fun things to do in Washington DC

The food in Washington DC is exquisite, it’s rich in history, and it’s home to some of the finest national parks and museums in the world.

The White House and the Pentagon both stand ready waiting to be toured, as do a number of other high-profile domiciles in the area… and some of them are famously haunted!

If you want to take a deep dive straight into American history, culture and politics, you’ve landed in exactly the right city! There’s no better place to uncover iconic monuments, statues and memorials than the capital of the United States of America!

Not only about the affairs of state, enjoy a romantic dinner cruise on the river, or bring your little ones to watch a live baseball match!

Let your creative side run loose during clay classes at a local cafe, unravel the world of art at prime galleries or hunt down caves and waterfalls!

There are so many amazing things to do in Washington DC that to do it all in one visit would be simply impossible. Here’s just a selection!

1 – Bone up on history at the Library of Congress

Library of Congress, Washington DC

There’s no better way to indulge in American politics than with a private tour of the Library of Congress, Capitol Hill, and the Supreme Court.

Take a leisurely stroll through the library’s main reading room as you discuss all things politics past, present, and future, and check famous artifacts and landmarks like the Gutenburg Bible and the Thomas Jefferson Library off of your bucket list.

2 – Check out all the monuments and memorials on Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill, Washington DC

If you’re a fan of American history and you’re looking for things to do in Washington DC, then you’ll want to visit Capitol Hill ASAP to see the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Visit the Supreme Court and take a tour of the places where bills and ideas are debated into law. The picturesque National Mall is the perfect spot to snap some vacation memories!

Stop by the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center to become more knowledgeable about the house of Congress and American politics since its earliest days, and see the architectural development of the U.S. Capitol since it was first constructed between 1793 and 1800.

Arriving at the center, investigate interactive exhibits and storytelling displays within the Exhibition Hall, or join some of the activities. Try out a hands-on learning experience in the Democracy Lab or pretend to “pass legislation”.

There are a few specialty tours to join, lasting between 30 minutes to one hour. These include the Halls Of The Senate, Votes For Women, Indigenous Peoples In Capitol Art and Heroes Of Civil Rights tours.

3 – Pay tribute to the 300,000 fallen heroes buried at the Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetery, Washington DC

The Arlington National Cemetary is one of the most famous cemeteries in all of the United States, and a visit here gives you the opportunity to pay respects to more than 300,000 of the military’s fallen heroes.

Both public and private tours are guided by passionate experts, and sites include the Tomb of the Unknowns, Memorials to the Columbia and the Challenger space shuttles, and the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy himself.

Right near the cemetery, this time honor marine soldiers, and comrades, who have lost their lives during battles at the US Marine Corps War Memorial — accessible through Arlington National Cemetery and located on Arlington Ridge.

An impressive bronze statue reaching nearly 10 meters high depicts an iconic scene of marines raising the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima in 1945 during the war against Japan for Iwo Jima.

In the summertime, arrive around Golden Hour, just in time to witness the one-hour Sunset Parades, and the performance includes the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps musical procession.

When crowds dissipate in the evenings, the memorial takes on a completely new light.

4 – Watch the Washington Wizards play at the Capital One Arena

basketball game at Capital One Arena

There’s always something awesome going on at the Capital One Arena: NBA and NHL games, and also spectacular concerts.

At the time of writing, the front page of the events calendar boasts no less than The Eagles, Harry Styles, and Marc Anthony. That’s just an example of the types of events you’ll find advertised here year round!

5 – Bring the kids to the National Children’s Museum

National Children's Museum, Washington DC

Interactive, educational and captivating, the National Children’s Museum is a great way for kids to kill a few hours having all the fun thanks to science, technology, engineering, art and math (known as STEAM).

Join the Dance Party Pod and shake it off to different genres of music that inspire varying movements through the power of sound when arriving at the entry hall. Then, move on to the exciting exhibitions.

“Climb” into the clouds at the dream machine exhibit, investigate the data science alley, stop by the tinkers studio or meet your favorite characters from Nickelodeon at the art + tech exhibition space.

The museum also has a bunch of programs (which change every few months) to get involved in during a visit.

6 – Spend a day walking through the National Mall

National Mall, Washington DC

Be it by night or by day, there are more than 10 iconic tour stops waiting to be seen on a guided tour of the National Mall. Learn the fascinating history behind the Smithsonian museums and Potomac River, and check out memorials to Lincoln, FDR, and MLK.

There are both public and private options available, and some packages even offer pick up from your accommodation. Not to mention, these tours are amenable to all budgets!

Opening in 1966, the national park in downtown Washington is one of the best places to see a collaboration of museums, memorials, galleries, statues and gardens, with views of the White House in the background.

The National Gallery of Art is here too where you can see originals by masters like Van Gogh and Da Vinci. Peek into the Sculpture Garden next door afterward.

Located within the park is the peaceful Constitution Gardens; a great spot to rest your feet around the lake after you’re done exploring American history.

As a tribute to the U.S. Constitution, the gardens opened their doors in 1976 and also contain a few dedicated memorials within.

7 – Hop on a bus or trolley tour

trolley tour in Washington DC

There are few things more magical than a moonlight tour of some of DC’s most famous historical monuments (all fully illuminated) by open-air trolley, and few better things to do in Washington DC in general.

There are also tours available during the day! And best of all, there are multiple spots available to hop on one of these guided and narrated tours at your convenience!

8 – Work against the clock with your friends in an escape room

escape room in Washington DC

Escape rooms are guaranteed to be a fun time in any city. If you love solving puzzles, then spend some time in a locked room with your friends and family as you work against the clock to find as many clues as possible and solve the mysteries laid out before you.

