The Jefferson Memorial during the Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington DC, USA

Things to do in  Washington DC

America’s front yard

It's difficult to narrow down the best things to do in Washington DC. The United States’ capital is bursting with major monuments, museums, and memorials. No trip is complete without a trip to the National Mall (and highlights like the Lincoln Memorial), a visit to at least one Smithsonian museum, and a chance to gawk at political icons like the White House. But don’t forget to look beyond the blockbusters. DC’s vibrant neighborhoods, restaurants, and cultural offerings merit discovering, too.

Top 15 attractions in Washington DC

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial commemorates the life and legacy of the renowned civil rights leader. Located in West Potomac Park and overlooking the Tidal Basin, the memorial includes a commanding 30-foot (9-meter statue of Dr. King and a 450-foot (137-meter Inscription Wall of quotes from Dr. King.More

The White House

The official residence of each US president since 1800, the 132-room White House in Washington DC draws visitors from around the world. Admire from afar; stop by the White House Visitor Center; or request access for a self-guided tour of the East Wing, State Dining Room, China Room, and the White House Rose Garden.More

U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Capitol dome towers above the Roman columns and manicured gardens of this iconic heart of American government. Topped by the bronze Statue of Freedom, the Capitol is the political and geographic center of Washington D.C. The building houses the legislative branch of Congress, with the Senate meeting in the north wing and the House of Representatives in the south wing. When Congress is in session, visitors can watch politicians debate all flavors of legislative issues, as they’ve done here since 1800.More

Lincoln Memorial

A 19-foot-tall (5.7-meter-tall) marble statue of President Abraham Lincoln dominates the Lincoln Memorial, situated at the edge of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in Washington DC. The most visited National Park Service site in the city is an homage to the 16th president of the United States, who helped to preserve the Union during the Civil War and delivered the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation.More

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, one of Washington DC’s most visited landmarks, is comprised of three parts—the Three Soldiers statue, the Women’s Memorial, and the main attraction, the Maya Lin–designed Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, engraved with the names of some 58,000 fallen and missing Vietnam War soldiers. Visitors arrive to pay their respects and leave notes and mementos at the wall.More

Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial brings together life-like statues of a patrol squad with a walled triangle inscribed with scenes depicting the Korean War. The steel statues and granite walls lead to the center of a reflecting pool. Dedicated in 1995, the memorial honors the 5.8 million Americans who served in the Korean War (1950–1953).More

Washington Monument

Erected in honor of the nation’s first president, the Washington Monument is the tallest building in Washington DC, reaching 555 feet (169 meters) high. The white, marble obelisk is also one of the capital’s most famous structures, made even more remarkable when seen with its mirror image reflected in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.More

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, commissioned by Franklin D. Roosevelt, is a tribute to the third president of the United States, founder of the University of Virginia, and key drafter of the Declaration of Independence. Its Pantheon-esque facade and bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson overlook the Tidal Basin and Washington Monument.More

National World War II Memorial

Set at the heart of the National Mall, the World War II Memorial honors the 16 million American soldiers who served in World War II. The site’s pillars represent each state and territory; it’s arches are dedicated to victories; and more than 4,000 stars symbolize the sacrifices made.More

National Mall

Stretching from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial, the grassy, tree-lined National Mall is a hub of activity in Washington DC. The open space—America’s most-visited national park—between Constitution and Independence avenues is fringed by Smithsonian museums, numerous monuments, and attractions, such as the National Archives.More

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum in the United States devoted to the African American experience. Its unique architectural structure—wrapped in an ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice—houses 12 galleries and 13 interactive exhibits. The 36,000-object collection tells the American story through the African American lens, covering themes from history, politics, religion, slavery, and segregation to music, sports, fashion, and art.More

Potomac River

From its source in West Virginia to where it empties out in Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River is rich in American history; in fact, it's even referred to as "the Nation's River." George Washington, the first president of the United States, was born along the river, and the entirety of Washington DC—the nation's capital city—lies within the watershed.More

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial lies on the National Mall in Washington DC, on the edge of the Tidal Basin. The sprawling site comprises four distinct parts, portraying each of the 32nd president’s terms in office. Bronze sculptures and quotes engraved into the stone walls take visitors on a journey through FDR’s presidency and era.More

Library of Congress

Washington DC’s Library of Congress is the world’s largest library and keeper of the nation’s most important historical documents. It houses more than 160 million items, including maps, manuscripts, films, and prints. Its more than 30 million books line miles of bookshelves in three different buildings—and many are not on public display.More

National Archives Museum

Home to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, the National Archives Museum displays many of America’s most pivotal founding documents. Housed in a Greek revival building on the National Mall in Washington DC, the landmark invites visitors to see the priceless works, engage with interactive exhibits, and more.More

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Top activities in Washington DC

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All about Washington DC

When to visit

Summer might seem like a natural time to visit Washington DC, given the ceremony of the Fourth of July—but the season's sweltering heat and humidity is not always the most comfortable. Instead, aim for a visit in fall when the city is abuzz with activity and things to do. Neighborhood events like Adams Morgan Day and the H Street Festival make it easy to discover DC’s local side. Alternatively, visit in spring to catch the peak of cherry blossom season.

