Home to powerhouse politics and a history that goes back hundreds of years, Washington DC offers an incredible chance to learn about how the US was born. A trip to the city just isn’t complete without a stop at some of its great museums (many of them free), amazing monuments, and iconic historical landmarks.
But there’s also much more to Washington DC than history and politics. Just ask the more than 24 million visitors that stop by the nation’s capital every year. The city is well-known for its sizzling foodie scene, world-class art, and the many green spaces to walk, explore, and relax in.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip with our list of the best tourist attractions in Washington DC.
1 – The White House
At the top of the list of tourist attractions in Washington DC is, without doubt, the White House. Most visitors stopping by just take a picture of the outside. If that’s what you’re after, you’ll get the best views from either Pennsylvania Avenue NW at Lafayette Square or The Ellipse Park.
If you want to actually tour the White House, things are a little more complicated. You’ll have to request a tour either through your congressional representative (if you’re American) or your own embassy in Washington, DC. Either way, approval can take up to three months and tours fill up fast, so apply early.
Tours of the White House include the three parlors (known as the Blue, Red, and Green rooms) used to entertain guests, as well as the State Dining Room.
Want to know more about the presidential home? The White House Visitor Center has a large exhibit area showcasing photographs and videos, artifacts, and interactive tours.
2 – Lincoln Memorial
Built to honor America’s 16th president, the 30-meter-tall Lincoln Memorial building is a beauty constructed of Yule marble. The structure’s most famous part is the statue of Lincoln sitting on a chair – including the base of the chair, the statue is just over 9 meters tall and weighs 170 tons.
Because of its weight, it had to be constructed in sections – 28 blocks of white marble, to be exact – so it could be moved and put together at the memorial.
The building itself has two other chambers in addition to the area holding the statue. Those chambers feature wall inscriptions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address from March 1865. The memorial is free to visit and no reservations are needed.
3 – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
The fifth most visited museum in the world houses a collection of over 60,000 items covering everything related to air and space. Some of the highlights here include the Apollo 11 Command Module, Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer airplane, and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.
You can also see the lunar spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong and touch a lunar rock sample. In addition to aircraft and spacecraft, the museum also holds many other objects, including rockets, balloons, equipment, satellites, and engines.
There’s plenty of historical photography to explore, as well as documents and models. You’ll need at least two hours – but four is better – to truly discover this museum.
In addition to all the exhibits at eye level, there’s plenty to see when you look up. Airplanes, modules, satellites and much more are often hanging from the ceiling.
If the size of the museum feels a bit overwhelming, consider booking a tour so you don’t miss out on any of the highlights.
4 – National Portrait Gallery
If you wish to explore the best museums in Washington DC, this one is a must-visit. Part of the Smithsonian, the National Portrait Gallery is an art museum exclusively dedicated to portraits of famous people.
Its most popular exhibit is the Hall of Presidents, which features portraits of American presidents and, since the year 2000, also of First Ladies. Presidential portraits come in all forms and styles – from colorful modern styles to the 1796 famous life-size portrait of George Washington.
The museum also features a number of other exhibits dedicated to poets, scientists, inventors, and activists that have made an impact in American history. The Bravo! Gallery is dedicated to the performing arts and features portraits of Charlie Chaplin, Duke Ellington, and Elvis Presley.
There’s also a gallery dedicated to sports champions and one featuring 20th-century Americans like Douglas MacArthur. Albert Einstein and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams.
The building housing the National Portrait Gallery is a National Historic Landmark and once served as a Civil War hospital.
5 – George Washington’s Mount Vernon
America’s first president, George Washington, was an accomplished farmer. Mount Vernon, Washington’s former plantation, was also his and his wife’s home between 1759 and 1775.
Today, the magnificent property – located about 20 km from Washington DC in nearby Virginia – is a major tourist attraction.
The grounds include the main house, which was originally built in 1734 but expanded over the following decades. There are also a number of other buildings to explore, including a smokehouse, laundry building, and stables.
The property also has four gardens, fisheries along the Potomac River, and the family crypt where the couple has their final resting place.
In addition to the original property, visitors can also see a reconstruction of George Washington’s own whiskey distillery as well as the accompanying gristmill.
6 – Hop on hop off bus
If you’re only visiting for a short time, there’s no easier way to experience the city than on a hop-on hop-off bus – one of the best things to do in Washington DC for first-time visitors.
These tours offer loops around the city so you can get to all the most iconic tourist attractions in Washington DC without having to worry about coordinating transportation.
Stay on board to take photographs from the open-top, double-decker buses or get off at any of the designated stops. Walk around, take as many selfies as you want, then catch the next bus that comes around to continue the journey.
Deluxe tickets also allow you to ride at night, so you can photograph the illuminated monuments in all their splendor.
7 – Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
This contemporary and modern art museum was born in 1966. Back then, entrepreneur and art collector Joseph Herman Hirshhorn donated his massive collection – which included over 6,000 paintings and sculptures – to the US government.