Or, if you’re looking for something a little more primal, why not try the Smash Room? Forget all your problems in a safe environment as you release tension by smashing everything you see. It’s therapeutic!

9 – Treat your honey to Candlelight Concerts

Candlelight Concerts in Washington DC

Hey couples, if you’re traveling to Washington and are in search of a romantic date night idea, candlelight concerts might be the answer you’re looking for — especially if you share an infinity for performance art.

Picture this… As you and your darling enter the room ready to watch a spectacular concert, the entire space is lit up in soft dreamy warm lighting thanks to the hundreds of candles all around you.

The venue is carefully selected, and there is a variety of different types of shows to watch by twinkling lights. For example, watch a tribute to Radiohead at the Miracle Theatre, or a show dedicated to Hans Zimmer at St. Francis Hall.

You can attend these mesmerizing shows around the world, from Paris to Seoul as well as in Washington DC.

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Walk inside a Van Gogh masterpiece

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience has finally arrived to Washington D.C.!

In this one-of-a-kind VR experience, you can step inside your favorite Van Gogh paintings and walk through the landscapes in Arles, France, that once inspired the Dutch artist. Immerse yourself in Van Gogh’s paintings like never before!

10 – Come during springtime and check out the National Cherry Blossom Festival

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Every spring, between the months of March and April, the cherry blossoms in DC bloom and create one of the most beautiful natural sights this side of the Pacific Ocean. The cherry blossoms were a gift from Japan in the early 1900s.

The festival that comes along with the yearly natural occurrence is one for the books and includes street art, food, parades, and so much more.

This spring festival is one of the very best things to do in Washington DC.

11 – Immerse yourself in America’s favorite pastime at Nationals Park

baseball game at Nationals Park

Nationals Park is the official home of the Washington Nationals, Washington’s Major League Baseball team.

Going to see a ball game in the U.S. capital is probably one of the most American things a person can do, and there aren’t many better places to do it; Nationals Park was completed in 2008, making it relatively new compared to other stadiums around the country, and it was the first one to be LEED green certified.

12 – See exotic animals from all over the world at the National Zoological Park

National Zoological Park, Washington DC

The National Zoological Park is yet another attraction in DC that’s completely free of charge.

It houses more than 2,700 individual animals! Exotic lizards, gorgeous birds, beasts of all shapes and sizes, you name it, you’ll find it here.

The fully fleshed-out animal habitats within the zoo’s impressive 163 acres were designed with conservation in mind and the team here is dedicated to making sure the species housed here continue to thrive.

13 – See George Washington’s final resting place at Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon is famous for being one of America’s oldest and most beloved plantations. It was owned by George and Martha Washington, and they are buried right near the mansion that is maintained to look exactly as it did back then.

The experience at this gorgeous piece of Americana is so immersive that there are even actors on-hand to make sure it’s as authentic as possible.

14 – Learn what life was like for a Civil War soldier at the Gettysburg Battlefield

Gettysburg Battlefield

The Battle of Gettysburg changed the course of American history, and for history buffs looking to get acquainted with the most famous Civil War locations, this major landmark is a must see.

Live one day as a soldier in the Civil War and take in a one of a kind 360-degree painting of the infamous battle, then get transported right back to Washington at the end of the day!

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Get up close with a T-Rex at Dinos Alive!

See the look on your kids’ faces as they interact with life-sized, moving replicas of over 80 types of dinosaurs, from the Stegosaurus to Velociraptors and even the fearful T-Rex.

You can also dive deep into a VR underwater aquarium and learn how to become a paleontologist at the “Budding Experts” interactive space.

15 – Find the freshest produce and ingredients at the Eastern Market

Eastern Market, Washington DC

If you have a taste for farm-fresh products, you need to check out DC’s Eastern Market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The vendors here offer everything from fresh food to hand-made arts and crafts.

The Eastern Market also regularly puts on local gatherings and events.

16 – Grab brunch on a sightseeing cruise

sightseeing cruise in Washington DC

There are so many ways to take in the numerous historical sites around Washington, and one of the most pleasurable has to be by taking a sightseeing day cruise on the Potomac River.

Whether it be during a sunlit brunch cruise or a moonlit dinner cruise, there are definitely worse ways to see the White House, Admiral’s Row, and so many more!

17 – Stay in shape while you take a bike tour around DC

bike tour in Washington DC

Of all the ways to take a tour around the United States capital, few will help you stay in shape like taking a ride on a bike customized to your specifications.

Get up close and personal with historical landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, all while learning the incredible stories behind them from expert local guides.

18 – See Washington DC from 10,000 feet in the air when you go skydiving

skydiving in Washington DC

Another great way to see the capital is on the way down from a 10,000-foot jump. You’ll also get a great view of the scenic Chesapeake bay.

All that’s required is a 30-minute training course prior to taking a heart-pounding 60-second free fall. Then, Once the parachute opens, it’s a gentle 5-7 minute trip to the ground.

The D.C. Skydiving Center offers both tandem jumps and solo dives for serious adrenaline junkies.

Traveling at speeds of nearly 200 kilometers per hour, freefall for 45 seconds (whilst harnessed and attached to one of the center’s certified skydive instructors), and then the rest of the parachute ride lasts from four to seven minutes.

If this isn’t your first rodeo, opt for epic skyboarding, vertical flying or belly flying sessions, or if you haven’t yet been certified to solo skydive, the center offers courses to get you prepared for your first solo adventure!

