Five free ways to see Washington, a city of museums
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There are probably more free things to do in the U.S. capital than nearly any other major city in the world. The most popular museums and the zoo are free, thanks to government funding, as well as the picturesque memorials and monuments. With so many free options, the biggest challenge might be narrowing down what to see.
No visit to the nation's capital is complete without a visit to the nation's museums. First-time visitors learn fast that a trip to the Smithsonian is not a visit to one place. There are actually 19 different museums that are part of the Smithsonian, along with the National Zoo. Most line the National Mall.
Some must-see exhibits: The Apollo 11 capsule that carried the first men to land on the moon, President Abraham Lincoln's top hat and Dorothy's "ruby slippers'' from "The Wizard of Oz,'' and the large Hope Diamond.
The Smithsonian was founded in 1846 after a bequest by British scientist James Smithson to establish an educational institution in Washington. Smithson's remains are interred at the Smithsonian's oldest building, the red sandstone Castle. This is also a good place for a quick orientation to decide where to start.
The nearly two-mile grassy expanse between the Capitol and Potomac River features memorials honoring five presidents, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. and battle monuments in tribute to America's veterans. One of the best times to visit is in the evening, as the monuments are lit and crowds have dwindled.
Beyond the large monuments, there are dozens of smaller statues, historic sites and walking paths along the Mall. The National Park Service offers a free new mobile app with a map and details on the sites:
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