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Washington, D.C.

A Budget-Friendly Travel Guide For History Buffs In Washington, D.C.

Put These Sites At The Top Of Your Itinerary

The Vacationeer
Beautiful shot of the National Mall a sunset, Washington D.C.

With hundreds of free museums, iconic monuments and world-famous memorials, it’s hard to find a better place for budget-conscious history buffs than Washington, D.C. The U.S. capital has so many historically significant sites that deciding which ones to put on the top your list can be tough.

Here’s a quick guide to help you make the most of your time exploring the many cultural and historic offerings in this special city — without breaking the bank.

Historic Georgetown, waterway, Washington D.C.   

Start Here

When you stay at Embassy Suites by Hilton Washington DC Georgetown — or at The District, a Hilton Club on the property’s top three floors — it’s easy to access all the city has to offer.

Stroll through historic Georgetown and ride a boat along the C&O Canal. Explore the African American Heritage Trail and immerse yourself in federalist architecture and cobblestone streets dating back to the 1700s.

Next, head to the National Mall and Smithsonian museums. They’re a short and inexpensive ride away via the Washington Metrorail (commonly called the Metro), which has two stations within four blocks of the hotel. 

National Mall, American and Natural History Museums

Family enjoying time together at the National Mall, Washington D.C. 

The National Park Service calls it “America’s Front Yard,” and it’s easy to understand why the National Mall is an ideal place to take in the history and culture of our country. This nearly two-mile swath of green stretches from the foot of the United States Capitol Building to the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, with Smithsonian museums along its borders.

Just across the mall from the Smithsonian Metro stop are the National Museum of American History and National Museum of Natural History. Like all of Washington’s Smithsonian museums, these incredible repositories of fascinating artifacts and eye-catching exhibits are open seven days a week (except on Christmas) and free to the public.

At your first stop, see the Star-Spangled Banner that inspired our national anthem, and view the inventions of Samuel Morse, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. And at your second, don’t miss Dinosaur Hall, where humongous fossils have been painstakingly put together to recreate life-size ancient creatures — and kids can compare their own footprints to those of a dinosaur.   

Washington D.C., highways glowing, nighttime view.    

National Air and Space Museum

One of the most popular spots among sightseers, the National Air and Space Museum is a must-do on any historian’s itinerary. You’ll need a free timed-entry pass to visit, which you can get via the museum’s website.

From Orville and Wilbur Wright’s original airplane to the spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong and the command module that carried him and two fellow crew members to the moon, the exhibits in this special gallery are more than just memorable — they’re the forerunners of modern aviation and space exploration.  

To learn even more about air and space travel, consider carving out time to see the equally amazing Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. This second part of the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, houses the Space Shuttle Discovery along with many military and commercial aircraft of the past. Again, there’s no charge for admission, but if you drive, there’s a fee to park.

While still on the mall, don’t miss the National Museum of African American History and Culture (which also requires timed-entry passes) and the National Museum of the American Indian — two incredible institutions that are well worth exploring.

Arlington National Cemetery

Beautiful image, cherry blossoms, white headstones, Arlington Cemetery, Washington D.C.   

A quick Metro ride away is Arlington National Cemetery, a hallowed resting place established during the Civil War on the former homesite of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. This exceptionally serene place is perfect for a long and contemplative walk, or for those with mobility issues, an interpretive tour by bus.

See the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame at the former president’s gravesite, and witness the solemn changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The precisely executed ceremony happens every hour on the hour from October 1 through March 31 and every half hour from April 1 through September 30.

Monuments and Memorials

No trip to Washington, D.C., would be complete without visiting iconic nearby landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial — each honoring leaders who’ve contributed mightily to our country. 

Also accessible from the National Mall are the World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the latter featuring names of more than 58,000 Americans engraved into reflective black granite walls.

Two women walking, shopping bags, smiling, Old Alexandria, Virginia.   

Old Town Alexandria, Virginia

While the District offers many more historic spots, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, is a Colonial period gem that’s well worth a visit. From Georgetown, catch a sightseeing cruise to Alexandria on the Potomac Water Taxi, or simply take the Metro to the King Street/Old Town station.

This charming and hip nationally designated historic district boasts brick-lined streets and centuries-old architecture along with an eclectic array of restaurants, boutique shops and art galleries.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Old Town is also famous for its ghosts — so if a spooky tour around historic spots is what you’re looking for, you’ll find it here.

Read about more destinations with spine-chilling ghost tours and perfect places for a Halloween vacation here.   

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The Vacationeer

The Vacationeer is a collective of Hilton Grand Vacations storytellers whose goal is to inspire travelers to go further. We're always on the lookout for new destinations to explore, useful travel tips, and unique ideas to help you plan the most memorable vacations possible.

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