You won’t find a more iconic city than Washington, D.C. This is a top-of-list city to visit in the United States because of its incredible history, awe-inspiring museums and cultural experiences, exquisite culinary delights, and vibrant atmosphere.
17 Things to Do in Washington, D.C. in 2023
If you are planning a visit and trying to decide what not to miss, here are the top attractions and fun things to see and do in D.C.
1. The White House
Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, the White House is the most iconic place to visit in D.C. Wander through the halls of this incredible structure that all our presidents except for Washington called home.
Breathtaking paintings and artwork, visits to the Ballroom, State Dining Room, East, Geen, Blue, and Red rooms will infuse you with a taste of our nation’s history.
Tours have to be booked and are limited. Your best bet to see the White House is to reserve a spot three months before your visit to D.C. through their website.
You can also take a free tour of the White House Visitor Center and learn fun facts about the presidential residents and their families. You won’t want to miss this incredible opportunity to learn about our nation’s most popular D.C. home.
2. Washington Monument
If you think D.C., the Washington Monument will probably be the first image to come to mind. Located in the National Mall, this icon is seated beside the Reflecting Pool.
This obelisk was constructed to honor our first president and was built in 1848. Towering above you at a staggering 156 feet tall, you will not want to miss a photo next to this incredible structure.
What makes this visit even more fascinating is learning about the intriguing history. Fraught with challenges, the construction was halted by the Civil War.
Learn about the stages of its construction. See the collaboration from cities, states, individuals, groups, and even foreign countries, marked by engraved stones.
If you are brave enough, you can take the elevator to the top and witness the incredible view of the Washington Mall and the 50 American flags that surround this monument.
3. Capitol Hill and U.S. Capitol
The Capitol is the location where each of our presidents takes their oath. The gigantic domed building is where our Senate and House of Representatives meet.
It’s a worldwide symbol of our country, and the dome, based on St. Peter’s in Rome, is one of the best-known sites in D.C. Completed in 1962, the marble building is astonishing and provides an outstanding view of the mall and the city.
Walking into the interior, you will be mesmerized by the design and artwork. Standing in the rotunda under a massive cast-iron ceiling, you will experience the intensity of the gigantic paintings by Constantino depicting scenes from our nation’s history.
Take a tour and visit chambers, learn about the artwork, and feel for yourself the buzz of our nation’s internal workings that take place in this American icon.
4. Smithsonian Museums
If you love museums, a tour of the Smithsonian museums in D.C. is the ultimate pilgrimage. Check out their website for a full list of all the museums you can visit.
It will take a few days to see them, or if you are there for a day or two, pick out a few of your favorites. What makes this trip even better is that these museums are free to visit!
Some of the most renowned include the Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum. These museums will take you through the ages and highlight the most fascinating history of man, nature, and human accomplishments.
If you are an art fan, you won’t want to miss the National Portrait Gallery or the National Gallery of Art. All within walking distance, the Washington Mall is a “must” for anyone visiting D.C.
5. National Mall and Veteran Memorials
There is no getting around a visit to the National Mall. This is where the museums are located. However, the Mall is a great place to spend time for a variety of reasons.
The beautiful park is the perfect place to bask in the sun, take walks, bike rides, or go for a run. People picnic here and attend festivals and celebrations.
This strip runs from the Capitol to the Lincon Memorial. Included are lawns, pools, landmarks, and monuments, including war memorials to WWI, Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Don’t miss the famous wall inscribed with the names of our nation’s veterans who lost their lives defending our country. Many iconic sculptures line this section of the Mall dedicated to our veterans.
6. Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin
Yet another iconic visit is the memorial built to honor Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd U.S. president. The structure is based on the Roman Pantheon. This incredible dome is adorned with 54 columns.
The dramatic setting encompasses the 19 foot statue of Jefferson, which is surrounded by engravings of the Declaration of Independence and other historic documents.
Making this monument even more spectacular is the fact that it’s reflected in the Tidal Pool. If you are fortunate enough to be there when the cherry trees are blossoming, the entire pool will be highlighted by the burst of brilliant pink blossoms.
The entire pool is surrounded by cherry trees, making this monument one of the most beautiful and most photographed.
7. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Check the Kennedy Center schedule well before your trip to Washington, D.C., and book your tickets in advance. Built in 1971 as a tribute to President Kennedy, the National Cultural Center is an incredible building designed by Edward Durell Stone.
Home of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera, if you love the performing arts, this is a stop you will want to include in your visit to D.C.
There are three main stages and many smaller stages. There are more than 2,200 shows performed on these stages each year. Many of these shows are free.
You can see concerts as well as classical and contemporary shows at this incredible theater. Find out which music, dance, opera, and drama companies are featured during your visit.
