DC Free Date Ideas

Following up on the list I created for London Free Date Ideas, I crafted a list of some unique things to fo in the District. Let’s face it, DC is expensive, we enjoy paying 10% sales tax and $4 for a single taco. Lots of people get stumped on free things to do beyond going to Smithsonian Museums and cherry blossoms at the monuments so hopefully, this list can help you out.

*A side note on this is that it is not unreasonable to expect both parties on a date to foot the bill. However, I really do see the value in the desire to treat someone to a good time. I don’t think it is at all unequal or sexist to feel this way. Also, it goes without saying that these suggestions are not limited to dates–they can include platonic dates, family visits, solo adventures, whatever your heart tells you!*

1. Museums, there are more museums out there than the Smithsonian’s it’s true I promise! However, starting with the gems so generously run by the government my favorites that are a little lesser known and might woo a potential interest are the Hirshhorn, Sackler Gallery, Renwick, and the National Building Museum.  Currently, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition is about to open at the Hirshhorn and it is going to be an incredible interactive exhibit. Beyond the Smithsonians are the donation based private collections and gardens that can be tricky to find but worth the research. I recently just learned about the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens which can dazzle with their manicured, beautiful landscaping and quirky art collection. The Phillips Collection also likes to sprinkle surprise free days throughout the year so keep alert for those.

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2. Art Galleries, on top of all the museums and art collections, commercial art galleries can be a great place to score some free food, wine, and see not priceless but very pricey works of art. You and your date can pretend to peruse for your humble DC shack which can add to all the fun. Some great galleries that consistently hold receptions are Longview Gallery, Morton Fine Art, Foundry Gallery and Transformer.

3. Franciscan Monastery, way out in Brookland, not Brooklyn (see entire post here), is the Franciscan Monastery. You can meander through the beautiful buildings and wooded gardens for hours. The roses are absolutely beautiful when in bloom and the monastery is so serene and peaceful. It is the perfect location for a calm stroll.

4.  Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, while out in Brookland make it a catholic themed date and head to the basilica which boasts a less humble gorgeous church with a very interesting crypt free for exploring underneath.

5. Washington National Cathedral, I know these three locales are feeling very religious for dates I think most people are comfortable absorbing beautiful architecture and buildings rich in history. Even though I am not Christian, I find churches very spiritual and impressive in their holy stature. Nearer to downtown resides the National Cathedral, a gothic inspired cathedral that really rounds out the entire church tour of the District. It is best to catch the cathedral at sunrise or sunset because the arches cast the most beautiful shadows on the small passageways.You can splurlge on a cup of coffee at the Open City at the National Cathedral and wonder around the petite Bishop’s Garden.

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6. National Arboretum, this not-so-obscure spot is classic first date material. There is just enough nature, history, and bonsai serenity. The arboretum can get crowded on the weekends so try to pick a weekday to visit or arrive nice and early. The fields and paths are perfect for ambling and the columns from the original capitol building are especially photogenic when the wildflowers are in bloom in front of them. For an arboretum, there is not an overly impressive amount of tree species but the bonsai collection is quite divine.

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7. Capitol Tour, as I mentioned in my previous date guide there is nothing wrong with geeking out a little bit when going out, in fact, it’s highly encouraged. You can make arrangments with your state’s representative to go on a guided tour of the capitol with a political savvy intern and see the impressive Capitol in all it’s splendor A capitol tour is a nice alternative to the tired old stroll around the mall–looking at monuments you and your friend have probably visited on numerous occasions.

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8. Meridian Hill Park, one of my favorite parks in DC is a great place to have a picnic or rendezvous. The fountains (when on) are spectacular. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore and intimate places to find around the park. Meridian Hill is also a hotspot for dog watching and who doesn’t love a cute pup to cuddle with?

