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29 Best Things to Do in Washington DC

There are so many fun things to do in Washington DC that planning a trip there can be a little overwhelming. So I’ve put together a list of some of the top things to do when you visit the nation’s capital.

The best part of visiting Washington DC is that most of the top museums and attractions are free to visit, so this is a great place for budget travelers!

I’ve been to DC numerous times as a kid and as an adult, and I’m always finding something new to explore. So no need to worry, you’ll never be bored with these top things to do in Washington DC!

US Capitol, Washington DC

Best Things to Do in Washington DC

1. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is probably one of DC’s most famous museums. Exhibits explore the story of our planet from billions of years ago to life on earth today.

This museum holds a huge collection of fossils. You can even watch scientists work on real fossils in the fossil lab. I also really enjoyed their mammals exhibit because I got to learn a lot about bears! The museum also holds the Hope Diamond and other precious gems.

The National Museum of Natural History has so many fascinating permanent exhibits as well as ever-changing temporary exhibits that explore everything from nature to epidemics to space.

2. Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, Washington DC

The Lincoln Memorial immortalizes in marble the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, known for guiding the country through the Civil War and freeing 4 million enslaved persons.

You’ll find this iconic memorial towering over the Reflecting Pool on the western end of the National Mall.

The memorial measures 190 feet long, 119 feet wide, and almost 100 feet tall. There are 36 columns around the Greek-temple-inspired memorial, representing the number of states in the U.S. at the time of Lincoln’s death.

The statue of Lincoln measures 19 feet tall and weighs 175 tons. It is carved from Georgia white marble.

3. National Mall

The National Mall is the long park space that runs between the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and the White House. The Smithsonian museums line the sides of the Mall.

The Mall is is a wide, pedestrian-friendly, and tree-lined boulevard that will take you by museums, monuments, memorials, celebrations, and protests. This is the heart of Washington DC.

There’s a lot to see and a lot of walking to do, especially in the blazing summer heat. Between the steps of the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall spans almost 2 miles. You could also consider biking or scootering along the pathways.

4. National Gallery of Art

Monet Paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

The National Gallery of Art has a collection of 141,000 works of art from around the Western world. Spanning two buildings, this art museum includes some of the world’s best paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, decorative arts, and new media.

The museum’s permanent exhibit has art from the Middle Ages to the present, including a huge collection of Italian artwork (and the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas) and plenty of paintings by Monet (who is my favorite artist).

Temporary exhibitions display art from around the world and cover the history of art. They also offer year-round programming like lectures, tours, concerts, films, and family-friendly activities.

5. United States Capitol

US Capitol, Washington DC

The domed U.S. Capitol Building is the home of Congress and the legislative branch. Here in the House of Representatives and Senate, congressmen and congresswomen debate laws and pass bills.

You can climb Capitol Hill to get a picture with the iconic white-stoned building. You can also tour the Crypt, Rotunda, National Statuary Hall, and Senate and House Galleries when Congress is not in session.

Public tours of the United States Capitol are available to everyone. I’d recommend making an advanced reservation, though you can also get some same-day tickets.

When Congress is in session, you can also still a pass to view the Senate and House galleries through your congressmen. International visitors can ask about gallery passes at the Capitol Visitor Center.

6. Washington Monument

The Washington Monument is an obelisk on the National Mall that was built to commemorate George Washington, a Founding Father and the first president of the United States.

This 555-foot-tall marble obelisk towers over Washington DC and is the world’s tallest free-standing stone structure and obelisk.

A ride up the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument is a must. From here, you can see nearly 25 miles in every direction.

While the Washington Monument is free to visit, there is a $1 service fee for reserving your ticket in advance. These sell out pretty quickly. There are also a limited number of walk-up tickets available outside of the Washington Monument Lodge, which are completely free, but they sell out quickly as well.

7. Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Panda Bear at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, Washington DC

Smithsonian’s National Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States. There are over 1,500 animals inside this 163-acre park, from lions to tigers to bears (oh my!).

