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Home of Georgetown University, countless historic sites, and our nation’s capital, Washington, DC, is an excellent tourist spot. We all know the must-see attractions are the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial. However, there is much more to uncover in the Federal City.
- Best Things to Do in Washington, DC
- 1. Washington Memorial
- 2. The United States Capitol Building
- 3. National Mall
- 4. National Cherry Blossom Festival
- 5. Smithsonian Museums
- 6. Local Farmers’ Markets
- 7. Tour the Food of the Nation’s Capital
- Where to stay in Washington, DC
- How to Get Around in Washington, DC
- Travel Tips for Visiting Washington, DC
- Protect Your Trip with Travel Insurance
- Pack for the Season
- Find the Right Time
Best Things to Do in Washington, DC
1. Washington Memorial
Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States and a major center for American culture and politics. It’s a bustling city with an interesting history. The city is home to a number of important buildings, including the White House, the Capitol building, and the Supreme Court.
The White House is one of the world’s most famous and significant buildings, not only in the capital but in the whole world. The White House was designed by architect James Hoban and was built between 1792 and 1800. The White House was built in the Georgian style, the most popular style in the 18th century.
The Capitol building is the seat of the American Congress. It was built in 1792 and is the oldest national Capitol building in the world. Architect James Hoban designed it, and it is a popular tourist attraction.
The Supreme Court is the highest political and judicial authority in the United States and is a place of great historical and political importance.
It was designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and was built in 1832. The Supreme Court is one of the few places in the United States where visitors are not allowed.
2. The United States Capitol Building
The Capitol building is the most-visited building in Washington DC. It is the home of the US Congress and of the Supreme Court. The Capitol is where many of the world’s most important politicians have met, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill.
The Capitol Building is large and is a major tourist attraction in Washington, DC. The Capitol Building is also the most-visited building in Washington, DC, with around 12 million people visiting it annually. Pierre L’Enfant designed the Capitol Building, which is one of the most impressive buildings in Washington.
3. National Mall
The National Mall truly deserves the nickname “America’s Front Yard.” No, it is not an actual shopping mall. Filled with lush greenery and plenty of ducks, it contains notable memorials dedicated to U.S. history.
You can visit up to 14 individual parks featuring monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. It is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the history of the United States while touring the city’s great outdoors.
This area was the perfect place to check off all the must-see sites. The National Mall extends from Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument. It is just around the corner from the White House and other government buildings. The mall is jam-packed with things to explore, especially for budget travelers. Everything is free to the public!
Just be sure to have your map handy so that you make the most of your time. The parks are open 24 hours every day. Rangers are on site from 9:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. to answer questions or provide supplemental information about the memorials.
What’s more, you can check out the gorgeous bloom of the city’s renowned cherry blossoms during peak season. The National Mall is the perfect place to celebrate the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Other parks outside the National Mall that I would recommend are the National Arboretum and East Potomac Park, which offer incredible views.
4. National Cherry Blossom Festival
If you plan to visit Washington, DC, in the spring, you must check out the celebration of the cherry blossoms. Every year, during cherry blossom season, which is late March through early April, the capital city hosts a festival celebrating the bloom of these bright pink flowers.
While the appearance of the cherry blossoms is a sight, the festival celebrates more than just that. In 1912, Washington, DC, received a gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees from the mayor of Tokyo. The month-long festival commemorates the friendship between the United States and Japan.
My favorite part is that the celebration brings about local art, a colorful parade, and the general spirit of the community. I love springtime, so the Cherry Blossom Festival was one of my favorite activities on this trip. It is unlike anything I have experienced. Even if you are not a local, there is such a strong sense of togetherness that you fit right in.
The celebration takes place throughout the city. That means there is no prime location for experiencing the festival. Businesses and parks participate in this activity, so all you must do is find the events you hope to see–such as the opening ceremony and Petalpalooza–and go!
5. Smithsonian Museums
History buffs and pop culture fanatics can feed their interests through the Smithsonian Institution. Consisting of 17 museums, art galleries, and a zoo, there is much to discover. All the museums are free to the public and are open seven days per week.
No matter who is in your traveling group, you can find something that interests everyone. Some popular locations for history enthusiasts include the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, the Air and Space Museum, and the ever-popular National Museum of Natural History.
The art-minded people can check out the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. Meanwhile, anyone ages 1 to 100 can explore the incredible wildlife of the National Zoo.
My favorite exhibit is the pandas, but visitors can check out plenty of other animals, such as giraffes, lions, and elephants. If you have younger travelers with you–no worries! The zoo has plenty of interactive exhibits at its Kids’ Farm, where they can pet different animals.
Though not a Smithsonian Museum, you should also check out the International Spy Museum. It is fun for the whole family, and it is truly a unique experience. Unlike the Smithsonian Institution, tickets are not free. You can purchase them up to 45 days in advance.
6. Local Farmers’ Markets
Local businesses and artists set up shop, usually on Sundays, at different farmers’ markets. This is a fantastic opportunity to stroll and shop like a city resident.
The Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market is a popular attraction in the Dupont Circle area. I like this one because the neighborhood has so much more to offer.