This led to the Smithsonian Institution establishing the museum, a massive structure including 5,600 square meters of inside space plus four acres of garden space for sculpture exhibits. Hirshhorn left an additional 6.000 works of art to the museum in his will.
Since then, the museum’s collection has continued to grow, mainly keeping its focus on the art of the second half of the 20th-century. They know hold not only paintings and sculptures but also digital media, paper, and performance items in their collection.
8 – Washington Monument
The Washington Monument obelisk is one of the best-known sights in Washington DC. Located in the National Mall park and near the Reflecting Pool, it opened in 1888 to honor the first President of the United States.
Built of marble and granite, the monument is 169 meters tall, making it the tallest obelisk in the world. And while most people visiting are content with just taking photos of it from afar, it is possible to go inside the obelisk and take an elevator to the observation and museum deck near the top.
Tickets to enter the Washington Monument are limited to a certain number of people per day, so arrive early.
9 – Madame Tussauds
Madame Tussauds museums have been around since London-based wax sculptor Marie Tussaud founded the first one in the 1800s.
Although all museums feature famous names in the entertainment, A-listers, and sports arena – think Taylor Swift, Marilyn Monroe, and Babe Ruth – each city also adds a local touch.
In Washington, DC, this naturally means US presidents and people who helped shape the nation. In fact, the local museum has two special galleries, one dedicated to all 45 U.S Presidents and one dedicated to those who have fought for civil rights, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and activist Rosa Parks.
The museum also has a gallery dedicated to the magic “behind the scenes.” Here, you can learn the history behind the museums and how the statues are made.
10 – United States Botanic Garden
As the country’s oldest continually-operating botanic garden (it opened in 1820), the USBG is a must-visit. The United States Botanic Garden actually consists of three spaces: the Conservatory, the National Garden, and Bartholdi Park.
The three-acre National Garden is an outdoor space featuring a rose garden, a butterfly garden, a lawn area for outdoor events, and a significant collection of Mid-Atlantic native plants.
Bartholdi Park, located across the street from the Botanical Garden, is a manicured park with benches, a nine-meter-tall cast-iron fountain, and a large mix of evergreens, shrubs, perennials, and ground covers that guarantees beautiful greenery all year long.
The Conservatory holds the most impressive part of the collection, including an orchid house, rare and endangered species, desert plants, medicinal plants, and a tropical rainforest.
The Botanical Gardens organize a number of special programs and exhibits throughout the year, including a Christmas event.
11 – Smithsonian Castle
With a nickname like “the Castle”, you’d be right to expect an impressive building when you stop by here. Don’t worry, that’s exactly what you’ll find.
Designed by the same architect who came up with NYC’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the castle is built of red sandstone using Gothic and Romanesque details.
When built in the mid-19th century, this was the first building the Smithsonian Institution ever owned. Today, it houses the Institution’s main offices, as well as the information center.
Here, visitors can find out more about the Smithsonian itself, the collections it holds, see what’s happening at the different museums, and check out interactive displays.
12 – Six Flags America
With over 100 thrill rides and attractions, Six Flags America is a favorite among tourist attractions in Washington DC. The park is divided into six areas: Main Street 1776, Chesapeake Bay, Looney Tunes Movie Town, Mardi Gras, Gotham City, and Coyote Creek.
Each area is decorated and offers rides related to the theme. Chesapeake Bay is home to one of the park’s most popular roller coasters, the floorless Firebird, while Gotham City features SUPERMAN: Ride of Steel, a hyper-coaster that’s 60 meters tall.
During September and October, the park organizes Fright Fest, a Halloween-themed extravaganza with plenty of scares. Waterpark Hurricane Harbor is right next door, offers over 25 water slides, and is included with park admission.
13 – River cruise
The Potomac River is the heart of Washington DC. Many important monuments and historical settings, including George Washington’s Mount Vernon home sit right by it. The river also travels right into Maryland and Virginia, offering amazing views of riverfront mansions, parks and landmarks.
When in Washington DC, catching a river cruise can give you a great new perspective of the city. Scenic river cruises regularly depart from Washington DC towards Mount Vernon, where you can jump off to tour the grounds of the estate.
There are also plenty of shorter scenic lunch cruises, where you can enjoy a buffet lunch and a live DJ while drifting under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and past the Washington Monument.
Dinner cruises, on the other hand, tend to be more elegant, requiring smart-casual attire for a relaxed cruise to catch the lights of the city.
14 – United States National Arboretum
The United States National Arboretum occupies almost two square kilometers and is home to many plants and trees from all types of climate. The Grove, a favorite area within the gardens, displays trees representing every state.
Major gardens within the Arboretum include large Asian collections, ferns, a prairie and coastal plain area, and a stunning bonsai collection.
There’s also the National Herb Garden and a garden of historic roses. The arboretum is home to a number of interesting art and garden features as well. These include Corinthian columns once part of the Capitol, a large iron sculpture representing tools, and a koi pond.