The zoo houses animals from all over the world. My favorite are the bears, and the National Zoo currently has sloth bears and Andean black bears (spectacled bears). This was also one of the few zoos in the U.S. with panda bears (you can currently only find them at Zoo Atlanta), but the pandas returned to China in 2023. There has been some talk of pandas returning, so I’m keeping my eye on it!

There are also plenty of monkeys, big cats, elephants, and more. Their popular exhibits include the Elephant Trails, Great Ape House, Cheetah Conservation Station, and the American Trail.

One thing to note is that the zoo grounds open at 8 a.m., but many animals won’t be on exhibit until about 9:30-10 a.m., and neither will the gift shops or concessions be open yet.

8. Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial immortalizes the 3rd president of the U.S. and author of the Declaration of Independence.

You’ll find this iconic memorial on the National Mall’s Tidal Basin. In the spring, it’s surrounded by the city’s famed cherry blossoms.

The memorial is designed to look like the Pantheon in Rome and is a circular, open-air building with a diameter of about 165 feet. It’s made of white Imperial Danby marble from Vermont.

Inside is a 19-foot-tall bronze statue of Jefferson, surrounded by many of his famous quotes.

9. White House

The White House is the official residency of the president of the United States, and has served as such since the presidency of John Adams in 1800.

The home was designed in the Neoclassical style, modeled after Leinster House in Dublin, which houses the Irish legislature.

Don’t be surprised to find yourself in the midst of a protest or two when you visit; this is a popular spot for people to practice their First Amendment rights.

It is free to tour the White House, but you’ll have to submit a tour request months in advance through your representative if you’re a U.S. citizen, or through your embassy in DC if you’re an international visitor.

10. Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is the largest military cemetery in the country. It serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 military veterans and their family.

The cemetery is known for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is a memorial to unidentified fallen soldiers who fought in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Inside the Tomb are the remains of 3 unknown soldiers from WWI, WWII, and Korea; there was a fourth soldier from Vietnam who was later identified, and his family had his body reinterred at another cemetery.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24 hours a day, every day of the ear by Tomb Guard sentinels from the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. The Changing of the Guard ceremony is an elaborate ritual of switching out the guards. It takes place every hour in from October through March and every half hour from April through September.

Since the Tomb’s creation in 1926, there have only been 7 female Tomb Guards. There is currently a female Tomb Guard, and we were lucky enough to see her when we visited. She went viral in 2023 for staying on mission during a storm with 60-85 mph winds.

The cemetery is the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy, President William Howard Taft, the seven Space Shuttle Challenger astronauts, the Tuskegee Airmen, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and many more important people.

This is a huge cemetery, covering 639 acres, so a visit involves a lot of walking. They do have a tram tour that stops at important sites, which you can buy tickets for and is free for those with disabilities.

11. Smithsonian Castle

Smithsonian Castle, Washington DC

The Smithsonian Castle, formally named the Smithsonian Institution Building, is the visitor center for the Smithsonian museums. This beautiful neo-Gothic building towers over the National Mall.

The Castle is the Smithsonian’s first and oldest building. It was originally built to be the institution’s administrative building. Today, it also serves as the visitor center for all Smithsonian museums.

In their America’s Treasure Chest display, you can find items from each of the Smithsonian museums on display. The crypt holds the tomb of James Smithson, the namesake of the Smithsonian Institute. There are also tours of the castle where you can learn more about the building’s architecture and history.

You don’t have to visit here before going to the museums, but it’s a great starting point if you need any help planning your visit to DC.

12. National Archives Museum

National Archives, Washington D.C.

In the National Archives Museum, you’ll be able to see important documents from the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.

These are the major draws, but the Archives also has other great exhibits to explore. They have all kinds of documents and records that shaped America’s history, including a copy of Magna Carta, presidential papers, and rotating exhibits.

13. Georgetown

Georgetown is a historic neighborhood of Washington DC that is full of cobblestone streets, Federal-style architecture, and old-town charm.

