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21 Must-Do Activities For Your First Time In Washington, DC

Hannah
Updated Jan 08, 2019

Washington, D.C. 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 D.C. is more than just a place to learn about past presidents and take a picture by the White House – D.C. 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 D.C. here are 21 activities to squeeze into your next trip to the capitol of America.

1. Visit the World War II Memorial at night

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Source: Pixabay

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

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2. 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.

Federal Triangle

Website: Federal Triangle

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3. 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

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4. 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.

Eastern Market

Address: 225 7th St SE, Washington, DC 20003, USA

Website:Eastern Market DC

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5. 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

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6.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

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7. See a Nationals game

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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.

Nationals Park

Address: 1500 S Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003, USA

Website: Nationals Park

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8. Explore DC's Chinatown

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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.

Chinatown

Website: Chinatown

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9. Shop, dine and relax at National Harbor

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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.

National Harbor

Address: Fort Washington, MD 20745

Website: National Harbor

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10. Experience the Cherry Blossom Festival

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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

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11. 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.

Smithsonian Institution

Website: Smithsonian Institution

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12. Take a free tour of the White House

Yes, the president’s palace 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

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13. Attend an embassy party

Posted by José Muñoz on Wednesday, 19 December 2018

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.

Embassy Parties

Website: Embassy Parties

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14. 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

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15. 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!

Tidal Basin

Address: Washington, DC, USA

Website: Tidal Basin Boating

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16. Catch a show at the 9:30 Club

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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.

9:30 Club

Address: 815 V St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA

Website: 9:30 Club

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17. 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.

POV Rooftop

Address: 515 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA

Website: POV Rooftop

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18. 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.

Kennedy Center

Address: 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566, USA

Website: Kennedy Center

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19. Start a self-guided walking tour of Embassy Row at Scott Circle

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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.

Embassy Row

Address: Washington, DC 20008, USA

Website: Embassy Row

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20. 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.

Newseum

Address: 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA

Website: Newseum

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21. 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.

National Mall

Address: Washington, DC 20565, USA

Website: National Mall Map

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Wander through Washington DC

With its importance as the historical and political powerhouse of America, Washington D.C. 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 – D.C. is an eclectic city with plenty to do, see and enjoy.

This article was originally published on May 17, 2017

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A story teller, jet setter, and self-proclaimed media maven -- Hannah is always planning her next adventure, as well as her next professional endeavor. Her affinity for wandering the world and...Read more

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