Planning a trip to Washington DC? There are many historic and interesting sites. Use this guide to find the best things to do in Washington DC. You have seen plenty of images of the White House, the Capital, and maybe even the Supreme Court building on the news. For many, the nation’s capital represents the center of our country and the dealings of running a country.
Yet, Washington DC is also a dynamic cultural and historically rich city chock full of things to do. Whether you like amazing food, museum browsing, the arts, or hard-core shopping as a tourist, there are so many things to do in Washington DC. The hardest part might be deciding what to choose.
As a tourist, you can fill up weeks on end with interesting one-of-a-kind sites and things to do. So what are the must-see places in Washington DC.?
Read on for our list of best things to do and Washington DC tourist sites to visit.
One thing about Washington DC is that there is so much to see, it can be hard to fit in. And your feet will wear out long before you get to everything. One smart and interesting way to start your visit to the city is by taking a guided Washington DC tour.
A guided tour has several advantages. First, it gives you a big overview of the city and its unique layout. It also allows you to cover a lot of ground and help you to see where you might want more time.
Bus, walking, and private tours have guides that are native Washingtonians and naturally highly knowledgeable about the city and its history. They can discuss the sites, neighborhoods and even provide you with some tips on being a tourist in the city. Opting for a guided tour is a great way to start a visit to the city.
Most people don’t imagine visiting a cemetery high on their to-do list for a vacation. Yet, Arlington National Cemetery is a must-see attraction just outside of DC in Virginia. You’ll be hard-pressed not to be moved by the rows and rows on tombstones covering the grounds at Arlington. It’s the final resting place for some 400,000 military service members.
While there, they offer several different tour options. Don’t miss the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the changing of the guard. The large white sarcophagus is guarded by the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. If interested – you can experience Washington DC and Arlington, Virginia on a full-day guided tour by USA Guided Tours.
Want to visit literally the safest building in Washington DC? The Pentagon is home to the Department of Defense and US military branches. This enormous building covers 6.6 million square feet of space and features 17 miles of corridors.
Because of the high level of security attached to the building, it’s necessary to follow strict protocols for tours and you won’t see everything, they have to protect national security after all. Yet, you get an interesting tour and a unique perspective on the military branches and their work.
Two more iconic symbols of the nation’s capital include the Washington Monument and National Mall.
The Washington Monument is the tallest monument soaring into the Washington skyline and central part of the National Mall.
The arrangement of the National Mall and surrounding monuments make it a great place to walk and take in the sites. The monument is still closed due to the pandemic, but feel free to take a stroll to it to get a chance to marvel at its beauty and size.
While the U.S. Capitol Building is often the center of news, it’s also quite a sight to see. As the home of Congress, both the Senate and House of Representatives, big, important decisions are made inside the walls of this historic building.
The U.S. Capitol Building sits at one end of the National Mall, opposite the Lincoln Memorial (more on that later). Even though the impressive building is still closed to the public – it’s definitely still worth visiting it from outside.
If you want to be swept away from the bustle of the city, step inside the U.S. Botanical Garden which sits adjacent to the Capitol Grounds at the end of the National Mall.
This beautiful garden is home to a wide array of habitats featuring over 65,000 different plants in their collection.
As mentioned the Lincoln Memorial sits at the opposite end of the National Mall from the Capitol Building. It’s an iconic and must-see stop for any Washington DC visit.
The memorial features steps and soaring 36 Doric columns that lead you to the grand sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. The columns represent each of the states in existence when he was assassinated.
The memorial is open 24 hours a day and is quite a sight in the nighttime.
The different Smithsonian Museums that line the National Mall, could fill up weeks of a visit to Washington DC. But if you only have limited time for museums, one must-see is the National Air and Space Museum.
With a huge collection of planes and spaceships from around the world, the museum is a delight for visitors of all ages. What’s cooler than seeing the Apollo 11 command module or the Spirit of St. Louis? You can even see a model of the actual International Space Station where astronauts are currently living and researching.
Located across the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is a tribute to one of the nation’s founding fathers and the third president.
There’s nothing quite like a visit to the Jefferson Memorial in the spring in Washington DC when the area is filled with cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Few places in the world will move you like a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Honoring those lost during the Vietnam War, the two expanses of 200-foot wall hold more than 58,000 names of veterans of the war. The names are engraved into the wall in chronological order of their loss during the war.
Many visit to find the name of their loved ones lost during this war and lay flowers below. It’s a somber and moving sight for all visitors.
This moving memorial lies between the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool on the opposite side of the pool from the Lincoln Memorial.
The thought and symmetry of the memorial shouldn’t be missed. This site honors the 16 million service members who served during World War II and the 400,000 who died as a result of it.
The International Spy Museum is one of the few things on this list so far that isn’t free. Yet, it’s one well worth the admission price. Beyond politics and national history, what’s more, Washington DC than the image of secret spies passing on information from informants about national security?
A visit to this museum lets you in on the history of spies and the world of espionage. Here you can check out exhibits on torture and illegal eavesdropping, and questionable interrogation techniques. You can even play spy through their interactive simulations.
As one of the largest and most magnificent cathedrals in the world, this is a must-see on your DC visit. With 112 gargoyles and 215 stained glass windows, the 6th largest cathedral in the world is open to visitors 7 days a week. Although only on Sunday can visitors enter free of charge.
The cathedral has held many official events like state funerals and is often referred to as the national house of prayer. You should note that the cathedral is outside of the city, so you will need transportation as it’s not within walking distance.
If you’re an art lover, know that you have an array of options to relish in some famous art while in Washington DC. You could start your art tour at the National Gallery of Art found along the National Mall. Here you take in art from Van Gogh, Cézanne, Monet, and Gauguin along with spending time in the outdoor sculpture garden.
From there you might decide to visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery. This art museum is one of the lesser-known among the many in D.C., but still worth your time to see American artists’ creations.
You might also enjoy time wandering amongst the 23,000 portraits found at the National Portrait Gallery. This museum holds the only complete collection of presidential portraits held anywhere outside of the White House walls.
This expansive zoo is a draw for more than just kids. With a giant collection of animals including their famous giant pandas, animal lovers of all ages flock to the zoo.
Visitors can take the city’s metro system to the Woodley Park Metro Station and take a short walk up Connecticut Avenue to arrive at the zoo. This zoo is actually a part of the Smithsonian and one of the most popular of Smithsonian locations to visit in D.C.
With so many things to do in Washington DC, your hardest decision might be how to fit it all in. The city is vibrant with history, art, and culture for the many tourists who come to enjoy it.
For more information about visiting Washington DC and trips and recommendations, be sure to visit our blog page. Also, be sure to check out our many tour options while you’re in the city. We look forward to seeing you in the capital!
Serita Braxton, USA Guided Tours Blog Contributor