FREE TO SEE IN D.C.: Freebies in the District of Columbia?
The U.S. Botanic Garden is a cool and soothing refuge (www.usbg.gov). It has fabulous special displays at Christmas.
It's worth leaving the National Mall area to check out the National Portrait Gallery (www.npg.si.edu) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (http://americanart.si.edu/index3.cfm). Both museums share a newly renovated historic building at Eighth and F streets, at the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop.
At the National Arboretum in northeast D.C. (www.usna.usda.gov/index.html) you'll forget you're in Washington – until you see the original Corinthian columns from the U.S. Capitol. It's not near a Metro stop, but there's ample free parking. Bring a picnic lunch.
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The National Zoo (http://nationalzoo.si.edu) is free, and the Asia Trail offers great panda viewing. Take Metro's Red Line to the Cleveland Park stop – not the zoo stop. (If you get off at the Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan stop, you've got to walk uphill to the zoo. By going one stop farther, you walk the same distance downhill.) Associated Press
TWO-FER TO ITALY: A companion goes free on a walking vacation in Italy with a deal from Cross Country International. The first person pays $2,695 (taxes included) and the second goes free. The Rome Coast Walk, with four departures through December, includes six nights' hotel, four days of guided hiking, museum entrance fees and most meals. Daily walking distance ranges from four to seven miles. Details: 800-828-8768; www.walkingvacations.com. Washington Post