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Top 13 Things to Do When You Visit Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. is one of the most visited cities in America, and for good reason! Not only is it our nation’s capital, but it’s packed with iconic landmarks, cultural attractions, luxury hotels, a vibrant culinary scene, and plenty of family-friendly fun.t

This is a must-see place for museum lovers, history buffs, and political enthusiasts. People come here from all over the country and all around the world to see the places that encapsulate American culture and our spirit of freedom. There are so many significant things to see and do in D.C. that it’s impossible to condense them all into one list, but these are some of the top attractions you simply must put on your itinerary when you visit this amazing city.

The Smithsonian Museums The Smithsonian Museums
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The Smithsonian Museums

What Is It? Washington, D.C. is home to one of the very best collections of museums in the entire world. 

Why Do It? There are over a dozen museums that are part of the Smithsonian Institution that cover topics like space exploration, American history, art, natural history, and much more. 

Good to Know: It’s easy to get “museum-ed out” if you try to cram too many into a single day or week. Instead, pick just a couple that really interests you and take your time to explore the interactive exhibitions.

The National Mall The National Zoo
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The National Mall

What Is It? The National Mall is one of the most iconic places in D.C. and the place where many popular landmarks, like the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, are located. 

Why Do It? Go for an early morning jog around the mall to see the monuments up-close and beat the crowds. 

Good to Know: Make a point to revisit the mall after dark to see the monuments lit up at night in all their glory.

The Capitol Building The Capitol Building
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The Capitol Building

What Is It? The Capitol Building is the meeting place of the United States Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. The Capitol Visitor Center welcomes visitors from across the United States and around the world.

Why Do It?  Many congressional offices offer their own staff-led tours to constituent groups of up to 15 people, and most can assist you in reserving a tour of the Capitol. The tour includes visiting the Crypt, the Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall. The tour does not include visiting the Senate and House Galleries, which require separate passes. All tours, programs and activities are free of charge.

Good to Know:  The best time to visit is early in the day before the crowds become too large. Reservations for groups of 15 or more become available 120 days in advance. All visitors view the historic areas of the Capitol on a guide-led tour. Advance reservations are recommended, but not required.

The White House Washington, DC
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The White House

What Is It? The White House is the official residence and workplace of the president of the United States

Why Do It? It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll get to meet many members of the First Family when you visit D.C., but you can request a tour of the White House in advance to see where so many First Families have established their homes. 

Good to Know: You can book a tour in advance through your local member of Congress or stop by the White House Visitor’s Center to learn more about the building and its history.

The Supreme Court US Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court

What Is It? While planning your trip, check to see if the Supreme Court is in session while you’ll be in town. 

Why Do It? If not, you can tour the building to learn about legendary court proceedings and the court building’s architecture. 

Good to Know: As a general rule, the court is in session between October and April. You may be able to watch a case presented before the judge, but there is usually a long line and seating is very limited.

Arlington National Cemetery Arlington National Cemetery
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Arlington National Cemetery

What Is It? Another top site to visit in D.C. is Arlington National Cemetery, which is across the Potomac River. 

Why Do It? There are more than 250,000 military servicemen and women buried here, and the popular attraction to view takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb is guarded 24/7 and has a changing of the guard ceremony that sends chills down your spine. 

Good to Know: There are many other memorials to check out while you’re in this area as well, including the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial and the Coast Guard Memorial.

The National Zoo The National Zoo
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The National Zoo

What Is It? One great thing about the National Zoo is that it is free, but it’s also one of the best zoos in the world. 

Why Do It? There are thousands of different animals and hundreds of different species that live here, providing hours of entertainment and fun for kids and adults. 

Good to Know: Plan to spend two or three hours here to explore the vast 163 acres that the zoo sits on in the heart of the city.

Eastern Market Eastern Market
Credit: Eastern Market by NCinDC via Flickr

Eastern Market

What Is It? To get off the beaten path, make a point to swing by D.C.’s Eastern Market. 

Why Do It? This has been a city marketplace since the late 1800s and sells many different kinds of produce, prepared foods, and crafts still today. 

Good to Know: It’s located in the vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood and has some great restaurants in the area that are favorites among the locals.

February Festivals DC Independent Film Festival
Credit: DC Independent Film Festival by DC Independent Film Festival

February Festivals

What Is It? Summer is the busiest time to visit D.C., so if you’re not a big fan of crowds, consider visiting during the off-season. 

Why Do It? Pull on an extra sweater and a hat to check out the International Wine and Food Festival, the Presidents’ Day Parade in Old Town Alexandria, D.C. Fashion Week, and the D.C. Independent Film Festival during that month.

Good to Know: February is a great time to visit because there are so many festivals going on.

Georgetown Georgetown, Washington DC
Credit: Georgetown, Washington DC by © Avmedved | Dreamstime.com


What Is It? Located on the waterfront of the city, Georgetown is a beautiful university area that is packed with restaurants, shops, and lots of diversity.

Why Do It? Georgetown is a great place to sample the goods from a local bakery, grab a cocktail, or rent out a kayak from the Key Bridge Boathouse to see the area from the water.

Good to Know: This is a very busy place to visit in the afternoons and dinner reservations are recommended if you plan to stay through the evening.

National Cathedral National Cathedral
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National Cathedral

What Is It? The National Cathedral is worth a visit when you’re in D.C. 

Why Do It? Climb to the top of the Pilgrim Observation Gallery and get a wonderful 360-degree view of the city. You can expect to see the impressive arches, marble floors, gargoyles, and President Woodrow Wilson’s burial place.

Good to Know: On Mondays and Wednesdays, come to listen to a free organ demonstration, or just marvel at the magnificent architecture any day of the week.

Paddle the Tidal Basin Paddle the Tidal Basin
Credit: Paddle the Tidal Basin by bigstock.com

Paddle the Tidal Basin

What Is It? It’s easy to get caught up in D.C.’s buildings and monuments, but don’t forget that this is also an area of superb natural beauty. 

Why Do It? Head to the two-mile pond that is known as the Tidal Basin and rent out a paddle boat for a relaxing afternoon in the city. If you visit in the springtime, this is a lovely place to view the cherry blossom trees, which were a gift from Japan to the U.S. The Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial are all along the shores of the Tidal Basin as well for you to see and learn about. 

Good to Know: For even more outdoor recreational opportunities, check out the historic Chesapeake & Ohio (C & O) Canal for a walk, jog, bike ride, or canal boat ride offered by the National Park Service.

Dupont Circle Arts Scene Dupont Circle Arts Scene
Credit: Dupont Circle Arts Scene by Elvert Barnes via Flickr

Dupont Circle Arts Scene

What Is It? Sure, there’s plenty of amazing art in the Smithsonian galleries, but there’s a thriving local arts scene in town too.

Why Do It? Head to Dupont Circle on the first Friday of the month for a local gathering of art, live music, and wine. 

Good to Know: You’ll start your neighborhood arts exploration at the Hillyer Art Space and the festivities go on until about 9 pm.

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