Make sure you download the Arboretum’s own app before visiting. It comes packed with maps, plant identifiers, and self-guided tours of the gardens.
15 – Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
After escaping from slavery, Frederick Douglass became an abolitionist and social reformer, and was eventually appointed US Marshal for the District of Columbia – the first Black man ever to take on such a role.
This job allowed him to eventually buy Cedar Hill – which will later become the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site – in 1877, where he lived the rest of his life.
After the purchase, Douglass added a library to the home, which you can tour today to see his original desk and book collection.
The rest of the home – including the parlors, bedrooms, and kitchen wings – can also be visited. Much of Douglass’ original property remains here, including his violin, a coal stove (a rarity for homes at the time), and furniture.
The museum runs educational programs and activities throughout the year, and the grounds of the property are also open for visitors to explore.
16 – Smithsonian American Art Museum
Dedicated to American art in all its forms, this museum holds pieces dating back to Colonial times, as well as a significant collection of 19th and 20th–Century Art.
There’s a significant contribution by both realist and abstract painters – including Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, and Joseph Stella – as well as a print and photography collection that includes very early daguerreotypes.
A large number of artworks by African American, Asian American, and Latino artists are also on display, and include not only paintings and sculptures but also photography and textiles.
The museum’s Time-Based Media Art Initiative is a unique addition that tracks the power of film, video, and interactive media. Works exhibited include single-channel videos, digital animations, video installations, computer-driven cinema, and even video games.
17 – Washington National Cathedral
The world’s sixth-largest Cathedral took over 80 years to build starting in 1907. New carvings and statuary are still being added to complement the building’s Gothic architectural style.
There are presently 112 gargoyles and fantastic animals on the outside of the cathedral. As one of the major cathedrals in the city, it is often used for presidential funerals and memorial services.
Experiencing the cathedral can take many forms. Visitors can just walk around on their own, admiring the vaulted ceilings and colorful stained glass windows, a number of smaller chapels, a High Altar featuring 110 carved figures, and a two-meter statue of President George Washington.
The cathedral offers a rich musical program, which includes organ recitals, choral presentations, and piano concerts.
18 – Capitol Hill
The historic neighborhood of Capitol Hill is home to the U.S. Congress as well as the Library of Congress and the Congressional Cemetery. A stroll down its streets is a great way to see famous landmarks and colorful architecture.
As one of the most popular tourist attractions in Washington DC, the US Capitol is certainly worth a visit. The Capitol is open for guided tours, which take you to the main rooms, including the Rotunda and the Crypt.
During a tour, you’ll also visit the National Statuary Hall, which holds 35 of the Capitol’s 100 statues collection representing all states. The Senate and House Galleries can also be visited, but they’re not part of the standard tour.
Stop by the Visitor Center to check out temporary exhibits and grab a souvenir after your tour.
19 – The Pentagon
Despite being the headquarters of the Department of Defense and one of the most secured buildings in the country, visitors are allowed to tour The Pentagon.
While tours are free, you must request a ticket at least 14 days in advance. As you can expect, there’s high-level security everywhere in the Pentagon so tours only last 60 minutes and are restricted to only certain rooms a guide will take you to.
These include the 9/11 memorial crash site and chapel, as well as the Hall of Heroes. The tour starts at the Visitors Center, which features a gift shop and a copy of the Press Briefing Room podium, where you’re allowed to climb on and take pictures.
If you were hoping for some souvenirs, make sure you grab them here before the tour starts – you won’t be able to return to the starting point later.
20 – Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
Home to the Kenilworth Marsh and a large number of aquatic plants, the Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens have also become an attractive refuge for birds, fish, and reptiles. Beavers, deer, and foxes can also be spotted here.
The main attraction here, however, are the water lilies and lotuses that bloom for most of the year except winter, when the ponds are frozen. The park’s historic ponds are home to plants that are over 500 years old.
Visitors can take the trails that cut through the park or reach the Anacostia River for a bigger adventure. In addition to birdwatching, there are also ranger programs and special events held at the park throughout the year.
21 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
West Potomac Park is home to many national monuments and landmarks, including the Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Because of its location near the Washington Monument, it also benefits from the beauty of the cherry trees lining up the Tidal Basin.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial consists of the Stone of Hope, a 9-meter-tall pink granite statue, as well as two additional pieces of stone behind it.
An additional 140-meter-long feature quotes from some of King’s most memorable speeches and writings. The Stone of Hope itself has an inscription from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
22 – National Museum of American History
This Smithsonian Museum offers three floors of exhibit space dedicated to chronicling American history through a massive collection of more than 3 million objects. This includes historical things like Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Washington’s uniform, and the original 15-stars Star-Spangled Banner flag.
There are also plenty of treasures connected to the country’s cultural and social legacy, including the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and the original Kermit the Frog puppet from The Muppet Show. Other unique holdings include Edison’s first electric incandescent lightbulb and Benjamin Franklin’s original book press.
