Skip to Content

30 Fun & Best Things to Do in Washington DC

30 Fun & Best Things to Do in Washington DC

Our nation’s capital is packed with interesting things to see. No, this does not include various politicians making fools of themselves while not getting anything done – there are much more fun attractions in Washington, DC!

All joking aside, the DC area is full of fascinating history, free museums, art galleries, and of course, government buildings. It is a great destination choice for any American and even foreign visitors who want a good look at the USA.

Washington, DC is easily accessed, as it is connected with flights to nearly the entire country. Two airports, Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport serve the District directly, while Baltimore International Airport is also considered a local option.

This all makes the DC sights within reach of just about anywhere. There are dozens and dozens of things to do in DC, and many visitors don’t know where to start. The average Washington DC tourist will only scratch the surface of the city on your average walking tour, so take a look at our list below to make sure you fit in everything you like!

TLDR

Need that info on the best things to do in Washington DC right now?! I got you fam.

Best & Fun Things to do in Washington, DC

Most of the Washington DC things to do are actually easily accessed by walking tours on foot or via public transport, so renting a car or road-tripping here isn’t absolutely necessary.

Below are some of the most popular things to do in Washington, DC.

1. Washington Monument

Washington Monument and Skyline

Address: 2 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20024

Let’s start with one of the most iconic pieces of architecture in DC: the Washington Monument. This massive obelisk stands 555 feet tall, towering above the National Mall, and was the tallest building in the world at the time of its completion.

The building took nearly 40 years to finish, finally being completed in 1884. It was designed in the shape of an Egyptian obelisk to symbolize the timelessness of great, ancient civilizations and to pay respect to our nation’s most essential Founding Father.

The tower includes an observation deck at the 500-foot mark, which is accessed via a quick elevator ride. At the top, you’ll get a breathtaking view of the city and most of the other major memorials, monuments, and buildings on the National Mall, all the way to the Capitol Building.

There are only two ways to get a ticket to visit the observation deck. The first is to make a reservation on the National Park Service’s website either 30 days or 24 hours before your visit. There is a $1 fee to reserve tickets in advance.

The other way to get a ticket is to go on the same day, where walk-up tickets are released on a first-come, first-served basis. Arrive as close to opening as possible, as tickets do disappear quickly, and you’ll be given a ticket time to return for.

Many visitors, however, like to just take in the magnificence of the Washington Monument from below. You can join the Big Bus Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour for a day to make a stop here, along with nearly all of the other major monuments and sights in Washington.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Baltimore, Maryland

2. International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum Building
image by Farragutful is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Address: 700 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20024

Interested in seeing the real-life side of James Bond?

Spying is most definitely a real thing, and the International Spy Museum has the largest display of espionage artifacts on display to the public!

A journey through the museum takes you through the history of spying, common techniques, and real accounts of actual spy operations from the past. You’ll learn all about the unfortunate times that spies were caught, as well as the successful missions that just may have saved the world.

Besides the historical accounts, there are also interactive activities to put you in the shoes of a spy. In the Undercover Mission, you will be tasked with remembering your cover identity, cracking codes, and uncovering hidden dead drops. See if you have what it takes!

The museum is open daily from 9 am until 7 pm or 8 pm on the weekends. Tickets are best bought in advance, as they do sell out once the museum hits capacity, which is often due to the popularity of this attraction.

As this is not a free museum (like many others on our list) visitors might benefit from purchasing the Washington DC Sightseeing Pass or getting a CityPASS rather than an entry ticket.

The pass will get you free admission to the International Spy Museum along with several other paid DC attractions. If you plan to visit some of them, the pass can save you a bit of money.

See Related: Best Day Trips from Washington DC by Train

3. Lincoln Memorial

Sunset at Lincoln Memorial

Address: 2 Lincoln Memorial Circle NW, Washington, DC 20002

While there is only so much room for memorials of presidents in Washington DC, there are few more deserving than the one who ended the Civil War. The Lincoln Memorial is one of the anchoring icons of the National Mall, sitting on the western end of it above its majestic reflecting pool.

The memorial is built in the style of a neoclassical greek temple with a large marble statue of the 16th president seated inside. It was built in the 1920s, and it has always been one of the most visited monuments in DC, often used as a symbol for race relations and civil rights.

There is not a tour or experience administered by the National Park Service, nor is a ticket required to visit. Most visitors simply come to enjoy the peacefulness of the interior and admire the view from the steps outside in both directions.

