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Home of the Free

They say the best things in life are free—and that’s definitely true when it comes to soaking up the culture in Washington, D.C.

One of the perks of living in a world capital is that the tidal wave of culture never seems to ebb. Art, music, history, dance, film, theater—it’s all on offer in D.C., and often it’s completely free.

Once you’ve exhausted all the free museums and monuments, here are 10 more ways to experience the city’s cultural highlights without spending a dime.


1. See a Broadway-worthy performance.

Normally the domain of big-ticket operas and musicals, the Kennedy Center opens its doors every evening at 6 p.m. for free performances on its Millennium Stage. Musical acts run the gamut from classical and opera to pop, jazz, bluegrass and world music; ballet, tap and modern dancers sometimes take the stage, too.


2. Take in an alfresco flick.

If you want to catch a film during the summer months, head outside. Several film festivals have sprung up around the city, offering free outdoor movies almost every night of the week. With the National Mall as a backdrop, Screen on the Green (Mondays) is the most popular—and picturesque—but also check out the selections in Crystal City (Mondays), NoMa (Tuesdays), Canal Park (Thursdays) and Rosslyn (Fridays).


3. Get your jazz on.

On Fridays during the summer, the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden becomes a concert venue, hosting a variety of jazz acts (playing everything from salsa to Afrofunk) amongst the larger-than-life works of art. The music starts at 5 p.m.; bring a blanket and a picnic to make an evening of it.


4. Visit another country.

Never got around to backpacking through Europe in college? Then try the next best thing—for two weekends each May, the city’s foreign embassies host open houses that feature traditional food and drink (don’t miss the Belgian waffles and beer at the Belgian embassy!), art, music, dance and more.


5. Gaze at the stars.

If you can’t tell Cassiopea from Andromeda, brush up on your constellations with once-a-month stargazing sessions at Rock Creek Park. From April through November, the National Capital Astronomers Club sets up telescopes in Military Field; shortly after sunset, you can get an up-close look at the stars and learn about seasonal constellations.


6. Follow the beat.

Let the rhythm move you—head to Meridian Hill Park on Sunday afternoons to catch the drum circle that’s been going strong for more than 40 years. Bring your own drum to join in the fun, or just sit back and enjoy the driving beats and accompanying African dancing.


7. Put on your dancing shoes.

If you’re tired of just sitting around at happy hour, head to Café Citron in Dupont Circle on Wednesday nights for free salsa lessons. Warm up with an under-$5 mojito or margarita, catch the beginner lesson downstairs at 7:30 p.m. and then spend the rest of the night refining your moves—the salsa music plays until 2 a.m.


8. Strike up the band.

Feeling patriotic? Head over to the an evening parade. Bands, a color guard, marching platoons, and Sergeant Chesty XIII the bulldog (the Barracks’ official mascot) all take part in this 56-year-old tradition. Although it’s free, you’ll need to make reservations at to guarantee a spot.


9. Bond with the Bard.

Even if you have less-than-fond memories of being forced to read Hamlet in high school, don’t pass up the opportunity to see Shakespeare for free. For two weeks each summer, the Shakespeare Theatre Company stages complimentary performances of one of the Bard’s classic plays at Sydney Harman Hall. Tickets are handed out about two hours before the curtain; get there early to snag one.


10. Rub elbows with authors.

Check out the latest releases—and get to know the authors behind them—at one of the free readings held daily at D.C.’s beloved independent bookstore, Politics & Prose. Past guests have included everyone from government insiders (Michelle Obama recently stopped by for a book signing) to best-selling novelists.

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