If you’re looking for the best things to do in Washington DC then you’ve come to the right place. The United States of America’s capital city is full of amazing activities and sites. Because it is the nation’s capital, you can expect it to be fairly busy, no matter what time of year you decide to visit.
Planning your trip to Washington DC last minute?
Hotels and tours sell out fast! Make sure to book in advance to ensure availability. Here are our top picks for Washington DC:
Top Experiences And Tours To Book In Advance:
- Monuments By Moonlight Tour (Our pick!)
- Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour (Easy to get around)
- Gourmet Dining Cruise (Can choose brunch or dinner)
- Capital Wheel Entry Ticket (Save time in line)
Best Places To Stay In Washington DC:
All throughout the year politicians live in the city, tourists come to see the many Washington DC attractions, and of course, people live there year-round. If you go in the fall, you’ll get to see the fall foliage surrounding the monuments. In the spring, people come from all over the world to see the Cherry Blossom Festival. In the winter, the city comes alive with twinkling lights and holiday spirit. The summer months are probably the busiest months to explore activities in Washington DC, even though it can be pretty hot.
Some of the best things to do in Washington DC are the many museums. Most of the museums in DC are free and part of the Smithsonian group of museums. There are also monuments, memorials, historic homes and buildings, and so much more. No matter what you are interested in, there are definitely fun things to do in DC that you’ll love. So, let’s take a look at 25 of the best things to do in Washington DC to make the ultimate bucket list! Don’t forget to check out our list of the best boutique hotels in Washington DC to plan your visit!
25 Best Things To Do In Washington DC: The Ultimate Bucket List
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
If you want to see as much of the city as possible, then you absolutely need to do a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. The great thing about a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour is that you can use it as public transportation almost. The bus follows a loop around the city, and as long as you have a pass, you can catch the bus at any point along its route. You can also stop at any point on the route as well.
As you drive around the city, you’ll see all the sites. You’ll also have an experienced tour guide accompanying you. They’ll make sure to tell you about the different stopping points, major sites, and more as you pass by. They are also typically DC locals, so they’re great resources for pretty much any question you might have about Washington DC. You won’t regret getting passes for the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours through DC.
Book Here: Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
Go Inside The Washington Monument
Not many people know that you can actually go inside the Washington Monument. The tall obelisk is actually hollow inside. When you walk into the lobby of the monument you’ll see beautiful stone walls and a statue of George Washington. You can choose to take the elevator or walk the 897 steps to the top. On the 490 foot level of the monument, there is a small museum.
Inside the small museum, you’ll see information about the building of the monument. The top floor and observation deck is located at 500 feet, just above the museum. From the observation deck, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see Washington DC, Virginia, and Maryland. It is free to go to the observation deck, but you’ll need to reserve timed-entry tickets ahead of time. So if this is something you’re interested in doing, make sure to plan ahead.
This is one of our favorite Fun Kids Activities In DC!
Walk Around The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool At Sunset
There are several reflecting pools in Washington DC, but the largest is the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. One of the best things to do in Washington DC is to walk around the reflecting pool as the sunsets. The pool is located on the National Mall and is by the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The reflecting pool has been an iconic part of the National Mall since it was installed in 1923.
We like to experience the reflecting pool at sunset for a few different reasons. Typically most of the tourists have left the area for the day by then. So you’ll often find that at sunset it is much quieter and very peaceful. The way the reflecting pool is positioned also means that as the sunsets you get a real show. You can see the sunset in the reflection of the pool and set behind the Washington Monument. Sunset at the reflecting pool is one of the must-do things in Washington DC.
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is one of our absolute favorite free things to do in Washington DC. It is part of the Smithsonian collection of museums in DC. The Smithsonian museums are all free to visit daily, and the National Portrait Gallery is one of the best ones. One of the things we love about it is the stunning courtyard. It features a stunning glass ceiling, a cafe with tables and chairs, art, and live trees and plants. It’s a great place to relax after looking at all of the amazing art on display in the museum.
Throughout the rest of the gallery, you’ll see some beautiful pieces of art. They are all portraits, many of them of famous Americans. In fact, you’ll find a portrait uniquely painted of each President and First lady. They are all done in different art styles, and most of the artists are personally chosen by the President and First Lady. You’ll also see classic examples of portraiture throughout art history. From classic portraits, early photographs, and more. It’s a really cool way to see how different time periods have captured the human spirit.
