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Free Things to Do: Fall in Washington, DC

Free Things to Do This Fall in Washington, DC - Couple at the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin

As the leaves change color this fall, it’s time to explore some of DC’s best free attractions, events and things to do.

Autumn in Washington, DC is full of free things to do, from festivals and scenic foliage to celebrating Halloween and observing Veterans Day. The city features plenty of experiences perfect for the season. Discover all of the ways you can have a memorable autumn adventure in the District without putting a dent in your wallet. Also, be sure to check out our #DCTogether page for the latest COVID-19 updates for the city.

1 Visit the U.S. National Arboretum

Couple walking by the National Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum - Public park and attraction in Washington, DC
Tucked away in Northeast DC, just two miles from the U.S. Capitol, the National Arboretum is an oasis in the city, no matter the time of year. But the stark contrast of the sandstone Corinthian Columns that once supported the U.S. Capitol and the vibrant leaves on surrounding trees make fall one of the most beautiful times to visit the living tree and plant museum. Make sure to check out the Arboretum's safety protocols before going.

2 Gaze at masterpieces at the National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art on the National Mall - Free art museum in Washington, DC
The National Gallery of Art's West Building is open with safety guidelines in place. You can explore all of the wondrous art on the ground floor from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. each day. Timed passes are required and please make sure to wear a mask. The museum's Sculpture Garden is also open, ideal for an afternoon stroll during the fall season.

Your ultimate guide to fall in Washington, DC

3 Take a stroll through the National Mall

@patrickvburton - Fall foliage on the Washington Monument grounds - Things to do this fall in Washington, DC
The National Mall is particularly scenic during the fall season. Seeing the Washington Monument rise majestically to the sky, surrounded by the stately U.S. Capitol Building at one end and the dignified Lincoln Memorial at the other, it’s hard not to think of America’s history. Explore the swath of land nicknamed “America’s front yard” and you’ll find inspiration and some of the most beautiful architecture in the world.

4 Take to the George Washington Memorial Parkway for spectacular overlooks

Fall cycling on Mount Vernon Trail along Potomac River - Outdoor waterfront recreation in Washington, DC
Winding from DC into Virginia, the George Washington Memorial Parkway is designed for recreational driving, with numerous scenic overlooks lining the way. Each one is clearly marked, so you and yours can pull over to take in jaw-dropping fall scenery, from foliage along the Potomac River to DC’s incredible skyline. Other free activities on the parkway include biking or running along the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail or setting up a socially distanced picnic complete with a crisp autumn breeze.

5 Pay tribute at numerous sites on Veterans Day

National World War II Memorial at night
Many of DC’s monuments and memorials honor servicemen and women. Pay a visit to the majestic National World War II Memorial, which honors the 16 million men and women who served overseas. There's also the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which features the well-known Memorial Wall, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Please make sure to wear a mask and maintain social distance when exploring the memorials.

6 Visit reopened Smithsonian museums

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture - Washington, DC
Four of DC's Smithsonian museums recently reopened their doors: the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery. The National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of American History will join them on Friday, Sept. 25. All have new safety protocols in place and are offering reduced hours and all will require a free timed-entry pass to enter, except for the Renwick Gallery, which can accommodate safe crowd management and social distancing for the amount of visitors allowed at one time. Visit Smithsonian's website for even more detailed info on hours, passes and safety.

7 Climb The Exorcist Stairs

Runners going up The Exorcist Steps in Georgetown - Free outdoor activity and landmark in Washington, DC
A draw for fitness buffs and movie nerds alike, the 75 super-steep stone stairs at the corner of 36th and Prospect Streets in historic Georgetown gained their big moment of fame as the spot where Father Karras tumbled to his demise in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. The staircase even snagged a historical designation in 2015.

8 Commemorate women's suffrage at an outdoor exhibit

Dinner in the private garden at the President Woodrow Wilson House - Intimate dining spots in Washington, DC
In honor of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote in the U.S., The President Woodrow Wilson House is hosting a free outdoor exhibition entitled, Suffrage Outside. Timed entry will be utilized to ensure social distancing. Suffrage Outside uses towering images to tell the story of the final chapters in the women’s suffrage struggle, a mode of visual storytelling to showcase how progress was made outside of the home and outside of the mainstream.

9 Look skyward at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Round up the family for a safe museum experience this fall. The National Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is open during normal operating hours, but tickets must be reserved before going and masks are required for your free entry. Some artifacts will not be on view due to some planned construction. Food trucks will be available to you and your family if you get hungry outside of the Center. Please review the museum's COVID-19 message before planning your trip.

10 Pull a virtual all-nighter with a virtual version of Art All Night

Art All Night DC
Usually confined to one evening, this virtual edition of Art All Night will stretch from Sept. 13-26. The virtual activation will feature online events for several hours on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as themed livestreams during the week. Expect a wide range of artists to participate in numerous forms of expression, including the culinary arts and fashion and design.

11 Experience Victura Park at The REACH

The REACH at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' grand expansion, The REACH, hosts this outdoor pop-up wine garden and cafe from Thursday through Sunday. The Hilton Brothers and Chef Erik Bruner-Yang have collaborated on this winery-inspired setting, which offers charcuterie boards and light snacks, as well as beer, wine, adult seltzers and other beverages. Check out the full menu. Note that guests are required to maintain social distance and wear a mask when not sitting down. No more than 10 guests are allowed inside the Pavilion for ordering and payment. You can read more about the safety protocols before attending this free event.

12 Marvel at fall foliage at a local park

Rock Creek Park - Underneath the Taft Bridge - Washington, DC
Although many indoor options for recreation remain closed, DC’s outdoor offerings are still very much in play. Check out the array of parks, gardens and outdoor spaces and plan for a socially distanced stroll or bike ride – or even bring along some delicious to-go food for a picnic. There’s the 2,000-plus acres of Rock Creek Park, the Capitol Columns at the scenic U.S. National Arboretum and so much more.

13 Spend time at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial
Spend time at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Image courtesy of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission; Memorial design by Gehry Partners, LLP; Sculpture by Sergey Eylanbekov;

The newest addition to DC's incredible lineup of monuments and memorials, this Frank Gehry-designed site was erected in honor of the nation’s 34th president and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II.  Located in a new four-acre park adjacent to the National Mall, the memorial takes you through the life of Eisenhower via three bronze sculptures and bas relief images and inscription panels that offer lines from some of his most famous addresses. The site also features a stainless steel woven tapestry that depicts Pointe du Hoc cliffs on the Normandy coastline in peacetime.