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Top Things to Do in Washington D.C.

US Capitol, Washington DC

There are so many things to do in Washington D.C. 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. And the best part is, most of the top museums and attractions are free to visit, making D.C. a great place for budget travelers!

Last weekend, Kevin and I flew to Washington D.C. so that he could attend Pokemon Worlds as a spectator. This meant I was mostly left on my own to explore the city!

The Best Things to Do in Washington D.C.

Explore the National Gallery of Art

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

The National Gallery of Art actually has two buildings, the East Building and the West Building, but I only visited the West Building during this trip. The museum has art from all around the world, including a huge collection of Italian artwork and plenty of paintings by Monet (who is my favorite artist).

The museum’s Sculpture Garden, located adjacent to the West Building, is a treasure trove of botanicals and sculptures. This is a fun route to take to get to the National Mall because you’re surrounded by serene art.

Both the National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden are free to visit.

Marvel at the Smithsonian Castle

Smithsonian Castle, Washington DC

The Smithsonian Castle, formally named the Smithsonian Institution Building, is the visitor center for the Smithsonian museums. In their America’s Treasure Chest display, you can find items from each of the Smithsonian museums on display.

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 D.C.

The Smithsonian Castle is free to visit. They offer tours of the castle at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., but unfortunately I wasn’t able to make either of those tours.

Explore the 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 D.C.’s most famous museums. 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, and they currently have a great exhibit on epidemics.

The Museum of Natural History is free to visit.

Visit the Smithsonian’s National Zoo

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

Smithsonian’s National Zoo is one of the few places to see a panda bear in the U.S. (another place is Zoo Atlanta). You can typically see the pandas outside early in the morning, in their indoor habitat, or at the 1:30 p.m. animal demonstration.

And if you want more bears, the National Zoo also has sloth bears and Andean black bears (spectacled bears). The zoo also has plenty of monkeys, big cats, elephants, and more.

The National Zoo is free to visit. If you visit when the zoo opens at 8 a.m., be aware that 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.

Check Out the National Archives

National Archives, Washington D.C.

In the National Archives, you’ll find 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 a great exhibit on women’s voting rights.

The National Archives is free to visit.

Walk the National Mall

National Mall, Washington D.C.

The National Mall is the long grassy 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.

It’s a lot to see and a lot of walking to do, especially in the blazing summer heat. You could also consider biking or scootering along the pathways.

Visit the Capitol

US Capitol, Washington DC

The domed U.S. Capitol Building is the home of Congress and the legislative branch. 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.

Tours of the U.S. Capitol are free.

Visit the White House

The White House, Washington DC

The White House is the official residency of the president of the United States. They’re currently doing some work on the White House fence, so it was a little hard to see. And don’t be surprised to find yourself in the midst of a protest or two.

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 D.C. if you’re an international visitor.

Discover Chinatown

Chinatown, Washington D.C.

Chinatown 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 where the Friendship Archway is features the elaborate arch and crosswalks decorated with Chinese imagery.

Day Trips From Washington D.C.

D.C. 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 or two. Here are a couple suggestions:

Where to Eat in Washington D.C.

  • Tony Cheng — Chinatown restaurant for classic Chinese dishes
  • Yard House — Chinatown restaurant for American bar food
  • Irish Channel Restaurant & Pub — Chinatown restaurant for Irish food
  • Momiji — Chinatown restaurant for Japanese sushi and hibachi
  • Tiki TNT — a restaurant at the Wharf for Hawaiian-themed dishes

Check out my guide to where to eat in Chinatown and my guide to bars at The Wharf to learn more!

Where to Stay in Washington D.C.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn Washington-Downtown-Convention Center. This was close to Walter E. Washington Convention Center where Kevin’s event was, and it was close to the National Mall and all the tourist hot spots. Food and museums were all within walking distance.

Top Hotels in Washington D.C.

More Things to Do in Washington D.C.

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


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


Cheers!

Paige

Top Things to Do in Washington D.C.

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

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