Visit Ford’s Theater
One of the most interesting places to visit in Washington DC is Ford’s Theater. The theater is a historic site, known for the place where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The President’s Box, where the assassination happened, is closed to the public to protect it from damage. But you can view the box when you tour the theater. There is also a museum that focuses on the history of the theater and gives more details on the assassination of President Lincoln.
Depending on when you visit, you can enjoy a historic talk by a National Park Ranger in the theater. They are offered year-round, along with self-guided tours. In the spring and summer months, there is also a 30-minute play that is performed on the theater’s stage. It tells the story of the assassination through the eyes of the theater workers that night. It’s one of the best things to do in Washington DC, especially if you are interested in the history of President Lincoln.
Book Here: Ford Theater and Lincoln Assassination Tour
Go On A Tour Of The Monuments At Night
If you’re looking for things to do in DC at night, then we suggest going on a guided tour of the monuments at night. There are several companies that offer trolley tours and bus tours of the monuments at night. The tours typically last about two and a half hours. You’ll meet the trolley or bus at a designated spot and from there you’ll see some of the most famous monuments all lit up at night.
Some of the stops included on the tour are FDR Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. Along the way, you’ll have an experienced tour guide who will tell you about the history of each of the monuments. There are even tours where you can learn about the ghost stories and some of the creepier aspects of the cities history. It’s one of the best activities in Washington DC.
Book Here: Monuments at Night Tour
Stroll The Streets Of Georgetown
There are tons of free things to do in Washington DC, like walking the streets of Georgetown. The beautiful cobblestone streets are full of charming shops, restaurants, some of the most luxurious hotels in the city.
You’ll find a mixture of high-end shops, local boutiques, and more mainstream popular shops to peruse. If you’re looking for restaurants in Washington DC to try, this is one of the best areas in the city to find some amazing restaurants. This is truly one of the best places to stay in Washington DC!
When you step off of the main street that runs through Georgetown, there is a charming historic neighborhood. There are cobblestone sidewalks and streets, colorful row homes and brownstones, and even a river. It’s an incredibly charming area of Washington DC that not many people think to explore off of the main street. That’s what makes it one of the best
Book Here: Georgetown Tour
See The White House
You can’t go to Washington DC without seeing the White House. The White House is known as America’s Home and is where the President of the United States lives. You’ll be able to easily see the White House from the street on NW Pennsylvania Avenue. The view will be from behind the black wrought iron fence and you’ll also see the expansive lawn in front of the house.
If you want to tour the inside of the White House, you’ll need some advance planning. To tour the inside, you need to send a request for a public tour through your congressman. The request needs to be made at least three months in advance and be warned that spots for the public tours fill up fast. The tours themselves are free and run daily but at various times.
Jefferson Memorial And Tidal Basin
One of the most popular monuments in DC is the Jefferson Memorial. The large open-air structure is designed in a Greek Pantheon style, which was a favorite architectural style of Jefferson. Inside the memorial, there is a domed room with tall ceilings. The inside is made entirely of marble and has carved images and quotes famously attributed to Jefferson. There is also a large bronze statue of Jefferson in the middle.
Outside, all around the memorial is a beautifully landscaped area. It sits on the south side of the Tidal Basin and there is a park area that has a green lawn and shady trees. The Jefferson Memorial is also where many of the famous Washington DC Cherry Blossoms are planted. During the Cherry Blossom Festival that is held yearly, the pink blooms of the trees create a beautiful view all around the white marble memorial building.
Book Here: Cherry Blossom Tour
National Museum Of African American History And Culture
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is one of the newest Smithsonian museums to open in Washington DC. It opened in September of 2016 and since has been one of the most popular museums in Washington DC to visit. Because it is so popular, you’ll need to plan your trip in advance. Because it is a Smithsonian museum, it is free to enter. However, you’ll need to get reserve timed-entry tickets well in advance. You can get the tickets up to 30 days in advance or through a third party, go on a walking tour and see the museum as well.
Inside the museum, you’ll follow a path that leads you through the history of black people in the United States. It starts with the honest history of the transatlantic slave trade and how that shaped the history of America and black people. From there, you’ll learn about the history of black people during the 1800s and the Civil War and into the Civil Rights Movement of the early 20th century.
Towards the end of the museum tour, there are exhibits on the culture of black people in America. You’ll learn about famous black musicians, artists, authors, actors, and more. It’s one of the best things to do in Washington DC and is a great way to learn about black history in America.