The neighborhood is home to Georgetown University, the oldest standing building in DC, lots of great restaurants, and plenty of upscale shopping.

You can go shopping, wander the cobblestone streets, enjoy waterfront dining, hit up a college bar, or walk along the Georgetown Waterfront Park or bike along the C&O Canal.

14. Tidal Basin

Cherry blossoms lining the Tidal Basin with the Washington Monument in the background, Washington DC

The Tidal Basin is the man-made reservoir on the western part of the National Mall. It separates the Potomac River from the Washington Channel and was built to flush sediment from the Channel using the power of the tides.

For a not-so-pretty job, the Tidal Basin serves as a pretty backdrop for some of DC’s best monuments. You’ll find the Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the George Mason Memorial, the John Paul Jones Memorial, the Floral Library, the Japanese Pagoda, the Japanese Lantern, and site of the First Cherry Tree Planting around the Tidal Basin.

This is also where you’ll find the majority of Washington DC’s famous cherry blossoms. There are around 3,000 cherry trees planted around the Tidal Basin.

Walk along the 2-mile Tidal Basin Loop to see all the cherry trees in the spring and all the famous monuments and memorials.

15. WWII Memorial

WWII Memorial, Washington DC

The National WWII Memorial honors the 16 million Americans who served during World War II.

The memorial is in the middle of the National Mall, between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

There are 56 granite columns representing the 48 states, 7 territories, and DC that had been established at the time of WWII. The columns form a semi-circle around the plaza fountain, with the northern arch representing victory in the Atlantic and the southern arch representing victory in the Pacific.

16. National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art is located adjacent to the West Building and is a treasure trove of botanicals and sculptures.

The garden exhibits several works from the museum’s contemporary sculpture collection.

Cutting through the Sculpture Garden is a fun route to take to get to the National Mall because you’re surrounded by serene art.

17. Pentagon

Paige at the Pentagon podium, Washington DC, Arlington, Virginia

The Pentagon is the headquarters for the Department of Defense. It is one of the largest office buildings in the world, covering 6.5 million square feet and spanning 28.7 acres, with an additional 5.1 acre central courtyard.

The long hallways inside are like separate museums; they’re filled with information and artifacts about military history, the country’s defense systems, and the building of the Pentagon itself. There’s also a small part that they’ve left in the original 1940s condition so you can see what the interior looked like before all the renovations.

The western side of the building was damaged during the September 11 attacks. September 11, 2001 was also coincidentally the 60th anniversary of the Pentagon’s ground breaking.

There is a small indoor memorial and chapel at the point of impact. You can read the stories and the names of the 184 victims of the attack, both of those who were at the Pentagon and those who were on the hijacked plane. There is also an outdoor memorial that anyone can access with 184 benches.

Tours of the Pentagon are only available to U.S. citizens, and you must make an reservation well in advance of your visit.

18. Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms with the Washington Monument in the background at the Tidal Basin in Washington DC

In 1909, a travel writer named Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore and first lady Helen Herron Taft struck a deal with the city of Tokyo to donate cherry blossoms to Washington DC. By 1912, DC had over 3,000 new cherry blossoms to cover the city with.

Helen Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, helped plant the first two Yoshino cherry trees on the northwestern bank of the Tidal Basin on March 27, 1912.

Today, you can find cherry blossoms all over the city. The Tidal Basin is the most popular spot to see them. And each spring, the city celebrates with a 4-week-long National Cherry Blossom Festival with arts and cultural events celebrating the cherry tree.

The cherry blossoms bloom in the spring, usually around late-March to early-April, and this is a very popular time to visit Washington DC.

19. The Wharf

The Wharf, Washington DC

The Wharf is a waterfront district in Washington DC that runs along the Washington Channel. This trendy area has tons of shops, restaurants, entertainment, hotels, and apartments.

They even have the country’s oldest continually operating open-air fish market. At the Wharf, you can eat fresh seafood on the waterfront and shop from local boutique stores.

It’s a very lively scene, and they have great rooftop bars with amazing views!

