visit for free. Then there are the monuments and national parks. From the concrete obelisk dedicated to our nation’s first president to the lengthy Rock Creek Park, you’ll find more than enough places where the scenery will make you forget that you’re just a few miles away from a buzzing city. Finally, spare some time to visit many of the federal buildings open to the public to get a first hand look at democracy in practice. The more popular ones like the United States Capitol and the Whit House require some planning ahead of time but there are also others such as the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and the United States Supreme Court where you can go on a tour the same day.

Day 1

Start your bargain DC holiday learning about the history of flight and the cosmos at the popular National Air and Space Museum where you can easily spend a few hours perusing the halls containing some of the most fascinating artifacts from space. All that walking will definitely make you hungry so for lunch, check out one of the many food trucks lined on L’Enfant Plaza, just outside the museum. Most of the lunch combinations range from $7-$10.

Space Capsule at NASM, bargain dc holiday
Space Capsule at NASM

After lunch, you can walk over to the newest museum at the Mall, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It distributes a certain number of same day passes on weekday afternoons. Spend a few hours here discovering just how African American culture is ingrained in today’s world. Cap the day at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where you can watch the sunset over the Potomac and see the lights begin to illuminate the nation’s capital.

Sculpture at NMAAHC. bargain dc holiday
Sculpture at NMAAHC

For dinner walk towards Foggy Bottom for an all-American meal of burgers and fries at Burger Tap and Shake. Even with the added side and a fountain drink, your tab will still be less than $13.

BTS Burger. bargain dc holiday
BTS Burger

Cost calculator: $10 for lunch + $13 for dinner = $23

Day 2

Spend the next day of your bargain DC holiday continuing to explore its numerous monuments and national parks. Pack a picnic lunch to take with you on the journey across the river to Virginia where you’ll pay respects to the hundreds of thousands of men and women who died serving their country at Arlington National Cemetery. Don’t miss the Changing of the Guards ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown or simply walk the rolling hills alongside the white tombstones.

Arlington, usa, Changing of the Guard. Bargain DC
Changing of the Guard

Head north towards the Netherlands Carillon where there’s a small park with benches. You can pop a squat and eat your lunch here. And on a clear day, this place has some of the best views of Washington.

View from the Carillon
View from the Carillon

Head back to DC after lunch towards the Tidal Basin. In spring, thousands of tourists come here in throngs to view the cherry blossoms. Walk the circular path towards the Jefferson Memorial and continue onwards to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King memorials.

Autumn at the FDR Memorial, bargain dc holiday
Autumn at the FDR Memorial

After touring the Tidal Basin, take the DC Circulator towards Union Station and get off at 7th St to walk northwards to the Penn Quarter neighborhood for one of the city’s best happy hour specials. From Monday to Friday, beginning at 4 p.m., Oyamel, a Mexican-inspired restaurant by beloved local chef Jose Andres, offers $5 margaritas (they pack a punch) and $2 tacos (minimum two orders.) The bar fills up quickly so try to get here just around 5 p.m. (happy hour ends at 6 p.m.)

Oyamel Tacos. bargain dc holiday
Oyamel Tacos

Cost calculator: ~$7 for transportation (Metro + Circulator) + $12 for drinks and tacos = $19

What does your bargain DC holiday look like? Consider planning your visit in late spring, summer or autumn to get the best deals in hotels in the District.

About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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