19 – See how indoor skydiving is just as exhilarating

indoor skydiving in Washington DC

As of just recently, DC is now home to an indoor skydiving facility in addition to the outdoor option! They offer an experience that uses wall-to-wall wind tunnels to simulate an 11,000-foot drop.

The activity comes complete with a personal instructor and flight gear, plus a nifty certificate upon completion.

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The Drunk Shakespeare Society: where cocktails and classics meet

Mix cocktails and classics for an unforgettable evening at the Drunk Shakespeare Society. A hidden gem behind the Sage Theater, D.C. sets the stage for five fearless actors. While sipping on a variety of alcoholic beverages, the Shakespearean show will be played in a funny way, creating a unique way every time.

20 – Pay respects to one of history’s greatest men at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington DC

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. is yet another revered historical figure who is forever memorialized within the National mall of the United States capital.

Like all the other memorials, this gorgeous stone carving is available to see 24/7, free of charge.

Don’t forget to snap some pictures!

21 – See the 36,000 artifacts at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Established by the United States Congress in 2003, the NMAAHC is the only museum in the entire country dedicated to the documentation of African American history and culture, and it finally opened as an official extension of the Smithsonian in 2016.

It currently houses over 36,000 artifacts. Divided into history, community and culture, investigate topics like ‘Slavery and Freedom’, ‘Sports’, ‘Musical Crossroads’ and ‘Visual Art and the American Experience’.

Home to special and permanent exhibits, the collections comprise categories highlighting (and displaying) clothing and dress, education, literature, Black Lives Matter, religion, politics and much more.

Not only interesting but a true eye-opener, African American tours in Washington are a fantastic opportunity to learn about the past from centuries back up until the civil rights movement.

These expeditions always make a stop over the Smithsonian, as well as pivotal monuments and sites around the city such as the Emancipation Statue, the Martin Luther King Memorial, LeDroit Park and the Mary McLeod Bethune Statue.

22 – Learn about our place in nature at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The team at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has one mission: to understand nature and how humanity relates to it. At any given time, the museum offers exhibits dedicated to ecology, geology, paleontology, anthropology, and of course, butterflies.

If you’d like a preview, the museum also offers virtual tours through its website.

23 – See masterpieces from the world’s greatest artists at the National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Considered as one of the best museums in Washington DC, the DC National Art Gallery is so vast and full of unique pieces of art that you’ll probably want to go back more than once, especially if you want to make sure to catch as many masterpieces as possible from Renaissance artists, French Impressionists, and of course, legendary American painters.

A few out of many highlights include da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci and Van Gogh’s Self Portrait.

24 – Investigate the country’s foundations at the National Archives Museum

National Archives Museum, Washington DC

American history aficionados, did you know that you can see the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and the Bill of Rights documents in person at the National Archives Museum?!

Entering the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, these three preserved artifacts are on display inside, and you can’t help but feel the shivers down your spine looking at the original pieces of paper, now faded yellow and licked in diminishing ink.

You also can’t help but notice the Faulkner Murals, painted between 1935 to 1936 by artist Barry Faulkner. It shows an imagined scene from the days of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The Public Vaults, Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery and the David M. Rubenstein Gallery (containing the Records of Rights) are other exhibits at the museum and are available to take a tour through.

See also: best tourist attractions in Washington DC.

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Embracing Imperfections: DC`s Museum of Failure

Venture to Georgetown Park in Washington DC for a journey through the Museum of Failure. Dive into a series of failed products from well-known industries and giants, sparking lively conversations about the essence of learning from mistakes. As Confucius pointed out, it’s not about never falling, but always getting up!

25 – Take a moment to reflect at the National World War II Memorial

National World War II Memorial, Washington DC

The National World War II Memorial is yet another of the memorials and monuments that make up the National Mall.

Like the others, it’s a solemn reminder of the horrors of war, a tribute to those soldiers who fought for peace, and a great photo opportunity.

There are often unique events that take place around the National Mall, so make sure to check their event calendar if you’re planning a visit!

26 – Get acquainted with DC’s best food on a food tour

food tour in Washington DC

DC is famous for a lot of things, most of them having to do with history and politics. What a lot of people tend to overlook is how rich the area’s food culture is, especially in the neighborhood of Georgetown, but not exclusively.

A food tour is one of the best things to do in Washington DC. Find world-class pizza, cheese, chili, and more as you learn the fascinating history behind this incredibly varied gastronomic hub.

27 – Tour the delights of Virginia Wine Country

wine tour in Washington DC

Speaking of gastronomic pleasures, it doesn’t get more pleasurable than wine and cheese in the nation’s capital.

Throw in a delicious local beer for good measure, and you’ve got all the makings for a great tour of the wineries in Virginia Wine Country.

Obviously, these activities are 21+.

28 – Step back in time at the National Building Museum

National Building Museum, Washington DC

From government headquarters to inaugural balls, the National Building Museum has certainly seen its fair share of important people in history walk through its doors.

Originally built between 1882 and 1887, today, presidents and congress still utilize the space for events. This is fitting as the building was designed in grand architecture, taking inspiration from Roman palaces.

A standout feature is the Great Hall, separated into three courts and with a fountain in the center. Marvel at the architecture in person and then move on to exploring the museum’s permanent collections.

Through architectural prints, drawings, photographic images (including negatives) documents, material items and other artifacts, gain a greater understanding of the architectural styles and construction techniques of the historic building.

If you’re here with the little ones, bring them to the ‘ PLAY, WORK, and BUILD’ exhibition. The hands-on block play area, interactive displays and the museum’s Architectural Toy Collection capture the minds of children in an instant.

