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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, educational opportunities, a vibrant culinary scene, and plenty of family-friendly fun.
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.
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The Smithsonian Museums
Washington, D.C. is home to one of the very best collections of museums in the entire world. 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. 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 interest you and take your time to explore the interactive exhibitions.
The National Mall
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. Go for an early morning jog around the mall to see the monuments up-close and beat the crowds. Then make a point to revisit the mall after dark to see the monuments lit up at night in all their glory.
The Capitol Building
You’ll need to book a guided tour to see the inside of the U.S. Capitol, but the tickets are free when you reserve them in advance through your senator or representative. The best time to visit is early in the day before the crowds become too large.
The White House
It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll get to meet any 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. 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 if struggle with advance planning.
The Supreme Court
While planning your trip, check to see if the Supreme Court is in session while you’ll be in town. If not, you can tour the building to learn about legendary court proceedings and the court building’s architecture. As a general rule, 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
Another top site to visit in D.C. is Arlington National Cemetery, which is across the Potomac River. There are more than 250,000 military service men 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. 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
One great thing about the National Zoo is that it is free, but it’s also one of the best zoos in the world. There are thousands of different animals and hundreds of different species that live here, providing hours of entertainment and fun for kids and adults. 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.
To get off the beaten path, make a point to swing by D.C.’s Eastern Market. This has been a city marketplace since the late 1800s and sells many different kinds of produce, prepared foods, and crafts still today. It’s located in the vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood and has some great restaurants in the area that are favorites among the locals.
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. February is a great time to visit because there are so many festivals going on. 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.
Located on the waterfront of the city, Georgetown is a beautiful university area that is packed with restaurants, shops, and lots of diversity. This is a very busy place to visit in the afternoons and dinner reservations are recommended if you plan to stay through the evening. 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.
The National Cathedral is worth a visit when you’re in D.C. Climb to the top of the Pilgrim Observation Gallery and get a wonderful 360-degree view of the city. On Mondays and Wednesdays, come to listen to a free organ demonstration, or just marvel at the magnificent architecture any day of the week. You can expect to see the impressive arches, marble floors, gargoyles, and President Woodrow Wilson’s burial place.
Paddle the Tidal Basin
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. 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. 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
Sure, there’s plenty of amazing art in the Smithsonian galleries, but there’s a thriving local arts scene in town too. Head to Dupont Circle on the first Friday of the month for a local gathering of art, live music, and wine. You’ll start your neighborhood arts exploration at the Hillyer Art Space and the festivities go on until about 9 pm.