Museum Of Natural History
Another incredibly popular Smithsonian museum in Washington DC is the Museum of Natural History. The massive museum is one of the best free things to do in Washington DC. You can easily spend hours looking at the thousands of items on display from the museum’s over 145 million specimen collection. There are three floors of exhibits all detailing the natural history of the world.
You’ll get to see dinosaur skeletons, million-year-old fossils, and life-size replicas of long-extinct animals. There is also a permanent exhibit detailing the practices and rituals of ancient Egypt. Another permanent exhibit that is super popular is the museum’s collection of gemstones and minerals. There you’ll see huge rubies, examples of volcanic rock, and even pieces of meteorites from outer space. It’s one of the coolest places to visit in Washington DC.
Book Here: Museum of Natural History Tour
National Botanical Gardens
The National Botanical Gardens is the oldest continuously operating botanic garden in the US. It was originally established in 1820 and is technically a garden. The main purpose of the museum is to show the importance of plant life to all mankind. The gardens are free to enter and there is also a large conservatory on the property. It is also open daily from dawn until dusk, even on weekends and holidays.
As you walk around the grounds you’ll find several different types of gardens. There is a Rose Garden, a Pollinator Garden, and even a Kitchen Garden. The grounds also feature the First Ladies Water Garden, which is dedicated to the First Ladies of the United States. Inside the conservatory, there are exotic plants and plants that only grow in warm environments like cacti.
Tudor Place Historic House
One of the best things to do in Washington DC is a visit to the Tudor Place Historic House. Tudor Place was the home of the granddaughter of Martha Washington, and step-grandaughter of George Washington, Martha Curtis Peter. The house is a classic Federal-style, which was an incredibly popular architectural design in early America. It is actually the only home in Washington DC that still has direct links to the country’s first President and First Lady.
The historic home was built in 1805 and until 1983 was the private family home for generations of Peters. The final private owner of the home wanted it to become a house museum on his passing, and in 1988 it opened to the public as just that. Now you can tour the home and see how it would have looked throughout its over 200-year life. You’ll learn about the Peter family, the enslaved people that once worked and lived there, and see how the lives of the people who called it home changed along with the rest of the country.
International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum is easily one of the best things to do in Washington DC with kids. The museum is massive and features five floors of permanent and temporary exhibits. When you first enter the museum, you’ll be given a brief to participate in a top-secret mission. As you walk through the exhibits, you’ll encounter interactive areas that help you complete your mission. These different interactive areas coincide with the different aspects of the field of espionage.
In the museum, you’ll learn about early espionage and what that looked like all the way up to more modern ideas of what a spy does. You’ll get to see examples of spy technology throughout history and learn why espionage is an important part of every country’s defense system. It’s one of the best things to do in Washington DC with kids because the interactive exhibits are super fun. They’ll love going from exhibit to exhibit, where they’ll learn cool stuff while also pretending to be spies.
Book Here: International Spy Museum Tour
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is actually in Virginia, but it’s still one of the best things to do near Washington DC. It’s not very far away, however. In fact, it’s just across the Potomac River from DC and you can see the city from the cemetery. The cemetery was land that was originally owned by Confederate General Robert E. Lee. However, the US government bought it during the Civil War to serve as a burial place for fallen soldiers.
Ever since the cemetery has served as the cemetery for soldiers who have died in war and other conflicts. There are even several Revolutionary Soldiers who were later reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery. To many, being buried in the cemetery is a great honor and it has become a place for people to pay their respects to all fallen soldiers. It is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb is actually a crypt that holds the remains of unidentified soldiers who died in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Every year, the President and First Lady come to the tomb on Veteran’s Day where a memorial service is held to honor all the servicemen and women who have died protecting the nation. It is a solemn and beautiful place and it’s one of the best things to do near Washington DC.
Book Here: Arlington National Cemetery Tour
If you’re in Georgetown, we highly suggest stopping to spend some time at Dumbarton Oaks. Dumbarton Oaks was once a private estate. The historic estate is now the home of a research library, beautiful gardens, and an extensive art collection. The museum is open daily, but the schedule can vary. There is a small fee to enter and you’ll need to reserve timed-entry tickets in advance if you plan to visit.
Throughout the month, on certain days of the week, they offer guided tours based on one of the aspects of the museum. You can take a tour of the estate’s most prominent architectural features, tour the gardens, or get a guided tour of the museum’s highlights. The estate has a permanent and extensive collection of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art. There are also still pieces of the owner of the home’s original art collection. It’s one of the coolest Washington DC attractions.
