Everyone knows about the D.C.’s “Big Three:” The National Mall, the White House, and Capitol Hill. But there’s so much more to our nation’s capital than just the seats of government and the beautiful monuments and museums.
Take a look at these 15 top experiences and things to do in Washington, DC from a local expert…
1. See the homes of the rich and famous in Georgetown
Georgetown, the tony D.C. suburb, has been home to celebrities for decades—Julia Child tested recipes for her first cookbook in a bright yellow house at 2706 Olive Street. JFK made his home at 3307 N Street while he was campaigning for the presidency. Today, powerful politicians like President Obama, John Kerry, and Nancy Pelosi make their home here.
2. Watch the boats and feed the ducks at Washington Harbor
The Georgetown waterfront is the perfect place to while away a warm afternoon. There are excellent restaurants, upscale shops and boutiques, and a lovely boardwalk at the Washington Harbour where you can watch the boats, toss treats to the ducks, or just enjoy a sunset. If you visit in winter, you can even go ice skating!
3. Take a stroll on the C&O canal
If you’re an outdoorsy sort, you’ll love the C&O Canal—you can kayak, fish, canoe, and hike in this lovely park. In fact, you can even go camping, if that’s your thing. The 180-mile-long park has multiple access points and is chock full of historical structures, natural marvels, and the gurgling sounds of the canal. It’s a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
4. Pay your respects at Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery lies just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. You can reach it on the metro or by bus—or on a guided city tour. You can witness the changing of the guard, see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and watch the flame at the JFK gravesite. There’s even a free app you can download for a self-guided walking tour of the cemetery. If walking tours are your thing – make sure to check out National Mall and Capitol Hill walking tours by USA Guided Tours!
5. The Potomac views are magnificent along the Mount Vernon Trail
Mount Vernon Trail connects George Washington’s estate with Theodore Roosevelt Island and connects with popular regional trails like Rock Creek and Potomac Heritage. It’s a great place to walk or ride a bike and just enjoy the gorgeous D.C. skyline. If you’re visiting Mount Vernon, allow a little time to explore the trail.
6. You’ll see the Pentagon in a whole new light when you take a tour
Any U.S. citizen can book a Pentagon tour online between 14 and 90 days before visiting Washington, D.C. The tour is free and you can see things like the Hall of Heroes, the POW-MIA corridor, the 9/11 chapel and memorial, and a memorial to the servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. There’s even a courtyard with food concessions, perfect for enjoying a little picnic lunch.
7. Get your shopping fix in Dupont Circle
If you’re looking for something different than the same-old, same-old big-name shops in Georgetown, you’ll love the pretty shops that line Connecticut Avenue in Dupont Circle. Most are locally owned—like lou lou boutiques, Tabletop, and Proper Topper, to name a few.
8. Rome isn’t the only place with charming Spanish Steps
Located in the historic Kalorama district (where the Obamas currently make their home), the Spanish Steps and fountain are built into a steep slope. The steps are flanked by a fragrant mix of magnolias and other flowering trees and provide a shady oasis and pedestrian park connecting S Street with Decatur Place. If you’re looking for a romantic place with awesome views, the Spanish Steps fill the bill.
9. Embassy Row is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll
There are over 160 embassies and diplomatic missions along the stretch of Mass Ave known as Embassy Row. These elegant old mansions, with colorful flags flying, make for an enjoyable afternoon walk. Many of the embassies host regular open houses and other events to share their countries’ culture—check the calendar of events to see what’s available during your visit to D.C.
10. The Torpedo Factory: No bombs, just amazing art
In Old Town Alexandria, along the Potomac waterfront, the Torpedo Factory is a place where over 80 artists work and keep their studios. When you visit the Torpedo Factory, you’ll see artists creating everything from paintings to ceramics to jewelry to glasswork, and have an opportunity to browse the numerous galleries. When you’re finished, you can grab a light lunch at one of the many waterfront restaurants.
11. Immerse yourself in American history with a walking tour of Old Town Alexandria
Old Town dates back to the mid-1700s and played an important role in the colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil wars. A walking tour of the area is a great way to spend an afternoon on your trip to D.C. Visit Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams all quartered for a time, the boyhood home of Robert E. Lee, and the Lyceum, a free museum with objects and artifacts dating back to 1749. Then take a stroll along King Street and visit the bistros and boutiques.
12. Catch a show at Ford’s Theatre in Penn Quarter
Few presidents are as beloved as Abraham Lincoln, and Ford’s Theatre pays tribute to the man and his presidency, as well as the assassination and its aftermath. After you explore the museum, exhibits, and Peterson House, where Lincoln spent his last hours, lift your spirits with a performance.
13. You really have to try a Jose Andres restaurant
Ford’s Theatre is just one of the many attractions in Penn Quarter—if you’re a foodie, you’ll love any of the four Jose Andres restaurants in the area. There’s Jaleo, his renowned tapas bar, minibar by Jose Andres, the two Michelin-starred restaurants, Oyamel, the Mexican Cucina, and China Chilcano. If you really want to indulge, book the 21-course “Tour de Jose,” and visit all four restaurants!
14. Take a ride on the Capital Wheel
The National Harbor is located on the Maryland side of the Potomac and is packed with restaurants, shopping, and entertainment venues—with the massive Capital Wheel standing sentinel over it all. Rising over 180 feet into the sky, a ride on the Capital Wheel offers unparalleled views of D.C. and Alexandria. If you’re up for a little active adventure, rent a kayak or standup paddleboard and take to the water.
15. Get to know the Father of Our Country at Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s beautifully preserved estate, gives you a glimpse into 18th-century colonial life. Spend a day on your trip to D.C. touring the mansion itself, room by room, as well as the gardens, grounds, outbuildings, and even the blacksmith shop, where demonstrations of the craft take place during the warm months. Kids especially enjoy visiting the farm animals kept on the farm, many of which represent breeds and species originally kept by George Washington himself.
If you’d like to see all these must-visit places in Washington D.C., take a tour where you can customize the itinerary fully, that way, you won’t miss anything!
More Things to Do in Washington, DC – Ready to See the Secret Side of Washington, D.C.?
If you’re planning a visit to our nation’s capital this year, we’d love to help you put together the perfect itinerary, including interesting and exciting places outside Capitol Hill.
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USA Guided Tours Blogging Team