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9. Roosevelt IsIland, a naturally romantic spot and a romatic nature spot. Roosevelt Island is a hidden gem that is great for trail runs and walks. You can access it via a jaunt along the waterfront and over the Key Bridge or by weaving past the Kennedy Center. The Georgetown Waterfront way is more picturesque but there is something a little thrilling about the narrow walkway on the Memorial Bridge. There are so many cool views of DC and Rosslyn that you can’t get from anywhere else and the dense thicket of trees makes you feel for a moment that you have escaped the slabs of marble and concrete that envelope DC. Bring a snack and sit on the wooden boardwalk in warm weather for an added bonus.

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10. Thrifting at Georgia Avenue Thrift Shop, not entirely, but always free to look is some antiquing and thrifting. Georgia Avenue has racks and racks of clothes that are perfect for a little game of dress up and laughs about bad fashion over the decades. You might also venture to the back to see what odds and ends are for sale including random bits of furniture, parts of china sets, lamp shades and other wonderful artifacts. Try hunting for the strangest items you can find or relics of childhood–these are great conversation starters.

11. Union Market Sampling, it’s like going to a farmer’s market that you can enjoy year round. Union market has dozens of vendors (68 to be exact)  hawking their food and wares each day and offering up tasty samples of everything from olive oil to chocolate and soap to cheese. There are so many interesting things to try and it’s a great spot for intriguing people watching. It is quite possible if you hit the sampling right to not spend any money and get a decent meal in, or at least get some creative ideas for your own cooking. Union Market makes for a colorful culinary adventure and they market also has pop-up events such as live music or painting classes.

12. Dolcezza Factory Tour, like gelato? Enjoy seeing the mechanics behind how food is made? Crave fresh made soft serve? Well all your dreams can come true with a tour of the Dolcezza Gelato Factory. Located right behind Union Market, the factory holds tours on the weekend so you can make the most of your NoMa adventure and do Union Market sampling in the morning and gelato in the afternoon. It’s always a treat to have those cool how it’s made moments and witness them with someone else who has a sweet tooth or is an avid fan of production processes.

13. Brewery Tours, since I am from Boulder, the land of microbreweries I can’t say that DC is a beer town but the District is no slouch when it comes to having enough breweries for a create your own brewery tour. My favorites are 3 Stars, Right Proper and DC Brau. 3 Stars has beautiful large format beers in a cute small space with bright exposed lightbulbs and a no-frills atmosphere. Tours are Saturday at 2pm, 3pm, & 4pmTours and are free and open to the public c with valid 21+ ID. Right Proper has a very great date spot in their Brew Pub and Kitchen in Shaw but you can go see where the magic happens for free at their Brookland Production House and Tasting Room. Tours of the brewery are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm, 4pm, and 6pm and are completely free with tastes. They describe their tasting space so aptly that I am going to leave the quote to them, “our tasting room offers a view of the brewery in a cozy space filled with reclaimed cherry wood and a slightly disturbing chalk art mural.” Who can say no to disturbing chalk art? It is sure to make anyone at least more interested in you. Tour of DC Brau (not my favorite beer but local and fun) are free and on Saturday at 1, 2. 3 and 4pm. Their brewery space is awesome and filled with great merch, decals and has rotating guest food trucks in the back.

14. Congressional Cemetery, it may sound morbid to go to a cemetery on a date but I actually find graveyards so peaceful and relaxing. You can have your own Harold and Maude moment while learning about some interesting history. The grounds are very well-maintained and sometimes they host movie nights with spooky classics. For a first date or excursion best to visit in the day time but if you want to go at dawn or dusk that adds to the mystery and quiet solemness.

15. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, see full post here. The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are a rare nature retreat within the city limits. When the lilypads are in bloom, the swampy wetlands are incredible. The gardens show an adventurous, sensitive side all wrapped into one.

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London Free Date Ideas

Recently, my friend was complaining on how expensive it was to take someone out on a date in London. I challenged him that this city was full of wonderful free date ideas that ranged from art to food, parks to museums, and so much more.