In addition to the exhibits, visitors to the museum have access to a large number of events, including the History Alive theater program, film screenings, festivals, and special lectures throughout the year.
23 – National Zoological Park
The National Zoological Park’s main attraction has always been its giant pandas – the first two arrived in 1972. The Asian habitats, where the giant pandas live, also house cloud leopards, otters, red pandas, and sloth bears. All of them live in environments that mimic the animals’ wild habitats.
Other popular exhibits include Amazonia, the American Bison area. And Elephant Trails, which is not only home to Asian elephants but also part of a conservation effort.
Visitors can also check out a gallery of photos and information about the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and its work with endangered species or visit the Smokey Bear exhibit to learn more about wildfires and the story of the real Smokey Bear that once lived at the zoo.
There’s also a carousel, a playground, gift shops, and several food stops around the zoo.
24 – Smithsonian Natural History Museum
Travel through time to experience the story of our planet through the world’s largest natural history collection. The museum’s 145 million specimens cover plant and animal life, human remains, and an important collection of rocks (including meteorites).
Impressive highlights of the collection include one of the largest sapphires in the world (330 carats), 45,000 pieces of meteorites, an 85% complete T. rex fossil skeleton, and human remains that are over 200,000 years old. There’s also a live butterfly pavilion, a hall dedicated to the giants to the ocean, and a Bone Hall featuring thousands of skeletons.
The museum’s newest permanent exhibit is Q?rius, an interactive area where visitors can use microscopes to see unique specimens. There’s also an augmented reality experience available, as well as lectures, workshops, and special events.
25 – Tudor Place Historic House & Garden
The beautiful Tudor Place Historic House & Garden once belonged to Martha Washington’s granddaughter. The house remained in the family for 178 years, until the final owner decided it should become a museum, and by 1960, it had been declared a National Historic Landmark.
The collection now includes many objects that once belonged to Martha and George Washington, including Sèvres porcelain, a camp stool Washington used during the Revolutionary War, silk clothing, and plenty of elegant furniture pieces.
There are also lots of letters in the collection, including one George wrote to Martha to tell her he’d been appointed to lead the Army. The museum also holds over 3,000 textile items, such as dresses, quilts, and rugs.
The grounds around the property feature beautiful European-style formal gardens that visitors can explore.
26 – National Geographic Museum
National Geographic has long been known for supporting scientists and explorers in discovering and protecting the wonders of the world. Their museum in Washington DC has become the perfect showcase for all that research, a place to awaken your curiosity and inspire you.
While there are artifacts and photographs showcased at the National Geographic Museum, the heart of the museum is its interactive learning stations and rotating exhibits.
From first-person narratives of people who have climbed Everest to the world’s best wildlife photographers, and a presentation on the life and work of Jane Goodall, the museum’s ever-changing exhibits focus on the best National Geographic has to offer.
27 – National Gallery of Art & Sculpture Garden
This massive art gallery holds an impressive collection of paintings and drawings, as well as photographs, sculptures, and other types of decorative arts. Some of the work showcased here dates back to the Middle Ages.
The gallery is particularly famous for owning the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the US. Visitors can also see paintings by Raphael, El Greco, Auguste Rodin, and Rembrandt.
The museum is made up of two buildings connected by a moving walkway set in an underground passage.
In 1999, the museum added an outdoor Sculpture Garden to its space to showcase modern works of art. The most stunning examples include a 4.5-meter-tall bronze spider, a set of abstract chair-like structures piled up on top of each other, and Puellae (Girls), a number of headless statues symbolizing totalitarianism.
28 – John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Dedicated as a memorial to President John F. Kennedy after his assassination, the center offers three main venues (an Opera House, a Concert Hall, and the Eisenhower Theater), as well as a number of smaller spaces and stages. From theater and dance to musicals, ballet, and concerts, the Kennedy Center has something for everybody.
In addition to rotating performances, there are also exhibits, film presentations, panel discussions, workshops, and lectures. The center also has an open-air rooftop terrace with a 360-degrees view over the city and skyline. The terrace is free to access, even for people not attending any performance.
29 – Museum of the Bible
Of the museum’s six floors, three are dedicated to the permanent collection, which includes over 1,500 objects and artifacts. These include biblical papyri, archaeological discoveries from Biblical lands, rare printed Bibles, and many paintings.
The museum also displays many objects on loan from the Vatican, the Israel Antiquities Authority, or other museums.
Stained glass walls containing Bible inscriptions, visual effects using LED lights, and multimedia presentations are used to the narrative to life.
The museum also houses a performing arts theater and a separate gallery space for temporary exhibits.
Visitors can get great views of the US Capitol from the rooftop, as well as visit a Biblical Garden. Here, they’ll find plants mentioned in the Bible, including a Hyssop bush and the Roses of Sharon.
