Washington, DC is famous for its plethora of museums and monuments. Travelers flock to the city for its history and position as the political powerhouse of America – but Washington DC is more than just a place to learn about past presidents and take a picture by the White House – DC is a dynamic city that is at the forefront of social change, political activism and the future of America. Visitors to this magnificent city soon realize all it has to offer, but for those looking to plan ahead for their visit to Washington DC here are some activities to squeeze into your next trip to the capital of America.
1. Drive along Rock Creek Parkway
Rock Creek Park runs through the center of DC from the Maryland border to the Potomac River. The oldest urban national park in the United States, Rock Creek’s original purpose was to serve as a parkway and continues to this day. The parkway and the wooded land on either side offer a plethora of beautiful hiking trails that run along the creek. For one of the most scenic drives in any city in the world, head north on Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway from the National Mall toward Beach Drive. Then, stay on Beach Drive and continue north to the Maryland border. You won’t regret this incredible scenic drive that will make you forget that you are in a major metropolitan area.
Rock Creek Park
Address: 5200 Glover Rd, NW Washington, DC 20015
Website: Rock Creek Park
Opening hours: Dawn - dusk (daily)
2. Explore the lily and lotus ponds at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Often referred to as one of the best-kept secrets in Washington DC, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is a National Park Service site that is tucked in the northeastern corner of the district and along the border with Maryland. A historic water garden that has been maintained since its transfer to the federal government in the 1930s, this beautiful park boasts over 40 ponds filled with lotus and lily flowers in the warmer months of the year. With a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) of trails and a boardwalk along a freshwater tidal marsh, the park is home to a variety of plants and animals that will delight you. It is also connected to the Anacostia River Trail so you can take long walks along the river in this scenic part of the city. If you are in DC in July, make sure to visit during the Lotus and Lily Festival, an annual event that, similar to the Cherry Blossom Festival, occurs when the lotus and lily plants are at peak bloom.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Address: 1550 Anacostia Dr. NE, Washington D.C.
Website: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Opening hours: 8am - 4pm (daily)
3. Check out the Library of Congress
Known as the national library of the US, the Library of Congress is one of the original federal institutions in Washington DC. Housed within three different buildings on Capitol Hill, the library’s collection is claimed to be the largest in the world. During the War of 1812, much of the library was burned. A few years later in 1815, with a major restoration of the building and purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s entire personal library of over 6,000 books, the Library of Congress was started anew. Make sure to visit this massive federal library when you are in DC.
Library of Congress
Address: 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540, USA
Website: Library of Congress
4. See the unique architecture of the National Building Museum
The National Building Museum–the former federal pension bureau–showcases the architecture and engineering that has shaped the world’s growth from the past to the present. Completed in 1887, this National Historic Landmark is a short walk from the National Mall and steps from a Metro stop. This museum will awe you with its often-overlooked yet stunning architectural design. A visit here is well worth your time. Be sure to at least walk by this famous historic building in the nation’s capital and maybe even venture inside!
The National Building Museum
Address: 401 F St NW, Washington, DC 20001, United States
Website: The National Building Museum
Price: 7 - 10 USD
5. Try out the exclusive FBI Experience
Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account
Set in the national headquarters of the FBI, this tour has become an instant hit since its opening in 2017. Providing the opportunity to explore many exhibits and artifacts, this tour will have you walking in the footsteps of the FBI’s history. For those interested in law enforcement and exploring the history of the FBI, this experience is not to be missed! Make sure to plan in advance as you must contact your congressional representative at least four weeks in advance to schedule this experience in a highly secured federal building.
The FBI Experience
Address: 935 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20535, United States
Website: The FBI Experience
6. Walk along The Wharf
The Wharf in DC is a hip new area along the Potomac River with a variety of shops, restaurants, and a concert hall (The Anthem). With a publicly accessible pier, a popular activity is to get a few scoops of ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s and sit on one of the many benches. A great location in any weather, at the end of the pier there is a fire pit to keep you warm if it is cold in the evening. Head down to The Wharf for a great time along the Potomac River!
7. Stop by Washington National Cathedral
The seat of the archbishop of Washington, Washington National Cathedral is a cathedral constructed in the Neo-Gothic style. Likened to the English Gothic style made popular in the 1300s, this religious site is visited by over 400,000 people annually. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 laid the cornerstone of this historic church that has served many living presidents and also served as the state funeral location for four former presidents. A visit to the Cathedral also offers beautiful views out over Washington, DC from its bell tower, a must-do for those that want to appreciate the beauty of the city.