The Lincoln Memorial is open 24 hours a day, and many visitors like to return at night to see it and the other attractions of the National Mall lit up under the dark sky.

The National Mall is quite large and can be a lot of walking, which is difficult even outside of the hot summer season. If you’d rather experience it all with a bit less effort, consider a National Mall Tour by Electric Vehicle to minimize your time walking and maximize your experience with a knowledgeable guide.

See Related: Tips for Traveling to Washington DC on a Budget

4. Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian American Art Museum Building
image by Tim Evanson licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Address: G Street NW & 8th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004

If you’re an art person or even a history buff in general, the Smithsonian Museums’ American Art Museum should definitely be on your DC itinerary. Between the main museum and the smaller Renwick Gallery, which houses contemporary and decorative arts in a building near the White House, this is one of the largest collections of American art in the world.

The main museum building houses art exhibitions ranging in age from the colonial period of the US to modern art and contemporary examples.

There are over 7,000 artists represented in this vast collection which calls the Old Patent Office Building – one of the oldest federal buildings in the capital – home.

A few blocks away at the Renwick Gallery is where visitors can enjoy more craft-focused exhibitions. The building was erected in the mid-1800s to serve as Washington’s first art museum and was meant to contain American and European pieces, known for a short time as “the American Louvre.”

Visiting the museum can provide you with a look into significant times in American history via the stories that the art tells. There’s New Deal art, African American and Latino perspectives, western expansion stories, and everything else that made America into the country that it is today.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is easily paired with the National Portrait Gallery, as they share a building with each other.

For an intimate experience at them both, consider a combined private tour with a guide who knows their way around. But if you don’t need a guide, you’ll be glad to know that admission to all Smithsonian Institutions in DC is totally free!

5. National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery Architecture
image by Tim Evanson licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Address: G Street NW & 8th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004

While we’re on the subject, the National Portrait Gallery is another fantastic art museum for those who want to see some of the most famous portraits and photographs of people important to American history. The gallery is the only art museum dedicated to portraiture in the US.

Don’t be fooled by its limited scope, however. The National Portrait Gallery is home to more than 21,000 pieces of art! Notable pieces range from the earliest days of the United States, with portraits of figures like Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin, to modern times with portraits and famous photographs of Barack Obama and (pre-presidential) Donald Trump.

Besides the famous and remarkable people of America, you’ll also find lesser-known images of everyday Americans in both the permanent collection as well as rotating exhibitions.

For example, the museum has hosted the Teen Portrait Competition, Civil War-Era Couples, and the Namesakes of Washington DC Streets, among many others.

The National Portrait Gallery is open every day except Christmas, and remember not to bring large bags, food, or drinks. And as always with Smithsonian Museums, admission is completely free!

See Related: Mistakes to Avoid When Booking Washington DC Tours

6. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Exhibit

Address: 10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

If you’ve got any interest in our natural world, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is an experience with few rivals. This museum is located on the National Mall, making it easily visited at the same time as many of the monuments and memorials that may also be on your itinerary.

This natural history museum really starts from the beginning, from Earth’s fiery beginnings, geographical transformations, and finally, the emergence of life.

There are displays and interactive activities in the domains of anthropology, botany, mineral sciences, zoology, and much more throughout the several billion years that the natural world has been developing.

The Museum of Natural History doesn’t just exist to display and exhibit. The institute is a working research facility with labs, scientists, and some of the brightest minds continuing to uncover the secrets of our planet every day.

These professionals travel to the farthest reaches of the globe in search of answers to bring back to Washington.

Some of the favorite exhibits to visit are the ecology and endangerment of the African Bush Elephant, the skeletons found in the Bone Hall, the Butterfly Pavilion with its live, beautiful butterflies, and many more. There is really a corner of science for everyone in this massive place.

The museum is open every day except for Christmas. As usual with the Smithsonian Institutes, admission is totally free with no tickets required. However, enthusiasts who would like a more in-depth experience can book a guided tour with an expert.

7. Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral Interior

Address: 3101 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20016

Built on a hilltop overlooking the Capitol, the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington is better known as the Washington National Cathedral. This breathtaking house of God was only completed in 1990 after nearly a century of construction.

The church is one of the largest buildings in Washington and of neo-Gothic architecture, similar to the look of some cathedrals found in England. The local community and visitors alike may come for daily prayer times.