30 – Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
With over 95 acres of native plant collections, ponds, and over 30 special gardens to discover, the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens has plenty to offer to everybody. It’s easy to get lost here and forget you’re in the city.
Take on the walking trails, stop by to photograph some wildlife, or take a break in one of the garden’s picturesque gazebos. Don’t miss a stroll through the Korean Bell Garden, where a hand-crafted, three-ton bell sits under an ornate pavilion.
There are plenty of things to do here, including discovering the unique Virginia Native Wetland area, filled with aquatic plants and local trees. The garden hosts a special winter walk, where the garden is covered with Christmas-themed lights. There’s also a birding program for birdwatchers and guided nature walks.
31 – National Museum of the American Indian
This Smithsonian Museum is focused on the history and culture of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. This includes not only Native Americans from the northern part of the continent, but also Central and South American populations.
The National Museum of the American Indian‘s collection includes over 800,000 artifacts as well as a large photography archive. Much of that was gathered by American collector George Gustav Heye at the beginning of the 19th century and is now curated with support from tribal communities.
The collection is divided into areas, such as North America, Mexican and Guatemalan Mayan collections, Amazon basin and Brazil, Andes, and more. Because of the large area covered, the collections are extremely varied, including everything from dolls, bags and clothing to household goods, dance costumes, and gold and metal objects.
Temporary exhibits at the museum offer insight into special topics and communities. In the past, they have included a look into treaties between the United States and American Indian Nations, worldviews and philosophies of indigenous peoples, and works from modern time artists.
32 – Washington Union Station
Washington Union Station is both a major transportation hub for trains and a shopping destination. The station opened in 1908 and within a few decades, it was moving over 200,000 passengers a day.
As planes and cars became more popular, the station suffered and at one point closed to the public. When it reopened in 2016, the Grand Hall – with its magnificent white granite, marble, and gold leaf details – had been restored to all its glory.
The shopping galleries at Washington Union Station offer access to famous brands like Victoria’s Secret and The Body Shop, but also smaller boutique shops. The food court offers quick-meal options such as Subway and Chipotle, but also Chicago-style pizza, great cakes, and gourmet coffee.
33 – Library of Congress
Established in the year 1800, the Library of Congress is one of the largest libraries in the world. It contains over 170 million items in 450 languages in its collection. Impressive examples include a Gutenberg Bible.
The library also holds maps, sound recordings, drawings, over 14 million photos and prints, and even two Stradivarius violins.
While visitors will not be able to touch much of the collection, significant objects like the Gutenberg Bible and a Waldseemüller’s 1507 world map are showcased throughout the Library.
You can also explore the different halls and floors of the library to admire mosaic murals and paintings. The library also organizes concerts, lectures, and other events throughout the year.
34 – Arts + Industries Building
One of the Smithsonian’s oldest buildings, Arts + Industries Building was also the first one to provide display space for the museum’s collections.
In the late 1800s, it already included many items related to geology, zoology, anthropology, art, and history. Inventions like Edison’s lightbulb and the first telephone were once showcased here as well.
Although the building fell into disrepair over the years, it was eventually reborn as a short-term exhibit space. Renovations and reconstruction are ongoing but the beauty of the red castle-like structure remains very much alive.
Recent exhibits have featured immersive experiences focused on what the future will bring in terms of art and technology, as well as presentations on photography, paintings, and outdoor sculpture.
35 – Thomas Jefferson Memorial
This half-circle neoclassical building officially “opened” in 1943. It was originally the source of much controversy regarding its cost, design, and even its location near the White House.
It was eventually built using white Imperial Danby marble and granite and designed so it’s completely open to the elements and accessible at any time from different directions.
The focal point of the memorial is the almost six-meter-tall statue of Jefferson standing inside the circular colonnade. The walls around it feature quotes from letters, his autobiography, and the Declaration of Independence,
The monument sits right on the Potomac River Tidal Basin. If you visit in early April, the monument is likely to be surrounded by blooming Japanese cherry trees, creating stunning photo opportunities.
36 – Chinatown
Compared to other Chinatowns around the country, this one is relatively small, occupying just about three blocks. Less than 300 Chinese immigrants now live in the area, down from thousands a few decades ago.
At the top of the list of things to do here are photographing the Friendship Archway, which stands 14.5 meters tall and features 284 dragons, trying out the many restaurants (over 20), and visiting the Chinatown Community Cultural Center for Kung Fu, Tai Chi or Chinese lessons.
Although there are many shops, a movie theater, and plenty of nightlife options here, most places aren’t necessarily connected to the original Chinatown and many are part of a chain.
Still worth taking a walk for the great signs and the older buildings, some of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
37 – Museum of African American
This Smithsonian museum documents African-American history and culture through a massive collection of over 40,000 objects. Notable examples include items from a sunken slave ship, a linen and silk shawl that once belonged to Harriet Tubman, and an original slave cabin from South Carolina rebuilt inside the museum.