29 – Learn something at the Museum of the Bible, whether you’re religious or not

Museum of the Bible, Washington DC

The Museum of the Bible is an immersive visual and auditory experience that is unlike any other museum dedicated to the study of religion.

You’ll learn how this one book has impacted music, literature, fashion, and culture as well as get to see other priceless treasures from the Vatican.

Whether you’re a religious person or not, this is guaranteed to be one far out experience.

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Go on a Journey through Time at Titanic: The Exhibition

Imagine stepping back in time and reliving the glory days of the Titanic. Explore carefully recreated environments, listen to testimonies from survivors, and take the opportunity to admire over 300 historical artifacts in this immersive exhibition. Take a journey into the past as the history of the world’s most famous ship is brought to life.

30 – Learn what life is like for a real spy at the International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum, Washington DC

Is the Pink Panther theme playing in your head yet?

The International Spy Museum has everything you could ever possibly want to know about the real men and women who made James Bond and Mission Impossible, er, possible.

Learn all about the fascinating (and sometimes embarrassing) history of the CIA, MI6, and what really goes on between the world’s superpowers.

What’s been declassified, anyway.

31 – Visit the famous ARTECHOUSE


The DC ARTECHOUSE is a modern art gallery experience that comes for all of your senses. Cameras aren’t allowed for this one, as it is meant to be experienced whole-heartedly in the moment.

At the time of writing, the featured exhibition is a trip through a cyberpunk landscape complete with market, alleyways, and abandoned rooftop.

If you’ve ever wanted to spend a day living in a Blade Runner fantasy world, here’s your chance.

32 – Snap a couple of pictures at the Washington Monument

Washington Monument

The Washington Monument may look like a simple giant obelisk, but it’s so much more than that.

It’s a meeting spot, a photo opportunity, and it’s surrounded by other historical monuments as well as the scenic Potomac Canal.

A day tour through the gorgeous, history-soaked capital with the Washington Monument as the centerpiece is the perfect way to introduce yourself to DC.

See also: 100 Top Tourist Attractions in the US

33 – Pay respects to those who gave their lives in at the U.S. Navy Memorial

U.S. Navy Memorial, Washington DC

The men of the U.S. navy have been fighting and laying down their lives for hundreds of years, and this memorial showcases that rich history and even gives people the chance to get involved in a number of ways, both virtually and in person.

You can follow their newsletter through their website if you’re curious to know more.

34 – Take a day trip down into the 64 acres of the Luray Caverns

Luray Caverns, Virginia

Another ideal spot for history buffs as well as nature fans, there are over 64 acres of caves and waterfalls to explore deep within the Luray Caverns of Shenandoah Moutains.

As far as day trips go, there are tonnes of activities available including visiting the Luray Valley Museum, Toy Town Junction, and a still-working Mercedes dating all the way back to 1897.

35 – See history’s most influential figures immortalized at the National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC

Artists, politicians, scientists, inventors, activists, and performers – at the National Portrait Gallery in DC, those faces that helped shape the face of America are on full display.

With over a dozen exhibits highlighting everything from unique photographs of Presidents at work to exquisite paintings of the supreme court justices, the gallery is now fully open both online and in person.

Check out their calendar of special events for additional learning opportunities and activities for the whole family.

36 – Relive Lincoln’s final hours on a Lincoln Assassination Walking Tour

Lincoln assassination walking tour in Washignton DC

For history fans with more morose sensibilities, some walking tours around DC offer a trip through the President Lincoln’s final day, complete with a final stop at the infamous Ford Theater where he was fatally shot.

The tour also includes looks at old photographs from that time period that will help set the mood. Intrigue and mystery await!

37 – Learn pottery at The Clay Cafe

The Clay Cafe

DC may have once had a less than stellar reputation, but today it’s actually gotten pretty bourgeois.

So much so that it currently houses an adorable little pottery studio called The Clay Cafe.

They offer classes for one or two people at a time, and compared to other pottery classes they cost practically nothing.

38 – Feel enthralled wandering the National Museum of Women in the Arts

National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC

Where would the world be without women? Seriously … As the first of its kind across the entire globe, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is as empowering as it is educational (and mega insightful!).

Celebrating the femme through its temporary and permanent collections, exhibitions, gallery shows and programs, the aim is to shine a light on the world of women in art (past and present) through expos that also address ‘the gender imbalance in the presentation of art.’

Opening its doors in its current location in 1987, the NMWA houses art across mixed mediums from oil paintings to sculptural works. Guided tours are available and offer informative background titbits and history as you move through the artwork.

39 – Take a boat tour of the National Harbor

self drive boat tour in Washington DC

The Potomac River in DC is as scenic a body of water as they come and it offers an excellent view of some of Washington’s most important landmarks including National Harbor, Jones Point Lighthouse, Mount Vernon, Fort Washington, and Little Hunting Creek.

Take a self-guided boat tour past all of these locations and more, and enjoy the additional benefit of the local wildlife, which includes bald eagles. It doesn’t get much more U.S.A. than that!

40 – Find everything you’re looking for and more at DC’s Union Market

DC's Union Market

DC’s Union Market is home to dozens of specialty shops tailored to just about any need, but it’s so much more than that.

It also plays host to daily concerts, exercise classes, art exhibitions, and has a full host of venues ready for dinner parties, weddings, business gatherings, etc.

Don’t forget to check out the Union Market rooftop, which is one of DC’s premier spots for socializing in a relaxed environment.

41 – Get down and spooky on a haunted ghost tour

ghost tour in Washington DC

With centuries of history beneath its streets and sidewalks, it should come as no surprise that Washington DC is home to scores of spooky hauntings (allegedly).