Inside the church, visitors can admire magnificent stained glass and precious works of art. On the exterior, there are 59 acres of church gardens, including an oak and beech forest, manicured lawns, and a prayer path, making for a serenely peaceful escape.

The Washington National Cathedral is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, and admission tickets are available online or at the door.

Visitors can be guided by a complimentary brochure or a headset audio tour for a small fee. If you want a deeper look at the cathedral, guided tours with a professional are available.

See Related: Best Museums for Kids in Washington DC

8. National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art Interior

Address: Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20565

The other major art museum in Washington DC is the National Gallery of Art, administered by the US government and not a Smithsonian Institution. However, it does share one thing in common with its Smithsonian counterparts – it is also free to visit!

The National Gallery of Art was the project of Andrew W. Mellon, an art-collecting financier who also served as the Treasury Secretary under four presidents until 1932.

During his time in office, Mellon came to believe that the US should have a grand national art museum like other great countries, and he wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressing this belief. He also offered up his own collection and the use of his own funds to bring the idea to life.

President Roosevelt accepted this offer, and the National Gallery of Art began with just over 150 pieces from Mellon’s collection. The donations came in quickly, and today over 150,000 works are found in the gallery.

The collections span from the Middle Ages to modern times, and one of the gallery’s biggest sources of pride is to have the only Da Vinci painting in the Americas. Part of the gallery’s collection is the National Sculpture Garden outside on the National Mall as well.

As mentioned, admission is free with no ticket required, but the size of the gallery can be intimidating. To be sure you stay on track and see it all, consider a self-guided audio tour that will take you to the best spots.

See Related: Do You Need a Car in Washington DC? Things to Know

9. Capitol Building

Washington Capitol Building

Address: First Street SE, Washington, DC 20004

Up on Capitol Hill sits the massive federal building where our elected Congresspeople are working hard (or hardly working, depending on your point of view) to make America function: the Capitol Building.

Capitol Hill sits at the eastern point of the National Mall, across from the Washington Monument and on the opposite end from the Lincoln Memorial. On one side of the Grand Rotunda sits the Senate Chamber, with the House of Representatives Chamber on the other end.

The US Capitol Building is open to visitors on weekdays between 9 am and 3 pm and reservations are required. However, there is no charge for the guided tour, which visits the Crypt, the Rotunda, and the National Statuary Hall.

Many visitors like to combine the Capitol Building with attractions just across the street, such as the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the Congressional Office Building. You can take a guided tour that hits them all with entry tickets included, along with a knowledgeable guide.

10. Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park Scenery

image by Onasill ~ Bill – 72.7M is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Address: 16th Street NW & W Street NW, Washington, DC 20009

Let’s get away from the National Mall for a moment and head over to Meridian Hill Park in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, just north of the White House. This twelve-acre preserve, also known as Malcolm X Park, is full of cascading fountains and statues of important historical figures.

Park-goers can admire the lesser-seen monuments of DC here, such as those of Joan of Arc, President James Buchanan, and US Navy Commander William Henry Schuetze. The main attraction is the 13-basin cascading waterfall that flows down the hill on which Meridian Hill Park sits.

One unique tradition that takes place at this park is the Sunday drum circle. This is not an officially organized event but draws drummers to the park on warm-season Sunday afternoons to play upbeat music, dance, and have a good time.

Visitors like coming to this park for a more local experience in Washington, DC. If you are looking to see this side of the city, consider a tour of the Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan neighborhoods to get off the beaten path and see what life is like here.

See Related: How to Plan a Family Getaway in Washington DC

11. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Exhibit

Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, Washington, DC 20024

Many Americans and people from around the world have a connection to the painful memories of the Holocaust. The commemoration of this tragedy in the US capital is at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, just beside the National Mall.

The museum’s mission is to document, study, and interpret the history of this horror and tell the stories of some of the millions who had to experience it. It hosts exhibitions, researchers, education materials, first-hand accounts on paper and recordings, and more.

A visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a somber but educational and enlightening experience. The best way to remember is to continue telling the story, and that’s why this museum is a good stop for anyone.

The museum is open daily from 10:30 am to 5 pm, except on Christmas and Yom Kippur. Tickets are required and can be reserved online for a $1 transaction fee. Additional ticket availability will be released on the website at 7 am every day for the same day.

12. United States Botanic Garden

Tourists in United States Botanic Garden
image by Dougtone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20001

At the foot of Capitol Hill sits the United States Botanic Garden, the exotic garden of America. This is one of the most fun things to do in DC for couples that isn’t a monument or memorial, thanks to the amazing diversity of flora here.

