Washington DC: Top 20 Things To Do In The Capital Of The USA

Washington DC: Top 20 Things To Do In The Capital Of The USA
Kirthana
Kirthana
Updated

Washington DC is the capital of the United States of America. Yes, it is steeped in politics, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s also enriched with history and so much cultural significance with world-renowned museums that continually awe and inspire generations. Here are 20 things you shouldn’t miss while in Washington DC:

1. Visit the Capitol, where democracy happens

It’s undisputed that Washington DC is politics central. Given that, it would be a missed opportunity to come to the capital of the United States without visiting a few places where politics come alive. One such place is the Capitol. The pièce de résistance of this historic building, which stands tall at 288 feet (87.8 meters), is the dome feature, topped by the Statue of Freedom. The symbolism of this building and everything it contains is so rich and strong, you have to see it at least once in your lifetime. The United States Capitol really is a monument celebrating one of the most recognizable​ symbols of representative democracy in the world. During the tour, you’ll get to visit the National Statuary Hall, which has a unique feature due to its architectural design. The hall produces an acoustical effect where a speaker standing many yards away may be heard more clearly than someone who is closer. Be sure to test this out by whispering in the hall when you’re there. And of course, marvel at the 100 statues in the hall, 2 from each state in the United States of America.

United States Capitol

Address: East Capitol St NE & First St SE, Washington, DC 20004, United States

Opening Hours: 8:30 am - 4:30 pm. Closed on Sunday.

Duration: around 3 hours.

Access: There are free shuttle bus services

Website: https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/

Contact: 202.226.8000

2. Shop for history at the National Mall

The National Mall is truly a sight to behold. It’s the most visited park in the entire United States, and there’s no doubt why. To see the tall Washington Monument rise majestically up in the sky, with the backdrop of the Capitol Building, and at the other end, the larger-than-life marble statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in his throne, it’s really something. It’s America’s history unfolding before your very eyes. All the monuments and memorials in the park truly honour the forefathers and founders of America who led the country to where it is today. To have a more immersive experience, you can approach the rangers on duty at the sites to answer questions from 9:30 am to 10:00 pm daily.

National Mall

Address: 900 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, DC 20024

Opening Hours: Open 24 hours, Mon - Sun

Access: All sites at the National Mall and Memorial Parks are open 24 hours a day, with the exception of the Washington Monument.

Website: https://www.nps.gov/nama/

Contact: (202) 426-6841

3. Get a glimpse of the presidential life with a White House Tour

White House Washington
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Cezary p used under CC BY-SA 4.0

We know we’ve already mentioned the White House in the National Mall, but this is really worth mentioning again. You can actually enter the White House for an exclusive tour. It’s not impossible, but it does take some planning. You’d have to contact the office of your Member of Congress in advance, to request tickets. However, patience is key; it can take five months to book one of these self-guided tour. If you are not a US citizen, you should contact any Member of Congress to assist you. Do note, that some are more helpful than others, so choose carefully!

Imagine stepping into the White House! 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 6 levels, 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, 3 elevators and, most importantly, decades of history. Imagine getting a glimpse inside this American landmark. It’ll be an experience of a lifetime. All the planing would be worth it to get access to the country’s most important residence.

If you can’t bag a tour, don’t worry too much. The free White House Visitor Center, a short distance away, has excellent interactive exhibits that show details about the White House and the presidential families. It includes furniture of past presidents, a model of the residence, historical changes, and videos with insights from presidents about their time living there.

White House

Address: 1450 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20230, United States

Duration: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Access: The closest Metrorail stations to the White House are Federal Triangle (blue and orange lines), Metro Center (blue, orange, and red lines) and McPherson Square (blue and orange lines).

Website: https://whitehouse.gov1.info/visit/tour.html

Contact: +1 202-208-1631

4. Pay your respects at the National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

9/11 Pentagon Memorial
Source: Photo by Flickr user The U.S. Army used under CC BY 2.0

The events that transpired on 9/11 changed the lives of Americans forever. The Pentagon Memorial was created to remember and honor those family members and friends who are no longer around because of what happened on September 11th, 2001, at the Pentagon. The memorial displays interactive stories and videos that represent personal accounts of the family members and survivors of the attacks. It’s a good place for some peace and quiet and to learn about that fateful day, to remember the heroes, and to appreciate the progress of America since then.

Pentagon Memorial

Address: 1 N Rotary Rd, Arlington, VA 22202, United States

Opening Hours: Open 24 hours.

Duration: Around 2 - 3 hours.

Access: To reach the Pentagon Memorial via the public Metrorail system, take either the yellow or blue line to the Pentagon stop. Exit the Metro, and take the escalator up to follow the signs to the Pentagon Memorial.

Website: pentagonmemorial.org

Contact: +1 301-740-3388

5. Walk through Georgetown

A visit to Georgetown should be given a full day, because it just has so much to offer. Georgetown is where the perfect intersection of historic charm and upscale modernity happens. The beauty of Georgetown’s cobblestone sidewalks, grand homes, and peaceful canal are only part of the draw to this tree-lined historic neighborhood. It’s also home to some of the city’s top shops and tastiest restaurants. Georgetown is a favorite destination and a must-see for everyone who visits Washington DC.