Tales of intrigue, deception, and murder most foul will keep you at rapt attention, right up until something invisible knocks over the table next to you and makes you jump.

This is one of the spookier things to do in Washington DC, so calm your nerves with a local brew at one of the city’s many pubs after you’re done!

42 – Tour the White House

White House, Washington DC

The White House has housed some of the most notorious figures in the history of the world, whether for good or for ill.

It is possible to score a tour, but because it’s still such an important location, guided tours are highly coveted, so be prepared to start the booking process well in advance. Like, months.

It won’t cost you anything to tour the White House, but security is high and tours are subject to cancellation at no notice for just about any reason.

Fun Fact: The White House forms part of The President’s Park and is just one of the few national treasures to visit inside the complex.

Lafayette Square, The Ellipse (the iconic grass patch in front of the presidential building), the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the Treasury Building (first opening in 1836) and the White House Visitor Center are also located within the grounds.

At the Visitor Center, mosey around the exhibition for a personal glimpse inside the U.S. President’s home over the years through 90 artifacts. You can also take a digital, virtual tour through the White House here.

Lastly, lucky visitors traveling here in spring or autumn (fall) can book a tour of the White House gardens, including the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden and the Rose Garden.

43 – Learn about the holocaust so that it never happens again at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The best way to prevent one of the worst moments in human history from ever happening again is but learning about it.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC displays photos, films, and artifacts, as well as offering academic research and resources to get involved.

There are also ways to connect with survivors and days of remembrance are offered to pay respect to the dead.

44 – Take a magical nighttime tour of the DC monuments

DC monuments nighttime tour

There are plenty of iconic historical monuments to check out during the day in DC, but landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the White House look even more impressive when illuminated at night.

Whether it be by bus, electric car, or bike, you’ll come away from one of these city tours with a lot more knowledge about American history and some gorgeous photos to show off to your friends.

45 – See the 58,318 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington DC

There are 58,318 names etched into the black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, every one of them belonging to an American soldier who lost his/her life in the devastating Vietnam War.

It’s as awe-inspiring as it is tragic.

The memorial is one of several historical monuments that make up the National Mall, and while it may be one of the sadder ones, it’s definitely not one that should be missed by even the most casual of tourists.

46 – Learn about the real war behind M*A*S*H at the Korean War Veterans Memorial

Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington DC

Ever watch M*A*S*H? The show may have served as an allegory for the Vietnam War, but it famously took place during the Korean War.

Also part of the collection of monuments and memorials that make up the National Mall, this gorgeous and somber memorial, which includes the Pool of Remembrance, is a tribute to the soldiers who fell during the real Korean War.

47 – Catch a play in the same theater where Lincoln saw his final one at Ford’s Theatre

Ford's Theatre, Washington DC

The theater where President Lincoln saw his final play is still open for business.

It still looks pretty much the same as it did on the night of his assassination, and the actual booth where it happened is completely closed off to outsiders in order to keep it preserved.

Ford’s Theatre offers educational tours and presentations about its history as well as full performances of classic plays like “A Christmas Carol” and “The Mountaintop.”

48 – Check out the Washington National Cathedral, the 6th largest Gothic cathedral in the world

Washington National Cathedral

The Washington National Cathedral is the sixth-largest Gothic cathedral in the world!

Its conception and design date all the way back to George Washington, and its gorgeous architecture is an ongoing labor of love designed to make you look to the sky and consider all that is above.

Countless world leaders and people of influence have walked through the halls of this cathedral, and it houses memorials to some of history’s most important figures.

49 – Stop and sketch some plants at the United States Botanic Garden

United States Botanic Garden, Washington DC

Another national treasure born out of the mind of President George Washington, the U.S. Botanic Garden is dedicated to spreading knowledge about cultivating, conserving, and sustaining plant life.

While commercial photography is strictly forbidden within its walls, visitors are encouraged to take photos for themselves, and it is well worth it, as the gorgeous plant exhibits found within are second to none.

Sketching is also welcome, and there are tables and chairs available for extended enjoyment.

50 – Enjoy the lively atmosphere at The Wharf DC

The Wharf DC, Washington DC
credit to The Wharf – Washington, DC

When it comes to waterfront destinations, Washington, DC isn’t usually the first in mind, but The Wharf, one of the country’s most innovative and vibrant waterfront neighborhoods, has established the city as a true waterfront city.

Piers and waterside promenades at The Wharf offer more than just leisurely riverfront walks; it provides access to water recreation and even transportation.

The Wharf transforms the Potomac into a water lover’s paradise with Waterfront yoga classes, Ice-skate on DC’s only over-water ice rink, a state-of-the-art marina, live concerts on the Transit Pier Floating Stage, and much more.

51 – Learn about the man who led the USA through the dark at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington DC

As the man in charge of the United States all throughout the Great Depression as well as World War II, FDR was one of the country’s most consequential presidents.

So, obviously, there’s a memorial dedicated to his memory in the National Mall.

From his wheelchair to his new deal programs which helped usher America out of one of its darkest periods, every facet of Roosevelt’s life is forever captured on display here.

52 – See the beautiful cherry blossom trees that surround the Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC

Thomas Jefferson is one of the most important people in American history and, arguably, the face of democracy as we know it.

His memorial is surrounded by gorgeous cherry blossom trees, which were a gift from Japan all the way back in 1912. Spring is the optimal time to visit the memorial as the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and there are few sights more breathtaking.

Whilst your historical momentum is running high, consider a trip to Monticello, the former home of America’s third president, and spend a few hours exploring the plantation established by Thomas Jefferson.