The garden was once a vision of George Washington and was established in 1820, making it the country’s oldest continually operating botanic garden. The garden is fully recognized as a museum and is dedicated to the importance and often irreplaceable value of plants to the world.

There really is a whole world of plants housed at the United States Botanic Garden. The Tropics exhibition is a favorite, housed in a dome rising 93 feet over an abandoned plantation.

The Primeval Garden is a reconstructed Jurassic landscape of ancient plants that have survived over 150 million years. There’s even a Hawaii section to appreciate the exotic flora that has adapted perfectly to the very particular volcanic environment.

The gardens are open every day from 10 am to 5 pm and, as we love, with no entry fee or tickets needed. This is a wonderful stop to leisurely wander after or during a day of exploring everything else the National Mall has to offer.

See Related: Best Washington DC Walking Tours

13. George Washington Memorial Parkway

George Washington Memorial Parkway Scenery

If you’ve decided to road-trip to Washington DC, there are a few attractions that definitely benefit. They are connected by the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway.

This toll-free road runs about 25 miles from Mount Vernon to Great falls, technically only entering southwest DC and otherwise remaining in Virginia. Commercial vehicles are restricted, and the road is managed by the National Park Service, making this a road truly purposed for recreational driving.

The George Washington Memorial Parkway is incredibly scenic in that it follows the southern bank of the Potomac River and intermittently passes through beautiful green spaces such as Fort Hunt Park and the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve.

It also passes Columbia Island and Theodore Roosevelt Island via a footbridge, among many others.

The attractions at either end of the Parkway are some of the most popular in the area just outside of DC.

You can visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon, where the first president built a vast estate and today still contains some of his belongings. On the northern end, Great Falls Park is home to some amazing and easy hiking trails leading to rushing waterfalls on the Potomac.

14. National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture Building

Address: 1400 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560

One of Washington’s newest museums is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, located just next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall. The museum was established in 2003 and formally opened its permanent home in a ceremony led by President Barack Obama in 2016.

The museum is dedicated to the documentation of the life, history, and culture of African Americans. Not only does it provide an opportunity to explore exhibits on African American culture, but it also serves to show how all Americans are connected by influences, stories, and history from around the globe.

There’s no doubt that African Americans have had to display resilience and optimism throughout their history, and the museum does an incredible job of bringing those qualities to light and showing how important they are to all of humankind. The museum has more than 40,000 artifacts, stories, photographs, and interactive exhibits to explore.

As a Smithsonian Institution, the museum is completely free to visit with no tickets needed. But for those who want a full tour of DC with an eye to African American history, there’s a fantastic African American History Tour that includes a guided tour of the museum and much more around the city.

See Related: Best Flight Price Trackers to Find Great Deals

15. Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery and Skyline

Address: 1 Memorial Avenue, Arlington, VA 22211

You can’t take a trip to Washington DC without reminding yourself of the brave men and women who have fought to keep our country safe and free, and visiting the Arlington National Cemetery is a good way to honor them.

This 639-acre space is the final resting place of around 400,000 soldiers who died in battles from the earliest days of our country.

The cemetery is just across the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial, past Potomac Park, and easily accessed by public transportation. The site contains thousands of those traditional, white military headstones dotting the green grass around them.

Arlington National Cemetery is also the grave site of some important Americans who weren’t involved in battle as well, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President John F. Kennedy, among others.

There are also many significant memorials throughout its grounds, like the Military Women’s Memorial, the President William Howard Taft Monument, the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, and, of course, the famous Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Arlington National Cemetery is open for visitation every day from 8 am to 5 pm. Note that the grounds are expansive, and walking the entirety of it can be challenging. There are many tours of the cemetery that will make sure you only walk to the most significant sites.

16. Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park Bridge
image by jameslosey licensed under CC BY 2.0

Address: 5200 Glover Road NW, Washington, DC 20008

Think that DC is all about buildings and city stuff?

Not true – you can find hiking, biking, horse riding, and other activities in nature at Rock Creek Park right there in northwestern DC.

The park is over 1700 acres in size, making it a massive green space within the otherwise densely-populated DC area. The Rock Creek runs straight through the middle of it from Virginia to the Potomac, with several scenic bridges crossing the water throughout the park.

One of the main attractions of Rock Creek Park is the historic Peirce Mill along the stream. This old grist mill was built by the Peirce family in the 1820s, along with their house and barn.