8. National Zoological Park
Part of the array of Smithsonian attractions, the National Zoo houses over 2,000 species of birds, animals, and reptiles. The cool thing about this park is that great attention is given to presenting these animals in a close replication of their natural habitats.
This is a leading zoo worldwide and has an outstanding reputation for the quality and care of its inhabitants. One of the most popular sights is the giant pandas.
They have been part of a major initiative since 1972 to save the pandas. Other highlights include the Sumatran Tigers, the humongous gorillas, Asian elephants, the cheetahs, and a vast array of exotic birds and unusual animals.
This zoo is a popular stop if you have kids as there are lots of opportunities for hands-on experiences, demonstrations, educational games, and shows.
9. Arlington National Cemetery
If you are searching for a historical and breathtaking stop on your D.C. tour, you won’t want to miss Arlington Cemetery. Have you heard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?
This is your chance to see it in person, along with the resting place of President John F. Kennedy and many other memorials of some of the best-known American veterans.
Besides being a visual inspiration with the white tombstones lining the lush, green, rolling hills, and the incredible war memorials, you can’t miss the ceremony performed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
This solemn and time-honored ceremony will bring tears to your eyes and warm your heart.
Every hour from October 1st to March 31st and every half hour on the first of April until September 30th, you can witness the changing of the guards. This ceremony will stay with you long after you visit D.C.
10. Washington Cathedral
The Washington National Cathedral is recognized as one of the world’s largest cathedrals. Under construction for 83 years, this English, Neo-Gothic cathedral was built in the style of the Gothic style and technique, complete with flying buttresses.
You will be in awe of this cathedral, from the hand-embroidered kneelers to the massive stained-glass windows. The 300-foot tower is the highest structure in D.C.
Book your tour in advance and get a sneak peek at some of the cathedral’s hidden parts and secret art. You can even get a children’s guide to exploring the Cathedral, complete with a scavenger hunt to find gargoyles, wrought-iron animals, and tiny carvings.
The kid in you will love searching for the Darth Vader gargoyle placed on top of the northwest tower and the burial sites for famous people like Helen Keller and former U.S. presidents.
11. Historic Georgetown District
Wander through this historic district dating back to the early 1700s. You will find a pleasing array of cafés, restaurants, and boutiques along its quaint streets. Located between K Street and Rock Creek Park from 27th to 37th Street, these are the city’s oldest streets.
Cool and inviting, this town runs along the C&O Canal, a 184-mile section of the Potomac River. The path along the river is perfect for strolling or biking.
In this district, you will find the historic 16-acre Tudor Place, a mansion built in the 19th century by Martha Washington’s granddaughter. Tour the incredible Federal-era garden that contains plants from the 19th century.
You can also take a tour of the Kreeger Museum, which features artwork from the 1850s up until the 1970s and works from famous artists such as Picasso, Monet, and Renoir, among others.
12. United States Botanic Garden
Back in the heart of the city, at the base of Capitol Hill, lies the U.S. Botanic Garden. You don’t have to leave the city to experience this incredible tropical garden.
No matter what the weather, you can enjoy this garden. It does have gigantic displays of outdoor gardens, but it also features greenhouses with a museum of incredible plants.
These permanent exhibits include plants from all over the world. You can spend hours wandering in the gigantic glasshouse that encompasses two courtyards and ten garden rooms.
Displays include a brilliant rose garden, a pollinating garden, a kitchen garden, and a water garden. There will always be blooms and lots of benches for stopping and enjoying the fragrances that permeate this spacious garden utopia.
13. Cruises and Boat Tours
Every good vacation should include at least one tour by water. In Washington, D.C., there are many options to fulfill your water tour expectations.
Boat tours and cruises are easy to book and provide a variety of ways to see the Potomac and all the sights of D.C. along the way. You can see the views of Washington and eat gourmet meals as you are entertained along your cruise.
The Washington, D.C. Signature Scenic Lunch Cruise will treat you to fine food and entertainment as you sail past Washington with a colorful narration. The Spirit of Washington is an elegant way to relax and see the sight of D.C.
If you want to bump it up a notch, the Washington, D.C. Premier Brunch Cruise will provide champagne to sip while aboard this luxury yacht on a 2-hour cruise of Washington. Enjoy live jazz music and feast on a sumptuous brunch.
14. Take a Food Tour
Washington, D.C. is known as a foodie’s delight. Deciding where to eat will be your biggest problem. New restaurants are opening all the time in D.C.
Whether you want something simple and delicious like fried chicken or a 5-star gourmet experience, you will find it all in D.C. You can schedule food tours that focus on specific locations or types of cuisine.