Take a tour inside the house and different rooms, wander the farm, the flower and fruit gardens (with produce and florals blooming seasonally) and visit the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.

Located two hours out of town, a day trip to Monticello is recommended. Combine the two iconic sites into one, and there are many Thomas Jefferson-focused tours that travel to both the memorial and home of the former leader.

53 – Tour the beautifully preserved mansion and gardens of the Hillwood Estate

Hillwood Estate, Washington DC
credit to Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

Famous socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post purchased the Hillwood Estate in 1955 and it quickly became one of the hottest spots for the country’s wealthy.

A philanthropist by nature, Marjorie decided to dedicate her life to transforming the estate into a museum that would carry on her passion for educating others about world culture.

The mansion and gardens are beautifully preserved, and the estate continues to support the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and numerous other notable causes.

54 – Learn about all the ghosts of Georgetown, and try the delicious food while you’re there

Georgetown tour

If America is known for one thing around the world, it’s the decadent food culture. Georgetown in DC is one of the best neighborhoods in the country to experience this rich food culture firsthand.

Of course, Americana isn’t just about food, it’s also about history, architecture, and ghost stories! This gem of a town has a rich supply of all of the above, and the local experts are more than happy to show you everything you need to see.

55 – Visit the immense Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Calling it the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception can be a bit of a mouthful, so it’s a good thing the largest Catholic church in the United States is also affectionately referred to as America’s Catholic Church.

At more than 77,500 square feet, the basilica also houses the world’s largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art.

If you’re a fan of record breaking architecture that also happens to be breathtaking and holy, America’s Catholic Church is a must see.

56 – Couples, choose a romantic dinner cruise

dinner cruises in Washington DC

Why dine the ordinary way in the capital city of America when you can experience a magical dinner cruise on the Potomac River aboard a luxury boat?

Under the night sky and shimmering stars, sit back, relax and delight in a three-course meal as you cruise along the waters, with sightseeing in between as you pass by famed monuments and attractions with unique views from the river.

The stylish boat has different dining spaces for you to choose from. Dine inside a glass atrium dining room or on the open-air observation deck. Lasting between two to three hours, there are some dinner cruises with a buffet option over set courses, followed by a bit of dancing with live DJs.

Landmarks to look out for include the Jefferson Memorial, Georgetown Waterfront, Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

57 – Learn about the fascinating history of aviation at the Smithsonian National Museum of Air & Space

Smithsonian National Museum of Air & Space

If you’re a fan of aviation and engineering, then you must check out the Smithsonian National Museum of Air & Space.

At any given time there are countless fascinating exhibitions on display ranging from WWII German bombers all the way to the invention of the balloon.

If you’d like to get a taste of what the museum is like, they virtual activities through their website.

58 – See the most complete collection of American art in the world at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is exclusively dedicated to showcasing and preserving work done by American artists.

From naturalists like Alexander von Humboldt to 1960s Chicano activists and everything in between, experience the history of America like never before.

The museum also offers kid and family-friendly activities to make sure everyone who visits has the best possible experience.

59 – Check out the contemporary art at the Hirshhorn Museum

Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC

For almost fifty years, the Hirshhorn Museum has served as a primary hotspot for American contemporary art.

It’s one of the many landmarks that make up the National Mall, and it’s completely free to visit.

The breathtaking sculpture garden is one of a kind, and there’s almost always something new on display inside.

60 – Appreciate the nature of the Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

Kenilworth Park, Washington DC

Escape the city hustle and bustle and come to Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens to witness Lotus flowers in bloom and nature at its finest.

Not only a relaxing day out, but this park has a mount of historic significance and was the place where the Nacotchtan (the first indigenous Algonquian tribe) first settled, and only centuries later did the first European explorers arrive on the scene.

In the 1600s, much of the original protected landscape, consisting mostly of wetlands, was removed where farms were built. Then, 200 years later in the 1800s, a man named Walter Shaw discovered parts of the wetlands still in existence and decided to build a magnificent water garden through it.

Interweaving pathways were constructed separating the ponds, and it’s around them you can appreciate the original, native marshland beauty of Washington.

Spot beavers and turtles, dragonflies whizz by and more than 250 different species of birds call the park home. Every Tuesday morning, there are dedicated bird-spotting walks to join.

61 – Find out just what the star-spangled banner really means at the National Museum of American History

National Museum of American History, Washington DC

Have you ever wondered where exactly the star-spangled banner came from, or what it even is? Or what about how it was that Baseball became America’s favorite pastime?

The answers to these questions and so many more await you within the halls of the National Museum of American History.

62 – Pay respects to who called America home first at the National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC

Long before America was ever known as the land of the free, it was truly free, occupied by the natives who called it home.

This extension of the Smithsonian museum complex is dedicated to preserving and carrying on the legacy of the natives whose land was taken from them.

Like many of the other attractions in DC, the National Museum of the American Indian is free to enter, though passes are timed and must be reserved in advance.

63 – Take a segway tour around the city

segway tour in Washington DC

Let’s face it, there’s a lot to see in America’s capital, and walking from site to site can quickly tire you out.

That’s not a problem on a segway tour of the city! Plus, you’ll be able to see double the attractions you would normally be able to see on a walking tour, including the White House, The Lincoln Memorial, and the FBI building.

Don’t forget to snap a few photos along the way!

64 – Check out the latest in contemporary decorative art at the Renwick Gallery

Renwick Gallery, Washington DC

Yet another branch of the Smithsonian museum complex, the Renwick Art Gallery is dedicated to displaying contemporary and decorative art.

