Top 10 Things to Do in Washington DC

Washington D.C. is neither a city nor a state. Instead, it is a special federal district. People drink more wine there than any place else in the United States. They have no representation in Congress. There is one lawyer for every 19 residents, and there is 74 lobbyist for every legislator. While many know that Washington was named after President Washington, very few realize that the D.C. is in honor of Christopher Columbus. If you are planning a trip to this district soon, then check out these great things to do in Washington DC. The outstanding news is that most of them are free.

1. Tour the National Smithsonian Museums

Thanks to a large grant by James Smithson in 1846, Washington D.C. has 17 Smithsonian Museums. Guests can get into all of them free. Eleven are located on the National Mall. Five others are located elsewhere in the city, while two are not in the area. In 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors allowing people to learn more about this important part of history. If you do not have time to visit them all, then consider visiting the National Air and Space Museum where the Wright plane is on display, the United States Holocaust Museum and the Smithsonian National Art Museum. Do not forget about the zoo which is also a Smithsonian museum. Visiting all the museum is one of the most fun things to do in Washington DC.

  • Best for: Adults and children.
  • Season: Museums are open every day from 08:30 am to 7:00 pm, except Christmas.
  • Address: Multiple addresses, check the website for each attraction.

2. Revisit History at the Ford Theater

On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot at the Ford Theater. While it is possible to tour the theater, consider taking in a live stage performance here. See the theater box where President Lincoln was shot, explore the stage where John Wilkes Booth stood, see the stairs where Lincoln was carried down and the boarding house where he died. Many experts have questioned if Booth acted alone, and when you visit the site you can decide for yourself.

  • Best for: Children and adults.
  • Season: Ford Theater is open daily – be aware that not all stops are included with all tickets.
  • Address: 511 10th St, NW, Washington, DC 20004.

3. Explore the National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art contains over 500 works of art in two buildings connected by an underground tunnel. Visit the rooftop sculpture garden to see the blue rooster sculpture and others. The view of Pennsylvania Avenue from here is particularly stunning. See the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the United States. View Woman with a Parasol by Claude Monet. Gain a new understanding of Napoleon by seeing his portrait painted by Jacques-Louis David. Explore America’s fascination with celebrities by seeing Andy Warhol’s painting of Marilyn Monroe. These are the most amazing things to see in Washington DC.

  • Best for: Children and adults.
  • Season: Open every day from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, except Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  • Address: 6th & Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20565.

4. See the White House

If you want to tour the White House and are a United States citizen then contact your Congress person. If your citizenship is overseas, then contact your United States Embassy. Your tour is likely to begin in the oval Blue Room which is the room used when President Grover Cleveland got married. He was the only man to ever get married while holding the office. Your tour will likely next stop at the Red Room which is furnished with period pieces from the Empire Era. While this room had traditionally been fire engine red, Jacqueline Kennedy toned it down to the muted reds visitors see today. The tour that is one of the favorite things to do in Washington DC also includes a view of the Rose Garden, the Green Room, the State Dining Room and the China Room.

  • Best for: Adults and Children.
  • Season: Open year-round – must get approval to tour.
  • Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20500.

5. Visit the Capitol

Touring the Capitol is one of the best things to do in Washington DC. There are two ways that guests can tour the Capitol. They can take a tour given by the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center or by staff from your representative’s office. Most tours begin with watching a 13-minute film on the history of the building. Then, visitors are taken to see the crypt containing the 13 statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection. The next stop is usually the rotunda with its amazing portraits. See if you can make your visit extra special by getting a flag flown over the Capitol during your visit. Visitors can simply contact their elected officials to make this request ahead of time.

  • Best for: Adults and children.
  • Season: Year round except for some major holidays. The Capitol is open daily from 08:30 am to 4:30 pm.
  • Address: East Capitol St. NE & First St. SE, Washington, DC 20004.