U.S. National Arboretum
The U.S. National Arboretum is one of the coolest places to visit in Washington DC. It’s been open since 1927 and aims to teach people about the native plant life that is found in the United States. The park is over 400 acres and there are also over 9 miles of winding roads and trails throughout the park.
On the grounds, there are tons of different gardens, planned forests, educational buildings. If you want a bit of break from city activities or are looking for fun things to do in Washington DC with kids, the National Arboretum is a great option. You could easily spend hours exploring the quiet and beautiful scenery.
Stroll The Gardens Of The Smithsonian Castle
The Smithsonian Castle is actually named the Smithsonian Institution Building and is where you’ll find the Smithsonian Visitor Center. The castle was built in 1855 and is one of the prettiest historic buildings in DC. Outside of the castle, there is an extensive garden area that is free to explore and walk through. The garden is located between the castle and Independence Avenue. It’s actually a newer feature of the castle grounds as it was opened in 1987.
The pathway through the garden is made of beautiful brick that is wide enough for several people to walk down. Along the pathway, there are also benches where you can sit and admire the beauty of the garden. The centerpiece of the garden is the Parterre, which is a French-style decorative garden. It features bright and colorful foliage that the landscapers change out seasonally. So no matter what time of year you visit, the gardens of the Smithsonian Castle are one of the most romantic things to do in Washington DC.
Go On A Segway Tour
One way to see all the best Washington DC attractions in a short amount of time is to go on a segway tour through the city. If you’ve never ridden a segway before, don’t worry. Before you begin your tour through the city, you’ll spend 30 minutes learning how to ride a segway and practicing. Once you feel comfortable navigating around on your segway, you’ll start your tour of Washington DC.
The tour typically lasts about two hours and you’ll see almost every major site in the city. Your first stop is the White House, and from there you’ll see sites like the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the US Capitol. It’s also one of the best things to do in Washington DC with kids. They’ll love riding around on the segways and seeing the city.
Book Here: Washington DC Segway Tour
United States Holocaust Museum
The United States Holocaust Museum opened in 1993 and has been a poignant and popular museum ever since. It’s one of the best things to do in Washington DC. The museum is free to enter, but you’ll need to plan your visit in advance. You can get a timed entry ticket up to 30 days in advance, and time slots fill up quickly.
At the entrance to the museum, you’ll be given a card with the name of a real-life holocaust victim. As you go through the museum, you’ll follow in the footsteps of the victims. From the rise of Hitler, the start of the ghettos, and the journey to the concentration camps. At the end of your journey through the museum, you’ll learn the fate of the person whose card you were given when you first entered. It’s a sad museum, but it’s an incredibly important piece of history to learn about and honor.
National Air And Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum is one of the coolest Washington DC attractions. It is part of the Smithsonian collection of museums, so it’s free to enter. The museum has been open since 1976 and is in one of the Smithsonian flagship buildings. There are two floors of activities, all centered around America’s flight and space history.
It’s also one of the best things to do in Washington DC with kids. There is a virtual reality interactive exhibit where you can experience a real-life flight simulation and feel what it’s like to do a 360-degree barrel roll. The museum also has different planes throughout history, the Hubble telescope, and a timeline of the space race. At different times during the day, there are also science experiments and other hands-on activities that are great for kids.
The Lincoln Memorial
Just two years after Lincoln’s assassination, Congress incorporated the Lincoln Monument Association to plan the building of the memorial building. However, it took several decades for construction to start on the memorial and it wasn’t finished in 1920. It was not dedicated until 1922. Despite the enormous amount of time it took to be completed, it’s one of the most iconic monuments in Washington DC.
The memorial was modeled after the Pantheon in Greece and is 190 feet long and 99 feet tall. It is made of beautiful Colorado Yule marble. Inside the memorial, there is a large marble statue of Lincoln seated, placed high above visitors in the center of the chamber. There are murals painted on the wall depicting various stages of Lincoln’s life and carved quotes attributed to Lincoln.
The Renwick Gallery
If you’re looking for one of the coolest places to visit in Washington DC, you should go to the Renwick Gallery. The gallery is a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In this branch, you’ll be able to see a large collection of contemporary and decorative arts. Because it is a Smithsonian museum, it is free to enter.
Inside the museum, there are a few permanent exhibits and they also have revolving exhibits as well. On the first floor of the gallery is where the revolving exhibits are typically placed. They change about twice a year and are usually from up-and-coming artists. On the second floor, the gallery usually has works by more famous artists on display. All of the artwork is by American artists. The Renwick Gallery is easily one of the best free things to do in Washington DC.