It’s free and offers activities for the entire family, though it does have a limited capacity, so passes need to be booked in advance.

The Renwick Gallery is part of the larger American Art Museum.

65 – See JFK’s beautiful legacy at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is one of the premier entertainment venues in the country.

Baptized a mere two months after the President’s assassination, the center is dedicated to showcasing the very best in classical and contemporary music, opera, drama, and dance, and it rarely disappoints.

From symphony orchestras to world-famous comedians and everything in between, there’s always something good on!

66 – Regale yourself with history in Old Town Alexandria

Old Town Alexandria tour

The rich history of Old Town Alexandria dates all the way back to the founding fathers. Located here is Mt Vernon, one of America’s most beloved plantations which was owned by none other than George Washington himself.

It’s even been restored to look just as it did when he was still alive. Regale yourself with American history as told and reenacted by local experts and actors.

67 – Get an in-depth look into how the National Geographic Museum team operates

National Geographic Museum, Washington DC

The name “National Geographic” is synonymous with natural exploration at this point, and anyone looking for an in-depth glimpse into how the National Geographic Society operates should consider taking a trip to their headquarters in DC.

The museum hosts a rotating selection of exhibitions all year round, each one dedicated to the very best conservationists, photographers, and scientists.

A deeper understanding of the natural world awaits!

68 – See the headquarters of one of the worlds largest museum complexes when you visit The Smithsonian Castle

Smithsonian Castle, Washington DC

The Smithsonian boasts a large number of collaborating museums dedicated to a wide variety of subjects, but the Smithsonian Castle is their headquarters and a great starting point for anyone looking to explore their halls.

The castle itself, built in 1855, is an architectural marvel. Within its walls, you’ll find a selection of the very best exhibits from across the other Smithsonian museums.

They also offer specialty dining options!

69 – Stop by the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum, Washington DC

Yet another museum in Washington DC that’s completely free of charge, this extension of the Smithsonian boasts over 100,000 square feet, 35,000 of which are dedicated to exhibitions space, while another 6,000 are covered by a gigantic research library.

The National Postal Museum is actually housed in the building that served as the Washington post office for over 50 years!

They host all kinds of activities, including self-guided tours and wine & design evenings.

70 – Check out the 6,000 pieces of modern art in The Phillips Collection

The Phillips Collection, Washington DC

In 1921, art collector and philanthropist Phillip Duncan founded America’s first modern and contemporary art museum.

It’s still there today, and is currently home to almost 6,000 unique pieces of modern art.

Not only is there a consistent rotation of exhibitions and special events, but the museum can also be rented out as a hall for weddings, dances, fundraisers, and other major events.

71 – Catch an NFL game or arena show at FedExField

FedExField, Maryland

There is nothing quite like attending a football game and when visiting Washington DC, the FedExField should be on your radar.

As the home stadium of the Washington Commanders, you are guaranteed a day of excitement in the stands as the NFL stars duke it out on the pitch.

If you want to break out your dancing shoes in the evening, look out for the many touring pop and rock acts that regularly pack out the arena.

72 – Visit the home of Robert E. Lee, Arlington House Memorial

Considered to be one of the most brilliant military tacticians of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee is memorialized at his old family home, Arlington House.

The exhibits tell the story of the Lee and Custis families that lived here but also of the generations of enslaved people who lived and labored at the house and its grounds.

The story of Lee and his allegiance to his Virginia homeland is complicated. The Arlington House memorial takes a wide look into the whole story and uncovers the truth about this revered general and his complex legacy.

73 – Walk through curated gardens from all over the world at the United States National Arboretum

United States National Arboretum, Washington DC

The United States National Arboretum houses dozens of unique, curated gardens from all over the world.

Gorgeous Asian flowers, exotic firs and spruces, you name it, they’ve got it.

The arboretum is open from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays and is free to visit. Make sure to check out the event calendar on their website for special events!

74 – See unique objects dating back thousands of years at the National Museum of Asian Art

National Museum of Asian Art, Washington DC

The National Museum of Asian Art is actually two Smithsonian museums that have been merged into one; the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Together, they house more than 40,000 unique objects from the orient dating all the way back to the neolithic period.

What’s really cool is that this museum goes out of its way to provide equal access to all visitors including those with mobility impairments, those who require service animals, and those with developmental disorders. Make sure to check out their website for more info.

75 – Behold the gorgeous Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park is one of Washington’s most scenic national parks. It’s home to the Peirce Mill which, at 200 years old, is Washington’s only remaining gristmill.

Though some areas of the park will remain closed to the public until at least 2022, they are open for the most part and continue to host a wide variety of activities for all age groups.

76 – Join in on a scavenger hunt

scavenger hunt in Washington DC

Sure, you could go to DC and take in the gorgeous historical monuments of the capital during a traditional site-seeing tour…Or you could embark on an exciting scavenger hunt that will not only take you through the historical sites, but also classic film locations and local hot spots.

Test your mystery-solving skills on dozens of puzzles and games. And don’t worry about availability, you book your own start time!

77 – See where John Quincy Adams went to live after his presidency in Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park, Washington DC

The fountains in Meridian Hill Park are truly a sight to behold. Atop the hill sits the mansion where John Quincy Adams moved after his presidency, repurposed numerous times over the years, bringing it to its current state as a public walkthrough attraction.

Much of park is currently closed for renovations until 2022, but the parts that remain open are still worth a visit.

78 – Brave the tough vetting process and take a walking tour of The Pentagon

The Pentagon, Virginia

The Pentagon is extremely strict about how they handle their tour bookings, and they only offer them during very specific time windows, but they still manage to bring in over 106,000 people annually, and they even offer self-guided tours.