Getting around

As the nation’s capital, Washington DC is unsurprisingly well-connected. The city is served by two airports—Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport—and by Union Station, where passengers can pick up intercity Amtrak train services. The Washington Metro has six lines that connect neighborhoods across the greater metropolitan area, as well as numerous buses. The DC Circulator, a low-cost shuttle that ferries riders to many of the city's top sights, is another excellent way to get around.

Traveler tips

Looking for a green escape after days of busy sightseeing? Find your refuge in Rock Creek Park. Spanning 1,700 acres (688 hectares) in the north of the city, the park was the third national park to be established in the United States upon its 1890 founding. Its creekside and forested walking trails offer a great way to get active, while landmarks like Peirce Mill offer a dose of history, too.

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A local’s pocket guide to Washington DC

Fairuz Maggio

Fairuz is a Washington DC native who has spent most of her life in and around the city. Though currently living in Europe, she returns to the nation’s capital at least twice a year.

The first thing you should do in Washington DC is...

visit the National Mall. If you only do one thing in the city, it’s imperative that you explore the length of the mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the US Capitol Building.

A perfect Saturday in Washington DC...

starts with a brunch (a boozy drag brunch is a city favorite), includes a stroll through one of the (free) Smithsonian museums, and ends with dinner and drinks in Georgetown.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is ...

the Smithsonian museums. These free museums range from the National Museum of Natural History to the National Air and Space Museum to the National Museum of American History to various art genres and are mostly around the National Mall.

To discover the "real" Washington DC...

you need to leave downtown and visit the Shaw neighborhood. The historically African-American area is home to the Howard Theatre, Howard University, and a host of famous eateries including Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street.

For the best view of the city...

head to the top of the Washington Monument. The city's tallest structure provides unparalleled views of DC and beyond. If you can’t snag a ticket, head to the Old Post Office clock tower or the Kennedy Center's outdoor terrace.

One thing people get wrong...

is thinking that DC is just government buildings. The city's vibrant neighborhoods each have their own character. Dupont Circle is an LGBTQ hub, Columbia Heights is known for multiethnic eateries, while Georgetown features Federal-style architecture and upmarket restaurants and shops.


People Also Ask

What's Washington DC known for?

Washington DC—the United States capital—is known for its iconic government buildings and landmarks, including the White House, US Capitol, Supreme Court, and the attractions at the National Mall, including the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The Smithsonian museums and springtime cherry blossoms are also unmissable.

What is the #1 site visited in Washington, DC?

The most visited site in Washington DC is the Lincoln Memorial, which stands on the National Mall and is instantly recognizable for its colonnaded front and enormous sitting statue of President Abraham Lincoln. Other popular sites include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and US Capitol.

How do you do Washington DC in a day?

Many of Washington DC's top monuments are clustered around the National Mall and Capitol Hill, so it's possible to see them in one day. Book a driving, bike, or Segway tour to sightsee efficiently. Then, cap off your trip with a visit to one of the city's free-to-enter Smithsonian museums.

What's the best way to sightsee in Washington DC?

Washington DC has dozens of iconic government buildings, memorials, museums, and other highlights. To see more of the sights in less time, book a tour by coach, bike, Segway, or pedicab. Once you've gotten an overview, set off on a neighborhood walking tour to discover DC's local side.

Is 2 days enough for Washington DC?

Yes. Two days is enough to see Washington DC's highlights. On day one, concentrate on the National Mall's monuments and museums and see government buildings like the White House, Supreme Court, and US Capitol. On day two, soak up the local feel in neighborhoods such as Georgetown and Adams Morgan.

What do locals do in DC?

Washington DC locals frequent the city's museums and cultural institutions, as well as trendy restaurants and bars in the 14th Street Corridor, Adams Morgan, and Shaw. You'll find them hiking in Rock Creek Park, browsing the shelves at Politics and Prose, and attending concerts at the 9:30 Club.

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