Georgetown

Access: The Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station, located on the blue and orange lines, is a short 15-minute walk from Georgetown. The Rosslyn, Virginia station, located on the blue and orange lines, is a short walk across the Key Bridge to Georgetown.

Website: https://washington.org/dc-neighborhoods/georgetown

Nearby Food: There are numerous restaurants and bars, so take your pick. Be sure to try the famous Georgetown cupcakes, as seen on TV!

6. Visit the United States Botanic Garden

USA-US Botanic Garden0
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ingfbruno used under CC BY-SA 3.0

One of America’s Founding Fathers, Sir George Washington, had a dream and vision for the capital of the United States to have a living botanic​ garden that would teach future generations about the importance of plants in our ecosystem. This garden was established in 1820, and is one of the oldest gardens in all of North America. The gardens boast a wide array of living plants, from roses and orchids, to even some of the rarest endangered plants. Either way, there always is beautiful bloom in the U.S. Botanic Gardens, at any time of year.

U.S. Botanic Gardens

Address: 100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024, United States

Opening Hours: 10 am - 5 pm

Duration: Around 3 hours required

Access: The easiest way is by Metrorail, by taking either the Orange, Blue, or Silver line to the Federal Center SW station. Exit the station, walk north (left) along Third Street SW for two blocks, cross Independence Avenue and continue one more block to Maryland Avenue. Look toward the Capitol and you will see the glass dome of the Conservatory.

Website: https://www.usbg.gov/

Contact: +1 202-226-8333

7. Sit back and relax at the Kennedy Center

A view of Kennedy Center in the evening.
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Anita Mishra used under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Kennedy Center is the nation’s busiest performing arts center. It hosts approximately 3,000 events each year, ranging from musicals that have won the Tony Award to theater plays and powerful dramas. It also sees and welcomes over 2 million visitors. There are many shows and concerts happening at any one time in the Kennedy Center. For example, on every day of the year at 6 pm, the Kennedy Center hosts a free performance as part of its “Performing Arts for Everyone” initiative. No tickets are required, and seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s an exclusive stage that features local, national, and international talents.

For more information, click here

8. Have a pretend espionage at the International Spy Museum

This museum is something special. It’s the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage, and the only one in the world to provide a global perspective on an all-surrounding-but-invisible profession that has shaped history and continues to have a significant impact on world events.

The museum has an exclusive, collection of international espionage artifacts. Indeed, this collection is the biggest such collection in the world! Every piece of equipment and each gadget sheds light on the famous espionages and works of spies, and explain about some of the most highly-kept secret missions in world history. It’s a one-of-a-kind museum and definitely​ worth a visit while in Washington DC. It’s especially great for families!

For more information, click here

9. Feed tarantulas at the world's largest natural history museum

NMNH-Rotunda
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Philip Cohen used under CC BY 2.0

With live tarantula feedings, the Hope Diamond, and even a microcosm of the ocean, there is plenty for you to see and do at the world’s largest natural history museum. That probably explains why this particular natural history museum is the most-visited one in the world. It really is extremely versatile and the exhibitions are carefully curated to give you the most wholesome and exciting experience. You could be in the tundras of Africa one minute, and the next you could be in the land before time, where dinosaurs still roamed the earth. And the best part? Admission is free.

For more information, click here

10. Explore flight at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

National Air and Space Museum Entrance
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Jawed Karim used under CC BY-SA 3.0

This place might sound more suitable for kids, but this museum is honestly one of the best. In fact, it is the most-visited museum in the country, welcoming more than eight million visitors per year. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum maintains the world’s largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts, encompassing all aspects of human flight, as well as related works of art and archival materials. They even have cool airplanes, dating back from the first time someone tried to fly, to the state-of-the-art aircrafts we have now. And yes, it offers free admission!

For more information, click here

11. Go wild at the National Zoo

It’s not all elephants and donkeys in DC. In the heart of Washington DC is the National Zoo, where visitors can find over 2,000 animals, including lions, tigers, giraffes, and even two giant pandas. The zoo’s habitats feature animals from 400 different species, and, of these, about 25 percent of the zoo’s residents are endangered. It’s a great place to see a diverse range of animals all in one place.

For more information, click here

Travel tip by Washington Local Expert - John
Posted on: Feb 25, 2021

As the National Zoo is one of only four zoos that have pandas in the U.S., this makes it one of the best free zoos in the U.S. A must-do activity while visiting Washington D.C., make sure to check both the outdoor and indoor viewing areas as sometimes the pandas can be hard to find in their exhibit. The pandas tend to be more active in the morning, so make sure the zoo's panda exhibit is the first exhibit you visit!

12. Hike at Great Falls Park

The stunning views and tranquil beauty Great Falls Park has to offer makes it a must-see while in Washington. The park is huge, and is split into two different areas. The areas offer 15 different hiking trails for you to choose from, depending on the kind of experience and activity you’re looking for. There is the Great Falls Park on the Virginia Side, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park on the Maryland side. In case you are undecided on the topic or activity you’re interested in, just contact the park rangers or officials and they will draw up a map specifically for you.