The museum also has a railroad car from the Segregation Era (when African-Americans had to ride in separate vehicles). Over the past decade, the collection has expanded to also include more contemporary objects, such as Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves and Kobe Bryant’s NBA uniform.
Rotating exhibits explore issues that affect the African-American community, while lectures, presentations, and readings offer insight into history and culture.
The museum’s Sweet Home Café serves food and drinks that have a connection with the culture and history of African-Americans.
38 – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
The largest Roman Catholic church in the US is 100 meters tall and 140 meters long. Construction on the Basilica of the National Shrine started in 1920 mixing Byzantine and Romanesque elements and finished almost a century later in 2017.
As a result, the building features a number of architectural elements rarely combined into one single church, including Venetian glass, mosaics, iridescent tile, and polished stone carvings.
The church is open 365 days a year for service and for visitors just wanting to stop by. It also offers one-hour guided tours for those wanting to learn more about the art, history, and architecture of the place and to visit the Crypt Level.
39 – National Mall
As Washington DC’s most famous urban park, the National Mall receives millions of visitors every day. The Mall (as affectionately known) is home to some of the most famous museums and monuments in Washington DC.
The National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution Building (“The Castle”) are all located within the park space.
Just outside the National Mall you’ll find the United States Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, among many other landmarks.
The park is used as a gathering place during presidential inaugurations, as well as a place for rallies and protests. It was here that Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
40 – Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Just steps away from the National Mall, the memorial is a 75-meter long wall constructed using reflective black granite. The name of every service member who lost their lives because of the war is engraved here.
The wall was purposedly built into the ground at uneven heights, and visitors can follow a path along it to read the over 58,000 names on it. The wall is also known as The Wall That Heals, as visitors often come here to grieve for people they’ve lost.
A bronze statue called The Three Servicemen as well as a second 4.5-meter-tall memorial dedicated to women who served in the war (mostly as nurses) sits nearby.
41 – The Capital Wheel
With a height of 55 meters, Washington DC’s most impressive Ferris wheel offers incomparable views over the city (including the Washington Monument) and nearby Maryland and Virginia.
The Capital Wheel sits at National Harbor, on a pier over the Potomac River, since 2014. It offers 42 climate-controlled passenger gondolas and is decorated with over 1.5 million LED lights, offering a stunning contrast of colors against the sky at night.
There’s even a VIP gondola available that offers luxurious seats, a glass floor, and a photo package.
The pier also offers a carousel and picnic areas for families who want to stay around and enjoy the views after the ride is over.
42 – Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America
With a floor plan that resembles the Jerusalem cross, the stunning Franciscan Monastery and its manicured gardens are an oasis of peace in hectic Washington DC.
In addition to the Monastery itself, the grounds include 15 chapels and replicas of important shrines and monuments found in the Holy Land. Visitors can attend monthly recitals played in the large Lively-Fulcher organ.
Although you can enjoy the gardens on your own, there are also free tours available between April and September. The tours offer a great opportunity to learn about the plants here, the bee apiaries, the architecture of the monastery, and how the formal gardens came to be.
There are also indoor tours available to discover the Marian chapel and its artwork, as well as the replica of the Lourdes grotto in the garden.
43 – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
As a research and documentation center, the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s largest collection is its archival documents (over 49 million pages). But the museum also has over 12,000 artifacts and a large number of photographs and hours of footage.
The collections document Nazi-occupied Europe, concentration camps, and the Holocaust, as well as the war crime trials that came after. There are also extensive filmed and written testimonials from survivors and documentation about modern-day Holocaust deniers.
Objects include personal effects, a concentration camp uniform, handwritten diaries, a replica of a Holocaust train boxcar. The museum also hosts temporary exhibits related to genocide in modern times, antisemitic propaganda, and the Nazi’s deadly medicine plan.
44 – Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens
American businesswoman and philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post was also a passionate art collector.
During her lifetime, she had a fascination with Russian Imperial Art, especially items belonging to the royal Romanov family. After her death in 1973, her Hillwood Estate home in Washington DC was transformed into a decorative arts museum.
The entire home has been preserved and visitors can tour bedrooms, the library, the breakfast room, and even the kitchen, filled with state-of-the-art appliances. Much of Post’s collection is spread throughout the different rooms.
This includes her large collection of Fabergé eggs, furniture designed by the official cabinetmaker of Marie Antoinette, and plenty of tapestries, large portraits, and Russian Orthodox Church icons.
The grounds of the mansion are also beautiful and worth touring. Her rose garden was created by the same designer who worked on the White House rose garden. There’s also a Japanese garden, a wooden summer house, a greenhouse, and Post’s own pet cemetery.
45 – International Spy Museum
If you’ve ever wondered what’s myth vs reality in the world of espionage, this great museum will both surprise you and educate you.
With about 1,000 objects on display at any given time, the museum tracks the history of spies as far back as the Greek and Roman empires, and through the different wars – from the American Revolutionary War to the Cold War.