It was one of several mills along Rock Creek, but the only one to still stand today. The mill is preserved and guarded by the National Park Service.

Besides the mill, there are dozens of beautiful spots both in the forest and along the creek to enjoy a nice break. The on-site golf course is a favorite in the DC area as well.

There is no charge to enter the park, and it is easily reached from downtown DC by car or city bus. While there are some restaurants in the surrounding neighborhoods, you’ll probably want to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy this park.

See Related: Best National Parks in the USA to Visit

17. National Cherry Blossom Festival

Washington Capitol Buildings

If you happen to be visiting the DC area in the early Spring, you could be lucky enough to attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival. This colorful event takes place every year in mid-March, running for about two weeks during the peak blooming season of the cherry blossoms that line the Potomac.

The trees date back to over 100 years ago when the mayor of Tokyo gifted them to Washington DC to symbolize the growing relations between Japan and the US.

The gift was hugely popular among DC residents and other Americans, bringing beautiful color to the area around the river, the Washington Monument, and even further.

The idea of a festival that began in the 1930s was equally popular, and it has been an annual national event ever since. While the cherry blossoms turn to a beautiful shade of pink against the various backdrops of the river and monuments, attendees celebrate with parades, music, and all kinds of entertainment.

This is one of the most popular times to visit Washington, DC, so plan early. The overall festival is free to attend, but certain special events may require registration or tickets. Parking fills up especially fast during the festival, so it’s best to walk or take public transport from your hotel to the riverfront.

One fun way to experience the festival is to take a bicycle tour through it, breezing by the spectators and the beautiful sights to see. A knowledgeable guide will tell you even more about the significance of this event.

18. United States National Arboretum & the National Capitol Columns

United States National Arboretum & the National Capitol Columns

Address: 3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002

Another fantastic botanical green space among the concrete and buildings in DC is the United States National Arboretum. This nearly 500-acre preserve is located on the outskirts of town, about two miles from the Capitol Building.

Besides being home to a tranquil space for exotic trees and plants, the arboretum serves another significant purpose.

The USDA uses the space to conduct research on plant life, growing conditions, and other ecology using the plant life here. Luckily for visitors, they’ve created an incredibly beautiful research environment.

An attraction lying within the United States National Arboretum that brings many visitors to it is the National Capitol Columns.

These twenty-two marble columns were what supported part of the US Capitol Building between 1828 and 1958, and the foundation that they sit on in the arboretum was constructed using the Capitol’s steps from that time.

The grounds are open from 8 am to 5 pm daily, and no tickets are needed to get in. Besides the National Capitol Columns, don’t miss the National Grove of State Trees or the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum.

See Related: Virginia Beach vs Ocean City: What’s the Difference

19. National Postal Museum

National Postal Museum Exhibit
image by Smithsonian National Postal Museum is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Address: 2 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002

Whether you’re a stamp collector, history-lover, or just a traveler open to trying unique things, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum is a very cool experience.

The museum sits directly across from Columbus Circle and Washington Union Station, making this an easy stop if you’re on your way to or from a train.

The building that houses the museum was the actual city post office between 1912 and 1986 before it began its several-year transformation. Today, it displays exhibits on the Pony Express, the impact railroads had on mail, vintage Postal Service marketing material, and more.

One of the most famous attractions inside the museum is John Lennon’s childhood stamp collection. Indeed, the museum’s collection of rare stamps is like a playground for a philatelist (stamp-collector).

As a Smithsonian Institution, admission to the museum is free. Visitors can enter between 10 am and 5:30 pm every day.

20. National Archives Museum

National Archives Museum Architecture

Address: 701 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408

Do you want to see where they keep the most important documents, photographs, and other records that the United States possesses? Well, it’s not a secret, nor is it hidden – they are on display to the public at the National Archives Museum!

This super cool-looking building is on the National Mall, putting it within easy reach of most other DC attractions. In the winter, the famous ice skating rink of the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden is just out front.

The most famous documents available to see at the National Archives Museum are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

But there are an uncountable number of other interesting things to see, such as the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, the Articles of Confederation, the Emancipation Proclamation, and an original version of the Magna Carta.

Visitors are welcome daily to see these treasures between 10:30 am and 5 pm, and admission is free. Note that photography is mostly prohibited. As the National Archives is one of the most popular things to do in Washington DC, along with the Capitol Building, many visitors choose to take a combined guided tour of both. This is a great way to get extra insight into all the history.