6. Stroll along the National Mall

The National Mall was first laid out as the grand avenue when city planners designed the city in 1791. Despite the fact that the original concept was never carried out, the mall is a beautiful place to visit with several famous monuments. See the 555-foot marble obelisk Washington Monument. View the Lincoln Memorial with its impressive marble column and the 175-ton statue of President Lincoln. Nearby, see the World War II Memorial with its reflecting fountain. Make sure to leave time to see the Thomas Jefferson Memorial modeled after the Pantheon of Rome. Take your time and stroll through the remaining memorials as this is one of the favorite things to do in Washington DC. Since the National Mall never closes, a great way to see it is in the early morning hours.

  • Best for: Children and adults.
  • Season: The mall is open 24-hours a day, but rangers are only on site to answer questions from 09:30 am to 10:00 pm. Dress for the weather as there is lots of walking involved
  • Address: 900 Ohio Drive, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

7. Hike at the National Arboretum

Operated by the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Arboretum offers visitors the chance to see many different styles of gardens. One garden there features the state tree from almost every state. The grounds also include the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum that was started with a gift of 53 Bonsai trees from Japan. Visitors can even see a white pine tree that survived the bombing of Hiroshima before being sent to the United States. Making this one of the best things to do in Washington DC, the facility often hosts special events like full moon hikes, native plant symposiums, and classes on urban ecology. They even host a plant sale about twice a year. This one of the greatest things to do in Washington DC when having kids.

  • Best for: Children and adults. Depending on activity may require lots of walking.
  • Seasonal: The Arboretum is open year-round, except for Christmas,  from 08:00 am to 5:00 pm.
  • Address: 3501 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, D.C. 20002-1958.

8. See the Houses Along Embassy Row

Running along Massachusetts Avenue from 18th Street to 35th Street is the area informally called Embassy Row. Most are not open to the public, but there is plenty to see from the street when you walk along this 2.5-mile stretch. The embassy at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue belongs to Indonesia. The home was built by Thomas Walsh for his daughter Evelyn who was the last private owner of the Hope Diamond. Pay attention to the statue of the soldier on Sheridan Circle as it was carved by the same man who carved Mount Rushmore. Since you are in the area, stop to see the Islamic Center with its elaborate tilework. Notice the Italian embassy, as its diamond shape mimics the original plans for the city.

  • Best for: Children and adults.
  • Seasonal: Most stops are outside, so you need to take the weather into account.
  • Address: The section of Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. between Scott Circle and Observatory Circle.

9. Go Stargazing at the National Air and Space Museum

Learn the secrets that the night sky holds at a stargazing party at the National Air and Space Museum. Many different types of portable telescopes will be available for visitors to use. Make sure to come early so that you can hear one of the special guest lectures explaining more about current events in the world of astronomy. If you are not a night owl, then visit this exciting museum featuring more than 60,000 artifacts during the day. Look through the telescopes to see sunspots and hear soundtracks from when the astronauts landed on the moon. Explore many historical moments in aviation history along with seeing the plane flown by Charles Lindbergh and the Columbia space capsule. Families can enjoy special activities planned just for them including space camps and toddler story times making this museum among the favorite things to do in Washington DC.

  • Best for: Children, couples, families.
  • Season: Regular hours from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. Events happen on select dates throughout the summer months, so check the calendar often.
  • Address: Independence Ave at 6th St, SW, Washington, DC 20560.

10. Tour the Library of Congress

Arrive at the Library of Congress before 9:45 AM to see this impressive building that is a storehouse of documents important to the history of the United States. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. The main mission of the Library of Congress is to provide research materials to Congress. See the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights in the Rotunda. Leave time to visit the Public Vaults Permanent Exhibit Gallery filled with interactive exhibits based on the Preamble to the Constitution. You will want to come back often to see the constantly changing exhibits in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery. See a special show in the 290-seat William G. McGowan Theater.

  • Best for: Children, families.
  • Season: Open year-round, check the website for events.
  • Address: 101 Independence Ave, SE, Washington, DC 20540.

You can visit the amazing Smithsonian museums or the Ford Theater. Stroll along the National Mall to see the monuments located there or enjoy a hike along Embassy Row. See the amazing works of art at the National Art Gallery. Reconnect with nature by visiting the National Arboretum. Tour both the Capitol and the White House to see where elected officials work. There are so many things to do in Washington DC that you will be glad that most of them are free. Just like New York City, Washington DC is one of the landmarks of the US.