National Museum Of The American Indian
The National Museum of the American Indian is one of the best things to do in Washington DC. It is another amazing museum in the Smithsonian museum’s complex, which means it is free to enter. It’s truly one of the best free things to do in Washington DC. In the museum, there are several floors that feature a wide range of both permanent and temporary exhibits.
While you explore the museum, you’ll learn about the honest history of Native Americans in America. You’ll see how they lived before European settlers arrived, learn the devastating impacts European settlers had on the Native American nations, and more. The museum also highlights the different cultures and beliefs of the various Native American nations. Depending on when you visit, you may also be able to see a live performance of a dance, song, or other culturally significant performance on one of the museum’s many stages.
The National Archives Museum
One of the must-do things in Washington DC is the National Archives Museum. The National Archives Museum is where some of the most important documents in American history are held and displayed. You might recognize the museum from National Treasure. Nicholas Cage and his crew of mystery solvers steal the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives Museum where it is on display.
In the rotunda of the museum, you’ll be able to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. All three documents are locked in glass cases to protect them from damage, and of course rogue treasure hunters like Nicholas Cage. Throughout the museum, you’ll also get to see other important documents and historical records that pertain to the United States of America. It’s easily one of the coolest activities in Washington DC.
Where To Eat In Washington DC
If you are looking for a great restaurant in Washington DC, we highly suggest trying Founding Farmers. It is just three blocks away from the White House, which means it’s in a perfect location. Stop by and enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner while you sightsee. They have Bourbon Battered French Toast, Avocado Toast, Salmon Bites, and other burgers and sandwiches.
For a more fine dining experience in DC, head to The Dabney. The Dabney uses high-quality ingredients in its seasonal menu. Reservations aren’t required, but this is a popular restaurant, so they are highly suggested. Sit down for dinner and try menu items like their Maryland Blue Crab, Chesapeake Rockfish, and a dessert of Toasted Benne Ice Cream. While you are in town, consider checking out some of the best Black-Owned Restaurants In DC!
Zaytinya is a popular Mediterranean restaurant near the Smithsonian museums that is delicious and reasonably priced. They serve lunch and dinner and a wide variety of Mediterranean dishes. Start your meal with a plate of Hommus or an Artisinal Cheese Pikilia. For your entree, you may like the Kebab Platter, Octopus Santorini, Spanakorizo, or Falafel Durum. Finish your meal with coffee and Greek Cheesecake or Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake.
This is truly one of the best things to do in Washington DC at night!
Where To Stay In Washington DC
Moxy Washington DC
The Moxy Washington DC is a relatively new hotel in DC. It is located near several major Metro Stations, Chinatown, Logan Circle, and the White House. You’ll be centrally located in this trendy but reasonably priced hotel.
They have a variety of different room options to fit every budget. It’s an especially popular hotel stay for young solo travelers and couples. It comes with fewer frills than many nearby hotels, but it is a fresh and fun hotel that is near some of the best Washington DC activities.
Click Here To Check Rates: Booking.com
The Eaton DC is a great option for travelers with a more eco-friendly frame of mind. The hotel is eco-certified, which means it uses all-natural and organic products. From the sheets to the snacks and beverages in the mini-bar, everything is chosen with eco-consciousness in mind.
On top of that, the rooms are designed to feel like home away from home. They are full of curated furniture and decor that feels cozy and not so much like a hotel room. They even come with personal record players and a selection of vinyl records. It is also centrally located near the White House, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian Museums.
Click Here To Check Rates: Booking.com
The St. Regis Washington DC
For a more luxurious stay in Washington DC, we love the St. Regis Hotel. The St. Regis is definitely higher in price, but it is truly a beautiful hotel. It has been welcoming guests to Washington DC for over a century. World leaders, Hollywood icons, foreign dignitaries, and everyone in between have spent some time at the St. Regis.
There are luxury suites, smaller guest rooms, fine dining restaurants, and luxurious amenities as well. Because it is a luxury experience, you can expect to spend, at the least, about $400 a night. However, if you are celebrating or simply wanting to enjoy Washington DC like a Hollywood starlet, you can’t go wrong staying at the St. Regis.
Click Here To Check Rates: Booking.com
Washington DC is one of our favorite cities to visit. Because it’s the nation’s capital, you’ll find tons of things to do in Washington DC. From the amazing museums, beautiful monuments, and fun tours, DC is a fun place to visit! Have you ever been to Washington DC? If so, what was your favorite Washington DC activity? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!