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Washington, D.C., has more monuments and memorials than almost any other city in the world — and nearly all of which you can explore for free. You’ll impress everyone you know with your extensive knowledge of history after you walk around the National Gallery of Art, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Library of Congress. When you’re tired of government-related activities, other free cultural options can keep you busy. Here are five of our Forbes Travel Guide editors' favorites:
1. National Gallery of Art. Created in 1937, the National Gallery of Art actually combines two museums into one. The West building exemplifies classic Greek and Roman influences, and the permanent collection features paintings and sculptures spanning the 13th through 20th centuries, with an emphasis on the French Impressionist period and the Italian Renaissance. The angular East Building, designed by I.M. Pei, houses works by Modern artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Alexander Calder.
2. Library of Congress. The largest library in the world is used for research by Congress and includes millions of books, manuscripts, films and recordings, as well as interesting exhibits on American history. Read over early drafts of the Declaration of Independence; see the first map to include America from 1507; view a historic collection of bibles, and much more.
3. The Holocaust Museum. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum tells the story of the Holocaust in three parts: Nazi Assault, Final Solution and Last Chapter. Self-guided tours allow you to view the more than 900 artifacts and watch the many video and film clips at your own pace in the permanent exhibit. The Children’s Tile Wall is a permanent memorial created by thousands of children who were asked to record their impressions of the Holocaust on ceramic tiles and the Hall of Remembrance allows visitors to light memorial candles.
4. National Theatre. Celebrating its 177th year of operation, the non-profit National Theatre is only three blocks from the White House and specializes in putting on Broadway shows. Leading stars to have graced the theater include Robert Redford, George C. Scott and Katherine Hepburn. Free performances, including world dance companies, are held in the Helen Hayes Gallery on Monday evenings and free children’s shows are provided on Saturday mornings.
5. The National Zoo. Though it has gotten some bad press recently due to mismanagement, the National Zoo won’t disappoint. See the world famous giant pandas, walk through an aviary, experience a rain forest, enjoy the antics of otters and watch the apes climbing overhead on suspended ropes. The well-rounded complex includes invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians, hippos, elephants, farm animals, lemurs and other small mammals and lions and tigers and bears.
The five best free things to do in Washington D.C., are visiting the Smithsonian Institution museums, the memorials, National Zoo, the Old Post Office Tower, and watching the Changing of the Guard at Arlington Cemetery.