The galleries throughout the museum showcase the story of some of the most famous spies in history, code-cracking, gadgets and technology used to spy, and information on 21st-century cyber warfare.
Among the highlights of the collection are the Aston Martin DB5 car used in the James Bond movie Goldfinger (1964), a letter written by General George Washington to a potential spy, a 1960s shoe that hides a microphone and transmitter in its heel, and a miniature glove pistol.
The museum also offers interactive stations where visitors can play spies games.
46 – Rock Creek Park
While the National Mall is a well-groomed park in the heart of the city, Rock Creek Park embraces a more “natural” look. There are creeks, trails (for hiking, cycling, and horses) and a nature center here. Visitors can enjoy picnic facilities, an outdoor concert venue, and a gold course.
The 1,754-acre park is also home to the historical Peirce Mill, built in 1829 to grind wheat. It now serves as a museum and visitors can see the mill operating as it once did twice a month during the spring and summer.
The park’s Nature Center and Planetarium serve as a visitors center and also offer a children’s Discovery Room and a bird observation deck. A self-guided, family-friendly interpretive trail leaves from the center as well.
47 – The Phillips Collection
Art collector and critic Duncan Phillips and his wife, Impressionist painter Marjorie Acker Phillips are the reason the Phillips Memorial Gallery came to life.
The over 3,000 collected works were eventually renamed as The Phillips Collection and became the first museum of modern art in the country.
Today, the museum holds paintings by Renoir, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, and van Gogh. Phillips was a big fan of El Greco and Bonnard, and both are well represented in the collection.
To better honor the works in the collection, the museum often prepares themed exhibits, focusing on things like Picasso’s blue period or the work of a modern artist and its connection to a master like Renoir.
The museum also has a Music Room, in which intimate musical performances and concerts are held every Sunday.
48 – Ford’s Theatre
Ford’s Theatre is infamous for being the place where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. He was attending a play when he was shot as part of a conspiracy to kill three important politicians. The other two potential victims, the Secretary of State and the Vice President, didn’t die.
After the assassination, the theater closed and was used as a warehouse for some time. It was eventually renovated –more than once- and since 2009 it works as a theater again, offering plays and musicals.
There’s also a small museum on-site, where visitors can learn more about the assassination conspiracy and Lincoln’s life and work. The presidential box, where Lincoln once sat, is always empty.
49 – Arlington Cemetery
Perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring tourist attractions in Washington DC, Arlington Cemetery is dedicated to the memory of more than 400,000 men and women who have served in the US military as far back as the Civil War in the 1860s.
The cemetery now covers 625 acres of rolling green hills and is divided into sections, such as a nurses section and a section for personnel who died fighting the “war on terror” since 2001.
President John F. Kennedy and his family, George Washington, and Army General Abner Doubleday are all buried here.
One of the most important structures within the cemetery is the Tomb on the Unknown Soldier, where unidentified remains of soldiers from different wars are laid to rest. The very large space is guarded by soldiers 24 hours a day.
50 – National Museum of the Marine Corps
Dedicated to the history of the US Marines, the National Museum of the Marine Corps covers their impact and involvement in different conflicts, from their creation during the American Revolution to the Vietnam war to WWII.
The major wars get their own gallery, where visitors can see aircraft, tanks, and weapons from that time. There are also dioramas, photographs, and documents explaining the combat operations and the Marines involved in some of them.
There’s also a Making Marines gallery showcasing how new recruits become elite warriors, and a Global Expeditionary Force exploring the Marines’ work overseas.
Multi-media exhibits cover topics like the POWs’ experience and listening to a speech from a Drill Instructor. It’s also possible to test your aim using an M-16 laser rifle range.
51 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
While other presidential memorials in Washington DC consist of large buildings and structures, the Roosevelt Memorial consists of four outdoor rooms (to represent his four terms in office) with natural elements.
Located in West Potomac Park, the structures consist of red South Dakota granite, water features including a waterfall and ten bronze sculptures.
The sculptures that are part of the memorial were created to represent the difficult times the country was going through (such as WWII). A number of inscriptions and quotes (some in braille writing) from Roosevelt’s speeches are engraved on the stones.
This is the only presidential memorial that is wheelchair accessible, and it was designed that way because of Roosevelt’s own difficulties walking.
52 – Eastern Market
One of Washington DC’s favorite marketplaces is also one of the oldest – the first version of it opened in 1805 in a different location and it was very active until the Civil War affected the delivery of supplies and the market had to close.
The current Eastern Market opened in 1873 and despite a major fire in 2007, it’s still operating in the same location.
Today, the Eastern Market is particularly popular because of its farmers’ market and it’s a great place to pick up fresh produce, baked goods, and ready-to-eat meals. Plenty of artisans, independent designers, and other arts and craft vendors also set up space here on weekends.
If you’re looking for a unique souvenir, you’ll find everything from crackled stained glass to aromatherapy soaps, photography, and up-cycled art. During the summer, there are often live music and theater performances as well.