See where some of the most important – and most difficult – decisions in history have been made as you stroll past the office of the Secretary of Defense and a number of military displays.

Just outside of the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense is the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, built in remembrance of those who lost their lives during the tragic 9/11 event.

Constructed in a timeline format, the memorial was designed to honor the 184 people who were on board American Airlines flight 77, as well as the 125 lives lost inside the Pentagon at the time of the attack.

Listening to a 24-minute audio tour whilst here; learn about the event that changed history, and information covers both the Pentagon as well as the World Trade Center at the time that it happened.

79 – Stop in for a bite at one of DC’s numerous fancy eateries

restaurant in Washington DC

Washington DC is famous for a lot of things, but the city’s food culture cannot be overlooked.

You could spend weeks here and still not manage to stop at every mouthwatering restaurant.

Some varied highlights include the Old Ebbitt Grill, Rose’s Luxury, Le Diplomate, Ben’s Chili Bowl, and Compass Rose.

80 – Grab drinks at the best bars in the city

best bars in Washington DC

After all the historic and cultural endeavors to investigate during your DC vacay, end off the day with a cold one at the city’s best bars.

Decked in rich interiors that ooze old-world charm, grab fine cocktails from one of the city’s oldest drinking jaunts at the Round Robin Bar — established in 1847! For a boozy-filled experience like none other around, Barmini by José Andrés is an ‘avant-garde’ cocktail lab that’s as trendy as ever!

Travelers with an affinity for delicious brews, head to ChurchKey — an award-winning craft beer bar with a super ambient setup. The beer menu is extensive, from bold, herbal and citric IPAs to Belgian Blond Ale.

From adult juice boxes to hot cocktails, Calico is super funky … from the menu to the space to the vibes. You’ll want to snap a million pics here of everything!

Overlooking the waters on the wharf, Tiki TNT is favored for its incredible setting, views and colorful drinks, food and interiors. With an on-site rum distillery, choose between three levels of seating options.

81 – Catch a show at the 9:30 Club

9:30 Club, Washington DC

For over 40 years, DC’s 9:30 Club has played host to some of the most legendary musical acts of all time, including The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, and Tony Bennett himself.

Both Rolling Stone and Billboard have named it the #1 nightclub in the world.

Make sure to check the event calendar often if you’re planning a visit, as tickets sell out fast and often!

How to get to Washington DC?

Before you arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport, consider pre-organizing airport transfers before traveling.

This means that when you touch down in the capital and you’re ready to leave the airport, your private driver awaits you to transport you directly to your accommodation. Alleviate some of the stress with this preplanned option, saving you time and effort.

Where to stay in Washington DC?

From hotels housed inside historic buildings to ultra-hip stays, here are some of the best accommodation options in town. Renowned for its exceptional service, the rooms at the Riggs Washington DC are super plush and each one follows a different color scheme.

Feel like the rich and famous when checking into the iconic Waldorf Astoria Washington DC. You’ll feel right at home and may never want to leave — the extra dreamy and expensive finishes certainly help add to the feeling.

For travelers who prefer a contemporary touch, the bright, warm and over-the-top comfortable rooms and suites at the Conrad Washington DC are a treat. The floor-to-ceiling windows with views don’t hurt either!

Loved for its location nearby iconic landmarks and monuments, The Jefferson Hotel is another five-star stay that epitomizes classic elegance and old-school sophistication.

With all of the on-site facilities, a rooftop pool, excellent locale and art in all the bedrooms, the Viceroy Washington DC boutique hotel is stylish and funky.

Visiting Washington DC on a budget?

If you’re visiting more than just one city or state in the USA, there are ways to save where you can, for example, with a Washington DC Sightseeing Pass.

There are a few different passes available, depending on your tour style and preference.

The usual is a one, two or three-day city sightseeing pass which grants you technically, “free” entry (as you’ve already paid) to more than 15 sites, activities or select tours.

Other passes are for traveling around the city. Hopping onto a double-decker bus, ride the red, blue, yellow or green loop and feel free to hop back on and off the bus at one of the designated bus stops at your leisure.

There are even whiskey-tasting passes gaining you access to some of the city’s major distilleries.

Where to go next?

Just over an hour’s drive from Washington DC, Baltimore is great for a day trip full of true culture, and home of sporting legends.

Head East and visit Gettysburg. Tour the scenic battlefields and learn more about the Civil War.

Traveling further north, Philadelphia has a banging food scene, nightlife for adults, epic playgrounds for kids and plenty of historic monuments. Over a 2.5-hour drive from the country’s capital city, it’s great for a day trip or an overnight venture.

Iconic New York City is easily reachable within a four-hour drive by car, or two hours and 50 minutes via train.

If you’re keen on exploring the deep south, maneuver your way to Richmond — Virginia’s capital. Under two hours away, it’s good for a day trip as well or as your next travel destination.

Both Norfolk and Virginia Beach are roughly a 3.5-hour drive from Washington, heading deeper south as you move from one town to the next.

Final thoughts

From some of the most important monuments in American history to famous buildings and structures to outdoor activities to world-class museums, the capital offers travelers an abundance of things to do in Washington DC.

What are your favorite places to visit in Washington? Share with us your thoughts in the comments, we’d love to hear your travel tales!

As always, happy and safe travels!

Syd Ghan, our globetrotting expert based in Montreal, has journeyed across North America, Europe, and Australia. Passionate about uncovering hidden gems, Syd ensures TourScanner readers get the most current and captivating insights on destinations worldwide.