20. Chinatown

Chinatown, Washington D.C.

Chinatown is a small historic neighborhood of DC that was popular with Chinese immigrants in the 1930s.

This area is home to tons of great restaurants, the iconic Friendship Archway, and the Capitol One Arena. This is a great place to grab a bite to eat; you’ll find a huge array of Asian and other international cuisine.

The intersection of H Street at 7th Street is where you’ll find the Friendship Archway, a traditional Chinese gate donated to DC by sister city Beijing in 1968.

21. Willard Hotel

The Willard InterContinental Washington DC Hotel, usually just called the Willard Hotel, is a historic hotel where DC’s political elite have been hanging out for over a century.

The first Willard’s Hotel opened in 1847. The present 12-story hotel opened in 1901. It’s turn-of-the-century elegance attracts a lot of high profile guests, from presidents and vice presidents to movie producers to newspaper tycoons.

Every president since Franklin Pierce (inaugurated in 1853) has either attended an event or gotten a room at the hotel. Ulysses S. Grant enjoyed drinking and smoking in the lobby, and hotel lore (a.k.a. marketing propaganda) says that this is the origin of the term “lobbying” (unlikely as the term “to lobby” predates Grant’s “lobbying” days).

The hotel is filled with history, and even if you don’t book a room there, you can still pop in and take a look at the elaborate lobby, decked out in gold, marble, and classy wood finishes.

22. Round Robin Bar

The Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel is also a historic spot, and it’s a great place for some pre-dinner cocktails.

It’s so-named for its circular wooden bar in the middle of the room.

And here at this round bar, surrounded by oak-paneled walls, brown leather seating, and cigar-lounge vibes, is where DC’s political and social elite would rub elbows. The walls are adorned with portraits of famous people who have visited.

Local legend says that Senator Henry Clay introduced the Mint Julep to DC, and now the cocktail is the bar’s signature drink. There’s also talk of the bar having a chair with a cigar mark on the arm from President Grant.

23. Day Trip to Old Town Alexandria

Alexandria, Virginia

DC is actually really close to a lot of other fun places, and if you want to see more of the country’s history, you should definitely consider getting out of the city with a day trip.

A visit to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia is one of the quickest day trips. You can easily get there by Metro.

Alexandria is filled with cobblestoned streets and interesting historical sites. Step back in time to the 18th century to visit sites like George Washington’s townhouse, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, and Gadsby’s Tavern Museum.

Be sure to also check out the local art at the Torpedo Factory Art Center and stroll along King Street in the heart of Old Town Alexandria.

24. Day Trip to Baltimore

Baltimore Inner Harbor, Maryland

Baltimore, Maryland is another great day trip from DC. Just an hour away and accessible by car or train, Baltimore is full of art, history, food, and beer.

Some of the best things to do on a day trip to Baltimore are to visit the National Aquarium to see 20,000 animals and walk along the Inner Harbor, taking in the waterfront views of the city.

Be sure to also check out the Historic Ships in Baltimore and have a bite of Maryland crab at a local restaurant.

25. Visit a Rooftop Bar

Cocktail in front of the Wharf at Whiskey Charlie, Washington DC

I love a good rooftop bar, and Washington DC has plenty of them!

Because DC has a building height limit, the city’s skyline is largely uniform. So you’re practically guaranteed a good view, it just depends on which direction the rooftop bar faces.

(A local myth says that DC’s building heights are restricted because no structure can be taller than the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument so as not to obscure them, but that’s not the real reason. When the first Height of Buildings Act was established in 1899, lawmakers were essentially distrustful of new steel-framed buildings and didn’t think they were stable enough to be tall, and fire fighting equipment that could only reach a certain height. And the act has pretty much stayed the same ever since.)

Some of my favorite DC rooftop bars are at the Wharf, where you can get great drinks and a waterfront view. You can also watch planes take off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and fly into the sunset, which is really picturesque.