53 – Old Town Trolley
Forget buses. The best way to experience Washington DC is to hop aboard an Old Town Trolley for a tour of the city’s best sights. Narrated by experienced live guides, the tour offers insight into the history and culture of the country’s capital.
Regular tours make one stop at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial so you can explore on your own, while other tours bring you to Arlington Cemetery and a number of memorials around the city.
There are also moonlight tours available so you can catch the stunning lights of major landmarks like the Washington Monument and the White House. During summer, some rides are offered in an open-air trolley.
54 – Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Better known as “the place where dollars are printed,” the Bureau of Engraving and Printing also produces other financial products for the government, including treasure securities, special security documents, and, until very recently in 2011, even postal stamps.
Visitors taking a tour here will be able to walk along a glass gallery and look down into the production floor, where money is always being printed.
The tour also explains the meaning of all the numbers and codes printed on dollars, plus the science used to avoid counterfeiting. You’ll even get to see how money is destroyed when removed from circulation.
Small exhibits along the way show you how currency has changed in the past 100 years. The museum’s gift shop offers fun money-inspired souvenirs.
55 – The Mansion on O Street
The Mansion on O Street is part hotel, part event venue, part museum. It was originally created in 1892 by connecting three-row houses and eventually expanded to include two additional properties. The result is a massive 2800-square-meter historical building with over 100 rooms and 30 spaces for special events.
In addition, annexing the properties resulted in a number of hidden doors and secret passages that visitors can discover through the many special tours available.
For the ultimate experience, nothing beats their special Night at the Museum tour, which includes an overnight stay, a chance to explore all the hidden spaces of the mansion, and access to the private outdoor gardens.
Other tours take you to special hotel rooms where everything you see is for sale, treasure hunts, champagne tours, and family fun nights.
The mansion also functions as a museum, with over 15,000 pieces of art showcased throughout the different rooms. There is a large collection of signed Gibson guitars, original drawings by John Lennon, Mexican indigenous arts and crafts, and rare books and manuscripts.
56 – Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts
Located on a massive 117 acres, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts actually consists of several venues. The main space – which can sit about 7,000 people – is the Filene Center, a stunning indoor/outdoor space that offers performances every day between May and September.
Major acts like Riverdance and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra have performed here, but the stage also hosts jazz, country music, and other performances.
The park is also home to the Children’s Theatre in the Woods, which focuses on family-friendly shows – including musicals, puppetry, and dance – all summer.
The park also offers two trails – 2.5 and 4km – that cut through woodland and wetland areas and offer learning stations along the way.
57 – National Archives Museum
The National Archives Museum is the depository of the most important American historical documents. The three more important ones – all displayed to the public – are the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights.
Visitors can also see Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and many historical photographs connected to the events around these documents.
One-hour docent-led guided tours to see these and other documents are possible once a day. You can also reserve a ticket for a self-guided tour of the five exhibition galleries, including the Rubenstein Gallery (which holds a 1297 Magna Carta) and a permanent exhibit on the women’s right to vote in the O’Brien Gallery.
The National Archives Museum also organizes special events and exhibits throughout the year.
58 – President Lincoln’s Cottage
President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home National Monument once served as Lincoln’s second home, where he would escape to when he needed time to make nation-changing decisions. Built in 1842, the cottage sits on 251 acres and is open to visitors all year long.
A replica of the desk Lincoln used when writing the Declaration of Independence is located here (the original is in the White House). Visitors will also be able to see Lincoln’s “carpet slippers” (which he usually wore at home instead of shoes) as well as historical photographs of the property.
Special tours of the gardens, featured exhibits on grief and loss (Lincoln lost a young son), and many special events are held here throughout the year.
59 – National Museum of Women in the Arts
Housed in an old Masonic Temple, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is dedicated to celebrating the artistic work of women from past and present.
Paintings constitute the larger part of the collection, including works by Frida Kahlo and 18th-century French portrait painter Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun.
The museum also holds a collection of limited-edition artists’ books, photography, botanical prints, and decorative art. There are plenty of temporary exhibits too celebrating mixed-media sculptors, textile artists, and even food as a creative medium.
Much of the current focus, including programs and online content, is on contemporary women artists and their impact on the world around them.
60 – Torpedo Factory Art Center
Housed in a former naval munitions factory in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, the Torpedo Factory Art Center features both working artist studios and seven exhibit galleries.
The artists at the Center include painters, photographers, printmakers, and sculptors. There are also artists working with enamel, stained glass, and original fiber art.
Visitors can stop by the studios or attend ongoing exhibits, all of which offer opportunities to take home an original piece of art. Every March, the Center also hosts its annual Special Exhibition and Art Sale, where you’ll have access to unique items at discounted prices.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the best tourist attractions in Washington DC. If you need help finding the perfect accommodation, check out the best hotels in Washington DC and pick your favorite one. Make sure you also book an airport transfer in advance so you can avoid the taxi lines.
As always, happy travels!