Try an informal walking food tour like the U Street Neighborhood Food Tour, a small group experience that lasts for 3 hours and takes you through the hot spots.
If you are into gourmet, you can book a Personalized & Private Food Tour that takes the guesswork out of finding the best places to eat while providing a sample of the most delicious food in D.C.
15. Visit Breweries in D.C.
Craft brewing has been trending since 2009 in the city of Washington. There are quaint and comfortable breweries such as the Right Proper in Shaw, to the large and bustling breweries like the Bluejacket in the Navy Yard.
You can visit neighborhood taprooms or a heavy hitter like the brand new craft brewery NoVa in Loudoun County. Currently, there are 70 breweries around the D.C. area. The Washingtonian has a map detailing the location of these breweries.
Washington, D.C. is home to the second-highest number of breweries in cities along the East Coast. If you are ready to get your brew on, you won’t want to miss the brewpubs in Washington, D.C.
16. D.C. Distilleries
For those that appreciate fine spirits, D.C. has great places to visit. This region is the birthplace of American whiskey. Recently, D.C. has joined the distinction of creating craft distilling that has resulted in amazing distilleries that are a “must visit” while in D.C.
Some of the top distilleries include Founding Spirits at Farmers & Distillers, One Eight Distilling, Geen Hat Distillery, Cotton & Reed, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery, to name a few.
It’s only fitting that Washington, D.C. has delved into the distilling business as our first president, George Washington opened a distillery in 1790. It became the largest distillery in America by the time he died. Join the tradition and visit a Washington distillery!
17. 9:30 Club
You would be remiss if you didn’t spend at least one night in Washington soaking up the ambiance of the nightlife. The number one pick, according to Rolling Stone, is the 9:30 Club. It’s also listed as one of the best music venues in the United States.
Some of the top bands in America have played at this club. It’s located near U Street, which means you will have plenty of options for getting there using public transportation.
You can dine at the 9:30 Club with an exquisite dinner before the show or have pre-show bar food and drinks. Make sure to try the club’s famous cupcakes.
The club can get quite packed, so make sure you get your tickets before you travel. While the club is roomy, you will still enjoy a personal and intimate experience at this number one club in Washington.
Things to Consider
Your trip to D.C. will be trouble-free if you keep in mind a few essential details. Here are some tips to make your trip the best it can be:
- If you are looking for the most comfortable time to visit D.C. with fewer crowds, it will be between September and November and March through May.
- March through May is the time to see the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The temperatures will be cool in the evening and usually in the 70s during the day.
- Winter in Washington can be brutal. The hotels will be cheaper, and there will be no lines at the museums, but you may experience freezing temperatures and even snowstorms.
- If sightseeing is your priority, stay in downtown, which allows you to reach most of the best sightseeing locations by walking without worrying about parking and transportation.
- Washington is a busy place. When planning your visit, research which of the destinations require tickets. Purchase tickets in advance of your trip.
- Consider visiting the monuments at night. The temperatures will be cooler, and there won’t be as many crowds.
- When considering how to get around D.C., the metro is the most common. It is fast and inexpensive. Consider taking the Circulator bus if the metro isn’t available.
- If you love biking, consider the Capitol Bikeshare and avoid the traffic and parking issues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions for travelers taking a trip to Washington, D.C:
What is Washington, D.C. best known for?
While D.C. is prominent for being the United States hub for all our government, there is an incredible history surrounding this city. Between the monuments and museums, D.C. is second-to-none, when it comes to highlighting history.
What states make up Washington, D.C.?
Washington, D.C. encompasses land from both Maryland and Virginia. It was established in 1790 and is considered a federal district, not a state.
Why is Washington, D.C. called the District of Columbia?
The Washington part of the name came from our first president and founding father, George Washington. The second part of the name, Columbia, is the female representation and persona of our nation.
Why is Washington, D.C. our nation’s capital?
The first two capitals in the United States were New York and then Philadelphia. The permanent home in Washington was established by the Residence Act in July 1790, as a way to appease the pro-slavery states. They feared that the northern states would be sympathetic to the abolitionists.
How large is Washington, D.C.?
Washington is considered mid-Atlantic and has a total area of 68.34 miles. Of that area, the land is approximately 61 square miles, and the water is approximately 7 square miles.
What Are the Best Things to Do in Washington, D.C.?
If you don’t want to miss the most historic portions of D.C., you need to plan a visit to the White House and Capitol Hill. If you want to experience the greatest array of art, history, and the evolution of humans, the Mall and museums are a must-see.
Whether you choose the historical monuments, culinary creations, or visual attractions of Washington, D.C., you will understand why this city is a top destination for anyone who loves cities in the United States of America.