For more information, click here

13. Visit the unusual Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park, also known as the Malcom X Park, is one of the most underrated parks in all of Washington. The park is filled with unusual and unique sculptures and memorials. It’s a great place for packing a picnic and hanging out in front of the cascading waterfall. On Sundays, people gather here to play in a drum circle, and they are open to others joining in too!

For more information, click here

14. Picnic under the stars at the National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art - West Building
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user AgnosticPreachersKid used under CC BY-SA 3.0

The founder of the National Gallery of Art believed that the United States should have a national art museum equal to those of other great nations. And thus, the National Gallery of Art was born. Located in a prime location within the National Mall, the National Gallery of Art is one of the world’s most eminent museums that collects, preserves, and exhibits works of art to the highest possible scholarly standards. Up to date, the Gallery’s collection includes some 141,000 pieces of art, ranging from paintings to even new media elements, all aiming to trace the development of western art from the Middle Ages to the present day.

For more information, click here

15. Dive into a different world at the National Aquarium

Aquarium tunnel
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user pfly used under CC BY-SA 2.0

The National Aquarium was considered the first of its kind in America when it opened its doors in 1873. Today, it’s home to more than 20,000 fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and marine mammals living in award-winning habitats. The aquarium recently opened a new exhibition called the Blacktip Reef, which impeccably replicates an Indo-Pacific reef and features more than 700 animals, including the very rare blacktip reef sharks.

For more information, click here

16. Take selfies with stars at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

Marilyn Monroe at Madame Tussaud's New York
Source: Photo by Flickr user InSapphoWeTrust used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Well, they’re not real people, but sometimes you’ve really got to remind yourself of that, because the similarities are impeccable. At Madame Tussauds Wax Museum there are countless themed galleries filled with important A-list people, celebrities, sports stars, and basically everyone else you may want to meet and take a selfie with. You can even ‘meet’ all 44 US Presidents here. Isn’t that convenient!

For more information,click here

17. Tour Ford’s Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated

Ford's Theatre interior, Washington, D.C
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Wknight94 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Ford’s Theatre is dedicated to, and celebrates the legacy of, the late President Abraham Lincoln. It is the historic place where Lincoln was shot by a Confederate sympathizer. But, despite its past, the theater aims more to encourage culture, arts, and education today. It is also a premier destination in Washington, DC, to explore and celebrate Lincoln’s ideals and leadership principles and to honor the man who ended slavery in America.

For more information, click here

Travel tip by Washington Local Expert - John
Posted on: Feb 25, 2021

As one of the most popular locations to visit in Washington D.C., the line at the ticket office of Fords Theatre can often be very long and operates in a first-come, first-served fashion. I recommend booking tickets ahead of time online so that you are able to ensure that you can visit the theatre at a date and time that works best for you while you are in D.C.

18. Celebrate press freedom at the Newseum

Since its opening in 2008, the Newseum has garnered outstanding reviews from media professionals, travel leaders, educators, and hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world, positioning itself as a leading champion of free expression in the world today. It’s very befitting for the Newseum to be in Washington DC because the press (and its independence) really is the cornerstone of any good democracy.

The ideals of the Newseum are reflected in the architecture of the building. The museum has a façade featuring a “window on the world” that looks out on Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall, while letting the public see inside to the visitors and displays, mimicking the kind of transparency it hopes the press of the world will achieve with their respective governments.

There are many cool features of the Newseum, including a “Freedom Map” where you get to see how stringent or liberal the press freedoms are in each country. It’s a very informative and interactive way to learn about the unique world of journalism and the media.

For more information, click here

19. Stroll along streets lined with cherry blossoms

Cherry Blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial -- Washington (DC) March 2012
Source: Photo by Flickr user Ron Cogswell used under CC BY 2.0

No, we haven’t flown to Japan. We are still in Washington DC, and yes, there are cherry blossoms scattered all around the city, especially in Tidal Basin. Each spring, the cherry blossoms lining Washington DC’s Tidal Basin burst into color in a beautiful display of firework-like flora. But cherry blossoms are very delicate, and the peak blooms only last for a few days. But don’t worry, there is a website that is dedicated to checking when these pretty pinks are in full bloom.

For all the information you’ll need for the best cherry blossom viewing experience, click here

20. Make it rain green at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing - 2012-03-15
Source: Photo by Flickr user Tim Evanson used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Watch how money gets made! The BEP’s main function is to print billions of dollars for the Federal Reserve, for them to operate as the nation’s central bank to ensure that the adequate amount of money is in circulation. The BEP does not produce coins, but it’s where the paper’s at. They​ offer exclusive tours where you can see how the notes get made, and you can also have an up-close experience of the entire process while they crank them Franklins out.

For more information, click here

Explore America's front yard

Washington DC is a city where you can walk across wide-open avenues and soak up the culture with the many free museums they offer. So be sure to keep an open mind and look around and you’ll learn a bit more about the history of the country during your visit.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Kirthana is currently studying at the National University of Singapore, pursuing a degree in Political Science. In her free time, she enjoys writing for leisure and loves to travel whenever the...Read more

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