Washington National Cathedral
Address: 3101 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016, USA
Website: Washington National Cathedral
8. Visit Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
The largest Roman Catholic church in North America, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is a beautiful structure that is well worth visiting. It was constructed in the 1920s in the Romanesque Revival and Byzantine Revival styles. The basilica is located next to the Catholic University of America, serving as a prominent structure in the skyline. Thus far, the Basilica has been visited by three popes.
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Address: 400 Michigan Ave NE, Washington, DC 20017, USA
9. Grab coffee at La Colombe
Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account
Known for their iconic locations, most often old buildings repurposed into their coffee houses, La Colombe is one of the hottest coffee companies in DC. Making delicious coffee with the option of plant-based milk, everyone will sure to be able to get their perfect coffee. Additionally offering cold brew nitro coffee on tap, this coffee shop will delight you with wonderful-tasting coffee. Make sure to visit one of La Colombe’s most iconic locations at Blagden Alley when you are in DC for some of the best coffee around.
Address: 924 Blagden Alley NW, Washington, DC 20001, United States (4 other locations)
Website: La Colombe
Opening hours: 8am - 3pm (daily)
10. Visit the World War II Memorial at night
Washington D.C. is notorious for its grand monuments, all paying homage to crucial aspects in American history. The monuments are where tourists pay respects to former presidents, marvel at early American architecture, and snap a picture-perfect photo for Instagram. While monuments such as the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial are quintessential D.C. landmarks, arguably the most beautiful monument in the city is the World War II Memorial and it is less-known to D.C. visitors. At night, this gorgeous monument and its fountains are illuminated, offering stunning views of the city to those who choose to visit, after dusk.
World War II Memorial
Address: 1964 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20227, USA
Opening Hours: Open 24 hours
Website: World War II Memorial
11. Do a self-walking tour of the Federal Triangle
With the White House, Washington Monument and the United States Capitol Building all within reach, the Federal Triangle is a popular spot for those looking to do some traditional Washington D.C. sightseeing. The best part of all, this part of the city is completely walkable, with great spots to sightsee, eat and snap a picture on the way to your next destination.
Website: Federal Triangle
12. Escape the city and go to Great Falls National Park
It might not be on a metro line just yet, but half an hour outside of Washington D.C. lies Great Falls National Park, Washington D.C.’s own Niagara Falls, and a great place to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. You can enjoy a hike here, have a picnic and of course, view the picturesque falls of the Potomac River.
Great Falls National Park
Address: National Park Service George Washington Memorial Parkway, 9200 Old Dominion Dr, McLean, VA 22102, USA
Website: Great Falls National Park
Cactuses along path
13. Enjoy fresh food, one-of-a kind trinkets and hand-made artisan crafts at Eastern Market
Probably one of the only places in the country where you’ll be able to haggle for your goods, the Eastern Market is a D.C. gem, stocked with fresh produce, hand-made goods and plenty of unique souvenirs for travelers. But note, this market is open only on weekends.
Address: 225 7th St SE, Washington, DC 20003, USA
Website:Eastern Market DC
14. Bar hop on U-Street
While there are plenty of places in the D.C. area to go for a glimpse of nightlife in the Capitol, the heart of the party happens at U-Street, where traditional D.C. bars meet trendy, urban clubs. For those looking to drink, dance, explore rooftops and get a taste of the city after dark without having to metro or Uber from place to place, U-Street is a guaranteed good time. How about starting off at the U Street Music Hall?
U Street Music Hall
Address: 1115 U St NW A, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Website: U Street Music Hall
15. Take a walk along the waterfront in Georgetown
Likely one of the most picturesque walks in all of Washington, nothing beats a walk along Georgetown’s waterfront, on a sunny day. The waterfront is where travelers will see the D.C. elite, college students, tourists and locals all come together to dine, stroll, feed ducks and unwind, after a long day. When you’re finished exploring the quaint yet luxurious streets of Georgetown, grab a bite and head to the waterfront, to finish off a perfect day.