Check out boutique hotels, performing arts showcases, and more after shopping. The Dupont Circle farmers’ market is open all year on Sundays and features fresh produce, meat, poultry, cheeses, and even potted plants.
Other markets include the Eastern Market and the Palisades Farmers’ Market. Eastern stands out because it is open every day except Monday. Insider tips suggest you visit on Saturday or Sunday.
While it operates as a farmers’ market during the week, it transforms into a flea market on the weekends. You can find crafts and designs from local artists while tasting some of the freshest food in Washington, DC.
I encourage shoppers to explore the surrounding areas of these markets. Most of them are found in lively neighborhoods. The Adams Morgan farmers’ market is one to note. The community is full of historic row houses, music venues, and a bustling nightlife for later in the day.
7. Tour the Food of the Nation’s Capital
When I first visited Washington, DC, I was so focused on exploring the iconic monuments that I forgot how incredible the dining scene is. There are plenty of upscale restaurants to discover, but you can also take a delicious food tour to get an inside scoop on the local flavors.
Some spots include the historic Georgetown location, Adams Morgan, and U Street. You can also dine while cruising the Potomac River, an experience unlike any other.
A food tour provides the best cuisine of Washington, DC. It also includes history and more detailed knowledge to give you a comprehensive guide to the city’s culture.
I would not have a food tour for money-saving tips as they cost extra. However, for significant foodies, this expense may be worth indulging.
If you want to save money, I highly recommend visiting Union Market. It is not exactly a farmers’ market, but it has many shops to explore. As a grand hub for restaurants, Union provides a good selection of the best foods in Washington, DC.
Where to stay in Washington, DC
Having a safe and comfortable place to stay between sightseeing and explorations. Here is a list of what I believe are the best places to stay in Washington, DC:
- Washington Plaza Hotel – Northwest Washington, DC
- State Plaza Hotel – Northwest, Washington, DC
- citizenM Washington DC Capitol – Southwest, Washington, DC
- Club Quarters Hotel White House – Northwest, Washington, DC
- Glover Park Hotel Georgetown – Northwest, Washington, DC
- Comfort Inn Ballston – Arlington, Virginia
- Staybridge Suites Tysons – McLean, Virginia
- Hampton Inn & Suites – Alexandria, Virginia
- The Westin Washington National Harbor – National Harbor, Maryland
- HighRoad Washington, DC – Northwest, Washington, DC
How to Get Around in Washington, DC
From central locations, such as Constitution Avenue N.W. and the White House, to the outskirts of Wisconsin Avenue, you cannot always rely on your feet to get around. Fortunately, Washington, DC, is well-known for its public transportation.
You can hop on a Metrobus or take advantage of Amtrak’s headquarters–Union Station. However, the nation’s capital is a walkable city, so you could probably get everywhere on foot or two wheels (think bikes and scooters). If this is not feasible, you can easily rent a car for your excursion.
Travel Tips for Visiting Washington, DC
Washington, DC, is the capital of the United States. As such, it is the epicenter of many businesses and cultural activities. Everything worth seeing is so close to each other. However, it is to your advantage to follow some travel tips.
Protect Your Trip with Travel Insurance
Taking safety precautions is vital, especially for solo travelers. Washington, DC, is a big city. Having the proper tools can reduce the risk of theft. I advise visitors to keep their belongings in a bag close to their bodies as they walk around.
Big backpacks can welcome unwanted robberies from your bag. As such, only take what you need and keep everything close to you, preferably within your eyesight.
However, I know it is impossible to be prepared in all situations. Issues come up, and you must deal with them as you travel. You can make it easier on yourself with traveler insurance.
Pack for the Season
Washington, DC, experiences both extreme ends of the weather spectrum. In the winter, the city is frigid but usually does not fall below 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer, on the other hand, can be hot and humid. Therefore, you should dress for the weather and pack for the season.
As a first-timer, I made the mistake of wearing my summer sandals throughout D.C. My feet were aching. I suggest comfort over style, but that does not mean you can’t have both!
Again, having the best gear to protect your things is important. You can’t carry everything in your hands, especially when traveling as a family. An anti-theft backpack is useful while walking the capital’s bustling streets. Plus, we have quality luggage carriers to keep all your travel belongings organized.
Find the Right Time
Finding the perfect time for your trip can make or break your experience in the District of Columbia, whether just for a few days or longer. Winter is usually a harsher time to visit as you need thicker layers and more oversized luggage.
Summer can be hot, but brave travelers may be up for the challenge. Due to the cherry blossoms and the temperate air, spring is an excellent time for travel to D.C.
However, we know Washington, DC, as the nation’s capital where the government runs the show, but it is also a university town. During graduation season in May, you may find many free attractions flooded with new college graduates for commemorative photos. I would recommend visiting in March or April to avoid this.
Although spring may not be possible for students still in school, early June is also a pleasant time to visit. When traveling in the summer, prices can be higher than usual. It is peak tourist season. I advise being aware of the cost fluctuations between seasons.
If you find the summer best for you, don’t forget that many museums and free exhibits turn on their air conditioning. You can find respite in the cool air inside between your walking tours.
On the other hand, September through November is a great time range as you avoid the summer heat and beat the winter frost. The leaves are changing, too, which looks incredible among the historic sites.
- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.