Affordable Washington, D.C.
Type: Road Trips, City Break, Family Travel, Affordable Vacations
Under-the-radar culture and food stops in the nation’s capital.
Our nation’s capital is filled with an astounding number of free museums—including the highly anticipated National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open in 2015—and a handful of can’t-miss low-key restaurants. As a result, a trip here can be not only dazzlingly rich, but also shockingly inexpensive.
1 Ben's Chili Bowl
Up until very recently, the only VIP deemed worthy of a free meal at the Ali family chili shrine was longtime devotee Bill Cosby, who made the venue a national destination when he held a press conference there in the 1980s. The latest inductee into the eat-for-free club is Barack Obama, who stopped by to inhale the must-order Chili Half-Smoke a few days before his inauguration (he paidâ€”and added a generous tip). Invented in 1958, this signature snack comprises a smoked pork-and-beef sausage tucked into a toasty steamed bun and comes topped with mustard, onions, and (of course) spicy chili sauce.
2 The Library of Congress
A free exhibition thatâ€™s unfairly overlooked is The Library of Congress. Created by an act of Congress in 1800, this often-overlooked Washington landmark occupies a resplendent 1897 building connected by tunnel to the Capitol building. A bibliophile's dream, the Library of Congress hosts a staggering 144 million items on 532 miles of shelving, all organized beneath a gold-bedecked ceiling. (The mosaics, sculptures, and paintings of the Great Hall and Main Reading Room are themselves worth a trip down.) First drafts of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and a Guttenberg Bible are all in residence, along with other historical treasures and 33 million books.
Insider Tip: Classical music concerts are offered free throughout the year at the Library of Congress concert hall located below ground.
3 Embassy Circle Guest House
Occupying a quiet, tree-lined street in stylish Embassy Circle, this Diamond Collection bed and breakfast is housed in the restored former Taiwanese embassy. Owners Laura and Raymond Saba purchased the property in 2003 with an eye towards preserving the building's original architectural integrity, and it shows. Blending seamlessly with the home's period architecture, the 11 guest suites, entrance parlor, and dining room are individually furnished with antiques and handmade Persian carpets. Just steps from Dupont Circle, the Guest Home provides easy access to Washington, DC shopping and attractions.
4 Next Door, D.C.
This aptly named U-street restaurant is located right next door to the DC institution Ben's Chili Bowl, a greasy-spoon landmark that's been serving up cholesterol-heavy dishes for 53 years. Specializing in more upscale fare than the original restaurant, Ben's Next Door offers high-end soul food in a lounge-like setting featuring nine LCD flat-screen TVs and a 53-foot full bar. The popular shrimp and grits and brined fried chicken are menu stand-outs, along with Ben's famous â€œdown-and-dirty 'half smoke' sausages.â€