Georgetown Waterfront Park
Address: Water St NW, Washington, DC 20007, USA
Website: Georgetown Waterfront Park
16. See a Nationals game
Baseball culture is alive and well in the District, where locals head to Nationals Park, to see their favorite team in action. Nationals Games are great opportunities to get together with friends, enjoy a beer and cheer on the District’s favorite baseball team. Feeling sporty? Make sure to get tickets in advance, as games tend to sell out quickly.
Address: 1500 S Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003, USA
Website: Nationals Park
17. Explore DC's Chinatown
Washington D.C.’s Chinatown has evolved into a mecca for those looking for anything from upscale Asian cuisine, local street food, or the city’s most lively Chinese New Year Parade – but D.C.’s Chinatown is more than just a place to try incredible dim sum, though it is incredible. This part of the city is also the place to catch a concert at Verizon Center, shop the luxury boutiques of City Center and more.
18. Shop, dine and relax at National Harbor
Just outside of the city lies National Harbor, a Washington D.C. favorite for those looking to shop ‘til they drop, eat to their hearts’ content and enjoy a beachy atmosphere by the boardwalk and Ferris wheel. The city is also known for its incredible parties, including New Year’s Eve at the Gaylord National Convention Center, and the recently opened MGM Casino. Those looking to shop, dine and party in the District need to look no further than National Harbor.
Address: Fort Washington, MD 20745
Website: National Harbor
19. Experience the Cherry Blossom Festival
In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo, Japan, gave Washington D.C. some of its most beloved treasures – cherry blossom trees. Every year, tourists from all over the world flock to see the gorgeous trees in bloom, at Washington D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Festival, taking place from late March to early April. The festival itself is a tribute to Japanese culture and the friendship between the two countries, and attendees can experience traditional Japanese music, dance and street food while appreciating the gorgeous pink petals on the trees.
Cherry Blossom Festival
Website: Cherry Blossom Festival
20. Explore the Smithsonian Museums
The Smithsonian Institution are the world’s largest network of museums, with 19 participating museums and nine research centers. From art to history to science, and more – visitors to Washington D.C. have no shortage of their pick of museums. While must-see museums include the Museum of Natural History, the Zoo, and the National Museum of American History, popular museums with D.C. locals include the recently renovated Renwick Gallery, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens, and the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Website: Smithsonian Institution
Travel tip by Washington Local Expert - JohnPosted on: Feb 09, 2021
21. Take a free tour of the White House
Yes, the president’s home is open to tourists – but only for those who plan ahead. For a guided tour of the famous White House, travelers can go online to the White House’s website and reserve a spot – but plan early, because the nearest available date for the tours is six months in advance.
The White House
Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500, USA
Website: The White House
22. Attend an embassy party
You could read about France on Wikipedia – or you could learn about it at a black-tie gala at the French Embassy, with unlimited French food and drinks. One of the most overlooked, yet incredible parts of being in the District is the proximity to hundreds of different cultures, all within blocks of each other on Embassy Row. Foreign embassies in Washington D.C. are always looking for ways to share their culture with the American people, and what better way than to invite them for a night of food and fun? Travelers interested in learning about other cultures without having to leave the United States should plan ahead and find out what embassies are having their events during your visit. Be sure to pick out a suit or dress ahead of time, as most of these events are formal, ticketed affairs.
Website: Embassy Parties
23. Have dinner at Busboys and Poets
A Washington D.C. treasure, Busboys and Poets is a favorite for locals looking for a quick bite to eat, a place to plug in and do some work or enjoy an open mic night, with amateur and renowned poets alike. The city is a hub for creatives – anyone from writers, to painters to musicians, and they all come together at Busboys and Poets, giving the restaurant the unique and creative energy it thrives on.
Busboys and Poets
Address: 4 locations in Washington DC, please refer to website for more information.
Website: Busboys and Poets
24. Walk along the Tidal Basin
Though a bit of a walk from the White House or the Washington Monument, the Tidal Basin is worth the trek. Bordered by the West Potomac River, the Tidal Basin is one of the most picturesque areas for a stroll, in Washington D.C. The Tidal Basin is a reservoir that is the focal point for many of D.C.’s lesser-known, but equally as beautiful monuments, including the Jefferson Memorial, The FDR Memorial and the MLK Memorial. While the Tidal Basin is a beautiful spot year-round, the best time to go is in the spring, when the flowers on the cherry trees are in full bloom – during this time of the year, the Tidal Basin becomes the most romantic and picture-perfect spot in the entire city (and arguably the world). Don’t feel like walking? You can also boat along the tidal basin, too!