26. SW DC Prehistoric Pocket Park

SW DC Prehistoric Pocket Park, Washington DC

If you’ve never heard of a “pocket park”, it’s essentially an art piece on a really small scale (like that could fit in your pocket) that is made to look like a park.

The SW DC Prehistoric Pocket Park is a tiny park of toy dinosaurs that someone put up in their front garden. You’ll find it at 602 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20024. Be sure to look down!

This hidden spark of sidewalk joy and wonder is right there for you on your walk between the Wharf and the L’Enfant Metro station.

If you really love pocket parks and tiny things, you should check out Hattiesburg, MS where you can visit their pocket museum and alleyway. This is where I was first introduced to the “pocket” concept, and it’s really fun!

27. Levain Bakery

Cookies in a box from Levain Bakery, Washington DC

Levain Bakery is not a DC original. In fact, it’s a New York City favorite that has made its way down here. But it’s still worth the visit.

Started in NYC in 1995, Levain Bakery (from the French word for “leavened bread”) is known for their massive cookies. Particularly, the Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie.

You’ll find DC’s location in Georgetown. The bakery is small but mighty, drawing in huge lines that are out the door. But the cookies are huge, fresh, and warm.

28. Fashion Centre at Pentagon City

Interior of Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, Washington DC, Arlington, Virginia

If you’re in need of a little retail therapy while in Washington DC, then you’ll find plenty of shopping at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, also called Pentagon City Mall.

Just a Metro stop away from the Pentagon, this mall has more than 150 stores with your favorite shops like Apple, Zara, MAC, Lululemon, Warby Parker, Tourneau, Savage x Fenty, Psycho Bunny, Nordstrom, and Macy’s.

29. Use the Tinggly Bucketlist box to find top experiences in Washington DC

Tinggly Bucketlist box

Treat yourself to an unforgettable adventure in Washington DC with the Tinggly Bucketlist box.

Tinggly boxes are essentially gift vouchers for experiences all around the world. But you can give yourself the gift of adventure, too. Especially because Tinggly has some Washington DC experiences you can’t find anywhere else!

With the Bucketlist box, you can treat yourself to unique DC experiences like a Bottomless Mimosa Brunch Cruise or a Private Chef Dining Experience or an Evening DC Tour.

Get yourself the Bucketlist box here, or check out other Washington DC experiences from Tinggly here.

Best Things to Do in Washington DC Map

Ready to explore all these top things to do in Washington DC? Use the map below to plan out your trip!

I hope you have an amazing visit to the United States capital!

Save on Washington DC’s Top Attractions

Want to save big on Washington DC’s top attractions? With the Washington DC Sightseeing Pass, you can save up to 60% on the cost of entrance tickets to museums, tours, and attractions all around the city!

Visit bucket list attractions, enjoy top tours, and discover hidden gems handpicked by local experts. With one price and one pass, you have everything you need right on your phone. This is the perfect pass for visiting Washington DC!

Get your Washington DC Sightseeing Pass here.

Where to Stay in Washington DC

Find the perfect place to rest your head on your visit to Washington DC, from the top rated accommodations to unique stays you can’t get anywhere else.

Hampton Inn Washington-Downtown-Convention Center

We enjoyed our stay at the Hampton Inn Washington-Downtown-Convention Center when attending an event at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

This hotel has a great location. It’s just on the edge of Chinatown and is within easy walking distance to the National Mall and all the tourist hot spots. There are plenty of restaurant options and nightlife nearby.

Canopy by Hilton Washington DC The Wharf

We love the location of the Canopy by Hilton Washington DC The Wharf, though the hotel’s customer service could use some work.

The Wharf is a great spot to be for beautiful waterfront views and lots of dining and nightlife. It’s also only a 10-15 minute walk from two different Metro stations, and it’s really easy to get to and from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

More Things to Do in Washington DC

Explore even more of the nation’s capital! Check out these other top tips for visiting Washington DC.

Ready to visit Washington DC? Plan your trip with these tips.



29 Best Things to Do in Washington DC

What are your favorite things to do in Washington DC? Let me know in the comments!

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