*A side note on this is that it is not unreasonable to expect both parties in a date to foot the bill. However, I really do see the value in the desire to treat someone to a good time. I don’t think it is at all unequal or sexist to feel this way. Also it goes without saying that these suggestions are not limited to dates–they can include platonic dates, family visits, solo adventures, whatever your heart tells you!*

  1. Go to a posh open house. Think strolling through Ikea in 500 Days of Summer is cute? Try touring a beautiful flat pretending to be a perspective buyer or my personal favorite-daughter looking on behalf of a rich aunt. You will typically find free food, drink, and entry to a neighborhood you would otherwise be seen as riff raff in. It’s a good laugh.
  2. Museums, duh, this is an easy one as almost all the museums in London are free. Spice if up by going to a free late night event. The Tate often offers free snacks and even artsy activities and/or live shows.
  3. Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery, see some deceased legends and some beautiful scenery. Pack a picnic for bonus points and also listen to this brilliant episode of my favorite podcast, the Moth, about a spooky vampire who scares an unsuspecting Aussie to get you in the mood.
  4. Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park, what is better than jogging up to the top of Primrose Hill and taking in a good view of London? Once you are done stroll down the slope to Regent’s Park for a walkabout or maybe even the Zoo. Catch the park in Autumn when the leaves are golden and it will be extra breathtaking. IMG_3487IMG_3555 IMG_3488
  5. Saatchi Gallery, feeling classy and arty? Head to Chelsey and take your date to the Saatchi Gallery for some cool modern art and additional window shopping. A friend once told me it is great to gauge a date’s reaction to modern art to see if you are compatible. Maybe you both think it’s kooky and out there or maybe it is totally inspiring.
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  7. Bike Ride, this is a good one if you both own bikes, otherwise it becomes less free. Take your wheels out on a ride in Hyde Park where there are good paths and you are free from the treacherous London streets.
  8. Go to a toy store and/or a department store, this one has been recommended to me by a friend who had the most amazing time jumping on a giant piano at Hameleys with her date. The gags are truly limitless and why not exude some of your inner child? Harrods and Selfridges are another fun one. Harrods for samples and the endless knick knacks to explore and Selfridges for the window dressings alone.
  9. Farmer’s Market, another pretty obvious one. London is filled with markets from Borough to Spitalfields, Exmouth to Dover Street. Nosh, sample products and produce, feel hipster, shop for a potential dinner party, the options are limitless. Pro tip, if you go to a market at the end of the day they will literally throw free stuff at you.
  10. Play tourist and see the sites. Don’t discount that people travel from all over the world to see London. You might forget about all the monuments and historic sites in your own backyard. If you have never seen the changing of the guard, why wait? You might be surprised to learn what touristy things you and your date have not done and it always fun to spot the obnoxious tourists in a crowd of attractions. IMG_3499 IMG_3496
  11. Arrange a House of Parliament tour via a MP, this is an above and beyond addition to the idea above. After recently going on a tour of Parliament I was blown away with just how cool it was. There is a plethora of neat facts, architecture, and countless stories that make up the British Government’s rich history. It’s relatively easy to reach out to your local MP and arrange a tour with an aid, you will look very smart and distinguished while also expressing your inner political geek (plus and plus). If you don’t feel like going to the effort of arranging a tour you can always sit in the public galleries during a debate. This will also make you come off as intelligent and politically aware while maintaining the fact that you can heckle from the balcony if you so choose.
  12. Free shows and recitals are abound in London. You can catch shows at the London School of Economics and various cathedrals throughout the city. The Southbank Centre also hosts free lunchtime concerts on Fridays and Saturdays. Additionally, at any odd weekend in the year you are sure to catch some free event hosted by the Mayor of London in Trafalgar square. Such as Diwali, St. Patrick’s Day and Vasisakhi.

I have no doubt missed a ton of some of your favorite free date ideas so feel free to leave a comment so I can update the list.