Address: Washington, DC, USA
Website: Tidal Basin Boating
25. Catch a show at the 9:30 Club
There’s a saying in D.C. – the 9:30 club is where famous people perform before they become famous – and it’s true. Musical acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cyndi Lauper, the Beastie Boys, Adele and more have performed at the venue, early on in their careers. Tickets to shows are generally inexpensive compared to other popular concert venues in the area, and the creative vibes, eclectic crowds and party atmosphere of the venue are a must, for music lovers visiting the city.
Address: 815 V St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
Website: 9:30 Club
26. Get a drink at the POV Rooftop Bar
Yes, the 17 USD cocktails are worth it. Washington D.C.’s favorite rooftop bar is located at the top of the W Hotel in downtown D.C. – and a spot near the edge of this trendy rooftop bar can guarantee you a perfect view of the monuments and access to one of the hottest summer venues in Washington. Ensure you are dressed to impress, as D.C. dress codes are in full force. By day, the rooftop bar is the perfect place to have a casual brunch overlooking the city, but by night, it transforms into a hub of nightlife and cocktail culture.
Address: 515 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
Website: POV Rooftop
27. See a show at the Kennedy Center
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is D.C.’s version of Broadway. From ballet to operas to plays to comedy shows, anything and everything culture related in Washington D.C. takes place at the Kennedy Center. Looking to make a date night out of your trip to D.C.? Start off with a dinner in Georgetown and head over to the Kennedy Center to experience one of the city’s most beloved spectacles.
Address: 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566, USA
Website: Kennedy Center
28. Start a self-guided walking tour of Embassy Row at Scott Circle
Washington D.C. truly is a place to embrace diversity. It is one of the most linguistically diverse cities in the world, with over 168 languages spoken in the city alone – this comes to no surprise as Washington is the home of Embassy Row, a cultural powerhouse in the city, where ambassadors and foreign diplomats come together to enhance foreign relations for their home country. Embassy Row is located in a section of northwest Washington D.C., near DuPont Circle, an easily accessible area, decorated with the culture of its inhabitants.
Here is where one can go to see statues of famous international figures, houses adorned with flags or doors decorated as they are found around the word. The best part of Embassy Row is its walkability. For those looking to take a trip around the world while only walking a few blocks, start at Scott Circle, the beginning of this powerful and prestigious area.
Address: Washington, DC 20008, USA
Website: Embassy Row
29. Watch history unfold at the Newseum
The Newseum is one of Washington D.C.’s most dynamic museums, guiding visitors in an interactive experience, through time. The Newseum traces the evolution of print and electronic communication, around the world, from its pre-technological origins to the era of social media and the future of media. The modern, seven-level museum boasts 250,000 square feet (23,226 square meters) and features 15 theaters and 15 galleries.
The museum also displays more than 80 international newspapers in their original languages and hosts the largest display of sections of the Berlin Wall, outside of Germany, as well as an original antenna from the roof of the World Trade Center, pre-9/11. Here, visitors can learn about the origins and evolution of news, as well as the importance the United States puts on freedom of the press.
Address: 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
30. Have a picnic at the National Mall
Each year, the National Mall attracts millions of visitors who come together to commemorate presidents, honor veterans, participate in protests and enjoy the beauty of Washington D.C. The National Mall is undoubtedly one of the most iconic parks in Washington D.C. – as well as one of the best places to go to experience the city in action while relaxing. Grab a blanket, a bite to eat and bask in the Washington sun as you get a feel of what Washington D.C. is really about.
Address: Washington, DC 20565, USA
Website: National Mall Map
At the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, you will embark on an interactive experience. You will be assigned a secret identity and work your way through the museum’s many exhibits while you develop your skills as a spy. While you move through the museum and across its multiple floors, you will also explore the variety of exhibits that showcase a multitude of artifacts and devices that spymasters have used throughout history. Make sure to visit this exciting spy museum during your time in DC!
International Spy Museum Admission
Duration: 2 hours
Wander through Washington DC
With its importance as the historical and political powerhouse of America, Washington DC is a must-see city. Its endless museums, great nightlife, and global feel give every visitor something unique to do. Whether it’s attending an embassy party, visiting the Smithsonian or catching a show at the 9:30 Club – DC is an eclectic city with plenty to do, see and enjoy.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.