See Related: Best Museums in the US You Need to Visit

21. Ford’s Theatre

Ford's Theatre Building

Address: 511 10th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004

Ford’s Theatre isn’t just a place to watch performances in Washington DC – this is the theater where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. It sits just blocks from the White House and continues to function as a performing arts venue today.

Most Americans know the story: it was less than a week after President Lincoln had brought the divided nation back together that he went to Ford’s Theatre for a show, where John Wilkes Boothe, a famous actor, shot him in his VIP booth.

President Lincoln was carried across the street to the Petersen House, where he died the next morning.

Both of the buildings make up the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site today, operated by the National Park Service.

If you’re up for a show, you can still watch one in this infamous place. If you are more interested in the history that took place there, you can tour the site as they operate around the performance schedule.

Tickets for the tour should be reserved in advance on the theater’s website, and be sure the one you select actually includes a visit to the theater, as not all tours do.

If you want to learn even more about the Lincoln assassination, you can take a short walking tour around the important sights of that time, including a stop at Ford’s Theatre.

22. National Harbor

National Harbor Ferris Wheel and Sunset

If you are looking to make a day trip from Washington, DC, the little city of National Harbor in Maryland is a very pleasant waterfront town just down the river. It can be reached by car or by ferry departing from Georgetown Waterfront in DC, Old Town Alexandria, and Mount Vernon.

It is known as a convention center hub, and there are several very large resorts in this neighborhood that seem outsized compared to everything else nearby. National Harbor feels very small and quiet compared to Washington.

There is plenty of shopping to be done here as well as some great restaurants, many of them on the riverfront.

A giant Ferris wheel, called the Capital Wheel, sits next to the boats at the marina, providing great views of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge and beyond towards Washington. Tickets to ride the wheel can be purchased in advance with flexible dates.

There are several military memorials around the town, as well as smaller monuments dedicated to important Americans.

I particularly enjoyed visiting National Harbor around Christmastime, when the whole city becomes beautifully decorated, and the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center puts on a great Christmas Market!

See Related: Best Beaches in the US to Visit

23. National Air and Space Museum

National Air and Space Museum Exhibit

Address: 600 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560

For aviation geeks like myself, there is no such thing as a trip to Washington DC without a stop at the National Air and Space Museum. Before the pandemic, this museum held the title of being the second most visited in the United States and the fifth most visited in the world.

The museum’s main building is on the National Mall, but they also have a massive annex facility located at Dulles International Airport. Both are equally awesome to visit if you are interested in aircraft or spaceflight.

Some highlights that draw people to the National Air and Space Museum are the Wright Brothers’ airplane, the command module of Apollo 11, the Bell X-1 aircraft that first broke the sound barrier, and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. Personally, the chance to see an actual Air France Concorde is enough to bring me to the hangar.

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (the portion of the museum at the airport) is open daily from 10:30 am to 5 pm, while the National Mall museum will reopen in October 2022 with all-new galleries after a renovation. As this is a Smithsonian Museum, admission is free!

24. The White House

Washington, D.C White House

Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500

It’s the home of the most powerful person in the world: The White House. No matter which side of the aisle your politics sit on, it is pretty cool to be able to see where the president lives and works every day.

The White House has continuously been the home of every president since John Adams in 1800. It has survived fires, numerous additions and renovations, and even a civil war. It’s a symbol of America recognized all over the world and an iconic sight to see on any trip to Washington.

You can get a very good look at the White House from the outside simply by visiting the streets that surround it, and Lafayette Square in particular.

A different view, though from more of a distance, is between The Ellipse and the Washington Monument on Constitution Avenue. Please behave – the Secret Service is most definitely watching.

There’s only one way to get a tour of the White House. You have to make a request to a member of Congress who represents you.

As complicated as this may seem, it’s relatively streamlined, and you can find the relevant information on their website. You will be given a tour date and time within 90 days of the request, and there is no charge.

See Related: Best Travel Credit Cards

25. National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of the American Indian Builidng
image by Traveller Reini is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Address: 4th Street SW, Washington, DC 20560

While many come to Washington to admire the America that we’ve built over the past few centuries, we must not forget who was here first. The National Museum of the American Indian is there to do just that by showcasing Native American history and culture.

The US government recognizes over 500 Native American tribes today, and it’s fair to say that there could have been many more.

The National Museum of the American Indian was established just a few decades ago to recognize and celebrate the indigenous, as well as form a relationship with their communities.

The museum was designed in close consultation with tribal leaders to make the experience as authentic as possible. The site sits on over four acres and is surrounded by virtual wetlands. The exterior design uses a type of limestone to evoke the natural rock formations created by the wind and water.

A highlight of going to this museum, and a truly authentic experience, is stopping for a snack at the Mitsitam Cafe. They serve real, native foods here so visitors can get a taste of indigenous cuisine. The museum store is also stocked with jewelry, textiles, and other works by Native people.

The museum is open every day except for Christmas from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm, and as a Smithsonian Museum, it does not charge an entrance fee.

26. See the Washington Nationals Play

Nationals Park Stadium

Address: 1500 South Capitol Street SE, Washington, DC 20003

When in America’s capital, why not spend an afternoon enjoying America’s pastime? Seeing a Washington Nationals is one of the most fun things to do in DC for adults and kids alike.

The team plays at their own stadium called Nationals Park in southern DC every baseball season, from late March or early April to late September or early October. Post-season games sometimes take place until November. Ticket prices can be very affordable, often under $50 per person.

If you’re a big baseball fan and you want a behind-the-scenes tour of the ballpark, the Nationals offer this experience on non-game days and certain game days. Stops include the dugouts, media area, warning track, VIP suites, and more.

You can only reserve this tour on the team’s website, and it’s not as hard to find availability as you may think.

See Related: Incredible Bucket List Ideas

27. Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial and Skyline

Address: 16 East Basin Drive SW, Washington, DC 20242

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is located in a more remote part of the National Mall, south of the Washington Monument on the other side of the Tidal Basin.

This peaceful spot is great for views of the Washington backdrop behind the waterfront, the colors of the cherry blossoms in the area, and remembering the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Constructed to evoke the architecture of the Roman Pantheon, the Jefferson Memorial is a very large marble building with columns and a domed top. Inside sits a massive bronze sculpture of the founding father himself, surrounded by a few of his most famous quotations.

Being on the shores of the Tidal Basin, a large man-made reservoir connected to the Potomac, the area of the Jefferson Memorial is a great place to have a picnic or watch the sunset in DC.

There is a nearby pier from which pedal boats can be rented to get out on the water yourself. It’s also a great area to rent a bike and leisurely admire the sights.

28. The Wharf

The Wharf Scenery
image by afagen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Want to know about a hidden gem tucked away in a corner of the Potomac just minutes from downtown DC?

The Wharf is a neighborhood-based around its several marinas used by fishermen and leisure boaters just on the other side of the famous Tidal Basin.

The Wharf is loved by locals for its variety and lively feeling. Its famous fish market is one of the best places to go for true regional cuisine. There’s nothing like fish, and especially blue claw crab, from Maryland (or DC!) shores.

Even if fish isn’t your thing, there are a ton of restaurants in the Wharf area ranging from sandwich and donut shops to fine dining establishments. There is usually some live entertainment around, and even just a stroll on the riverfront promenade in the evening is very pleasant.

On your visit don’t forget to book a The Wharf Washington DC Sightseeing Cruise.

See Related: Where to Stay Outside of New York City: Top Options

29. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and Sculpture

Address: 1964 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20003

One of the most recent additions to the National Mall and West Potomac Park is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Just opened in 2011, the four-acre site contains a giant granite sculpture of Dr. King, just steps away from where he delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Dr. King is undoubtedly an important figure in American history, and he was the first African American honored with a memorial on the National Mall. A stop at his memorial is a good choice whether you are simply strolling the Mall or building it specifically into your itinerary.

30. Theodore Roosevelt Island

Theodore Roosevelt Island Scenery
image by Richard Ricciardi is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We’ve seen giant buildings, statues, and parks dedicated to presidents, but how about an entire island? Theodore Roosevelt Island sits just between western DC and Virginia in the Potomac.

The island is essentially preserved as a green space, with the exception of the very important bridge that crosses it to connect Virginia to the District.

There’s also a pedestrian footbridge to a parking lot on the Virginia shore. Other than that, there are just some well-maintained trails through the forests and marshlands on this island.

Locals love to come to this relaxing place to get away from the city’s hustle and bustle, and few tourists put it on their itinerary. If that sounds like it’s for you, pack some walking shoes and simply walk over the bridge! There’s also a walking tour of the island for those who prefer a guided experience.

See Related: Best Islands to Visit Around the World

Where to Stay in Washington DC

There are clearly plenty of options whether you’re looking for fun things to do in DC this weekend or next year. Whenever it is that you visit, you’ll need a place to stay – here are some of the best spots in town.

Budget Hotels in Washington DC

The Churchill Hotel Near Embassy Row

The Churchill Hotel Near Embassy Row Building
image by Booking.com

Address: 1914 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009

Let’s face it: finding a budget hotel in Washington, DC is no easy task. Luckily, the Churchill Hotel Near Embassy Row offers fantastic rates, comfortable rooms, and a great location for easy access to the city sights.

Wyndham Garden Washington DC North

Wyndham Garden Washington DC North Room
image by Booking.com

Address: 5811 Annapolis Road, Washington, MD 20784

Another strategy to combat high DC hotel prices is to get a bit further out of town. The Wyndham Garden Washington DC North is just outside of the District, offering relatively easy access to it, along with nice rooms at great prices.

Mid-Range Hotels in Washington DC

Holiday Inn Washington-Central/White House, an IHG Hotel

Holiday Inn Washington Building
image by Booking.com

Address: 1501 Rhode Island Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20005

The Holiday Inn Washington-Central/White House offers fair rates and lovely rooms right in the center of the action of DC. You’ll be minutes away from the White House and the National Mall with public transportation at your doorstep as well.

Hyatt Place Washington DC/US Capitol

Hyatt Place Washington DC Room
image by Booking.com

Address: 33 New York Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002

Hyatt Place is one of my favorite brands to stay at while traveling, and their Washington/US Capitol property is a great choice. Guests get free hot breakfast and easy access to attractions like the Capitol Building, National Postal Museum, and a metro station for anything further.

Luxury Hotels in Washington DC

JW Marriott Washington, DC

JW Marriott Washington, DC Room
image by Booking.com

Address: 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20004

There is no shortage of luxury hotels in the US capital, and the JW Marriott is a top choice for travelers from all over, thanks to the brand’s excellent reputation. Guests enjoy amazing views, high-quality bedding and furnishings, and that always-great JW Marriott service.

Conrad Washington DC

Conrad Washington DC Room
image by Booking.com

Address: 950 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001

As one of the Hilton group’s premier luxury brands, there is, of course, a Conrad in Washington, DC. Besides great views of the DC sights from guest rooms, the hotel offers a rooftop bar and a gym with panoramic scenes as well.

FAQ

What are some things to do in DC at night?

Being a city, Washington, DC is still quite lively after the sun goes down. Many people like to take a nighttime picnic out to the National Mall and admire the monuments lit up against the backdrop of the reflecting pool. Others prefer to catch a Washington Nationals game.

Are there fun things to do in Washington, DC with kids?

There are plenty of fun family activities in DC! Kids always love seeing where the president lives in the White House. The International Spy Museum is also a big hit, as well as the dinosaurs and other cool stuff in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Are there fun things to do in Washington, DC for birthday trips?

Washington, DC can be a great destination to celebrate a birthday. Especially if the birthday is in the Spring, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is beautiful and special to see. If not, the Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens are a very unique place to celebrate.

What are some adventurous things to do in Washington, DC?

By heading just outside the District into Virginia, you can find Shenandoah National Park just about an hour away for great hiking and views. If you want to stay in town, consider the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where you can try fighter jet simulators – hopefully, that is thrilling enough for you!

Related Resources:

Lock In Your Travel Now
Looking for Extra Travel Perks?
My favorite travel companion is The Platinum Card® from American Express, which gives me lounge access, Uber credits, upgrades, and plenty of other travel perks. If you want to find out the best travel rewards credit card for you, consider using CardMatch to instantly get matched to a travel rewards credit card that meets your travel needs.
Booking Flights

Use Skyscanner to book the cheapest flight possible. Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine as you can find flights around the globe and from every airline possible. You'll be in great shape to get the best price possible.

You must grab a free trial or join Scott's Cheap Flights Premium to get cheap flight alerts directly to your email inbox. My favorite cheap flight alert was 25,000 Delta SkyMiles to London non-stop.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It's a low cost way to ensure your travel plans go smooth no matter what's thrown at it. Use World Nomads to find the best policy for your travel schedule.
Book Your Accommodation
In order to capture the widest selection of properties and the best price, use Booking.com as they have the cheapest rates for guesthouses, hotels, luxury condos, B&Bs and so much more.
Want More Destination Ideas Direct to Your Inbox?
Be sure to join the ViaTravelers Newsletter for expert tips, tricks and inspiration for your next travel journey!